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It is what it is

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Elizabeth was a few steps ahead of Peter.  Peter liked to linger and watch each of the men he saw in each room for a few minutes. He could tell a lot about them from watching their mannerisms. 


It was Elizabeth’s birthday in a few days and Peter had forgotten.  El had gently reminded him and had convinced him not to stress.

“I think we should get someone,” she had announced, “someone who can tell you these things and keep us company.”

“You mean like a slave?”  Peter had blinked in surprise, but the more he thought about it, the more he had liked the idea.

His only condition was that, as an FBI agent, he could have the final say on who they chose.

Elizabeth had agreed, on the condition that they chose a male


So that’s where they were; out choosing their new companion. 

“Oh, Peter!”  Elizabeth mused, standing in front of another two-way mirror.  “He has a good physique.”

Peter moved up next to her.

The man inside was sitting on the chair within, leaning forward, elbows on knees and thinking.  Peter looked at the poster over to the left.

“Mark Davidson,” Peter muttered, reading the information, “I don’t know, see the way he’s sitting El, he’s holding in his frustration.  No, El, he’s too aggressive.”

El looked at Peter and gave a small shake of the head, “Peter, you’ve rejected everyone we’ve come across.”

Peter shrugged guiltily.  “None of them are good enough.  I don’t want to have to worry about you being alone with him.”

El gave an exasperated sigh.  “That’s sweet, Peter, but they’re all bound to have problems.  They’re slaves.”

“Conceded,” Peter nodded, “come on, there’s still a few more.”

They wandered hand-in-hand past the next few cells.  One was empty, the next was flatly rejected by El and the third was too old. 

The moved to the fourth and stopped.

Peter was vaguely aware that El was standing as still and as awed as he was. 




Inside this one, a man was sitting on the bed and crafting a female figurine out of a cake of soap.  He sat hunched, absorbed in his work, ignoring the unruly dark brown hair that fell down over his forehead.  He sported a thin and lithe frame, barely hidden in an immaculately groomed two-piece grey garb. 

Peter watched his movements carefully, cataloging any mannerisms and analyzing his expressions.


Peter started back to awareness and he squeezed El’s hand in response.

“I don’t know El,” Peter spoke doubtfully.  He did like the look of the man.  Already, he could imagine having this man in his home, at work, at the park with Satchmo … and in bed between him and his wife.

He looked to the poster over to the side.  “Neal Caffrey.”

El came up beside him and read the same details her husband was looking over.

“He’s a genius?” El blinked in surprise. “Peter, he’s also good looking … why?”

“Because he’s an escape risk,” Peter replied, disappointment flooding him, “more trouble than he’s worth.”

El bit her lip. “Please, Peter, I really like him.”

Peter’s heart twisted.  He really liked him too.

“I suppose I could ask the bureau for a tracking anklet….”

Elizabeth smiled, knowing that the man she watched, as he carefully scraped another intricate line onto the bust of the mysterious soap figurine, was theirs.

“Neal Caffrey,” she whispered.

Peter pulled her in closer and put an arm around her, before kissing the top of her head.

Peter smiled into her sweet smelling hair.  “Do you want to go find him some accessories while I do the paperwork?”



It took an hour for the paperwork to be squared away.  They’d sold their second car, so with the proceeds of the sale combined with their savings they were able to buy Neal outright.  Peter had managed to do some price haggling using the status of Neal being a flight risk to bring the price down.  He also flashed his badge and received a government discount.  As a result, most of their savings were still intact, so it was in happy spirits that Peter met his wife in the pick-up room.

Elizabeth came up and kissed Peter with excited sparkles in her eyes and she held up a large bag with a grin.

“You bought everything they had, didn’t you?” Peter groaned, good-naturedly.

“How did the paperwork go?”

Peter leaned down and whispered smugly, “half price.”

El murmured appreciatively and hooked her arm in Peter’s elbow.  It was then that an employee came out through a staff door and beckoned.

“He’s ready,” the man hesitated for a fraction of a second, but continued, “We can put a disposable collar on him for you to take him home now, unless you’ve got…?”

El brought the bag up. “We’ve bought our own.”

“Right,” the man nodded, “do you want me to put the leash on him too?”

Peter nodded before his wife could reply, “he is an escape risk.” 

The man nodded again and started to turn after taking the collar and leash from El, but Peter touched his shoulder.

“What is it?”

The man frowned, confused, “sir?”

Peter moved forward.  “You were concerned about something before … what was it?”

The man gave a slow nod of understanding, “well … when we informed him that he’d been bought by a ‘Peter Burke’, he….”

“He …” Peter prompted, “What?”

The man shook his head.  “I’m not sure, Caffrey plays things close, it’s hard to work him out—it may have been nothing.”

The man left through the staff door with an apologetic shrug.

“I wonder what that was about,” El muttered to Peter.

Peter turned to his wife and took a deep breath.  “Like he said, it was probably nothing.”




Every time the door opened, Peter and El would look up from where they were sitting, hoping that this was the one, the one in which their new slave, Neal Caffrey would emerge, ready for them to take home and try out, but it was always just another staff member.

They can’t have been hiding their expectation too well. The last couple of staff members had smiled apologetically.  One had even said, “I’m sure they’ll be ready soon.”


Twenty minutes had passed when the door finally opened and the same man they’d spoken to before came out … alone. 

Peter and El stood up and man wrung his hands nervously.

“We’re ready now,” the man explained, “sorry, he just, he’s in a … a playful mood.”

Peter frowned.  “What does that mean?”

The man put out a palm, placating. “Nothing too bad I assure you, just you know, hiding keys, taking the pens … stealing my glasses.”

Peter and El glanced at each other.  El smiled.  She couldn’t help it.  Peter shook his head.

“Well,” Peter asked, trying to hide his impatience, “just—is he ready then, can we take him now?”

The man breathed, relieved that his customers didn’t seem bothered by the idea of a cheeky slave.

“I’ll bring him out.”



When Neal Caffrey emerged, Peter and El, almost magnetically stepped forward, eager to officially meet the man from behind the two-way mirror.

Neal on the other hand, paused a few yards from the door and scanned them.  The supple leather collar that El had chosen was around his neck.  On Neal Caffrey, it looked like an accessory designed to match his dark hair.  The leash, hung from the collar, locked in place.  The end was held by the employee who had talked Peter through the sale.

The first thought that struck Peter as he watched Neal, was that he was entirely too casual for a man who had just been bought. 

Neal was standing, relaxed and seemed content for Peter or El to make the first move.

Peter glanced at his wife and back at Neal before clearing his throat.

Neal smirked, perhaps recognizing Peter’s loss at what to do next.

Finally, Elizabeth took another step forward and spoke clearly, “Hi Neal, I’m Elizabeth; this is my husband, Peter.”

Neal gave a nod, ignoring the man behind him as he was poked in the back.  “Right, well nice to meet you, Elizabeth … Peter.”

Peter tilted his head, half confused at Neal’s lack of formality, and half amused.

The awkwardness melted away and he looked to the staff that flanked Neal.  “Thanks. There wasn’t anything else, was there?”

The staff shook their heads and the one holding the leash held it out.

Neal made no move as Peter took the leash.  He merely followed Peter’s movement with his eyes.

Peter looked back to Neal.  They were standing close now.  Peter looked into Neal’s eyes and couldn’t help but admire the vivid blue.  They were so like his wife’s but more … complicated.


Peter blinked.  He’d being standing still for some time, as had Neal, each lost in a silent communication.

Peter looked at El, the staff, then at Neal again.

“Come on.” Peter started walking and took his wife’s hand, not waiting to see if he was being followed.  The leash in his hands remained slack, so clearly Neal was following.

At the door, Elizabeth thanked the staff and followed the two men out, knowing that she and Peter had stumbled into something far more potent than they’d hoped.

Chapter Text


As they crossed the parking lot, Peter fell back and watched as Neal moved ahead a yard or so.  Peter couldn’t resist smirking.  A slave he may be, but Neal did not walk like one.  He walked like he was strolling along a beach.  Peter watched Neal’s hips as he walked with a vague casual purpose; he walked with confidence, he walked with … cockiness?

Peter narrowed his eyes contemplatively.  What did Neal have to be cocky about?

They reached the car.  Elizabeth opened the passenger door and climbed in while Peter and Neal headed to the other side.  Suddenly, Peter stopped short and pulled the leash gently back.

It was gentle enough that Neal had enough forewarning and he moved back before the leash could choke him.  It was firm enough that Neal knew Peter had a message.

Neal turned slowly and carefully looked up at Peter.  Peter straightened in realization that he was an inch or so taller than Neal.  Barely discernible, but the difference was still stark.  Peter peered down.

“I own you,” Peter stated firmly, the rest of what he was saying, he showed in his eyes.

Neal opened his mouth, took a breath and gave a slow nod, “Yes, Peter … you do.”

It was the acknowledgement Peter was looking for.

Peter gave a satisfied nod and opened the back passenger door.  Neal ducked onto the seat smoothly.  Peter didn’t miss the slight smile threatening to appear at the corner of Neal’s lips as he looked down.



It was late on Sunday afternoon, so Peter and El had agreed that they’d get the tracker the next day.  In the meantime, Neal was going to be kept in Peter’s immediate vicinity at all times.

Neal sat quietly in the back, fiddling with the leash while Peter and El exchanged looks.  Some of the looks El sent to Peter were excited, happy and content.  Peter sent looks indicating curiosity, satisfaction and pride.  He really wanted to watch Neal, but the road demanded his attention.  So he settled on driving home as quickly as he could.


When Peter opened the child-locked passenger door he caught a glimpse of what ran beneath Neal’s easy-going façade. 

As Neal came to stand before him on the curb, Peter took up the leash and wound it several times drawing it taut.

“What you see is what you get,” Peter stated clearly, “but you still won’t escape.  I won’t let you.”

Neal gave a broad smile as if to say ‘we’ll see’ but then he lowered his eyes. 

“Come on, Peter,” Elizabeth smiled, “no more theatrics.  Not outside the bedroom anyway.”

Peter smiled, drawing his gaze from Neal to his wife who was standing just before the front steps.  He looked back at Neal who was looking between them … not scared or nervous really, just … resigned?

Peter wasn’t interested in thinking any longer; he let the length of excess leash go and started forward towards the house.

Neal followed after shutting the door behind him.

Neither El nor Peter missed Neal’s looks up and down the street, nor were they concerned.  Peter merely adjusted the leash in his hands.  They had Neal.

Once they were inside, there was a moment where Neal looked around, taking in his surroundings and Peter and El enjoyed the fact that their newest prize was where he belonged.

Finally El reached Peter and moved up on her toes to give Peter a chaste peck on the cheek.  “This is better than I imagined Peter, thank you.”

Peter smiled and leaned down to return the gesture with an affectionate kiss back, this one on the lips.  “Hon, I….”

El trailed a finger down Peter’s face and onto his lips.  “Shh, I understand. Let’s take care of Satchmo first, and then we can get to know Neal better.”

El dropped back to her heels and looked at Neal who was watching them warily.

“Relax, Neal,” Elizabeth murmured, “come meet Satchmo.”

Elizabeth moved to Neal without waiting for an answer and hooked her arm around his elbow.  As Neal walked following El’s direction, El dropped her head onto his shoulder and snuggled into him.

Neal looked back at Peter who was following them.  Peter looked pleased. 

Neal turned his eyes back to watch where he was walking.  So, he thought, that’s how it was going to be.



El left Neal and Peter at the table and headed over to the door. It took two calls before Satchmo came to the door, tail wagging, all too happy that his owners were home. El cooed at Satchmo for a minute before hooking her fingers on his collar and guiding his golden bulk in the door and towards Neal.

“Neal, this is Satchmo.” El let Satchmo go forward driven by curiosity, and Neal regarded the dog with reluctant affection.

Realizing Peter and El could tell he already liked Satchmo, Neal dropped all pretenses and squatted; a gesture that apparently delighted the Golden Retriever. Neal leaned back in an attempt to avoid the big, sluggish, sloppy tongue.

“Yeah,” Neal laughed softly, “okay, buddy, you’re not so bad.”

Elizabeth came up and tickled the back of Neal’s neck in a soft gesture to stand. Neal followed her direction and gave Satchmo a last head pat.

“Come on,” El gestured with her hand at the small of Neal’s back.  “I’ll show you how to feed him.”


It was when Neal stood back up after placing Satchmo’s bowl on the ground that Peter finally made a move.

Peter came up behind him and placed a hand on his shoulder. Neal might have jumped but had long since trained himself out of showing tells. He simply stilled and felt as Peter brought his right hand down his right arm. Peter ghosted at first but soon he was there; a strong presence. When Peter’s hand ensconced his own, his second hand came up under his chin. Peter guided his chin to the left and moved forward, content, exploring, prompting, and learning.

Peter didn’t have to press hard to get Neal to respond; good.

Peter moved up pressing himself securely against Neal and wrapped his arm around Neal’s midriff, making his intentions plain. His chin free, Neal returned to looking straight ahead and concentrated on schooling his expression.

Elizabeth came into view. She was smiling.

“You two make a pretty picture,” she stated.

Neal didn’t give any indication of his thought otherwise. He merely remained still and stared vaguely at the wall over El’s shoulder.
Neither Peter nor El seemed bothered by Neal’s response or lack thereof. Peter moved his hand long enough to beckon El silently and she moved forward.

El put her hands out and slid them along Neal’s flanks until she reached her husband’s hips which were still pressed up against Neal from behind. El leaned forward pressing her weight into Neal and relaxing into Peter’s hold.

Neal just stayed still and listened as El murmured indistinct words to Peter. Shortly he felt as El moved up to kiss Peter. It was like they’d forgotten about him.

Neal deliberately ignored the increasing pressure he could feel behind him. He also ignored the sensation of being increasingly pressed against and jostled from two sides.

The kisses became more passionate, more desperate and urgent until they broke apart, gasping softly for air and satiated.

El turned her head and dropped in height before resting her head against Neal’s chest. Neal automatically brought up his left hand to El’s waist. Neal blinked, disconcerted by his autonomous reaction but El made an approving sound so Neal moved his hand from her waist further around to her back and gave a reluctant rub.

He had to admit, as far as couples interested in having intercourse with a slave went, Peter and El weren’t bad.



Peter moved a lock of hair out of El’s eyes and spoke softly, “so, do you want to wait until after dinner, or do you want to try it out now?”

Neal tensed. They must have felt it, but he supposed Peter and El expected at least some discomfort from Neal or they weren’t bothered.

El moved her head off Neal and gave Peter a shy smile.

Peter, to Neal’s silent relief, finally moved out from behind Neal and took his wife’s hand. “Whatever you want, hon, but…”

Maybe she was psychic or they’d been married long enough to read each other’s cues, but El understood Peter’s query, she glanced at Neal. “When did you last eat, Neal?”

Neal shrugged and hoped he wasn’t too obvious when he took advantage of the space and took a casual step back. He didn’t think eating would be good. Not if he might be sick later.

El, however, closed the distance and stood up again to give Neal a peck on the cheek.  “You should eat first.”

Neal, however, shook his head. “It’s fine; I’m not hungry.”

Peter and El exchanged a look of concern.

“Neal.” Peter laid down the law.  “We take care of what’s ours.”

Neal stayed silent, wanting to argue with Peter on that point, but knew he couldn’t.

“I’m fine,” Neal insisted.

“Fine,” Peter answered roughly, “come on then. I’m not hungry either. El?”

Elizabeth nodded.  “Go ahead, honey, I’ll be right up.”

Chapter Text

“Okay,” Peter spoke as he led Neal into the master bedroom, “El’s birthday is in a couple of days.”

Neal frowned, not entirely sure where Peter was going with this.  “And I’m her present?”

Peter raked his hair.  “No, I mean yes, but it’s not that. You’re great, but I was hoping you could give me some idea of what I could get her.”

“Um.” Neal stared at Peter.

There was silence as both men stared at each other.

“Come on,” Peter cajoled, “I know you’re a romantic, I saw the thing you did with the soap.”

Immediately Neal’s demeanor changed and he took a step back. His eyes were guarded; he looked away.

Peter noticed the change.  “Neal?”

Neal gave Peter a dark glance of warning.  “We’re not talking about her.”

Peter’s mouth thinned.  “Who is she, Neal?”

Neal looked squarely at Peter and answered Peter with a strong vehemence, “Forget it.”

Peter would have said more but he could hear El coming up the stairs.

“Not a word about El’s birthday,” Peter warned.

El came in the door. Not much went unnoticed by El. She could sense the tension but whatever it was, was between Peter and Neal, she decided.

“Honey ...” El held up the bag of ‘accessories’.  “... we might fall asleep….”

Peter frowned, unable to grasp El’s meaning.

El headed to the bed and tipped the bad upside down then held up the ankle manacle. “He doesn’t get his tracker until tomorrow, remember?”

Neal frowned; this was the first he was hearing of some ‘tracker’.

Peter smiled at El gratefully.  “Thanks, hon.”

Peter took the chain from El and moved to Neal. He was still irritated with Neal; after all, the slave didn’t seem to realize that he—as a slave—was not entitled to secrets. He grabbed Neal’s arm a little rougher than ordinarily would have and led him the bed.

Neal made no attempt to move away from the edge of the bed. Peter bent and lifted the blanket on the foot of the bed high enough for him to attach the manacle to the bar that ran along the edge to keep the mattress in place. Then he snapped the other end on Neal’s ankle.

Neal watched as Peter dropped the keys onto the dresser on the opposite wall.

El gestured to the chain and spoke softly wondering if the first-time experience with Neal was going to be spoiled by the apparently foul moods of the two men. “That’s temporary Neal, Peter is going to try and get a GPS tracker tomorrow.”

Neal gave a disinterested shrug.

El went up to Peter and gave him a gentle shoulder rub.  “We can wait…”

Peter shook his head, trying to clear his irritation.   “No.” He smiled.  “I’m sorry, I’m fine. And Neal is fine too.”

They both looked at Neal, though.

Neal shuffled slightly, and then nodded.

That was good enough for Peter. “Lie down Neal, relax, we’ll get to you.”

Neal gave Peter a measured look before realizing that it was inevitable. He figured he could at least concentrate on learning. He knew from past experience how much you could learn about a person from the sex.


He sat down on the bed and removed his shoes, but he didn’t lie down as suggested. Peter and El didn’t seem to care. They were concentrating on each other.

They were into foreplay. Neal watched Peter and El kissing for a few minutes. The kisses went from being playful to desperate then back to playful again. Peter started to lose his patience with the kisses before long though and he began to edge Elizabeth to the bed. El seemed to enjoy distracting Peter as best as she could.

When Peter finally managed to back El down onto the bed El mumbled incoherently, but Peter caught the gist.

“Neal,” Peter moaned. “In the draw on the left … can you get…?”

Neal took a deep breath and nodded before moving over the corner of the bed. Fortunately the chain was about a yard long. Neal reached the bedside drawers easily. He opened the cabinet below the draw first though—because he was an opportunist—and arched an eyebrow as he noted the small safe within.

“Neal,” Peter mumbled urgently.

Neal shut the cabinet and opened the draw. Inside were several packets of condoms. He pulled out a couple and placed the excess on the counter top before moving back and passing Peter the one he’d kept.

El had worked Peter’s zipper open while Neal had been occupied and the pants were pooling down around Peter’s ankles now. Neal looked away and ignored the urgent moans. He should be watching, he should be learning but…

“Not me,” El muttered, “can you … it should be…”

Neal froze and swallowed before glancing sideways carefully.

Peter was looking at Neal but El, overwhelmed by arousal, was staring blearily at the ceiling.

“Have you ever…?” Peter asked Neal.

Neal felt his face redden and he shook his head.  “Never went to college.”

Peter laughed.  “As if college means…”

Neal looked away and gripped the bed tighter but Peter moved off El, stepping out of his pants as he went. Neal couldn’t help spotting it. It was … Neal didn’t want to stare, but it was … impressive.

Peter smirked.  “I have, don’t worry, I’ll be gentle.”



It slipped out before he realized it

“I don’t…” Neal moved back a bit before forcibly stopping himself, he looked away from Peter.

Peter patted Neal’s back, unperturbed, and unclipped the leash but left the collar.  “You’ll be fine, Neal.”

Peter took the lead and put pressure on Neal’s shoulder until Neal fell back still clutching the edge of the bed. He swallowed and tried to look to the side, but Peter moved his chin back and stared intently at Neal.  “I won’t hurt you Neal. Neither of us will.”

Neal took a deep breath, but didn’t relax.

Peter wasn’t bothered, but he did have to know.  “Is this your first time as a slave?”

Neal gave a reluctant nod.  “I’ve only been purchased once before. I escaped before they could….”

Elizabeth rolled over concerned and put her hand on Neal’s torso. They both felt Neal flinch but chose to ignore it.

“It’s okay Neal,” El murmured, a little more aware of herself now.  “All slaves are nervous the first time.”

Peter nodded in agreement.  “You can’t do better than us. You’re safe with us, Neal.”

Neal nodded, he knew what they said was true. After all once upon a time, he’d been free too. He knew he was lucky that Peter and El were the ones that were going to break him in as opposed to the … the other people.

He nodded again, determined to get through this. He’d be fine. This was no different than any other time he’d had sex. It was only because he didn’t know Peter and El that he was nervous.

He pointed out to himself that he knew enough to know that Peter and El were speaking the truth.

Neal told himself to relax.

He let go of the bed and sighed.

El murmured approvingly and Peter gave a nod. Neal allowed Peter to direct him further up the bed and to roll over. Peter slipped a hand in under Neal’s belly and lifted him. Neal closed his eyes as he felt Peter pull his pants down.

El was content to lie on her side and watch. She edged closer and turned Neal’s head so that he was resting, his ear to the bed, watching El in return. El smiled and Neal gave a nervous grimace back. El brought up a lazy hand and began to play with Neal’s hair, curling it around her finger.



Behind him Peter had brought Neal’s pants as far down as he could get them, so now they dangled around the chain off the edge of the bed.

A moment passed in which Neal felt nothing happening but then out of the blue a cold touched him, followed by a warm hand on his back; Peter steadying himself, as he caressed Neal’s hole with a lubed finger, just on the edges for now. When Peter felt Neal’s muscles relax a little, used to the cold of the lube, Peter pushed in gently and Neal froze at the sensation of being stretched. Peter pushed again and Neal couldn’t help but push back. That was all the encouragement Peter needed. He moved his finger around the rim, in and out, trying to relax the muscles. Neal concentrated on Elizabeth, finding solace in her calming gaze. It was when Peter worked in another finger that Neal lurched away, that Peter paused for the first time. He moved his hand from Neal’s back to his front and held Neal, but Neal had shifted back into place.

El leaned forward and kissed Neal on the forehead. “You’re doing good, Neal.”

Peter started again, slowly and Neal’s muscles began to relax again.

El brought her other hand up in between her body and Neal’s. Neal, for some reason, welcomed the gesture. He moved his right hand closer and allowed El to clasp it. She smiled.

“You’re going to be so good for us, Neal,” Peter murmured.

Peter slipped a third finger in and this time Neal accepted it almost without reaction. Peter moved his fingers until he was satisfied that Neal’s muscles were relaxed enough to accept him.

Peter removed his fingers and Neal felt jolted. The empty … it wasn’t … Neal swallowed and moved back a bit searching, without thinking about it. But then he felt it. Peter’s erection, the head as it rubbed enticingly at the entrance. It was lubed, but now the lube was warm. Peter must have already rubbed himself. For some reason, Neal wished he’d seen that.

Peter pushed gently, then as his head was swallowed, more urgently. Soon, despite his tightness, Peter was in him right to the base. He knew though, he’d have to take it easy. Neal wouldn’t be used to the friction yet, the force, or the sensation. Especially if he hit that spot, that … that perfect spot; the prostate.

Neal was not aware of anything but the sensation of Peter’s shaft as it filled him. It was, Neal clenched his fist and, oh, it was just....  He moved and Peter pressed back. Neal turned his head and dug his forehead into the mattress below and moaned, and then he returned his gaze to Elizabeth who rubbed his hand encouragingly.

Peter moved out a bit, then back. Small steps, he thought. Neal moaned again and clenched but then relaxed in the same instant. Peter smiled and pulled back a bit further before driving back in.
Neal shook, overwhelmed at the sensation.
Maybe he didn’t want to do this, but Neal couldn’t deny that it felt good.

Peter was gathering momentum, going a bit further each time. When Neal braced both hands on either side of him and moved back a bit, Peter let go of all control. He moved in and out fast, keeping a hand on Neal’s back for leverage. Neal just took it. Peter knew, vaguely, even as absorbed in his task as he was, that he and El had chosen well. Neal was perfect for them.

When El sensed Peter was close, she reached down, and began to rub Neal. He wasn’t bad himself, El had to admit. Not as big as Peter, but still very nice. She couldn’t wait to feel it inside her. But that could wait for another day. Right now she ran her fingers down Neal’s length. Neal’s intake of sharp breath told El that, as well as being surprised, he accepted it, but it made him tense and she knew it wouldn’t take much for him to climax too. Maybe, El mused, she could time it. She didn’t know Neal as well as she knew Peter, but she could feel Neal, enough to judge how close he was.

Peter came first. The feel of Peter coming in his condom sent Neal undone. El held Neal as he came shortly after.

Chapter Text

The aftercare was nice, but Neal barely noticed it. He was shell-shocked. At first Peter had pulled Neal up and given him a light slap to the cheek, asking if he was all right.
Neal had moaned and nodded.
Peter and El had smiled at each other. Peter then laid Neal back on the bed. Neal did nothing. He was too limp. He just stared at the ceiling listening to the muted sounds around him.

Peter and El used warm and damp cloths to clean Neal up and murmured words of encouragement. They kept up a banal chatter knowing Neal would recover in his own time and that in the meantime, simply letting him know that they were around would be all he needed.

When Neal came back to himself, he was lying on fresh sheets, still manacled and fully dressed in the clothes he’d been bought in. On either side of him, Peter and El slept soundly. The room was dark.

Elizabeth had an arm draped over him, so Neal moved that first. He was patient and careful. He took his time and so El didn’t wake.

Now, step two; slightly harder. He started to shift down but that was making the mattress bounce too much so Neal opted to sit up instead. Using his arms for leverage Neal rolled forward and to his feet. He was in a crouching position now, between two sleeping figures. The next part involved getting off the bed without making the chain rattle.

Five minutes later and Neal was catching his breath while squatting next to the end of the bed, keeping a close watch on his owners.

It didn’t take long to pick the lock on the manacle around his ankle. He placed it down on the ground carefully after considering and rejecting the idea to lock Peter to the bed. He figured he should leave while he was ahead.

He crept to the door wary of any loose floorboards and relaxed a bit more once he was outside. It was all easy from here. He just had to step lightly and he’d be out of here.

He forgot about Satchmo.

Satchmo was at the base of the stairs sleeping on the mat that covered most of the foyer and in the gloom, Neal had been looking at the door.

He trod on Satchmo and, naturally, Satchmo yelped.

Neal might have still been able to make a break for it, but Neal knew he’d feel guilty if he didn’t at least check to make sure Satchmo was alright. He figured he’d have a minute before the Burkes could react properly anyway.

He shouldn’t have underestimated Peter.

Neal had barely just knelt and murmured to Satchmo when he felt a localized pressure between his shoulder blades.

“You sleepwalking, Neal?”

Neal swallowed recognizing the danger in Peter’s voice. He ignored the facetious question and put his hands up.


“Get up,” Peter growled.

Neal cringed at Peter’s voice but spoke ignoring his own fear, “the gun?”

Peter paused contemplating, then finally decided his own considerably stronger body would be enough of an advantage and he took the gun away from Neal’s back.

“Get up.”

Neal relaxed but kept his hands visible. Peter did still have the gun after all, and Neal wasn’t sure the safety was on or not.

Neal rose and turned, fear in his eyes. “Peter, I…”

Peter shook his head.  “Not yet. Over to the couch.”

Neal edged over to the lounge room wary of not tripping on the dog that had recovered from the shock of being stepped on.

“Sit,” Peter commanded.

Neal sat.

Peter nodded, satisfied, then sat in the armchair opposite of Neal and placed his gun on the coffee table away from Neal.

“So,” Peter spoke a little more calmly now that he was fully awake.  “Where were you planning on going?”


Neal lowered his arms to his knees and looked at the ground.


“I don’t know, Peter,” Neal replied, his face conveying nothing.

Peter swept an annoyed look around and took a deep breath before settling his gaze back on the slave he knew would be trouble. “How long have you been a slave, Neal?”

Neal looked up.

Peter narrowed his eyes, Neal was not nervous anymore. It was like, now that the first-time was behind him, he was able to regain some measure of control.

Peter sent Neal an expectant look.

Neal let out a breath. “A few months.”

“And in that time, you tried to escape twice?”

Neal scoffed. “I didn’t try, Peter.”

Peter frowned and shifted forward. “Neal, your records…”

Neal shook his head. “I didn’t try.”

Peter paused. Neal had emphasized the word ‘try’.

“You actually succeeded?”

Neal quieted. He didn’t know why he told Peter that. He supposed he hadn’t liked the insinuation of failure.

“You’re telling me you got caught again … twice?”

“No …” Neal scowled. “… no, I just … I just didn’t try very hard.”

Peter stared at Neal contemplatively for a minute.

“How did you get enslaved?” Peter was genuinely curious; that had been a question he’d been wondering at ever since he saw Neal through that two-way mirror. “You’re a certified genius.”

Neal lowered his eyes and chuckled breathlessly. “Made a deal with the devil.”

“What?” Peter asked, confused, “I don’t understand, Neal.”

Neal shrugged and turned his head to the side. Peter saw Neal’s eyes flick towards the front door. He was reminded of Neal’s escape attempt.

“Come on.” Peter stood and gestured. “We’ll talk tomorrow.”

Neal pursed his lips but stood as requested.

Peter latched onto his arm and led Neal back towards the stairs assuring Satchmo as he went. Neal allowed Peter to guide him up the stairs and straight to the left; back into the master bedroom.

El was sitting up, one leg crossed, the other dangling over her side and looking at a black book. Neal guessed it was her planner.

She looked up and sent a questioning look to Peter. Peter gave a minute shake of the head; they would talk later.

Peter sighed as he considered the room at large, then he gave Neal a solid look. “What am I going do with you?”

Neal watched Peter, he wasn’t about volunteer suggestions.

“The centre didn’t tell us about your ability to pick locks,” Peter stated.

Neal gave a vague smirk. “They didn’t know.”


Peter rolled his eyes and led Neal over to the bed.
“Put it back on,’ he commanded.

Neal hesitated but did as he was told. Inwardly he berated himself for choosing to escape when he did, because he hadn’t been prepared. Neal usually took his time and because he hadn’t—because he’d listened to his overwhelming instinct to get as far away as possible from this new, uncomfortable reality, he’d lost the element of surprise and now his new, equally-intelligent owners knew about his lock-picking skill.

Why … why had he run? Neal decided he hadn’t been in the right frame of mind. It wasn’t his fault. Waking up between two people after having been—after they … it was enough to addle anyone’s mind.

Peter was pacing. Neal straightened having finished locking the manacle around his ankle again. He wondered what Peter was thinking. Oh, he knew Peter would be coming up with ideas on how to sleep the rest of the night without the worry of an all-too-talented escape risk in the room, but he wondered how far Peter was prepared to go to ensure he would be there in the morning.

Neal watched Peter for a few minutes and finally felt he had to say something even if just to banish the monotony.

“Peter, I won’t try to escape again tonight,” he tried to say but was interrupted but a yank from behind. A soft one, but it still startled Neal. El came around next to where he had sat on the bed in surprise and shushed hm.

“You’ve dug yourself a big enough hole tonight, Neal,” El murmured gently.  “Just be quiet now.”

She placed an arm around his shoulders and snuggled into his neck. “Shh.”

Neal sat silenced and saw the wisdom in her words as Peter showed his approval of El’s command with a pointed look.


“Did you buy anything else, El?” Peter headed over to the table next to his side of the bed and opened the draw pulling out his cuffs.

El shook her head, extricating herself from Neal. “No, nothing that will help; a spare leash, some other clothes, and wrist identification bands.”

Peter stood considering. He knew just adding cuffs might not be enough.  “Where did that leash go?”

El looked around.  “It’s on the dresser.   Honey, wasn’t there a friend of ours that was telling us about having received lessons on how to control his slave while sleeping?”

Peter walked over and picked up the leash. He nodded.  “Yeah but that was just puppy training, you know, controlling the position the slave slept in and making sure they didn’t masturbate.”

Neal scoffed in disbelief. Disbelief that suddenly, less than six months after he’d lost his freedom, he was listening to this kind of talk. Not that the talk itself was unusual. Just that he was the subject of said talk.

“What?” Peter grunted coming over.

Neal shrugged as Peter lifted his left wrist to snap the cuff on.

“Neal?” It was Elizabeth; her gaze pierced the side of his head, adding weight to Peter’s query.

Inwardly Neal berated himself, he’d have to do better than this; why was it that El could appeal to him—get beneath his defenses? Not that Peter couldn’t, Peter just didn’t waste time being subtle. He crashed his way through Neal’s elaborate walls with little effort.

Neal put up a fake smile and raked his hair.  “What? I’m fine.”

Peter and El didn’t buy it for one second. Peter gave Neal an unimpressed look before clipping the leash onto Neal’s collar.

“Neal, lie down,” Peter ordered before giving El, the end of the leash.  “El, can you tie that to the bar over your side.”

El nudged Neal back when Neal didn’t move.

Neal withdrew into himself, recognizing that, tonight at least, he was stuck in whatever position he was put in. So with no reason to be physically present, he slipped back into his mind into the comfort of his own head where he could plan escapes, dream of the past and think of his lost love; the love he hadn’t seen for almost seven months now.

Peter and El exchanged a look when Neal lay back with no sound. El tied the leash as requested into a double knot onto the bed beneath the mattress on her side and settle down over it before snaking an arm over Neal’s belly and pulling him into the curve of her body. Peter turned out the light, returned to the bed; lay down with a sigh before snapping the remaining cuff that dangled from Neal’s wrist over his own right wrist.

He hoped that having to deal with three restraints would force Neal to wake at least one of them if he attempted any such shenanigans again this night.

Chapter Text

Neal wasn’t sore. Peter had been too gentle for that, but he did feel … stretched. Lying there, on the bed between Peter and El, before the sun had risen completely, Neal couldn’t drag his mind away from what had happened the previous night.

If he could move, if he could just … roll over or something, he might be able restart his thought processes and think about something a little less confronting.

He couldn’t even justify his thoughts; his despair.

He’d known many people when he was free who’d owned slaves; slaves that he’d never looked at twice.

Constantly on the move, Neal had never needed one, but slaves were the bane of American life. They represented finality in life; you bought one when everything else was taken care of. Slaves came after the career, after the marriage, after the mortgage and as a result they represented happiness, wealth and success. Slaves were a good thing.

The worst thing was: he’d made himself one. It was his fault—no, his choice.

So, no, he couldn’t even complain or rage at the injustice of it all.

Slaves were good. Slaves were normal.


Neal numbly reached up with his free hand and unclipped the leash. He reached down to pick the lock on the cuff, but a hand seized his wrist firmly, stopping him.

Neal looked to the side and stared into Peter’s deep brown eyes.

“Neal,” Peter mumbled, still half asleep, “no.”

Neal moved his hand away and Peter let go.

“I was just going to the bathroom,” Neal replied softly.

Peter blinked and picked up the leash before clipping it back in place on the collar.

Neal frowned as he watched Peter close his eyes.

“Peter?” Neal prompted, “I really do…”

“Neal,” Peter replied keeping his eyes closed.  “You do nothing …”

Peter opened his eyes. “… without permission.”

Peter knew Neal hadn’t accepted it, hadn’t accepted his place. He knew it would take time to sink in—that his life belonged to Peter and his wife.

“You did go through training, right?” Peter asked knowing he wasn’t going to be able to return to sleep.

Neal looked at Peter like he was only just realizing something.

And he was.

And Peter thought he knew what it was.

Peter propped himself up on his elbow and pushed his hair back, before speaking plainly, “yes, genius, the training they put you through actually applied to you.”

Neal looked at Peter in surprise. Peter returned an all-knowing look. Slowly the corners of Peter’s mouth morphed into that of a smirk.

Neal looked away daunted by the idea that Peter could read him so easily. Neal thought back to the month-long program he’d gone through. Neal remembered every day he’d put up a façade while keeping his real thoughts to himself. Everyday he’d retreated to another life; his previous life, the one where he was free and could do anything he wanted and he never had to worry about consequences. He’d only paid enough attention to get by without raising anyone’s ire.

It had been a month-long con.

He thought back. Vaguely he recalled the correct protocols of addressing owners; it had been drummed into the people around him repeatedly. Neal’s own mind had absorbed it and filed it away as another piece of information vital to upholding his façade, to getting through the con.

He’d never actually…

“I’ve already—there’s been rules that I haven’t…” Neal swallowed lubricating his throat.

“Right.”  Peter nodded.  “We’ve been soft. But that’s okay Neal, El and I don’t care about you kneeling for introductions. We don’t mind you talking when we haven’t asked you anything, and we don’t care if you don’t address me with ‘sir’ or ‘master’.”

Neal closed his jaw and waited. He knew there was more and he knew Peter would say it.

“But,” Peter implored.  “You do need our permission before you do something—anything.”

Neal stayed still. He might not like it, but it was one of the oldest rules in the slave handbook. He had already known, he just hadn’t thought … Peter had been right; he hadn’t thought it had applied to him.

“And I thought this went without saying before, but,” Peter smirked, “escaping is a no-no.”



Peter dropped back down off his elbow and rolled onto his back.

On the other side of Neal, El was starting to wake up.

“You’ll want to ask soon, Neal,” Peter muttered as he checked the time, “before El takes over the bathroom for a shower.”

Neal opened his mouth dragging in a deep breath, frustrated, and he tore his gaze upward before closing his eyes and letting his breath out in defeat.

“Please, Peter,” Neal asked reluctantly.  “Can I use the bathroom?”

Peter, having been expecting the question, produced keys to the cuffs. “You can take the leash off now.”

Neal brought up his hand and wrenched the leash off, in a rare moment of irritation. This was taking some getting used to.

“The collar?” Neal mumbled, halfheartedly.

“Stays on.” Peter led the way out of bed and stretched, watching as Neal took care not to disturb Elizabeth as he unwound her arm from his torso.

“You’re wife is a snuggler,” Neal grumbled quietly. He edged to the bottom of the bed where he was able to fiddle with the lock on the manacle. Peter came around the corner watching with interest.

“How do you do that?”

Neal looked up and shrugged.  “It’s a simple lock; I could even teach you in ten minutes tops.”

“I might take you up on that.” Peter moved over to the doorway and waited. If Neal had a problem with the idea that Peter was waiting to escort him to the bathroom, he didn’t show it.

“What else can you do?” Peter asked, knowing Neal had to be more talented than he let on.

Neal shook his head vaguely, and then glanced at Peter.  “I can cook soup.”

Peter was amused. He cocked an eyebrow.  “Soup? We’ll have to try that sometime, but El will teach you some other recipes. She works as an event planner; I'm sure she’d love to have you for a few a days a week.”

Neal absorbed that, he’d been expecting something along those lines but there had to be more.

“And the rest of the week?” He asked as he edged past Peter into the hall.

Peter turned and leaned against the door frame, watching as Neal headed to the bathroom.

“Chores, Satchmo will need to be walked too, and maybe sometimes I’ll take you into work with me, help me get some paperwork done. We’re going in to the bureau today for your tracker, which works out; I’ll be working out of the office….”

Neal paused at the doorway to the bathroom, he accepted Peter’s plans for him quite easily, or at least he would until the time came when he could successfully leave and go find … her.

Neal was about to head into the bathroom but he stopped, he had to ask now, before he lost the chance.

“Peter, am I going to be…” Neal considered his words carefully.  “Was last night a…?”

He couldn’t get it out.

Peter scrutinized Neal then he moved off the frame and spoke firmly, “Neal, the moment El and I saw you, we knew you were the one; you’re a part of us. Last night is how it’s going to be. We’ll probably get you your own bed, but we want you with us. We like having you with us.”

Neal nodded, swallowing weakly. He turned his back to Peter and shut the door behind him. He barely heard it as Peter called out behind him.

“Don’t lock the door.”

Neal leaned against the closed door letting the minutes pass him by, lost in a thousand-yard-stare.



As the sounds of Peter and Elizabeth talking in the master bedroom floated indistinctly through the walls Neal realized that if he took too long he might miss his chance to clean up.

It had been a while since he’d had the privacy to do it too. He didn’t want to miss his opportunity.

Having a two-way mirror that served as a fourth wall to his cell in the slavery center had one positive aspect; Neal wasn’t shocked by how he looked in the mirror. He supposed it was stress and a lack of personal freedom to groom for hours in the morning like he’d done through most of his twenties. He looked weak. His eyes were hollow and his hair lank. His skin had a whiter pallor to it than usual. Not to mention … those clothes. Neal shook his head openly scowling at his outfit.

If Peter and El ever decided to lavish privileges on him, his first request would be a new wardrobe.

Neal stopped being critical of his appearance and he stilled. He scanned his face, trying to figure out if he was still Neal Caffrey. Everything he saw in the mirror, Peter and El claimed to be theirs. Peter had the deed and ownership papers to prove it. He tried to see it, but he just couldn’t. It was still his face, his hair, his body.

Neal took a steadying breath and looked into his own eyes. He’d deal, he decided. This was just another con. Peter and Elizabeth were just another pair of marks.

He smirked to himself; that at least, was something that Peter and El didn’t know.

For the moment, he couldn’t get away—Neal looked for the bathroom window, yeah, no, for the moment, he couldn’t get away. He just had to bide his time. Who knew, maybe he could even use Peter to find out some information. He was the perfect candidate, right?

Neal splashed water onto his face. He looked up again after toweling off the water. He nodded. He had work to do.



With no real idea of how much time the Burkes would allow him in the bathroom, Neal took a quick shower. He relished the feel of warm water. How long had it been since he’d had access to warm water? Too long.

He had just flushed the toilet when Peter gave a brief knock and walked in without any further warning.

Neal fought to smother the indignation welling up inside him and moved over to wash his hands. He ignored the sound of Peter using the toilet behind him. Clearly, Peter was not shy. Not in front of Neal anyway, and why would he be?
Neal was like Satchmo; alive maybe, with his own thoughts, but already just an everyday part of the Peter’s household.

Neal glanced at the doorway where Satchmo was sitting waiting for someone to lead him downstairs and let him out.
Neal toweled off his hands and headed to doorway. He gave the dog an affectionate pat and started to lead him out, to let him outside, already on board with the idea of helping to care for the Golden Retriever.

“Neal, wait,” Peter called.

Neal paused but didn’t turn, remembering that Peter was wary of attempts to escape. Elizabeth walked out of the master bedroom, having heard Peter’s order; she smiled at Neal, came up and gave him a kiss before murmuring to Satchmo.
She looked back at Neal. “I’ll take him, don’t worry.”
Neal watched as Elizabeth disappeared downstairs with the dog at her heels. Peter was taking his time. Neal guessed Peter was enjoying the leisure of knowing he could take his time and Neal would simply have to wait.

And Neal did wait. He entertained himself with the safety of the knowledge that no matter what kind of rules the Burkes drummed into him, they couldn’t change what they didn’t know existed. His back still turned on Peter, Neal smirked.

Peter came out, switching off the light as he went. “Good, Neal. Let’s go.”
With his hand at the small of Neal’s back, Peter led Neal down the stairs.

As they went Peter couldn’t help noticing Neal’s appearance. “You look better.”

Neal dipped his chin, wondering if he’d made things worse for himself somehow.  “It’s amazing what a shower and a comb will do.”

Peter was quiet. Neal could tell he was thinking.

At the bottom of the stairs Peter stood back and gave Neal a once over. Neal looked back, used to being analyzed and decided to give Peter a taste of his own medicine. He looked the Agent over and let his nose crinkle with badly hidden distaste.

“You could use some new clothes,” Peter stated.

Neal was tempted to say the same back but decided holding a baited breath would be wiser.

“I’ll get El to take you shopping,” Peter decided, “tonight. There’s a thrift store a few streets away.”

Neal refrained from pursing his lips. He really didn’t like thrift stores; not for the clothes he’d like to wear, but any clothes were better than these. He knew most slaves wore the same two piece garb he was wearing for the rest of their lives. No, Neal wasn’t going to complain ... yet.

“Can you make the coffee?”

Neal gave a nod and disappeared around the corner into the kitchen. Peter was fine with that, the kitchen was a cul-de-sac; there was nowhere to go from there.

He sat down at the table and opened yesterday’s newspaper.

Chapter Text

“You should have said you could make coffee! That’s better than soup any day!” Peter sighed happily, “I would have paid double for you—this is good stuff.”

Neal smiled.  “Thanks Peter, did you want breakfast? Eggs? Toast? Sugar-os?”

Peter tensed. He opened his eyes and moved off the back of the chair where he’d been relaxing and enjoying the recently downed coffee.

He narrowed his eyes at Neal.  “What are you up to?”

Neal’s eyes widened and he replied contritely.   “What do you mean, Peter? I’m just asking if you want breakfast.”

Peter stood, pushing the chair back as he went. He cocked his head and Neal knew he wasn’t buying it.

Neal shrugged.   “This is what I’m supposed to do, isn’t it?”

Peter shook his head slowly, understanding.

“Neal,” Peter intoned.  “Don’t bother; I know what you’re doing. And yes, breakfast is good, but not this morning. We’ve got a lot of paperwork, especially if I want to get a tracker. But I want you to eat; you didn’t eat last night—we’ll get something on the way in.”

Neal kept his irritation to himself. Peter was his mark, nothing would change that. He just had to work harder; Peter wouldn’t know genuine from facetious before long.

Elizabeth came down having showered and headed straight to Peter, giving him an affectionate hug from behind before kissing him. Then she moved towards Neal producing a small red book.

“Sweetie, do you mind using this?” She handed the book to Neal.  “It’s got all the important dates in it for you to remind Peter of.”

Neal nodded pleasantly.  “Peter won’t miss another anniversary.”

“How did you…?” Peter frowned, then waved a hand.  “Never mind. Neal, stop it.”

Neal gave a mild questioning look while Elizabeth frowned, confused by Peter’s words but Peter continued to look at Neal pointedly. When Neal maintained an innocent gaze in return, Peter put his hands on his hips and pursed his lips.

Neal finally looked away to the red book and sighed.

He thumbed through the pages and stopped when he found what he was looking for. He looked up at Peter before scoffing softly.

Neal turned to Elizabeth and spoke.  “Actually, I’m sorry, I probably won’t be able to remind Peter about your anniversary; it’s in six months.”

El gave a mildly nonplussed look. “Why not?”

Neal gave Peter another glance. Peter was waiting expectantly now.

“Because,” Neal answered easily, “I don’t intend to still be here in six months.”

Peter nodded approvingly.   “Better. But you’re wrong; you’re not leaving, Neal.”

Neal shrugged.  “I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.”

But Elizabeth wasn’t impressed. She crossed her arms and looked at Neal.  “Neal, why do you have a problem with us?”

Neal shook his head, knowing he couldn’t explain to them; they were free, they would never understand. He himself had been free once—and he hadn’t understood either.

“It’s not you,” he told Elizabeth.  “I just don’t intend to remain a slave for the rest of my life.”

“Neal,” Peter spoke warningly.  “You can’t change…”

“You can save your lecture Peter, I know, okay,” Neal interrupted, “but it doesn’t change anything.”

“No,” Peter growled, “I don’t think you do. You belong with us. Neal. Whether anyone likes it or not, it’s fact, okay. This house is your home.”

Neal didn’t reply.

Elizabeth moved forward concerned.  “Neal, you’re safe here. You … you fit. Why would you want to…?”

Neal watched El warily, she looked like she wanted to hug him fiercely and never let go. Peter was blatantly possessive; anyone who saw him could tell he liked having Neal but look at Elizabeth and you thought you saw a grounded, objective, and kind woman. It was only in moments like these that El showed her true personality; the one that shone with defiance, and determination. Nothing would stand in her way.

Neal looked between Peter and Elizabeth feeling sufficiently double-teamed. This would take some careful planning; neither of them were easy marks.


Ten minutes after starting up the car, with Neal in the passenger seat this time, Peter made good on his promise and entered a drive through to obtain two breakfast combo meals.

Neal kept his disapproval to himself. If he stayed long enough, Neal promised himself, he would work on Peter’s taste.

Even if Peter had told him he should eat now instead of at the office, Neal wasn’t sure he would have been able to eat much—despite his hunger—because he was worried about the day ahead of him.

It was bad manners to interfere with other people’s slaves so Neal wasn’t worried about the Agents Peter worked with; they respected Peter and wouldn’t dare risk appearing at all rude or disrespectful by messing with Neal.

But Neal had never really been in public since his enslavement. He wasn’t sure how to act and he wasn’t sure what was expected of him. His own opinion of himself had changed considerably. He supposed it was only expected then, that his confidence would be shaken.

Perhaps sensing his subdued mood, Peter assured him that every slave and master relationship was different. The way Neal acted and behaved was Peter’s problem and no-one else’s business.

“Stay with me,” Peter had said, “and you’ll be fine, Neal.”

Despite Peter’s less than comforting words, Neal found himself dreading the outside world. Eventually he realized why. The way people would look at him, and regard him would be different to what he was used to.

But then, Neal had always made himself what he was; he could be anyone and if he had to work a little bit harder to get somebody he was talking to, to overlook the collar on his neck, then he would. Because….

Damn it, he was Neal Caffrey!

Despite these thoughts, Neal still worried…

At least Peter didn’t seem to have any desire to objectify Neal. He may have done it without intent or realization but Neal recognized the mercy Peter bestowed on him even if Peter didn’t. It wasn’t a reward or a vote of confidence: the leash was simply—in Peter’s opinion—not necessary.

While wearing a collar was something Neal would take years to get used to, seeing a slave wear it (and the bland garbs) was as normal as seeing a person wearing pants, so Neal received no odd looks. Some people glanced at him, cataloging him as Peter’s latest acquisition. Some people who had spoken to Peter before expressed their appreciation of his investment.

Neal took in everything he could; Peter had a child lock on all three doors of the Taurus (he’d have to use the driver’s door). The New York branch of the FBI was down the street from a coffee shop (perfect excuse material to leave the building). There were three exits from the parking garage (all accessible on foot). The steps in the stairwell were three quarters of a foot deep (the perfect height for descending and ascending fast). The elevator had a two-second delay and the machinery took thirteen seconds to come to a stop before opening the doors (the stairs were faster). The elevator security camera was in the left corner closest to the doors (blind spot next to the access panel). The White Collar division was forty-five percent comprised of clear walls (no computer could be accessed privately).

Peter’s second, an Agent Clinton Jones, gave Neal a friendly nod but averted his eyes (he probably knew someone personally who had become a slave). Peter’s probationary agent—Diana Barrigan—held sympathy in her eyes as she maintained a welcoming expression for a fraction of a second too long (potential abolitionist). Special Agent in Charge Reese Hughes was blunt.
He listened as Peter requested a tracker then spun a spiel about the progress of his latest cases. Neal had listened to this, but Peter had kept to the basics (nothing new since Tuesday last week but they were following a few potential leads.)
Then Peter had to complete paperwork in Hughes’ office. During this time Peter had sat Neal in his office with a junior agent for a babysitter.

Neal glanced at the breakfast containers Peter had told Neal to place on his desk. Peter had told him to eat too, but Neal didn’t feel comfortable. He glanced at the junior agent; he’d eat when Peter came back.


Neal wandered over to the window. The agent merely looked up for one bored second before returning to his case notes. He’d been told to make sure Peter’s boy stayed in the room so that’s all he was doing. Neal didn’t mind being ignored. Instead of attempting a lively banter as he might have done once he settled on observing the busy city below. They were on the twenty-first floor so Neal could see quite a lot.
Neal edged to the side at the sight of some minuscule movement below. There, he could see a few young college-aged boys passing a football as they wandered down the road. Heading in the opposite direction and rummaging in her bag was a young lady distracted by a phone pinched between her shoulder and cheek. Neal smirked softly having seen what was yet to occur; the boys hadn’t noticed the lady who was just about to pass between them with no awareness of the football being tossed.

Neal glanced back at the junior agent and very quickly—in microseconds—Neal had an idea.

“Hey!” He yelled at the window leaning forward with just enough tension and alarm in his voice that the startled agent behind him didn’t hesitate to investigate what had caught Neal’s attention. Neal had timed it perfectly; just as the agent reached the window the football flew from a guy who’d been walking backwards across the path to his mate and right into the lady’s side causing her to jump and drop her things at once.

The young men all rushed forward, some immediately to help gather up her belongings before drawing back as she beat them to it and some going after the wayward football.

“Hey—look!” Neal gestured urgently. “Those guys just stole her purse!”

And it did look that way. The Agent didn’t wait long enough to be able to identify that it was not a purse but a football the man was running across the road with.

Hmm, Neal mused, as he watched the young Agent leave the room in a rush pausing only to gather some like-minded back-up, wanna-be-heroes who like Damsels in Distress. I can work with that.

Neal moved to the computer and glanced up again, there was no-one looking this way; it was now or never.

He explored the desktop before locating the database. Not sure entirely how to start, his fingers hovered doubtfully. He didn’t want to enter his girlfriend’s name just in case Peter was paranoid and decided to check his search history. Searching the name of the man who’d started all this wouldn’t help either: Peter would find out everything Neal worked so hard to hide.

He lingered too long.

He didn’t even notice Peter until he shifted in his seat in an agitated attempt to be struck with inspiration and that’s when he noticed he wasn’t alone.

Neal looked up. “Peter.”

Peter was standing with his arms folded and leaning on the door frame. He gestured with the folders in his left hand. “Don’t stop on my account, Neal.”

Neal looked down then stood, pushing the chair back, letting his arms swing to his side and slumping his shoulders in a sign of weary defeat.

Peter sighed and dumped the folders onto the desk. He moved around the desk and took a look at the database on the screen. Neal had not managed to enter any search parameters so Peter was still in the dark.

The agent pushed Neal gently aside and sat on the chair. “Have a seat, Neal.”

Neal, confused at Peter’s behavior, did as he was told and settled warily on the chair opposite Peter.

Peter took one of the breakfast meals and pushed the other to Neal. “Eat.”

With no further excuses, Neal picked at his food in an attempt to banish the hunger and hopefully make Peter happy.


When Peter had finished eating and set aside his empty container he leaned forward and took a breath. “Neal, we never finished our conversation last night.”

Neal paused, remembering back to his half-baked, failed escape attempt and the ensuing conversation. He put the fork down and looked up at Peter.

“Peter,” Neal murmured.  “I’m sorry, okay. I don’t know what I was thinking.”

Peter waved off Neal’s apology. “You were going out to find someone, weren’t you?”

Neal blinked, surprised.

Peter nodded. He was now one-hundred percent certain that had been exactly what Neal was going to do. “I’m an FBI agent, Neal, that’s what I do; I figure things out.”

Neal already knew that. Not just that Peter was an agent, but that he was smart; it wasn’t that hard to recognize.

“You were obviously …” Peter gestured to the screen before stopping mid-sentence as the junior agent from before returned.

He took one look at Neal then spoke to Peter. “I’m sorry Boss. I thought …”

Neal very deliberately kept his eyes downcast.

Peter put up a palm and replied calmly. “It’s fine, agent. You can go.”

Peter looked at the computer screen again after the obviously relieved agent left the room.

“You conned my agent to get a moment on the computer,” Peter observed.

Neal squared his shoulders. “I know, I’m sorry.”

Peter gave a soft chuckle. “Don’t be, you managed to con my agent. He should know better than that. If you’d managed to con me, then I would have deserved it, too.”

Neal stared at Peter, surprised again. He’d never been surprised so many times by one person.

“But, you know, Neal,” Peter spoke softly.  “If you want to find someone, you could just ask me. I could help you find them.”

Neal looked away, frustrated. Here Peter was offering exactly what Neal wanted, but he couldn’t take the offer.

“Neal,” Peter assured.  “I’m good at finding people.”

Neal nodded then raked his hair. A pause, then he smiled softly, unable to avoid the memories from surfacing.

“Neal?” Peter prompted bringing Neal back to reality.

“I know, Peter,” Neal answered.  “Thank you, but I don’t need your help. It’s not what you think.” He shrugged casually hoping that would satisfy Peter.

Peter considered Neal’s reply. “Fine,” he said blandly and Neal knew Peter wasn’t satisfied but the Agent had recognized that there was nothing he could do for the moment.

Peter pulled the files together. “Your tracker is coming in the afternoon. I might take you to El after that. Hughes said the violent crimes department may have a new case to pass us this afternoon. If they do, I’ll be busy.”

“Violent crimes?” Neal asked as he picked up the fork again, grateful that Peter had dropped the subject. “I thought you worked only white collar crime?”

Peter nodded, putting the files aside and pulling the keyboard towards him. “Yes, well actually it’s an old case that’s been floating around unsolved, but they connected it to a murder. They think the victim may have been an associate of the prime suspect.”

“Oh.”  Neal moved forward a bit, curious.  “Falling out?”

“That’s what the violent crime boys think,” Peter answered distracted by the searching he was doing on the database.  “The case agent has retired since, so my team will be taking over.”

“I’m assuming the suspect has dealings in white collar crime?” Neal confirmed as he swirled what was left of his now-cold food.

Peter took a deep breath. “To put it simply; yes.”

Neal gave an understanding nod. “He’s been quite busy then?”

Peter nodded unnecessarily. “The last lead the bureau had was over two years ago. Before that there were at least four suspected cases of forgery. Every time the bureau got close to seizing either him or the evidence, everything disappeared. The guy is apparently not afraid of destroying all his work in favor of keeping us in the dark. He just moves on to his next project.”

“And now he’s killed someone?” Neal summed up.

Peter nodded.

Chapter Text

Peter put his hands on his hips and checked the clock again. Then he turned to Neal.

“The tracker is late. You’ll just have to come to the meeting with me. I might give you some paperwork to do.”

Neal closed his eyes with dread. Paperwork?

He stood with a sigh. Peter smirked. “Don’t worry, Neal, it’s simple.”

It other words; boring.

Peter gathered up his files then took Neal’s arm. They headed into the conference room next door and Peter sat Neal up the far end of the table before putting some files sorted in various beige file jackets in front of him.

“All you have to do is sort out my notes and rewrite the case files into the one form. Put the pictures at the back once you’re done.”

Neal sat, resigned to an afternoon of boring paperwork. “Got a pen?”

Peter dropped a black ballpoint into the table before his eye caught on one of the files.

“Oh, you don’t need to do that one.”

Neal caught a glimpse of the file jacket before Peter took it and slid it down the table.

“What was that one?”

Peter moved off down the other end towards the door.

“Just another case I’m working on; it’s already sorted.” Peter replied vaguely.

Neal looked at the file again and at the indistinct outline of a pair of unfamiliar initials penned in the top right corner: ‘J.B. '01-current'



At first, Neal ignored Peter’s briefing. He’d heard the basics. It was when Peter opened up the case file that had just been delivered by the violent crimes branch that Neal began to pay more attention.

It wasn’t until Peter stuck a picture of the dead man on the board that Neal stopped pretending he wasn’t listening.

“Liam Richards,” Peter announced to Jones and Diana.  “Thirty-four years old. Violent crimes think he may have been hired muscle. It’s possible he may have attempted to double-cross our suspect. We don’t know how or why. This is the first real lead we’ve had on our guy in two years, guys, so we’ll need to look at every part of this guy’s life right down to the girlfriend he might have had at six.”

After Neal had been backtracking over his memories and had been making connections for a good part of the last few minutes, Peter finally noticed a distinct lack of the pen scratching from the other end of the table.

“Neal?” Peter watched as Neal tore his gaze from the board. When Neal’s attention was focused on him, Peter gestured to the forms, “How’s it going.”

Neal blinked a few times before looking down. He twirled the pen.  “Hmm? Oh, it’s fine, it’s fine.”

Peter nodded then continued talking. As he paused in moments between handing out further papers and writing up something new on the board he glanced up at Neal. His companion seemed distracted with thoughts. Peter looked over the files on the table; Neal hadn’t done much since the first time Neal had started eavesdropping on the briefing.

“Okay, so Diana, I want you to write up a list of anybody this guy has had contact with in the last ten years. Jones, get me a transcript of everything this guy has done, and check contacts, both of you. We may have to liaise with violent crimes at some point and we also might have to bring the prior case agent down here for a consult.”

Peter quieted as his agents left the room with their marching orders. Neal wasn’t even trying to portray an image of a hardworking slave anymore.

Peter came up and leaned on the back of an empty chair. “Neal?”

Neal looked up from staring at the blank form before him.

Peter pulled the chair out and sat down. “Do you know something, Neal?”

Neal looked at the board.  “It’s a fascinating case. Sorry, distracting. I’ll get it done.”

Peter placed a hand on Neal’s hand. Neal stopped and stared at the pen that was trapped in his own fist.

Peter leaned forward seeking Neal’s gaze. “Neal?”

Neal moved his hand out from under Peter’s hold and put the pen down carefully. “Is this your only current case, Peter?”

Peter leaned back. Neal was a hard man to figure out. “No.”

Neal nodded. “It’s gotta be tough.”

Peter tilted his head slightly.

“Having all these open cases,” Neal elaborated.

Peter nodded, confused.

Neal smiled with sympathy. “I’m sure you’ll get them.”

Peter frowned as Neal promptly picked up the pen and returned to rewriting the words displayed in the hastily-written Peter Burke scrawl onto a form trademarked with the FBI logo.



The first file Neal had to rewrite and compile in order, was a solved mortgage fraud case.

The second file was as-of-yet unsolved. Neal found himself poring over the information. It should have been an open-and-shut theft case but as Neal found out, things had become complicated. The marks had always been rich men who had reason to celebrate. Enter the women; there were always at least four over a span of three days. During these three days of celebrations the men somehow lost everything out of their safe. The four or more women were always questioned but based on evidence that had been left behind, all four or more had reasonable evidence to support their claims that they had nothing to do with the theft despite the fact that they were always the only suspects around unless you counted the marks themselves. The women at each theft were always different.
There were never any signs of break and entry but Peter had found something; two separate transactions in each woman’s account, from before and after the theft.
It could mean the woman were paid companions for the marks; this would explain why none of the women or marks were keen to talk, but all of the marks had been married so they already no reason to talk.

Or, the real thief was paying off the women.

Neal closed the file having ordered the contents.

He moved onto the next one.

A rich socialite suspected a theft from her home which housed over fifty works of art. Five black-outs in two days with the generator failing every time had generated suspicion. Peter was waiting for an expert art appraiser to come in, in the next two days.

Neal grimaced then moved on.

The third and last file contained an identity theft case. Two men claimed to be the same rich heir to a wealthy estate, and unfortunately there was no evidence and no witnesses to confirm either man’s claim.

Neal closed the files and pushed them away. His actions were noted but otherwise ignored by Diana who was his current minder while Peter had gone out to chase down some warrants.

Neal spent his time considering all that he had learned and, perhaps against his better judgment, a plan began to form.

When Diana had finished writing her current report, she leaned back, sighed and turned her gaze onto her Boss’s new slave.

Neal had generated a lot of interesting office gossip. Everyone was very happy for Peter and Elizabeth. The acquisition of a slave signified Peter’s and El’s happiness and success. A lot of people were intent on expressing their approval; after all Agent Peter Burke deserved it. He was one of the hardest working men the agency had ever seen, with a very impressive case-closure rate.

And Diana didn’t want to begrudge her boss of something he’d worked hard to earn, but she had a problem with slavery. She hadn’t ever expressed this. She knew people wouldn’t understand.
It was common knowledge that Diana was gay. But it was a secret that Diana was in love.

As she let her gaze settle on Neal, Diana began to think about Christie. Christie had been a slave since she was eleven and had been trained in the medical field. Diana had met her when her owner had needed her services in treating an injured associate wounded during an FBI investigation.

Diana wasn’t an abolitionist. Not by choice, because she would do anything for Christie—but simply because New York had no network she could join (that she knew of), and she wasn’t sure they would even let an FBI agent join in the first place.
So, Diana had thought, if she couldn’t fight them, then why not join them?
Diana had tried to buy Christie’s freedom, but medic slaves were incredibly expensive and Christie’s owners weren’t interested in selling so Diana couldn’t be with her beloved that way either.

She cleared her vision and found Neal watching her, calmly, in return.

They shared a somewhat mutual thought. Slavery sucks.



Neal was bored. Even more bored than when he’d had to rewrite the case files and notes. Peter wasn’t back yet and Diana was going through the database for any known associates of Liam Richards.

Neal wondered if he should say something to help Diana. But then he would lose what little leverage he might be able to use against Peter.

Instead he cast around for something else to talk about. His eyes roved about the conference room until they settled on the file Peter had slid down the table out of his reach. He glanced at Diana. She looked busy so Neal stood and edged down the side of the table. He was parallel to the file when Diana snapped her gaze on him.

“What are you doing?”

Neal smiled, remembering what he’d realized the moment Peter left him with Diana as his babysitter; she wouldn’t be tricked.

As predicted, Diana didn’t react to his smile but Neal didn’t waver, he gestured, wide-eyed, to the case file.

Diana glanced at the file and rolled her eyes. “I wouldn’t touch it if I were you. Peter’s vey possessive of that case. Only likes the help when he specifically asks for it. And anyway, it doesn’t need a rewrite; he’s very neat when it comes to bonds.”

Neal perked up. “This involves Bond forgery?”

Diana paused. “Well, yes, but actually I was referring to the suspect. We don’t know his name so Peter calls him …”

Peter walked in with several disgruntled mumbles and Diana forgot about what she was saying.

Neal scowled, just when he’d started to lose his boredom, Peter had to walk in. The agent had bad timing.

“Boss?” Diana stood quickly.

Peter paced. “The old case agent passed away two months ago. We’re on our own.”

Diana drew a sympathetic breath. “At least we have his notes.”

Peter glanced to Neal who was standing still. “Finished?”

Neal nodded.

Peter turned to Diana. “Thanks Diana, I’m going to work out of my office now, so you can go do whatever it is you need to do.”

Neal gathered up all Peter’s paperwork, at the Agent’s indication, and followed him into his office before settling in the chair as Peter immediately gave out a few more tasks to his junior agents over the extensions before typing furiously into the computer; presumably sending off emails.

Maybe Peter would be receptive, Neal thought as he watched Peter flip through the list of contacts. He clearly prioritized his work over everything else … even anniversaries seemed to take a back seat. Maybe Peter would accept Neal’s offer despite the strings. There was only one way Neal could find out. He’d have to bite the bullet and ask.

Chapter Text

Neal was nervous. Putting forth this offer to Peter could blow up in his face. He’d have to be very careful about how he phrased his words.

When Peter finished typing, he took a moment to lean back and rest. And Neal took his chance.

“Peter,” Neal started carefully.

Peter rubbed his face, breathing deep, and then he shifted forward and refocused on Neal.  “Yeah?”

Neal looked down at the case files in front of him. Three of them lay unsolved before him.

In all of them, Neal was reasonably certain he could find the culprit.

“What’s it worth to you if I can help you solve these? Arrest the criminals behind the crimes?”

Peter blinked. Whatever he’d been expecting, it was not that.

Peter softened his eyes and tried his best not to sound patronizing. “Neal, I’m an FBI agent. If my team and I can’t solve it…”

Neal shifted the files until the new one lay on top. He opened it to the page upon which the dead man’s picture; an image of Liam Richards, was displayed.

“I know of this man,” Neal revealed.  “I know who he’s been working with for the last two years.”

Peter tensed. He ignored the immediate questions that popped up and spoke firmly, “Neal, if you know who killed him, you need to tell us.”

Neal shook his head. “I don’t need to tell you. And I don’t know who killed him. I do have suspicions.”

Peter stared at Neal. “Neal, it’s against the law not to…”

“No, it isn’t,” Neal refuted stubbornly.  “For one thing, I don’t know of any crimes involved with this guy, and for another, slaves don’t count.”

Peter drew back, contemplating. Neal was right. Slaves were somewhat immune to the usual expectations the law placed on civilians—within reason—because they were considered to be dependents and therefore not responsible for their actions, and thus they couldn’t be held accountable.

Peter sighed. “Okay, Neal.”

Neal relaxed slightly, pleased that Peter seemed willing to listen.

“You obviously want something,” Peter said, trying not to show his nerves, “otherwise you’d tell me outright.”

“Very good, Peter,” Neal smiled, before realizing his manner towards Peter, who by all rights owned him, was quite insubordinate. He swallowed and continued, thankful that Peter was an amiable guy.  “If I help you catch and arrest the guy who killed him—if it’s the same guy from your case file—then set me free.”



Looking into Neal’s intense gaze, Peter realized he’d grossly misunderstood Neal’s nature. He had seen Neal’s faults and simply believed Neal to being the process of adjusting to his new life. He had thought, if they showed Neal their own lives and welcomed him into it like he was always meant to be there then he would find it easier to adjust, find it comforting or assuring, steady, or solid. Anything that would put him at ease. But Peter suspected that may have made it worse despite their best intentions. He wasn’t sure how being kind and inclusive could be the wrong thing to do. Maybe Neal hadn’t found closure yet?

Peter wasn’t sure what to do. What Neal asked—it was something he should not have asked. And Neal knew that. Which meant he was serious about leaving. Of course he was. He’d tried to walk last night, hadn’t he? He’d picked a lock as easy as breathing and had left the bed without disturbing either of them. Neal had almost gone—would have been gone, save for the dog. And then just that morning Neal had told them defiantly that he intended to leave.

Peter knew then, that he’d been irresponsible. He should have learned more. Found out about Neal; his past, his likes, dislikes … and he should have taken it easy, taken it slowly.

Most slaves when they were purchased were eager to prove themselves, that or they knew how to do what was expected of them. Neal had displayed a lack of interest; he hadn’t been there, mentally. He’d withdrawn into himself. He’d clung onto something that Peter and El weren’t privy to. He hadn’t let go.

And he and El, as eager as they’d been had simply assumed it would be something Neal would let go of once he realized they were good owners. And they were. Peter knew he and El were the kind of owners that slaves dreamed of.

Peter realized he had expected Neal to be grateful. Grateful enough, that he and El would be Neal’s priority. That Neal would want to prove himself to them, to solidify his place in their lives, to ensure he’d be wanted and kept.

“Peter?” Neal murmured softly.

Peter looked at Neal. Neal was obviously distracted by whatever it is he couldn’t let go of, so naturally he didn’t realize what he was asking.

Peter knew given time, Neal would be okay; he and El would make sure of it. Peter felt a strong vehemence at that thought. It suddenly seemed to be very important to him that Neal would be okay.

In the meantime, Peter decided, he would do the homework he should have done at the beginning. He’d find out who Neal Caffrey was then help him come to terms with whatever it was keeping him from being able to let go.

Concentrating on the present, Peter slowly shook his head. “Neal, it doesn’t work that way.”

Neal looked away, secretly devastated, then he looked back at Peter. “It’s not just that one, Peter; I can help you with the others. I can help you catch them.”

Peter drew the files in and bundled them before leafing through them. “These two are standard cases. I can solve them myself.”

It might have been true but Peter was making a flimsy excuse. He knew it. Neal knew it

Neal spoke quietly. “Peter, just tell me, what will it take for you to let me go?”

“Are we that bad, Neal?” Peter prompted, hoping Neal would rethink his desires. “You have a safe home with people who care about you.”

Neal sighed; frustrated that he couldn’t explain to Peter how felt.

He stayed silent instead.



“Neal.” Peter moved the case files aside and leaned forward on his elbows. “What is this really about?”

Peter waited, watching Neal for the smallest motion or expression. Neal’s eyes lowered a fraction and he tensed in the shoulders a little but otherwise just remained quiet and unmoving.

“Neal,” Peter prompted. “I can help you find this person. I’ll even let you go see them, talk to them. You can make sure they’re okay, which I’m sure they are.”

Still no response.

“But,” Peter sighed. “You have to give me something. Tell me their names.”

Neal looked towards the window and then straight into Peter’s eyes. “I don’t want your help finding anyone, Peter.”

Peter moved back, frustrated with Neal. It should have been simple, but Neal was making it complicated, making it difficult to help him.

He had to let it go. At some point, Neal would come to him and they’d do this little dance again.

He opened the files and checked through Neal’s work. The re-written notes were simple, ordered, accurate and easy to read. “You did a good job on these, thank you, Neal.”

“You really won’t even entertain the idea of letting me go, even to solve a few high profile cases?” Neal checked.

Peter closed and put down the file he was holding. He considered his next words carefully.

“Neal, you may not realize that you have it good with me and El, but I do. Out there, you’d be subject to being hunted. Former slaves have less consideration than those who have never been enslaved no matter the paperwork that says they’re free. If I freed you, it wouldn’t make it any easier on you.”

“It’s not your problem, Peter,” Neal stated.

“Yes it is,” Peter asserted, “because we have a responsibility for you, Neal, and we care about you too.”

Neal made no indication of his thoughts but Peter knew he didn’t believe his words.

Peter decided nothing but time would prove to Neal that they did indeed care for him.

He turned to the computer after a moment of watching Neal who didn’t seem to have anything more to say. The moment he broke eye contact though, Neal spoke.

“You’re not going to change your mind are you?”

Peter paused trying to work out if it was resignation or resentment in Neal’s tone but then Neal sighed and said two words.

“Curtis Hagen.”

Peter cocked his head at Neal.

Neal dipped his head in the direction of the first case. “That’s the guy your dead man worked for.”

Later, Peter decided, he would find out how Neal knew this. Just what had he done in the past that allowed him to know this? But for now, the agent in him forced him to prioritize.

“Curtis Hagen?”

Neal nodded. “Real piece of work. Last I heard he tried to get a forger to help him with some kind of currency.”

“Last you heard?”

Neal’s expression remained neutral.

Despite the apparently new lead in his current case—and certainly because of it—Peter found himself with a strong desire to run home and crack open Neal’s paperwork right now; get to the bottom of where Neal had come from.

“Why are telling me this?” Peter asked confused.

To show you what you’re missing, Neal thought. He shrugged. “I don’t like the guy, Peter, he’s nasty.”

“You said something about forging currency,” Peter pointed out.  “I thought you didn’t know about any crimes.”

Neal nodded. “The forger turned down his offer … hence: no crime.”

Peter narrowed his eyes and he pursed his lips.

Neal just maintained an innocent and apparently relaxed demeanor. Peter's instincts told him that what he was seeing of Neal was contrived. Peter realized then that Neal had more to hide than he’d let on. He really needed to do that homework.



The tracker didn’t end up arriving until after four. By then Peter had decided to investigate Neal’s tip-off and had set Diana and Jones on Hagan’s trail if just to see what would turn up. So far, there had been a few vague reports; one stating that Hagan was an art restorer, or that he at least used to be one.
Neal had been unable to give Peter more information. Peter couldn’t be sure Neal was telling the truth but prompting Neal further felt pointless.

When the tracker arrived, Neal had been sent out to where Jones sat at his desk fielding a call from another department that was doing some fact-checking. Neal watched Peter through the glass walls where he could see a man standing behind him, pointing to the computer screen and explaining as he went. Neal guessed Peter was being taught how to install the tracking program software that would allow Peter to control Neal’s whereabouts from a distance.

Neal wasn’t too worried about the tracker. In fact, he encouraged it. Anything to give Peter and El a false sense of security, because then he’d be able to work in peace to find a way out of this arrangement. Neal saw the tech hand Peter a disc, a black band and something small while answering Peter’s latest questions.

Neal didn’t make his attention a secret so when the tech walked out Peter waved a hand gesturing for Neal to come to him.

Peter seemed distracted. He was reading something on the computer but he managed to mumble for Neal to sit down when Neal walked in.
Neal sat staring at the small black, malleable-looking band. It looked as though something as low-tech as a pair of scissors would take care of it. Really, was Peter joking?

Peter seemed to sense Neal’s thoughts. He spun the band like a top on the table and the two men watched as its momentum continued until it began to slow and wobble to a stop. Peter then touched it gently and slid it to the side a bit before sighing. “It doesn’t look like much, does it?”

Neal looked at Peter and smiled vaguely before shrugging.
Peter tried to ignore Neal’s smile. It made his spider-sense prickle. Instead Peter picked up the band, stood and came around to the other side of the desk before kneeling on one knee.

Neal turned his head to look at his owner. This—being above Peter’s eye level—felt, somehow, weird. He looked down at Peter while Peter scanned Neal’s feet.

“You slept on your back last night,” Peter stated.

Neal thought back. He hadn’t had much room to move.

“Do you always sleep on your back?”Peter asked before changing the query. “What side do you sleep on usually, Neal?”

Neal blinked. Then he answered having failed to see any danger in telling Peter. “My right side.”

Peter acknowledged Neal’s words with a small nod then indicated Neal’s legs. “I’ll put it on your left one then.”

Neal puzzled momentarily on why Peter would bother caring what ankle would be the most comfortable for a GPS tracker to sit on. Only for a second; then Neal put it down to it being a part of Peter’s nature.

Neal watched with close interest as Peter fastened the GPS tracker around his ankle. It felt snug because he had a pair of socks on, which Neal was grateful for as it looked like the kind of material that could chafe the skin, especially in summer, and pull at his fine hair.

Peter received a text then and after a few minutes of texting back, he rose to his feet and motioned to Neal.

“Come on,” he said.  “I’m taking you home. El said she’s done for the day and should be home in half an hour. Some bad traffic might slow her, so forty-five minutes max. Then I’m going to work late with Diana and Jones, so you’ll have to take care of El for me.”

Chapter Text

Neal got to his feet and—with a few stops along the way for Peter to talk to a few agents including Hughes—they made their way down to the car. It wasn’t until they were in the car and Peter was starting up the engine that Neal decided he needed more information.

“When you say ‘take care of El’,” Neal started carefully, “do you mean keep her company, cook her dinner, and take her up to bed … that sort of thing?”

Peter didn’t answer at first because the traffic demanded his attention but once they were in the flow of traffic Peter was able to give some thought to the question. “Yeah, though I just meant company. I think she’ll be too tired to do much other than what she normally does.”

Neal looked out the window and watched as the buildings passed them by. At this stage, he wasn’t ruling anything out. “I’ve only been with you guys for one night, Peter. What does El normally do?”

“Taxes,” Peter said promptly, “it seems like she’s always doing taxes. Um, organizing stuff for the next day. Then she might watch a movie, have dinner, and then bed I guess.”

They traveled in silence with only the traffic noise piercing the air. As the traffic level began to drop the closer they came to suburbia, Peter’s thoughts increasingly wandered from work to home. It brought up issues he’d already obsessed over; Neal and his mysterious issues, Neal and his mysterious past, and Neal and his mysterious knowledge. Who was he chasing? What had Neal done before he was enslaved? How had he been enslaved? How did he know about Hagan? How did he know how to pick locks?

They were ten minutes from home when Peter’s mind mercifully jumped to his wife. Her birthday was at the forefront of his mind and Peter was at a loss for what he could do or get to mark the day as a special one for her. Peter glanced at Neal. He remembered the previous night; of having asked Neal for advice but Neal hadn’t known Elizabeth. It had been unfair that just because he was romantically inclined he should know the perfect gift for Elizabeth.

Maybe he didn’t know before, but Peter figured Neal was capable of finding out. He couldn’t help grinning as the idea came to him. It was perfect! It would give Neal an objective for the night … Neal wouldn’t feel awkward or useless—he would have a goal and in the process Peter would find out through Neal what he most needed to know.



“Neal.”  Peter decided.  “Tonight … find out what Elizabeth likes. Be subtle about it, but just get to know her, find out what she wants most. Then I can get it for her birthday. And you’ll have something to do.”

Neal stiffened. He reasoned with himself, Peter wasn’t asking anything impossible of him, and it wasn’t like he didn’t have experience. It was a task that any new slave could do, really. He breathed a little easier. But.…

“I need something to go on,” Neal replied softly.

Peter looked at Neal uncertain.
Neal noticed Peter’s hesitance, he gestured vaguely.  “Just to get started.”

“What do you mean?”  Peter frowned, half concentrating on the traffic which had thickened momentarily thanks to a traffic-halting ambulance, half in answer to Neal.

“Well.” Neal paused as Peter squeezed into a gap in the next lane to get around a cab that had suddenly pulled up, and then he continued, ignoring the whites of his knuckles on the door handle.   “What’s Elizabeth into?”

Peter turned to regard Neal for a second after turning into a quieter street.   “You mean sexually?”

Neal scrambled for something to say, but his mind was blank. He hadn’t meant sexually and ordinarily he might have expressed his automatic aversion to the subject but that was his purpose wasn’t it? It wasn’t unreasonable for Peter to assume that’s what he meant.

He turned his attention to the road ahead for a couple of seconds. He tried to come up with a way to respond that wouldn’t sound to Peter like he was trying to steer the conversation—or the night—away from sex.

“Oh, sure, if it’s important, but,” Neal finally answered, praying he wasn’t botching the tone, “I meant; existentially. What makes her happy? What makes her feel alive?”

At first Neal assumed Peter was distracted with the traffic again but when Peter frowned and tapped the steering wheel with his hand falteringly, Neal realized Peter was struggling to find an answer.

Neal shifted in his chair and stared at his owner.  “How could you not know? She’s your wife and you.…”

Peter blinked at Neal and turned away, opening his mouth then closing it.

“I mean—don’t you do this for a living?” Neal persisted, “you compile the most mundane information on suspects, everything from how often they go to the toilet to the kind of music they …”

“That’s the job!” Peter interrupted, defending himself, “that’s different—that’s work!”

“Oh?” Neal challenged, “So a relationship isn’t work?”

“No!” Peter turned abruptly, fiercely.  “You don’t get to lecture me about relationships, Neal!”

Neal might have said more but Peter’s tone had brought Neal plummeting back to reality. He looked away, Peter had been right to be angry. What had come over him?

Peter huffed and growled as a car behind him honked. He swerved then—with fists enclosing the wheel—he struggled to calm his breathing. “Relationships are … They’re not my—it’s why we got you, Neal.”

Neal reflected on Peter’s words for a few minutes. He exhaled slightly.  “Okay,” he said, “I understand. But think about it, Peter. I need to start somewhere.”

Give me something to work with! Neal begged inwardly. He couldn’t work with them like this, not on a personal level. It had to be a con. But without … what was happening to him?

Peter rubbed his forehead as they came to a red light and stopped. “I don’t know, Neal….”

Neal tried to hide his frustration. Peter had to be the worst mark ever—that or he—Neal Cafrey—was losing his edge.

“Well.” Neal tried.  “What about Satchmo?”

Peter frowned.  “Satchmo?”

“Who named him?” Neal asked.

Peter narrowed his eyes then relaxed and glanced at Neal. Maybe this could work after all.

Peter smiled lightly. “El named him.”

Neal relaxed, pleased they were getting somewhere. “So, El likes Jazz?”

Peter nodded, relieved that he seemed to know something about El after all. “Yeah, she does!”

Well, hallelujah, Neal sighed as Peter turned onto his street.


Inside the house, the two men walked upstairs to where Peter’s home computer was sitting on their dresser.
Neal stood by the door as Peter took his laptop over to the bed and sat. He tried to ignore the sight of the bed he would no-doubt find himself in again tonight. Hopefully Peter and El would at least remove the shackle that was still hanging on the bed; his foot got cold. Neal mused at this complaint.  The temperature of his foot, he thought, was the least of his problems.

Neal looked around the room, critically analyzing the layout, the style, and the objects in it. Before—when he’d been here last, he’d been too distracted to take in much, and then it had been too dark.

Now, as he looked around, he could see bits and pieces of who Peter and El—individually and as a couple—were. On the shelves, on the opposite wall, books took up most of the space with odds and ends stuffed in between; discs, paperwork, picture frames, a little ceramic teddy-bear, jewelry boxes. Below the shelf was another laptop; Elizabeth’s home computer no-doubt. The bed itself was positioned on an angle in the corner with two small bedside cabinets on either side. Neal already knew there was a safe in one. He wondered if Peter’s side held a safe too. It seemed silly for a room to have two safes, but Neal reasoned that Peter might have a separate one for his gun and badge. El seemed like the kind of woman who would insist on such compartmentalization. Overall the room was tasteful with a modern sense of style but not overwhelmed by features; El, Neal guessed, had done well with the décor.

Neal looked at his owner who he knew would be keeping half a wary eye on his position by the door. Peter was popping the disc he’d been given into the drive. There was a beep and Peter moved to follow the prompts as he was guided through the set-up. Neal realized Peter would be busy for a least a few moments. Driven by idle curiosity, Neal decided to wander the room and give the décor a closer look. There were a few paintings—or more likely; prints—over on the walls at the end above a stylish recliner that Neal doubted was ever used.

Peter gave a short sharp whistle.

Neal turned knowing Satchmo was still in the yard—and Peter knew that too—so, clearly, Peter was lazily commanding his attention. When Neal had locked eyes on the casual form of his owner, Peter made a gesture with two fingers and pointed to the floor by the bed.

Neal’s chest tightened in frustration but he did as Peter wanted and came forward, stopping only when Peter returned his hand to the laptop in his lap.

Neal looked for the silver lining. It was right in front of him. He scanned the screen over Peter’s shoulder and could see a vague outline of a birds-eye-view of a house. The image reminded him a bit of the online feature provided by ‘Google earth’.

Peter seemed to sense Neal’s attention but didn’t discourage it. “It’s the house,” he explained.
Neal said nothing.

Peter continued, “The program maps out the landmarks and features I choose for a radius. It converts the specs into latitude and longitude information.”

They watched as the status bar slowly filled as the program did its work. Neal couldn’t help but loathe the status bar; he—quite understandably—viewed it as his freedom slowly slipping away with each new centimeter that turned blue, much like sands through the hourglass. He knew it was silly; he’d lost his freedom months ago!

Besides, scissors, Neal reminded himself—all he needed were scissors.


“What’s the radius?” Neal asked just as the bar was nearing the end.

“For tonight,” Peter answered, “this house.”

There was a beep and the men watched as the files flashed before their eyes until a single window popped up asking to make changes to the computer by restarting.

A restart and a few prompts later, it seemed the program was up and running.

“Take a look at your anklet,” Peter prompted.

Neal turned and lifted his left leg pant. A strong, cool and constant green shone back.

“Neal,” Peter spoke keeping his voice even.  “Satchmo is out the back. Bring him in and feed him, please, El showed you how, right?”

Neal blinked at the order. He stared at the screen before glancing at Peter who was waiting. Then he, wordlessly, made himself move to the door. He knew what this was—it was a test of the system. Neal, in all his years, had never felt like this before … like a puppet dancing to someone else’s strings. He was downstairs and at the back door before it registered that he’d left the room. Neal took a moment to breathe. He was slowly losing more and more control every day. It wasn’t a good feeling.

He opened the door and smiled at the sight of the grinning Retriever who stood on the back porch having sensed the human presence in the house.

“Hey, Satchmo,” Neal murmured, fighting the shock.  “Hungry?”

Neal let the wagging dog into the house and went into the kitchen. He searched the fridge for the leftovers in the blue-lid plastic container marked ‘Satchmo’ and pulled it out.

He must have been staring at it. He felt a nudge and his eyes cleared. He looked down. The golden dog was grinning back up at him.
Neal absently rubbed Satchmo’s head.

“You depend on them,” Neal said softly in response to the dog’s grin.  “I don’t need to.”

Satchmo’s eyebrows twitched and he let out a whine.

“That’s a difference,” Neal whispered. “There is.”

But, Neal couldn’t help feeling that he was deluding himself. Maybe what he said was true and Neal clung onto that truth. But it didn’t change the bottom line. Neal looked at Satchmo. All he could see was a furry version of himself. And it wasn’t even funny.

Chapter Text

He mixed the leftovers with the dry food from the cabinet beneath the sink and put the bowl down for the apparently ravenous dog to gorge on.

While Neal stood there watching Satchmo munch indiscriminately through the food, the kitchen door opened up behind him.

“It seems to be working,” Peter told Neal as if they were discussing a car or a television.  “Neal, can you please go out the front door and keep walking, but the moment the anklet beeps, stop. You’ll need to come back too.”

Neal turned and looked up until he had locked his gaze into Peter’s. Peter seemed to sense Neal’s unimpressed mood.

“Problem?” Peter asked, completely at ease under Neal’s semi-scorching gaze.

Neal blinked but he didn’t lower his gaze or change his expression.

He considered the agent in front of him. “Peter,” he said evenly.  “I know you think you’re being nice—with all these …” Neal paused, “… just don’t, okay. You own me, fine. Don‘t pretend this is a partnership. It’s not.”

Peter thought over Neal’s words, and then he moved slightly. He was going to defend himself, Neal knew but Neal gave a minute shake of the head and Peter reconsidered. “Fine. Outside. Walk until it beeps then come back.”

Neal swallowed and then stepped forward intending to pass Peter by, but Peter put out a hand and held his arm. “Neal,” he said softly.  “Things would be easier without the hostility.”

Neal pulled his arm away.  “There’s hostility? Why, Peter?” He questioned. “Hostility suggests opposition, opposition implies conflict, conflict breeds guilt … you’re not feeling guilty are you?”

He moved forward but paused at the doorway. “Because there is no reason for you to feel guilt, is there Peter?”

Peter shook his head.  “Not guilt, no, Neal, but I am concerned.”

Neal just left. Peter was deluding himself if he thought of Neal as anything other than a slave, if he expended any energy trying to ‘care’ for Neal. Neal knew what he was, and he didn’t appreciate the Agent trying to con him at his own game. Neal would make them believe they cared about him, but only if he wanted it so, only when it suited him. And right now he didn’t need to forget who he was, right now he didn’t need some man and his wife pretending their purchase was anything other than what it was.

Neal exited the house and walked as he’d been told to, robotically. He stopped and promptly turned around when the anklet gave out a pinging protest. When he came in the front door, Peter was heading up the stairs, apparently satisfied. Neal was tired. The anger seemed to have been replaced with bone-tired resignation.

“Satchmo left dry food everywhere,” Peter called as he went upstairs.  “Clean it up. I’m going to call Elizabeth.”

Neal watched as Peter disappeared from sight. Was Peter annoyed? He couldn’t tell and Neal wasn’t even sure what their recent discussion had been about. He’d felt irritated and he’d snapped, but he couldn’t remember what he’d said, though it had only been minutes. Something to do with telling it like it is?

Neal sighed. That would set things back. Neal wished his emotions would stop going up and down like a roller-coaster. It should have been simple. The con man in him was crying for release but Neal had a feeling that as much as he didn’t want it, the vulnerable part inside—the one he worked hard to bury but had been exposed—was the part of him that had been calling the shots. Neal was too tired to do more than live moment to moment, day to day. He figured that might have been why he already had two failed attempts to leave the Burkes beneath his belt.

He needed to gather his wits and stop being so easily triggered. It could take time. Neal could accept that. He could be patient, but damned if he was going to let himself botch his third attempt to leave.

He headed to the kitchen to clean up the remains of Satchmo’s dinner.




Neal edged out of the kitchen and made his way to the staircase where Peter was standing.

Peter spotted him and grabbed his overcoat off the banister where he’d slung it upon coming in.

“Tracked down Hagen,” Peter explained tucking his phone into his jacket pocket.   “I have to go. El will be only be a few minutes.”

Neal stayed quiet. He made sure to appear nonchalant. It wouldn’t do for Peter to think he might care either way.

Neal walked Peter to the door and stood holding the knob as Peter stepped outside and put his overcoat on; the night air was only going to get colder.

“You do anything,” Peter warned, “Neal—you won’t….”

“I get it, Peter,” Neal interrupted.

Peter really didn’t want to leave Neal alone. But in the future he would have to. He may as well find out the worst of it now and deal with it while Neal was still being broken in. Peter nodded and made his way to the car. Inside the car he glanced back at the front door; Neal had closed it and disappeared from sight. But, Peter realized looking at the windows, Neal could still be watching. Peter started up the car and made his distracted way off his street into the next one over. The moment he found a spare parking spot he took it and quickly brought out his phone. He called El.

“El?” Peter asked once she had answered. “Can you text me the moment you get home?”

El was perceptive. “Is this about Neal?”

Peter nodded automatically. “Yeah, hon, he’s alone.”

He could hear El sigh over the line. “Peter, we’re going to have to trust him. We can’t function properly if we can’t leave him on his own. Not if we need him to take care of Satchmo and the house while we’re gone.”

“I know, El,” Peter mumbled, “and eventually we’ll all be fine. But it’s early yet, and Neal is not settling down—he tried to get me to set him free today.”

Peter could sense his wife’s frown in her next words. “How? What did you say?”

“Tried to bribe me with casework—I said no.” Peter said briefly, “Hon, I have to go, I want to watch Neal’s GPS until you get home.”

“Well,” El replied, “I’m only down the street now, Peter.”

“Oh,” Peter reflected. He supposed he was over-reacting anyway.  “Well, I may as well head to the office then.”

“Okay, but Peter, how late are you going to be?”

“Ugh,” Peter groaned at the reminder.  “Pretty late, I’m sorry, El. Look, you can have fun with Neal tonight, can’t you?”

“I’m sure we’ll get along famously, Peter,” El assured. “Peter … I’m home now.”

“Right,” Peter answered, out of excuses.  “Better go … bye hon.”



The moment Peter had left; Neal had headed straight into the kitchen and had started up the coffee machine.

He hadn’t allowed himself the opportunity to indulge himself in something as simple as a steaming hot cup of coffee.  He’d long since learned to live without it daily. It had been safer not to think about it at all.  But he still craved it....

Neal closed his eyes as he held the mug in two hands breathing in the strong aroma as he sipped.

Even as he finished the coffee he felt some weariness melt away. The coffee had helped. He felt prepared to face the rest of the night now—as horrible as it might be. Strange that coffee could do that for him.

Neal watched as he rinsed the cup out, then a thought—an awful thought—struck him. Still it paid to know your options. Neal knew he’d have limited time. He put the cup down and left the kitchen, heading for the stairs.

Upstairs he turned into the bathroom. He couldn’t believe he hadn’t taken the time to snoop yet. Really, where had his head been lately? It wasn’t like he hadn’t had the chance. Too busy bemoaning what had happened to him.

He opened the cabinet while keeping half an ear out for any sound indicating El’s arrival.

He rummaged through the contents looking at various boxes and bottles until he found what he was looking for; Zolpidem. A sleeping drug. Curious … it was Peter’s prescription. Neal wondered if the Zolpidem was used often or not.
Neal considered the bottle in his hands. Could he really use this? Maybe? Neal sighed and put the bottle back. He knew where it was if he needed it.


Neal shut the cabinet carefully, glad he hadn’t been startled. He left the bathroom and descended the stairs quickly. When he rounded the bend, he saw El standing at the bottom looking around while removing a scarf. When she spotted Neal she smiled, then the smile faded a little. She arched her eyebrows.

Neal knew she was wondering what he had been doing upstairs, but he knew she might also let it slide so he simply kept going down the stairs until he was standing in front of her.

She sighed and took her bag with the scarf off her shoulder and dropped them on the chair just inside the lounge room. El reached up to give Neal a kiss before leaning in for a hug. She seemed tired. Neal held her patiently as she rested her head against his chest. Finally she moved off him and shrugged out of her jacket.

“I need to change,” she declared. “These shoes are killing my feet.”

But Elizabeth didn’t head to the stairs as indicated. She went into the lounge room and gave Satchmo a brief cheerful greeting before collapsing onto the lounge.

Neal moved to stand by the pillar and regarded her carefully. “Long day?”

El smiled. “You could say that; I had a wedding and funeral planned today. Well—not a funeral; a wake. Not much difference though. They still demand two vastly different emotional spectrums. Oddly enough, I had to contend with a crying woman at both events.”

Neal moved forward with a sympathetic expression. “Your business—you enjoy it?”

“It is highly gratifying,” El admitted, “but days like this—a bath is better.”

Neal promptly brought the subject back on topic. “But it went alright?”

El sighed. “Yeah, I think so. The groom was late, the bride thought she’d been stood up but they managed to marry anyway.”

“I get the impression they owe that to you?” Neal asked lightly.

El moved up and shrugged. “Not really, she just cried on my shoulder until he turned up.”

Neal watched as El rested, probably for the first time since leaving the house that morning. She seemed like the type of person who would eat lunch on the go.

“Neal,” El murmured content.  “Come sit with me.”

Neal breathed deep but made no protests. He came forward and sank in the lounge next to her. She snuggled into him and closed her eyes.

After a bit she grumbled, “I have to go grocery shopping. Come with me?”

“Peter’s confined me to the house,” Neal informed her.

“He wanted me to take you clothes shopping,” El pointed out. “I’ll give him a call.”



Neal listened to the phone call while he brought in Satchmo’s bedding. Once it was in the corner by the couch he had no further actions he could hide behind so El knew he was listening.

“Down the road?” El was saying, “Peter, there’s nothing down the road! I have to go shopping for groceries.”

Neal hoped that meant they could give the thrift store a miss and go straight to—well he couldn’t expect much, but maybe someplace with a decent range of men's clothing would be nice.

Actually, Neal reconsidered, was it possible that there’d be a slave clothing store where El wanted to go?
Because anything other than those slave clothing stores would be better. Maybe the thrift store was a smart choice after all. The clothes in the thrift stores had at least been worn by free people in the past.

“The leash?!” El frowned dangerously.

Neal stiffened. He looked at El. She was looking at him. She sighed and turned to walk out of the room holding up a hand for Neal to stay.

Neal looked down to where Satchmo had self-righteously settled onto his bed. He looked back at Neal with a doggy gaze.

“Yeah,” Neal replied.  “No, I agree. Leashes are absurd.”

Satchmo whined softly.

Neal moved to sit down on the couch next to the dog bed. “Relax; they’re talking about me, not you.”

Satchmo tilted his head.

“But,” Neal continued, “at least they give you yours ‘coz they worry about you. It’s not a lack of trust.”

Satchmo put his head down onto his paws, resigned to the continuing dither of meaningless words coming from the omega human beside him.

“It’s not demeaning for you either,” Neal continued, taking Satchmo’s actions to mean the dog agreed with him.  “See, you don’t care about it. You probably think it’s so that Peter won’t get lost.”


Neal looked up. El was standing at the pillar watching him.

“Were you talking to me or Satchmo?” She headed casually over to the door where another pair of her shoes were waiting. They were more comfortable; flats.

Neal stood. “Satchmo.”

El nodded then picked up her handbag and coat as she slipped into her shoes after having kicked off her high heels.

“Peter wants you to promise me you won’t run.” El sighed. “He made me promise him I’d use the leash if you refused….”

Neal inwardly cursed Peter.

“I won’t run,” he said simply.

El brightened. “Then let’s go!”

They left Satchmo in the house—it was too cold outside now—and headed to the house next door.
Neal watched with a growing confusion from the sidewalk as El spoke to the neighbor; an aging lady who seemed very pleasant to El. The lady handed Elizabeth a set of keys and they bade each other a good night.

El saw Neal’s querying gaze and she gestured to the small white and old car that was parked on the roadside behind him.

“Mrs. Whitney lets me borrow it. She doesn’t drive it much; this way the car gets used,” El explained heading to the driver’s door.

Neal glanced back at the house, a brownstone, which sat quietly next to Peter and El’s white townhouse.

Neal stayed quiet until he slid into the passenger seat. “So this is how you get around without that second car?”

El frowned. “Did Peter tell you we had a second car?”

Neal shook his head. “No. Lucky guess. Funds to buy me came from somewhere, and you guys are both full time workers. Figures you’d both need a car. Cars are the easiest, most practical and most valuable asset to sell.”

El hummed in confirmation.

“Odd though,” Neal muttered, “that you’re the one who has to make the sacrifice….”

El shook her head as she started up the car. “Don’t make waves, Neal,” she warned. “You won’t drive a wedge between us. It’s impossible.”

Neal smirked. Sometimes it was just fun….

Chapter Text

In the mall parking lot, Neal sat in the car. There was no child-lock this time but he stayed still.

El wondered if Peter had managed to teach him this, but she doubted it. She came around to his door and opened it up. Neal looked at her sharply, blinking in the sudden light.

“You coming?”

Neal looked down at his grey garbs and then out the windscreen where he could see people walking in and out of the mall. There were slaves here and there. Neal could recognize them anywhere. It was easy for him to pick them, even if they were dressed like anyone else. He’d always been able to tell who was what. Even the runaway slaves turned con-men couldn’t fool him.
So, he knew there were a few. But he still felt like everyone was looking at him.

To be fair, thought El who was thinking along the same lines five minutes later as she seized a cart with Neal by her side, they were.

Neal was pretty. She knew that. She should have realized Neal would attract attention.

Neal didn’t realize what she had though. He was used to admiration, but not this sort—not the sort that was impersonal—gawking and openly obvious. El just took it her stride but Neal couldn’t help feeling uncomfortable. He assumed it was because they could all tell. That he was … of course—with the collar and these clothes … but it was exaggerated, surely … the sort that fear twisted until you thought everyone was staring at you and whispering behind your back. He kept his gaze straight ahead and followed Elizabeth closely.

Eventually Neal relaxed and started to take El’s lead in ignoring the various looks that passers-by gave him. Most weren’t that obvious anyway, they were usually just single mums who spared an envious thought towards El, and an analytical—albeit yearning—once-over on Neal, but they would then move on.

Words echoed in Neal’s mind each time he caught these glances but he forced them down and took to watching El, occasionally fetching things she didn’t automatically grab herself.

Still the vague words sat at the back of his mind; words where once they would have been ‘seduce’ it was ‘purchase’, and once ‘cute guy’ it was now ‘fine specimen’ or even a dreamy ‘aww’ instead of a contemplative ‘hmm’.

“You should get red wine,” Neal suddenly suggested when El had added beef to the trolley.

“You soak the meat in the wine,” Neal explained, “it adds to the flavor.”

El was looking at Neal with an interested expression. “You know, I think I’ve heard that somewhere.”

Neal nodded. “Red wine is supposed to be good for you, too.”

Elizabeth smiled. “We should cook it together.”

Neal shrugged. “I’m not really that …”

He slowed his protest as El gave him a look. “… I suppose I could learn.”



They were picking up the milk on their way out when a man, clearly wealthy, with more money than he knew what to do with, headed towards them. He was wearing gaudy bling-bling and expensive clothes. He also stank of money, in the way he moved; the way he leered at them and blocked their path.

El stiffened immediately and Neal couldn’t help moving up beside her.

The man didn’t seem perturbed by their reaction. He looked Neal up and down with a vague smirk.

“Excuse me,” Elizabeth started cautiously. She moved the cart forward as if to move to the checkout, but the man didn’t budge.

“How much for him?” The man put forth simply.

Neal swallowed and gritted his jaw, but he stayed still; this was not for him to sort. El put out a palm in an unnecessary message for Neal to let her handle the self-entitled man.

El drew up to her full height and used the tone she used to handle difficult clients at work. “He’s not for sale.”

The man gave her a derogatory smirk. “I don’t take no for an answer, ma’am. I’ll give you double what you paid for him.”

El narrowed her eyes. “Excuse me.” She spoke pointedly and even pushed the cart forward.

The man put his hand out onto the cart and sneered. “He really worth that much trouble to you, ma’am? Sell him to me, buy another and you’ll end up with a profit.”

“He is not for sale,” Elizabeth repeated firmly. “Now, please move or I’ll call security.”

She forced the cart past him. Unfortunately that put her within his reach and man took advantage. He latched onto her wrist and drew it up before towering over her.

“You will s…”

The man never got to finish what he planned to say.

He was dazed. His back was sore, his face numb, and the bright overhead lighting was shining in his face. Above him Neal stood glaring down fiercely at him. The man covered his face with his hands and tried to sit up but dizziness forced him to roll instead.

Security reacted fast. They advanced on Neal and were about to seize his arms but Elizabeth stepped in their way.

“Hold it!” Elizabeth pointed at the man on the ground, “he grabbed me; my slave was defending me.”

Neal wisely looked to the ground trusting in Elizabeth to handle the situation. He knew he was justified and a quick look on camera would have the security fondly excusing Neal’s actions—the man had aggravated El after all—but it was wise to act the part of a submissive in the meantime.

Fortunately Elizabeth appeared genuine and trustworthy enough that security took her word for it. They hauled her harasser to his feet with little sympathy and took him away to review footage. He’d most likely be let off with a warning, especially since El had begged out of pressing charges. She just wanted to take Neal and go.

El steadied her nerves by returning the handbag Neal had picked up for her to her shoulder, then seizing the cart and breathing deeply. “Let’s go.”

Neal put out a hand to stop the cart though. He scanned her critically. “Are you okay?”

El relaxed and moved to Neal to give him a peck on the cheek and rubbed his shoulder. “I’ll be better once I get home to that bath I’ve been promising myself all day.”



At the car, away from any eavesdroppers, Neal approached Elizabeth before she could start moving the shopping bags into the boot of the car.

“About what happened back there,” Neal spoke carefully. “I’m sorry.”

El frowned. “For what, Neal? Defending me? Neal, even if you weren’t my slave duty-bound to do so, you’re allowed to defend me. Some might even call it heroic. You don’t ever need to apologize for being heroic.”

Neal bit his lip unsure of what to think of El’s reply.

Elizabeth smiled softly. “Oh, honey.” She hugged Neal before cradling his cheeks with her hands. “You need to stop stressing about everything.”

Neal nodded to appease El, but he was still confused. Everything was different. He found himself wishing he was with Peter, at least with Peter, Neal could call him on being nice and not lose sight of the truth. He was a slave.
Why was he constantly reminding himself of this anyway? Did it matter? Yes, it mattered. Neal shook his head of the conflicting thoughts. Maybe El was right. Maybe he needed to stop stressing. But she’d stress too, if the roles were reversed. Neal attempted a second shake of the head. He seized a bag, relishing the distraction and tucked it into the boot.

They had groceries that needed to be refrigerated so Neal was expecting Elizabeth to enter the car to drive home so when she locked the car again and gestured for him to come to her, he frowned confused.

He moved up next to her and allowed her to curl her arm into his. “Are we heading somewhere else?”

“You like those clothes do you?” El teased gently.

“God, no,” Neal replied in a moment of rare honesty.

El smiled but said nothing as they crossed back through the parking lot.

“So,” Neal spoke softly, “Peter said something about a thrift store….”

El shook her head. “I’d prefer to own a well-dressed slave myself, besides, indulge me Neal, Peter won’t let me dress him up properly.”

Neal couldn’t let himself raise hope. He couldn’t. Still … he doffed his invisible hat to El. “Of course, whatever pleases you?”

El smiled knowingly.

Just as El was about to lead him into a men's clothing store, Neal spotted a small store that wouldn’t have been noticed save for the display in one small window. It was of a beautiful navy suit.


Neal tore his eyes off the small shop to where El was standing just inside the door. He glanced back at the shop. He couldn’t seem to gather the necessary guts to ask El if they could go into the other store for a look there. This wasn’t about him after all; it was about what El wanted. And she wanted to dress him like a human-size doll and Neal was more than happy to let her. He didn’t want to push his luck. He should just take what he could get.

Still, he hesitated. And El backtracked until she was beside him. Neal bit his lip.

“Would you rather shop there?” El asked.

Neal turned hopeful eyes on her and she smiled.



Inside the store, it was small, quiet and dusky. Neal beamed and started browsing. El was forgotten. She trailed along behind him at first but then some clothes caught her attention.


El turned, startled. It was the first time Neal had called her like that. It was okay though. Elizabeth found herself smiling. She liked it, she realized, when Neal treated her as an equal. She came up beside him and murmured her interest.

Neal answered by holding up a jacket and exclaiming in a hushed whisper, “These are Devore!”

El beamed back at Neal. Neal was beautiful like this. His eyes shone with delight and his smile was wide and genuine. He was caressing the suits as he admired each one with reverence.

Neither of them noticed the older, wealthy, genteel looking lady that came up behind them.

“I’m impressed,” she murmured gently.

Neal and El spun, caught by surprise.

The lady continued, “A slave that knows a Devore when he sees one.”

When neither El nor Neal answered, the lady looked to Elizabeth.

“You have someone special here,” she said smiling at Elizabeth.

Neal and El looked the lady up and down before cracking identical smiles. She seemed like a nice woman. Even though she spoke about Neal in third person, Neal couldn’t help but feel she was one of the few who thought of a slave as a person, not an object, so he spoke to her, breaking the traditional slavery etiquette.

“You like Devore too?”

The lady smiled in response to Neal. “Yes, my husband wore them often.”

Neal nodded and spoke charmingly. “Well, that’s not surprising; he’s clearly a man of impeccable taste.” He dipped his chin in deference the lady to make his point.

The lady laughed and spoke to Elizabeth. “Oh, he’s a charmer.”

El nodded while looking at Neal. “I’m starting to see that.”

The lady paused, considering El’s words before glancing back to Neal. “You haven’t been with the lovely lady long have you?”

“We met yesterday,” Neal replied diplomatically.

“It doesn’t seem like it.” The lady frowned softly. “I had the impression you two were close.”

Neal and Elizabeth exchanged a glance but said nothing.

“I guess some people just click,” the lady guessed.

Neal decided to change the subject. He pushed the envelope. “May I inquire as to your name?”

“June,” the lady responded without hesitation. “And yours?”

“My name is Neal—Neal Caffrey,” Neal answered politely. “And this is my owner Mrs. Elizabeth Burke.”

The lady—June—narrowed her eyes. Only for a fraction of a second, enough to alert Neal but then she was smiling and offering her hand to El.

The two women exchanged pleasantries. Then Neal couldn’t help it any longer. “I don’t suppose you knew Sy Devore?”

June’s eyes widened appreciatively. She dipped her chin. “My late husband, Byron played poker with him. It’s where Byron won his suits.”

"No!"  Neal grinned and stepped forward. “Your husband played poker with Sy Devore?”

June chuckled with sparkling eyes. “And so did I.”

Chapter Text

Elizabeth had been content to listen to the on-going conversation between June and Neal so it was with great reluctance that she had to interrupt.

“Neal,” El murmured apologetically. “The groceries.”

Neal nodded understanding, and he gave a small bow to June. “My apologies, but Elizabeth has reminded me that we can’t stay.”

June however wasn’t done. “Give me your address, and I’ll have some of these suits delivered.”

Neal and El froze with surprise.

“You own this shop?” El asked.

June nodded. “These are Byron’s old clothes. I couldn’t bear the idea of them in storage or being thrown out. I like to give them away to those who need and appreciate them and I sell any to those who come in and then I give the proceeds to charity.”

Neal’s heart twinged and he realized June was another person he had apparently ‘clicked’ with. “That is far too generous.”

Elizabeth withdrew her purse. “I’d love to buy some off you.”

June shook her head. “Nonsense, Neal appreciates these suits, and I can’t imagine a better home for them. I won’t accept your money, my dear. Besides, it is clear that he needs them.”

They both tried to protest but June wouldn’t hear of it. Finally, Neal allowed himself to accept June’s generosity as an unexpected piece of good fortune.

“If you ever need my help,” Neal vowed, though he glanced guiltily at Elizabeth. Technically, he was not his own person and thus, not in any position to make such a promise.

But Elizabeth nodded eagerly. “Call us.”

June smiled adoringly. “Perhaps we could have coffee and talk more sometime.”


Peter was sitting in the van with Diana and Jones. They were watching a hotel, or more specifically the footage of a corridor outside a room they had seen Hagan disappear into.

“Something on your mind, Boss?”

Peter blinked and turned away from the screen he hadn’t really been watching. Diana had spoken to him and judging by the slightly teasing tone of her query he guessed she’d spoken before and he hadn’t heard her.

“Sorry, Diana,” Peter answered rubbing his forehead then stretching. “It’s just Neal.”

“Wondering how he knew about Hagan?”

Peter glanced at his young probie; she was sharp.

Peter sighed then nodded. “Yeah, there’s something I can’t quite … it’s there, but I need to—I need his history.”

“You got him from the center, right?” Diana confirmed.

Peter gave a vague nod. He guessed what she was about to say. “I called them already. Neal was sold to them anonymously.”

“Oh.” Diana tapped her pen on the dashboard before her, distracted. “So they couldn’t tell you anything?”

“They only gave me documentation from after they got him; he escaped twice, was sold once, refunded back to the center then sat cooling his heels for a month or so, before El and I got him.”

“So what you are going do?” Diana spoke carefully, ignoring the horror of the thought that Neal wasn’t a content slave. It was bad enough for her when she came a across a ‘good’ slave who accepted their place, but one who fought it? One who had escaped twice?

Peter glanced at her guiltily.

Diana sighed. “You want me to do a search in the system? Find Neal Caffrey’s history?”

Peter smiled. He knew Diana was the best at finding things, especially things that were hidden. Her history as a diplomat’s daughter had left her with an exceptional talent at finding a way around the bureaucratic tape that often stumped him.

“Thanks Diana.” Peter grinned pleased and fully confident that he’d have Neal’s full history on his desk before the end of the week; such was Diana’s capability.

“Boss,” Jones grunted and gestured to the screen. Hagan was leaving he room.

“Okay,” Peter spoke switching into his agent mode. “Jones, you tail him—Diana, you and I will see if we can’t talk to some hotel staff about getting into his room.”

Diana and Peter exited the van. Peter looked at Diana who was checking her gun. “Got the warrant?”

Diana held up a folded sheet of paper in response and Peter started forward. “Then let’s go.”



In the car, El was silent. Neal could always tell the difference between a natural silence born of concentration in whatever a person was doing at the time—like driving—and the silence that settled when people were thinking heavily. Heavy thinking seemed to generate a heavy silence.

At a red light, Neal murmured cautiously. “Thinking about something?”

El shifted her grip on the steering wheel and shrugged. “Not really … just—well, I was just thinking about the suits back there. Devore was it?”

“Hmm,” Neal confirmed warily. Was El going to change her mind about the clothes?

“You have good taste,” El said lightly. “You knew what they were, and she was—June had class.”

Neal stilled. He thought he knew what she was driving at.

“Does it bother you, El,” Neal asked gently, with a smile teasing the corners of his mouth, “that your slave has more taste than your husband?”

El laughed. “It’s silly isn’t it?”

Neal watched El as she smiled self-deprecatingly, then he sobered. “Not at all.” He spoke softly, turning to look out the window. “It’s unusual to find a slave with a more refined sense of entitlement than his owner. I understand.”

“No,” El patted Neal’s knee. “It’s not like that, Neal. I’m just getting to know you, and I’m finding you more interesting than I realized.”

Neal took in El’s words. She was nice. Pity. That complicated things.

“You guys have surprised me a few times too,” he admitted.



As they pulled into the parking spot outside the neighbor’s house, El’s phone began to ring. They exited the car while she checked the caller I.D.

She groaned. “It’s Yvonne—Neal, let’s the groceries out, then can you take the keys up to Mrs. Whitney?”

Neal opened up the boot and pulled out the groceries, leaving them on the sidewalk, listening vaguely as El tried to sort out the mess that Yvonne had called her about. Her attention was split between moving one bag, in stops and starts, out of the car in an attempt to help Neal. She barely noticed as Neal pulled the bag—the last one—out of her grasp and shut the boot.

“No,” El was saying amidst the jumble of explanations coming through the phone. “No, it’s meant for the business function—the one for next week. Not the party, not the—just tell them they’re too early.”

Neal locked the car and headed up to the neighboring house before knocking smartly.

When the same lady he’d seen talking to El appeared, Neal smiled warmly. “Hi, El asked me to return the keys to your car for her.”

The woman looked him up and down before questioning him with a sense of disapproval. “Did she ask you to explain that to me?”

Neal paused, halfway to handing the keys back. He shook his head slowly. “No, ma’am.”

“I don’t remember asking you to talk to me.”

Neal blinked as the woman took the keys from him and muttered beneath her breath before looking over his shoulder to where El was still on the phone. “Thank her—and tell her I know a good slave training center in Manhattan.”

“Um.” Neal spoke not sure what to say, which was just as well, because the woman shut the door on him then. “Nice to meet you?”

Neal rolled his eyes and made his way back to Elizabeth who was just hanging up.
El sighed. She was tired. Her business was a demanding one.

Between the two of them they managed to get the eight bags up to the house in one trip. Neal glanced at the neighboring house as he passed. He saw the blinds move and thought mildly that he could guess what the woman would be thinking now. No doubt thinking Neal was insubordinate for not taking all eight bags himself. He made a mental note to avoid being alone with that crotchety old woman.

El misinterpreted his glance at the house.

“Nice woman, isn’t she?” She smiled as she opened the front door having put the three bags she was carrying on the steps at her feet.

Neal replied carefully, “Hmm, she asked me to let you know that she knows a good slave training center in Manhattan.”

El pushed the door open and looked at Neal, a frown evident on her features. “Why would she…?”

Neal transferred the five bags he was carrying to the one hand and picked up the remaining three before heading to the kitchen.


El shut the door behind her giving Satchmo a distracted head pat. Satchmo whined with disappointment.

She followed Neal into the kitchen and came up beside Neal who was concentrating on emptying the bags.

When El didn’t move her gaze off him despite his silence for a few minutes, Neal glanced at her and crumpled a paper bag in his fist. He tried to hide the bitterness. “Apparently I spoke out of turn.”

El sighed. “She grew up when everything was more rigid. Slaves couldn’t talk in public at all when she was growing up. Don’t worry about it, Neal. She doesn’t understand the internet or own a mobile phone either. Some generations just stay stuck in the past.”

Neal looked away and resumed with pulling out the items. El figured she’d said all she could and started to put the groceries into the cupboards and fridge.

Neal needed some time to himself. He was starting to think ahead now and spin things his way. He stopped once all the paper bags had been folded and the items put away. He smiled at El. “How about I draw you that bath you’ve been craving all day? A little wine, some jazz playing, you can relax and forget all about the long day you’ve had….”

El sighed smiling. “Oh, Neal, that sounds wonderful.”

Neal made his way to the bathroom while El headed to the bedroom to change into a robe. He started running the bathwater, changing the temperature until it was warm-hot. He glanced into the corridor. There were shadows as El moved about in the lit bedroom, so with the coast clear, Neal quickly opened the cabinet and pulled out the Zolpidem. He wasn’t entirely sure what he intended to do. It wasn’t like El couldn’t use the rest, right? But he may not even need it. Neal hesitated. No, he shouldn’t—he heard the sound of footsteps and shoved the medicine down by his side, scrunching it tightly in his fist. Then he forced himself to relax his posture.

El came in and took in the sight of Neal standing by the sink while the bath slowly filled.

Neal looked around and spotted the bath salts. He picked up a bottle with his free hand and held it up. El nodded and came to stand beside him while he turned his back on her and quickly unscrewed the cap, before pouring a healthy dose of salts into the water, running the risk of the medicine being seen. But El didn’t notice anything. The room slowly filled with the sweet aroma of lavender.

“While I’m taking this lovely bath,” Elizabeth murmured, “what are you going to do Neal?”

Neal looked at the tub again; definitely only room for one person so El was probably just curious.

He shrugged. “I’m sure I can find something to do. Do you want some soup for dinner?”

El looked at him, eyes bright. “Stay? Keep me company, talk to me?”

“While you’re in the bath?” Neal asked doubtfully. “Wouldn’t you rather read a book? The idea is to relax.”

“You help me to relax, Neal,” El assured him. “Just for fifteen minutes? Please.”

Neal would like to think that he accepted because he saw the benefit in talking to her and fulfilling Peter’s order to get to know her, or that he was maintaining his façade by hanging around but the truth was El had said ‘please’, she had been genuine and Neal couldn’t refuse her.

That kind of annoyed him. But, what was fifteen minutes, right?

He pursed his lips while El kept her pleading gaze locked on him. Finally he nodded. “I’ll get your wine. Is there a radio somewhere?”

El nodded. “In the guest room, but why?”

“For the jazz?”

“For when you’ve gone?” El confirmed.

Neal nodded. “The music will help you relax. We can always keep it low when I’m there if you like.”

That seemed appease Elizabeth who started to slip the robe off even as Neal bent to turn off the water. He kept his eyes averted as he left the room, wishing he’d found bubble bath to put in the water. He cursed the fact that El was a bath salts and not a bubbles kind of woman.



Down in the kitchen Neal stared at the glass of red wine he’d poured. It was sitting on the bench and next to it the Zolpidem sat innocently in place. Maybe El would be too tired anyway, especially with a relaxing bath having lulled her senses.

Okay, bottom line, Neal thought sternly, could he drug El?


Not even to gain access to those mysterious safes in peace.
Not even to have time to call a contact for help.

There’d be time for those things later. The way Peter and El talked, they planned to leave him at home alone on some days to maintain the house and keep the dog company. So what was this really about?

Was this his attempt to avoid sex?

Okay, yeah, maybe it was. So, could he drug El if it meant avoiding that?

Neal picked up the Zolpidem then sighed, frustrated.

No, he couldn’t.

He put the drugs in a pot plant by the door; he’d return them to the bathroom later. He picked up the wine glass and headed to the stairs. He’d already grabbed the radio from the bedroom earlier, before coming downstairs. He picked it up off the railing as he reached the second floor on his way to the left—where the bathroom lay.

At least when Neal walked in with the wine, he managed to smile. El was in the tub, with her eyes closed and her hair saturated—she must have dunked her head. She opened her eyes and smiled as Neal came up to the edge of the tub. He handed her the wine with a courteous nod and then settled on the closed toilet seat concentrating on the radio.

Elizabeth seemed to sense the fabrication of the mask Neal wore.

“Neal.” She lifted herself and rested her chin on her arms on the edge of the tub. “Put the radio down sweetie.”

Neal glanced at her. At least from here, he couldn’t see anything. He put the radio on the sink and leaned forward resting his elbows on his knees before looking up at El expectantly.

“How was your day with Peter?” She asked.

Neal inwardly winced. She had cut straight through to what she wanted to know. He guessed Peter had spoken to her at some point, probably when he’d left the house.

“Enlightening,” he answered cautiously.

But El didn’t dig. She just closed her eyes and Neal watched her, wondering if that was it.

Neal looked at the radio considering his next move. Then he raked his hair and sat back, leaning against the tank of the toilet.

“So.” He incorporated a casual lightness into his tone. “What does Elizabeth Burke do in her spare time besides listen to Jazz while in a bath?”

El smiled without opening her eyes. “This is the first time, actually, that I’ve been able to do this.”

Neal frowned. “Really?”

El hummed in confirmation.

Neal raised his eyebrows and shook his head. Forget slave training centers; they needed a husband training center, stat!

“Neal.” El was looking at him now with a knowing smile. “Peter asked you to help with my birthday, didn’t he?”

Neal wondered if he should lie, to help Peter save face, but he thought about the fact that El had been married to him for years now. No doubt, Peter’s flaws had been long since accepted.

He sat up straight and gave a mild shrug. “He asked me to get to know you. How do you feel about day spas?”

El’s eyes glistened with delight at the thought. She didn’t really need to answer but she did anyway. “Please!”

“Done,” Neal replied relieved that El was easy to please. “Just remember to act surprised.”

Chapter Text

After setting her half-drunk wine on the rim of the tub, El settled back and closed her eyes. Neal sensed El’s growing contentedness so he checked the radio. No cassette tape inside. No surprise there. No help either, he thought. He’d have to leave the room. He wasn’t going to risk disturbing the peace to check the stations.

He rose quietly and left the room taking the useless radio with him. As he shut the bathroom door he decided El didn’t need music. Well … he hoped she wouldn’t miss it if it meant not having to go back in there.

Neal made his way downstairs. Satchmo came barreling into the lounge room and Neal crouched to calm the over-excited dog.

“Whoa!” He muttered. “Satchmo, here boy.”

Satchmo huffed in his face and backed away but Neal grabbed his collar. “Hey, it’s okay. What’s the matter?”

Satchmo turned and moved off back in the direction of the dining room but Neal held him fast. Then something caught his eye. On Satchmo’s collar at the base where the metal ring attached a tag to the leather was a small black lump. Neal frowned wondering if it was a tick. It looked like a tick but as Neal picked it off with concern he realized it wasn’t alive. It was plastic and upon closer inspection he realized it was meant to look like a small beetle.

Neal let go of the dog who bounced back into the dining room and he stared at the small plastic bug in his fingers.

Slowly Neal rose. He enclosed the bug in his fist and walked through the lounge and the dining room until he reached the back door. He looked at Satchmo who was eagerly staring at the door as though he could will it mentally to open.

Neal opened the door cautiously, wishing he’d put music on after all to muffle the sound of what he was doing. He wondered if the radius had been reset to the house. It was unlikely as he hadn’t seen El call Peter after they’d arrived home. Even if the radius had somehow been reset around the house, surely Peter would have included the yard?

He listened for the beeps anyway. None came. Satchmo was running over the backyard, nose to the ground and entirely too concerned with tracking a scent to notice Neal who looked around carefully.
Neal frowned. What was he doing out here? He looked at the bug in his fist again.

The backyard was closed off. There was no access to it other than the door he’d just come out of.
Neal raked his hair and made his decision. He headed back in the door leaving Satchmo to his happy little investigation. Maybe it was a cat that had caught Satchmo’s attention.

He crossed to the front of the house.

He twisted the knob of the front door and peered out warily. The street was quiet. It was dark. The last of the light had disappeared on the way home from the shops. Neal stepped out. He shut the door behind him, checking to make sure it wouldn’t lock. Then he scanned the road. There was no sign of movement. He looked from side to side and finally he saw what he was looking for. On the railing that bordered the house and the sidewalk over to the left sat an unmoving figure. Neal approached warily. Shortly as he got closer the figure became familiar.

Neal relaxed immediately. He sighed and smiled before reaching the figure and sitting down beside him. The stranger broke into a grin.



“Hey Moz.”

The small man gave a nod. “Neal.”

Neal just sat looking at Moz, more grateful than he could express at seeing his friend again.

Moz seemed to sense Neal’s nostalgia, but he couldn’t foster it. “Can’t stay long, Neal. It’s too exposed here. Is there someplace we can meet?”

Neal sighed, trying to keep his weary frustration at bay. “Not really. They’re keeping me on a tight leash at the moment. My fault … I may have facilitated their belief that I was going to run.”

Moz groaned. “Neal!”

“I know,” Neal said guiltily. “But they were being insufferable.”

“Out of life's school of war: What does not destroy me makes me stronger,” Moz replied.

Neal frowned then looked at Moz. “Don’t you mean ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’?”

“No,” Moz answered simply. “That’s a bastardization.”

Neal sighed and thought for a few seconds. But he was tired. “I don’t know, Winston Churchill?”

“Friedrich Nietzsche, The Twilight of the Idols, Eighteen-ninety-nine,” Moz corrected.

Annoyed, Neal snapped, “What are you trying to get at, Moz?”

“It means suck it up,” Moz replied harshly. “Make them believe you’re suffering Stockholm syndrome or something. I can’t get you out until they trust you enough.”

Neal scowled as Moz’s words. “Being left alone won’t be a problem. They want me to stay at home alone at some point.”

“They do?” Moz said surprised.

Neal nodded. “Yeah, Peter put a tracker on me. He thinks I can’t run with it.”

“Wait.” Moz frowned. “What tracker?”

Neal lifted up his thin cotton pants to show off the tracker. “I’m sure I can find scissors around the house.”

Moz, however, grew still. “Neal …”

“What?” Neal shifted uncomfortable with Moz’s response.

“I recognize that model.” Moz groaned. “You can’t just cut it.”

Neal blinked at Moz. “What do you mean?”

Moz stood and pushed his glasses up to the ridge of his nose. “We’ll work it out, Neal, don’t worry. I’ll come back when the Burkes leave you at home alone and we’ll talk then. Not now.”

Neal stood but before he could protest, Moz had begun to walk away.

“Moz,” he whispered.

Moz turned for a second and repeated his words apologetically. “Not now.”



Back in the house, Neal took advantage of the quiet. Over the next forty minutes he explored the house, taking in even the littlest detail. He started at the bottom and worked his way up. After he’d checked the basement—a room filled with boxes full of memorabilia, odds and ends leaning against the wall in corners, Halloween and Christmas decorations, beach umbrellas, novelty items like a giant fish, a fake cactus with ‘Texas’ written on the pot, old clothes marked as destined for charity, sporting goods from the days of college, and laundry supplies: ironing board, washing machine and dryer—Neal let Satchmo in to help cover his own noises as he opened and closed cupboards in the kitchen, living room and dining room. He constantly kept half an ear on the front door should Peter return home earlier than expected, or for El’s feminine call from upstairs.

Last time he’d been in Peter and El’s room he’d been interested in the aesthetics. This time he was interested in the practical side of things. He checked the cabinets, the drawers, the armoire, the shelves, and looked over the safes—yes, there were two—again. Each safe would require at least two minutes of undisturbed time, so Neal decided to leave the safes for now.

That had been the most interesting room, the one that showed who Peter and El were, the one that held their secrets, as mundane as they were. The rest of the rooms—two guest bedrooms, a second cupboard-sized bathroom, a small spare room, and an attic—were boring by comparison and Neal doubted the Burkes spent much time at all in them. He was surprised one of the other rooms hadn’t been made into a study. They both had home computers, so it wasn’t like they wouldn’t have used it. The Burkes were so happy in their marriage that they literally lived in the same spaces: the master bedroom—which held their bed, clothes, jewelry, and computers—and the downstairs area.

If this had been his house, he would have had one of the guest bedrooms on the third floor with the skylight converted into an art room. His easel would be in the middle with the two windows behind him as he stood—or sat on a stool—painting. He would have had his inspiration sitting over against a white backdrop wall on a table or on a recliner—depending on what it was—and a myriad of supplies scattering over the benches against the two remaining walls around him. The sheet of clear plastic to protect the floorboards or crème carpet would be splattered with multi-colored paint. And every now and then Ka—she would come in and check on him, maybe ask if he wanted a glass of wine or to tell him about the artist that was coming into town the next month.

Instead the guest room he was standing in contained a queen with tasteful lemon-white sheets and a white gold-lined armoire. He wondered if Peter and El had guests often, maybe Peter and El’s parents? Maybe they had friends who stayed sometimes … or siblings?

A call broke into his thoughts. Neal blinked back to reality. He left the room automatically, heading for the stairs. On the second floor, Neal moved down to the bathroom door and knocked softly.
At El’s answering murmur, Neal steadied himself.

Suck it up, Moz had said. He felt a flash of anger, but stymied it. Moz hadn’t chosen this, Moz had even warned him against it. Told him—begged him not to do it, but Neal hadn’t listened. He had assumed he’d get what he wanted, that it would be happily ever after if he could only achieve the one … the—well, it had worked, sort of.

Chapter Text

He opened the bathroom door and found El toweling herself off. She smiled at Neal, who froze, confronted by El’s nakedness.

He wanted to apologize and back out. But El straightened and glanced at the robe that was hanging on the back of the door. Neal turned and pulled the robe off the hook and edged to the middle of the room where El was watching him, uh, with a fondness, Neal guessed.

As he held out the robe, El took it from him gratefully. “Thanks.”

Neal nodded stiffly and started to turn to leave the bathroom to, maybe, stand around, waiting to see what she wanted him to do next, but El grasped his wrist as he turned.

Neal turned back to look at her. She was smiling, her eyes sparkling with relaxed exhilaration. “That was really nice, Neal.”

She pulled his wrist and came near until she was standing right up close in front of him. Neal kept his eyes locked on hers. He knew her robe wasn’t closed properly. He stayed still as El lifted up onto the balls of her feet and kissed him, lightly, on his lips. He didn’t respond, either to withdraw or lean in. He just swallowed and thought, involuntarily, of—of Kate. Kate with her smooth, straight, long brown hair and vivid blue eyes, kissing him as she smiled, usually about to suggest something fun for them to spend the weekend doing, maybe visiting a museum, or taking a boat up the Thames or breaking into a Coliseum.

As Kate—no Elizabeth—kissed him again, he closed his eyes. Elizabeth drew in closer and settled down onto her heels. She kissed him as she lowered, settling into his neck. Neal became aware of El’s naked body pressing against him. He smelled her hair as she nuzzled him and suddenly he stepped back. This wasn’t Kate. It was El—Elizabeth.

Elizabeth followed him and continued past him, pulling his hands as she went. Neal followed her, numbly. They entered the master bedroom and El led him over to the bed, breathing softly; she reached up and drew Neal down, guiding him with her hand at the back of his neck. He allowed her to kiss him again. Should he just imagine this was Kate?

Would that be—no, he didn’t want this to be about Kate. This had nothing to do with Kate. And it was easy to remember that. El’s lips, her kisses, her hold: they were nothing like Kate’s. He lowered his head and drew El in; relishing in the knowledge that El was definitely not Kate. He took in the new sensations and felt relief. They may, on the surface, look alike, but beyond that, El was a completely different woman. He relaxed. He softened his stance and withdrew a little, content with the knowledge that his Kate was untouched, sacred, and separate.



El just followed him, lost to sensation of exploring Neal, enjoying her first kiss, her first caress, her first look, touch, her first everything with Neal. Watching Peter the previous night had been an experience El had loved, but now, this, being with Neal herself and being able to take her time and to compare, to catalog, analyze and explore the differences between her two men: it was fun, it was sensual and it was enthralling.

El was caught in Neal’s spell, in the spell of his body. His lithe frame, the wiry muscles rippling as she slipped her hands beneath his shirt, his unruly hair as it trailed over the crown of her head, his fingers as he held her arms, perhaps in a vain attempt to curtail her control. His back to the bed, El guided him back, lowering down with him as he went. She slipped up the bed until she was kneeling over him, with only a robe covering her back. Her hair cascaded down over her shoulders, already halfway dry, giving Neal glimpses of her naked body through the gaps.

He looked up at the ceiling and as El pulled his shirt up over his arms, he let go. He let go of her arms and he let go of his last shred of dignity. At least this time, he was prepared, this time he just lay back. She lowered down and kissed him, a trail down from his lips, over his chin, tickling the hair behind his ears as she went. Her nails made his skin break out in goosebumps as she trailed them down to his midriff where she played with the band of his pants, slipping the nails down under the ridges, as though torn between the idea of a completely-naked Neal and continuing her sensual exploration.

She pulled her hair back over one shoulder and sat up, trailing a finger down the side of Neal’s cheek. He looked back at her. She smiled and Neal closed his eyes before turning his head slightly, away from her finger. El leaned down and kissed his exposed cheek. He put his hands on her elbows and pushed away a little. El moved back, eyes closed and gave a content grin before looking down. Her hands followed her gaze and she lifted up, backwards off the bed, putting a firm hold on Neal’s chest as he automatically followed her. He lay back down and El pulled his pants off—underwear caught with them—gently, trailing the band down, exploring each new exposed centimeter of supple skin, undamaged by the sun. She cooed as Neal’s band slipped down past his hips and down his thighs. Finally the pants fell down and El shifted her eyes back up. Neal was only half hard.
El returned to her spot up above Neal, knees on either side of him and admired the view for a moment. Neal had his arms splayed out at the side, holding a tuft of the blankets beneath him in either hand. He watched her and she smiled. She looked back at his cock and brought up a hand to caress his groin before ghosting the shaft. It prickled beneath her slight touch as she accidentally brushed the tip. Neal’s belly lurched as his thigh muscles tightened. She ran a hand down his left thigh in an attempt to smooth the muscle while she lowered herself until her mouth was barely a centimeter from the tip of Neal’s cock. She breathed. His cock lurched and she looked up, a smile teasing the corners of her mouth.
Neal’s mouth was open and he was drawing in a deep breath while looking to the window and back to the ceiling. She rose a little and slipped a finger on the underside of Neal’s rapidly rising erection. She traced the line from the base just in front of Neal’s testicles up to the tip. It had the desired effect. El admired Neal’s form as it began to harden. Neal moved his knees beneath her—a reflexive reaction—but El’s knees drew his attempt short and she moved up to kiss Neal again while smoothly shifting her body up the bed.


Neal was only aware of El’s hair trailing over his chest, his neck and face, so he didn’t realize El had taken the moment to seize a tube of lube from the bedside drawer. He shifted but settled back shortly and just took a breath, hating that El had made him react so easily, so quickly. But then, the quicker the better, right? The sooner El would be satiated and this would be over.

As El drew back into a sitting position to uncap the lube, Neal reached up to take the tube but El batted his hands away with a smile. He fell back, releasing his shoulders. This was Elizabeth’s time, it was about what she wanted to do, and he needed to leave behind his ego and impulses.
He dragged in another breath, teeth clenched. He looked down in time to see El having applied the lube to her fingers. Neal frowned, wondering what—but then she winked at him and trailed the back of her hand down past his thigh. Neal looked away up at—anything else. He arched as El fingered his hole. As she pressed gently holding his abdomen with her other hand, he squirmed up the bed. He didn’t get very far. It became clear what her aim was as she pressed in; his cock jumped and became fully erect.
As El deemed him to be ready, she withdrew carefully and brought up her still slicked fingers to his erection intending to use up the excess lube. They wouldn’t need much; she was ready herself. She was gentle—the kind of woman who liked to relish every second—and so she treated the application like yet another part of the experience. She would have made a great artist, with the natural attention to detail, the passion, the patience, and the sensual application.

Being an artist was also all about doing what you wanted, but for others to enjoy. When El lowered herself onto him, he got the impression this same rule was being applied. El was watching his reaction, shifting until she managed to elicit a desirable response out of Neal, going longer or shorter, and faster or slower according to Neal’s involuntary movements and moans. When he shuddered as she changed the angle by leaning forward, she maintained the direction and her smile broadened as Neal flexed and curled, unable to keep a handle on his body. He was reacting and she was loving it.

Elizabeth Burke was a seductress. A tease, a vixen, she loved eliciting the best response for the littlest movement, and so when she slid down his shaft only a little, yet again drawing out his moan as long as she could, Neal snaked his palms up to her hips and thrust into her, holding her in place.

She came. She moaned as she climaxed and lowered her head to rest it on his chest and he held her through it. When her breathing had evened, Neal mumbled. El lifted her head, looking at him.

Neal tried again. He pushed at her hips, but El stayed fixed in place. “I’m going to come,” he warned. El smiled. He was still in her, no condom.

She moved down a little and whispered next to his ear. “So come.”

“But I don’t have….” Neal whispered, clenching his jaw as he tried to hold back.

“It’s a little late, isn’t it?” El smiled. “Even pre-cum works. Don’t worry, Neal. I’m on the pill.”

“That doesn’t always—” Neal protested.

“Come,” El interrupted. She overrode any further protests by shifting her hips and effectively sliding down further before tightening around him.



Neal groaned, frustrated that he couldn’t hold it any longer. And El refused to move off him. He curled in then fell back, letting go. His orgasm ripped through him and he clenched his eyes shut. He let go of El’s unmoving hips, but remained in her hold, for which he was a little grateful.

When El moved off him and rolled onto her side next to him, keeping her arm over his waist, he turned to look at her.

“A condom stops more than just pregnancies,” Neal said to her sharply.

El blinked at him with a slight frown. Then she decided not to take Neal’s tone as an affront. “Peter and I were given your full medical work-up, Neal. We know you’re clean. And we’re clean too. So relax.”

Neal looked away from El, attempting to hide his anger. He sat up and pulled out of El’s hold, ignoring her whine of protest. If El wanted to snuggle, fine. She could snuggle with the pillow. He grabbed his clothes and headed out of the room to the bathroom.

In the bathroom, Neal cleaned himself off. He tried to ignore what he’d just done but as he pulled his pants back on he acknowledged that he’d been rudely insubordinate. Yes, he was angry with her and not even about the lack of a condom really, but he shouldn’t have lost control like that, so Neal pulled out a clean towel, ran it under the warm water and grabbed a box of tissues before heading back into the bedroom where El was sitting on the bed. She looked up as he entered but said nothing. They regarded each other warily.
Neal broke his gaze first and came up to the bed before lowering to his knees before her. An outwardly subservient action. El sighed, took his cheek into her palm and raised his chin.

She smiled. Neal recognized that she wasn’t going to say anything of it. So he rose and sat next to her, offering the towel. She took it but held it loosely.

“I’m not fooled,” she said suddenly.

Neal frowned and looked up at her.

El was looking at him with a neutral look. “I know you’re angry. And you’re frustrated with being here with us.”

Neal averted his gaze and tore some tissues out of the box.

“Listen, Neal,” El murmured. “It always takes awhile for people to adjust to new slaves and vice versa. It just takes time. We’ll all be fine eventually. We’ll be close one day, Neal.”

Neal tore another tissue out of the box.

“I know you don’t think that’s possible,” El finished. “But it will happen. You’ll see, Neal.”

Neal offered up the tissues.

El shook her head and stood. “I’m going in for a shower.”

“You just had a bath,” Neal pointed out bitterly.

El glanced back sharply but didn’t answer. Then she left the room.

Neal cringed, inwardly berating himself; he had to be more careful than this.

Chapter Text

After Neal sealed up the left-over Beef Bourguignon, storing it in the fridge for the next night, he followed El out to where she sat on the couch with papers spread out before her on the coffee table. To her left, her laptop lay beeping every now and then to signify a new message.

Neal hovered in the archway between the living room and kitchen until El looked up, having only just realized she wasn’t alone.

Neal raked his hair and cleared his throat. El looked back down and gathered up her papers before shutting the laptop and setting both aside.

“Neal,” Elizabeth acknowledged. “Come sit.”

Neal obediently walked into the room near to the couch but just stood in place.

“Sit,” Elizabeth insisted.

Neal lowered himself to the edge of the couch. Elizabeth watched him for a few minutes while he stared at his hands wishing he could do something with them like paint, draw, or sculpt.

Finally, Elizabeth took a deep breath and twisted in her seat, pulling up her legs so that she could face Neal while leaning against the armrest. “You should have eaten dinner at the table with me.”

Neal stayed quiet. He knew that Elizabeth thought that she was being kind by letting Neal know he could sit with her for dinner but he’d liked it when she had let him disappear into the kitchen after ladling out a serving for her. He’d been able to let down his defenses and relax long enough to just eat. No thinking.

“You didn’t have to eat in the kitchen, Neal,” Elizabeth continued. “We bought you for your companionship not for your service.”

Neal nodded. “I understand. But I didn’t mind.”

El watched him attempting to discern the truth or false of Neal’s words; she didn’t believe him.

Neal gestured to the television. “Do you normally watch movies? I could put one on for you and make myself scarce.”

Neal wanted to find a room—maybe the third-floor guest-room—and just sit alone for a while. He just wanted to curl up and not think. He wanted to hide, just so he could stop long enough to breathe.

For the first time, El realized that perhaps Neal wasn’t asking if he could do something for her. But that he was asking if she could do something for him; even something as small as letting him have time to himself.

She opened her mouth at the thought, paused, and considered the idea. Then she nodded and smiled.

“Something with romance?”

Neal worked to keep his relief off his face, and his body language neutral.

They found a channel that Elizabeth seemed happy with, so when she had settled with Satchmo at her feet, Neal dissolved into the shadows and made his way upstairs.

Upstairs in the third-floor guest-room with the bed covered with the white blanket with lemon-yellow trimmings, Neal was careful not to touch the bed itself. It was a guest bed. Made for esteemed or loved guests. The last thing he wanted was for Peter and El to tell him that the room was off limits. So he settled onto the floor with his back to the wall.

Then he did what he had done, even when he hadn’t wanted to, day after day at the center. He thought about his life, the good times and the bad. He had been free. He thought mostly about the last few years because those were the years he had spent with Kate. Well, not ‘with-her’ with her, but as close as he had been, to be able to hang out with her occasionally, and at one memorable time, spend a whole day and night with her.

Neal ended up cradling his head in his arms as they rested, crossed over his knees.

He fell asleep thinking of Kate’s smile; the shy one, the one where she really seemed to like Neal, if only she could admit it to herself.


It was late when Peter came home. He’d had a long day. Hagan had left behind a clean room and no trail to follow. An epithet was beginning to float around. The Dutchman. Peter scowled at the thought. If a criminal was assigned an epithet, it meant their expected arrest date had come and gone. At least with this case they knew the guy’s real name.
It was more than he could say for his other case.
He hadn’t had the chance lately to look at that one. He made a mental note to put the Hagan case aside in the morning and dedicate some thought to this other case.

Satchmo greeted him with a loyal tail-wag before heading back to his spot on the floor next the couch that—Peter blinked—the couch that his wife was sleeping on. Alone.

He watched Elizabeth for a few moments. Her chest rose and fell at a calm rate. He guessed she had been asleep for a while. Opposite her the television was going, but it was muted. Peter moved forward to locate the remote.

Once he had found it and turned the television off, his mind automatically moved on to what was bringing him up short; where was Neal? The man he’d told to take care of his wife for him?
Where was the man—no, the slave—who had left his owner alone to sleep on the couch?

Peter pursed his lips as his jaw clenched. He sighed stiffly before dumping his bag and heading into the dining room. It was empty. He checked the kitchen. There were dishes in the sink. Peter looked at them in silent contemplation. Okay, he decided. No, he realized, they’d have to talk rules. He really should have—him and El—sat Neal down and told him what they expected. But he thought Neal would at least take his order to look after his wife to include not leaving her to lie with the threat of stiff neck or back on an uncomfortable couch when there was a bed upstairs, large and comfortable enough to fit three.

Peter closed his eyes momentarily knowing his long day was not over yet. Here, he had been hoping to fall into a bed occupied already by two contented sleeping companions. Now, he’d have to find out if Neal was even still in the house. He had checked a half-hour ago and Neal had, at least then, been present. Well, his tracker had been anyway. Peter wondered briefly if Neal had managed to ditch it.
And he’d have to get his sleeping wife up to bed. Since when did Elizabeth fall asleep on the couch?

Peter left the kitchen and headed to the living room. Should he find Neal first or take care of El?
Her head was lying at an angle on the armchair with her arm twisted around behind. He thought she may have originally been sleeping with her head in the crook of her elbow and had since slipped down. She didn’t look comfortable. Decision made, Peter could only hope Neal might be waiting upstairs in bed. Perhaps El had put him away? It occurred to him that he shouldn’t have jumped to conclusions. El was perfectly capable and adept at handling Neal.

Peter was about to head over to the couch to pick El up as best as he could (she flailed a lot in her sleep) but then his bag caught his eye. It was in the way; on the floor in the foyer. He didn’t need to contend with a tripping hazard and a sleepwalking wife at the same time.

He swept out into the foyer and picked up his bag, taking care not to bang the laptop inside. Peter took it over to the corner of the foyer by the door where the potted plant stood. Then something caught Peter’s eye.

Peter put his hand into the pot, curious. Then his blood froze over. Those were his sleeping pills. What were his sleeping pills doing in…?

Peter looked at El. His wife continued to sleep blissfully unaware of the deep, fearful, clenching, anger that enveloped Peter.

He squeezed the medicine container in his fist and whirled, heading for the stairs.


The first thing Neal was aware of was of being picked up and slammed against a wall. He blinked but before he could gather his wits, Peter was dragging him out of the room. To Peter, he was little more than a ragdoll in his blind rage.

Down two flights of stairs Neal could barely gain an even footing. In the kitchen, Peter headed purposefully to the basement entrance and practically flung Neal down the stairs. Neal protested with confusion but Peter was too mad to listen. He put up a hand and snarled at Neal. Neal backed down. Peter moved him over to the corner and pushed him up against a wall. Neal backed up against it grateful for the support, not even completely awake, and still entirely confused, even through his fear of the man before him. He barely recognized Peter. He had never seen him so mad. Not in all the years he had known Peter.

Damn it. Neal cleared his head. The last thing he needed was to acknowledge, in his head, his familiarity with the man before him. Peter could pick up on anything. He’d already proven that.

He went back to the mode—the reality—he’d been living in; the one where the Burkes were complete strangers.

“Peter?” Neal tried.

Peter glared at him from where he was flinging boxes out of his path. Neal averted his eyes and tried to make himself as small as possible. If only he knew what had made the agent so mad.

Finally, Peter uncovered what he’d been digging for. It was an old thin mattress. Peter picked it up from the beneath the rubble of years of useless accumulated junk and threw it to the floor in front of Neal.

Neal blinked at it.

Next, Peter headed to the stairs. At the foot, he gave Neal a venomous glare. “Don’t move a muscle.”

After Peter disappeared up the stairs, Neal tried thinking back over the evening. What had he done? Was this because he had left Elizabeth alone? Was it because he had been in the guest bedroom? Had Elizabeth reported his insubordination from after they had sex? Or did Peter know?

Did—did Peter know who he was?

Neal swallowed nervously.

Shortly, he heard the sound of Peter’s footsteps on the floor above him.

Neal was exactly where Peter had left him; clutching the below-ground brick wall for support.

Peter ignored Neal for the moment and looked around in search of something. He seemed to spot what he was after on a wall over to the left of Neal.

Peter picked up the mattress and pulled it over to the wall, where some piping had poked out temporarily before disappearing back into the wall. Neal watched as Peter knelt down and pulled out of a bag, the ankle manacle that had been attached to the bed. It was locked around the piping.

Peter looked up at Neal with black eyes. “Get over here,” he growled.

Neal obeyed quickly, edging over, not wanting to draw out Peter’s ire any further.


Neal knelt and allowed Peter to maneuver him, roughly, until his ankle was next to the pipe. The manacle was locked around his ankle. Then Peter moved around behind Neal, giving Neal a nudge back when Neal automatically began to turn.

Neal tried not to flinch when he felt as Peter pulled his hands behind his back and cuffed them in place. There was the rustle of the bag as Peter pulled something else out. Neal felt as that something was fitted over his hand; a glove. Then Peter did the same with the other hand. Neal identified the gloves. Mittens: the thick-padded, waterproofed type that had kept the fingers together for added warmth and made it near-impossible to make use of any fine-motor skills.

Neal heard the sound of tape. And he realized what Peter was doing. Quite ingenious and simple, really. Neal couldn’t get his hands out from behind him, not with an ankle chain in the way—something he would usually do when cuffed. And he couldn’t pick the manacle without the use of his fingers. He couldn’t get his fingers free without access to the tape with his mouth. The tape prevented the mittens from coming off.

Once Peter had finished taping the gloves closed around his wrists, Peter stood, threw the empty bag aside and came around to stand in front of Neal.

Neal looked up slowly, not sure what Peter wanted from him.

Peter slowly withdrew the source of his anger. The Zolpidem.
In a flash, Neal understood.

“Peter,” Neal started cautiously.

Peter cut him off. “You drugged my wife. You drugged Elizabeth.”

Neal shook his head desperately. “No—Peter, it’s not—I didn’t—”

Peter put up a hand. “I don’t want to hear it. The drugs are usually in the bathroom; they were in the plant. And Elizabeth, who I told you to take care of, was asleep on the couch—something she has never done before. So, stop!”

Neal fell silent. He shook his head a little. Then he looked down. He hoped the bile that was threatening to come up would stay down.

Peter turned, satisfied with Neal’s silence. “I’ll see you in the morning, Neal.”

Neal listened as Peter made his way up the stairs, turning the light out at the top. The room plunged into darkness and even as his eyes adjusted, Neal looked up to the window where a bright moonlight was shining through. He turned as best as he could to lean with his shoulder to the wall, against the cold brick. For awhile, Neal stared at the basement window, with the iron bars meant to ward against the outside, looking like yet another restriction. Then, Neal shuffled down onto the mattress on his side and fell into an uneasy sleep.

He’d deal with everything in the morning.


Upstairs, after shutting the basement door, Peter tried to relax his posture; to let the tension slip out of his broad frame. He managed to relax his shoulders, but that was the best he could do.
He headed over to the sink and ran the water, filling up a glass. He contemplated his anger as he stared at the glass.

Peter didn’t want to drink the water, but he made himself drink it. After the glass was empty he walked out of the kitchen into the living room via the dining room where his wife slumbered on, oblivious to all that had happened.

He called to Satchmo who obediently moved out of the way. Peter noticed that Satchmo had his head down and his tail tucked between his legs. He murmured to Satchmo who wagged his tail a little but otherwise stayed away. Peter sighed but figured the dog would be fine after they all went to bed.

Peter decided to focus on Elizabeth. He bent his knees and dug his arms beneath her frame, picking her up more easily than expected. She murmured a little and turned her face into his neck. He made his way to the stairs noting Satchmo’s location warily, and automatically remembered Neal’s escaped attempt; botched by the dog.
He shook his head clear. He didn’t want to think about Neal. He didn’t need to think about how much he had misjudged the slave. He’d believed him to be harmless alone with El! Peter’s jaw clenched and he almost missed his footing on the stairs. He needed to focus. He’d never carried El up stairs before—only across a threshold, several years previously. He hadn’t thought he’d ever need to do it again.

In the master bedroom, Peter looked down on Elizabeth who had rolled over after he had set her down gently. She was still dressed, but with no shoes or jacket on, so Peter wasn’t worried. He wasn’t sure how strong the drugs were. El mightn’t even wake until morning.

Five minutes later, Peter had changed and was drawing back the covers about to join El when he stilled. He shook his head but the worry wouldn’t go away. He glanced at El. He rubbed his forehead and sighed. The bed would have to wait for a few more minutes.

He went out into the hall and into the bathroom to look in the linen cupboard. Peter bit his lip, at a loss. He couldn’t find what he was looking for.  He headed upstairs and found what he was looking for in the third-floor guest bedroom, the room he had found Neal in. Peter paused looking at the spot on the floor the slave had been sitting on, asleep.

Then, with the item he’d found, he headed back down three flights, where he now stood, looking at the sleeping, and awkward, form of his … his Neal. Peter shook his head. He still liked him. Even though he’d drugged his wife.
What was it that made Peter want to curl up next to Neal on that flimsy mattress and take him into his arms?

Peter settled on doing what he came to do.

He moved over until he stood close enough to cover Neal with the blanket from the third-floor guest bedroom, the white one with the lemon-yellow trimmings.


Chapter Text

When Peter woke up, Neal’s actions from the previous night came back to him and the anger flooded him again. He looked to his side where Elizabeth lay sleeping with all the blankets wrapped around her waist.

He lay there, wondering where to go from here. He couldn’t stay angry at Neal forever; it was impractical. He’d have to let Neal know that what he’d done was unacceptable and wouldn’t be tolerated. But anger had no place here.

The light outside was still weak, so Peter knew it was very early in the morning. He guessed Elizabeth may be asleep for a little while longer, but if they had to talk—all three of them— they would need every moment that could be spared before he and El would have to go off to work.

After coming back from the bathroom, he did the unthinkable. He nudged Elizabeth with the intention of waking her up. While Elizabeth was a morning person; all chipper and energetic even before the first coffee, she had never liked being woken from her sleep early. Even if mostly she acted with good grace, he still didn’t like waking her.

“El, honey?”

Elizabeth clearly had issues of her own; because when she woke up, she immediately sat up, taming her hair, pushing it behind her shoulders. She looked at Peter who had moved back, attempting to give her space.

“Peter?” El mumbled, already thinking about the things she wanted to talk to Peter about. “I didn’t hear you come in last night.”

Peter nodded, already bracing himself to tell El. “Yeah, that’s because Neal drugged you last night.”

“What?” Elizabeth blinked up at Peter, immediately concerned.

Peter nodded in the direction of his bedside table. She looked in the same direction and recognized the container for Peter’s sleeping pills.

“Neal drugged me?”

Peter nodded.

She thought back over the previous night. She wondered when Neal could have done that. She considered the dinner; stew. A perfect chance to add a crushed tablet or two without notice, but then she’d gone and watched a movie, hadn’t she? For hours.

“I found them hidden in the pot plant,” Peter explained. “And you were out cold on the couch.”

El assessed how she was feeling. She didn’t feel drugged. Wouldn’t there be after affects? Maybe. But, she had had a big day yesterday. She shook her head.

“Peter, I was tired,” she replied.

Peter nodded. “Yeah, the Zolpidem would have made you drowsy.”

“No,” El tried again. “I was tired, because … because of everything that happened yesterday. And I stayed up on the couch because I wanted to talk to you about it all. But you came in really late.”

Peter tried to understand what El trying to explain. He needed to break it down.

“What happened yesterday?”


El narrowed her eyes wondering where to start. “I had a wedding and a funeral, so I was tired before I even came home. Then Neal and I went shopping. When we got back, Neal ran me a bath and that was—it was relaxing. We had sex, and then Neal made dinner. After dinner I watched a movie and Neal disappeared upstairs.”

Peter contemplated her words. That was a big day. Yes, the wedding and the—

“You had sex with Neal?”

El nodded.

Peter moved to sit down on the bed beside her. “How was it?”

El nodded again. “It was—it was good.”

Peter narrowed his eyes, scrutinizing. “But?”

El shrugged. “No, it was good, but Neal was—he was mad at me afterwards.”

Peter frowned. Maybe that’s why Neal had drugged El?


El took a deep breath. “He made a fuss about me not using a condom.”

Peter understood that—not that he condoned it. “I get that you prefer not to use it El, but a condom would have been smart. Never mind, what did Neal say?”

“He just snapped at me a couple of times,” El told him. “But I think he was angry about something else. The condom thing was just an outlet.”

Peter contemplated her words. They’d have to talk to Neal about that obviously, but they’d gone off topic.
“Okay,” Peter redirected. “So, Neal cooked you dinner? Then put a movie on?”

El nodded. “Yeah, but Peter, after that I was alone for hours. Neal didn’t watch the movie with me. I fell asleep waiting for you. And those drugs work in about fifteen or twenty minutes.”

Peter looked at El. “What are you saying, El?”

Elizabeth bit her lip. “I’m saying I don’t feel drugged. I don’t think Neal drugged me.”

Peter knew his wife was smart. If she said she hadn’t been drugged then he had no reason to think otherwise. A wave of relief came over him but it was stymied, somewhat, by the knowledge that those drugs … they had been put in that pot plant for a reason.

He gave a nod. “Okay, so if Neal didn’t drug you, then why is he playing with my drugs?”

El looked at Peter sympathetically. She knew they were both thinking along the same lines.

“Maybe he was thinking about it,” she conceded.

Peter nodded then rubbed his forehead. “Which means he still…” Peter sighed. “I was pretty mad last night, El. I’m still angry with him.”

Elizabeth took in Peter’s slightly defensive posture and looked around. “Peter, where is Neal?”

Peter stood. “We all need to talk. Meet you in the living room?”

El nodded slightly, but she wasn’t going to let Peter go just yet. “Peter?”

Peter paused at the doorway. “I put him in the basement. He left you on that couch after I told him to look after you, then I come home and I find the Zolpidem in the pot plant? And you were out cold on the couch. What was I supposed to do, El?”

Elizabeth moved to her feet and headed over to Peter. She knew Peter was a fair and honest man. She couldn’t criticize him of his actions; she probably would have done the same. She just murmured softly. “Bring him up, and we’ll give him a chance to explain?”

Peter nodded, grateful for El’s understanding. As he started to leave she murmured once more.

“And in the future, Peter,” El said lightly. “Maybe we can give him a chance to defend himself before we jump to conclusions?”

Peter was happy to agree with that; the thought having already occurred to him. “Yeah.”



After he’d let Satchmo out the back, Peter headed down the basement stairs wondering if Neal would behave resentfully. Peter didn’t regret locking Neal down there. Neal had, by all appearances, at least considered drugging one of them. That was behavior that couldn’t be tolerated. It was time for Neal to either open up to them if he wanted their understanding and patience or to let go of his past and accept his new life.

Neal was laying half on his stomach and half on his side, his face half-buried in the mattress. At least he was still asleep; that meant Neal hadn’t been sitting here waiting, anxiously, for a chance to go to the toilet or anything.
Peter stood looking at Neal in the early dawn light for a few moments. Neal looked worn out. He wondered if Neal ever stopped stressing. He wished he could do something for him.

Peter shook his head wondering where that familiar protective and sympathetic tendency always came from. It always cropped up when he was around Neal. He felt a strong desire to take care of Neal, a desire that he’d felt for no-one except El.

Okay, so Peter felt Neal, maybe, deserved to remain shackled in light of his apparent intent to drug. But, he and El had agreed to hear Neal out.
So Peter bent to nudge Neal awake. As soon as Neal began to stir Peter unlocked the cuffs.

Once the manacle was unlocked too, Peter stood and waited for Neal to take stock of his whereabouts and sit up. It only took a few seconds; Neal was determined to wake up.

Neal blinked as he brought his arms around to his front slowly, working out the kinks as best as he could, keeping quiet despite the painfully stiff muscles. He shifted and the blanket—the blanket? The one from the guest bedroom—fell off him. He stared at the blanket, trying to wrap his groggy mind around what that meant.

“Neal,” Peter spoke softly. “Come on, get up. We need to talk.”

Neal nodded, still half asleep and made to stand up but as he proved his unsteadiness he was hauled up by Peter who kept a reassuring hold on his elbow. Despite last night—despite Peter’s heavy handling, Neal knew something was different; that Peter was only holding him to support him.

“Peter,” Neal mumbled.

Neal wanted to tell Peter the truth; that he had ended up not drugging El, though he guiltily knew he deserved Peter’s ire; after all, he had considered it, but he still wanted Peter to know that El was okay, that she hadn’t been drugged after all; that Peter didn’t need to worry about her.

“Shh,” Peter answered, knowing what Neal wanted. “We’ll talk in the living room.”

But, no, Neal needed Peter to know, now. He pulled back. “Peter.”

Peter shook his head. Even now; sleepy and suffering from the shock of having seen Peter at his angriest, Neal still couldn’t follow a simple order.

“Neal,” Peter muttered slightly irritated. “We know you didn’t drug anyone. Okay? We’re going upstairs to talk about it.”

Neal’s quick mind informed him that clearly Peter and El had been talking. At this stage, Neal knew that could mean anything. Chances were, though he hadn’t actually drugged El, Peter would still be less than impressed.



Upstairs, Peter sat Neal on the couch and unwound the tape, releasing Neal’s hands from the overheated gloves. A soon as his hands were free Peter pressed a mug of steaming coffee into his hands.

“El made that for you,” Peter told him.

Neal looked up in surprise having been staring numbly at the mug. “She did? Is she…?”

Peter sat down opposite Neal and leaned back, content to wait for his wife. “She’s just in the bathroom.”

Neal sipped his coffee self-consciously, but grateful for it. Just like the night before, the coffee invigorated him.

When El came down the stairs, Neal stared into his diminished supply of coffee. He felt ashamed. What would El think of him now? Would she fear him? She had been interested in his general well-being… would that change now?

His fear of El melted as she sat down next to him and uncapped a tube of moisturizing cream she’d brought with her from the bathroom. Neal sat stunned as El pried the mug out of Neal’s hands and took his wrist. She spread a good sized dollop of cream on his wrists and began rubbing it in tenderly. Neal glanced at his wrist. It felt good. He’d unintentionally pulled on the cuffs in his sleep so his wrists were red and felt sore. The manacle had been wider than the chain so it hadn’t hurt his ankle. But El checked, after having finished with both his wrists, despite his mumbles. Satisfied, she recapped the cream.

Peter decided not to waste time. He only had forty minutes before he wanted to be at work for a meeting with Diana and Jones so they could get started on finding another lead to chase Hagan.

“Okay,” Peter started; ignoring Neal’s immediately tensed posture. “Neal, last night I discovered my sleeping pills in the pot plant. Did you put them there?”

Neal nodded numbly.

Peter was satisfied that Neal wasn’t wasting his time at least. “Okay, did you drug El?”

“No,” Neal insisted strongly. “I didn’t.”

Peter nodded putting up a palm momentarily. “Okay. Did you intend to use them?”

Neal looked down and brought his two palms together, clenching them.


Neal swallowed. “I … considered using them. But, Peter, I decided not to. It was just an option.”

Peter closed his mouth, pressing his lips together, unimpressed.

Neal looked at El, then at Peter again. At Peter’s small exhale, he looked down, deciding that silence was the way to go.

“Why?” Peter finally asked.

But Neal—no way would he answer that. No. He shook his head vaguely and bit his cheek.

Peter sighed and considered the slave before him. Clearly, Neal was guilty and if he wouldn’t tell Peter and El why, then Peter had to assume that his motives were … well, wrong at least—probably dangerous.

Peter glanced at El. She bit her cheek back at him; neither really knew what to do with Neal. Finally El looked reluctantly at her watch and grimaced apologetically. She had to go.

“El,” Peter stood acknowledging her, “You have to go? Meet for Lunch?”

El nodded, knowing that Peter wanted a chance to discuss things over with her at some point, and preferably away from Neal. Peter murmured to Neal to wait where he was and headed to the door.

Elizabeth stood and followed Peter outside grabbing her supplies (laptop, paperwork, and a roll containing blueprints) pausing on the front steps to talk privately to Peter for a moment.

“I’m not going to talk to him much more, El,” Peter told her. “Just a few more questions. I don’t know what to do with him.”

Elizabeth kissed Peter and rubbed his arm reassuringly. “We’ll work it out. Talk it over Lunch?”

Peter saw her off, grateful that El seemed to be on the same page.

Unlike El, Peter didn’t have to leave immediately; work was only twenty minutes away, he was ready, he still had thirty-five minutes and besides, he needed to talk to Neal alone.

Peter returned, shutting the door as he went.

Chapter Text

Satchmo had wondered over to Neal, so now Neal was absent-mindedly patting his head. Peter took in the sight for a second. All doubt about having purchased Neal vanished. Just like two days ago, through that two-way mirror, Peter knew, just like he had known then; Neal belonged with them. So, they had a few problems to work through … everyone did, didn’t they?

He sat down, leaning forward, elbows on knees, and took a deep breath.

“Neal,” he started slowly. “Elizabeth said you were angry with her yesterday?”

Neal looked up, wondering what El had said and also what he could say to that. Seriously, what could he say to that?

As the silence stretched, Peter took Neal’s response—or lack thereof—as a ‘yes’.

“Neal,” Peter said. “I can understand if you’re angry—you’re allowed to be angry, but you have to have a reason. And if you have a reason, you have to acknowledge it. El didn’t tell me much, but she was confused and she tends to see the best in people, so my guess is, you were worse than she let on.”

Neal still didn’t say anything.

Peter shifted, wringing his hands before settling back in an attempt to control his growing agitation. “Unfounded anger, insubordination, escape attempts, and threatening to use drugs against us won’t be tolerated, Neal.”

Neal stopped patting Satchmo and twisted in a vain attempt to alleviate the discomfort. He wasn’t feeling guilt exactly—but, well, guilt, yes for having contemplated drugging El—but it wasn’t like that; he hadn’t thought of it that way. He’d thought it was a passive, safe way of ensuring everyone got what they wanted, so it wasn’t exactly guilt, but he was uncomfortable.

Peter’s words bit into him and they were honest. So, maybe Peter was right. No, Peter was definitely right, and if Neal had been a slave for longer than mere months, maybe he’d accept that, maybe he could make peace with the Burkes. But he hadn’t been a slave more than a few months and he didn’t think at this stage that he’d ever accept it. Not with Kate out there somewhere.

So, Neal was uncomfortable. Because he shouldn’t have been there. What Peter was saying applied to someone else. But. It wasn’t anyone else. It was him. He was there, regardless of whether he should have been or not and….

Neal closed his eyes. ….he did belong to them. Technically.

Peter realized Neal wasn’t going to be able to say anything. He moved off the chair and admitted, inwardly, that despite his words, he didn’t actually know how to ‘not tolerate’ Neal’s behavior. Neal wasn’t some criminal he could throw behind bars for a few days. He was part of the family and needed to be dealt with as such. Peter needed time to think. He moved to the foyer and picked up his bag.

Neal watched the agent warily as he stood thinking in the foyer for a few moments.

Finally, Peter decided to buy himself time. He put his hands to his hips. “Okay, this is not over Neal. We’ll finish it tonight. I have to go to work. You’re going to stay here in this house. You can go in the backyard. I’m going to call a few times, so answer the phone. Do the chores. Remember … stay in the house.”

Neal gave a minuscule nod and turned his gaze away from the foyer. He listened as Peter opened the door and left.

For a few minutes Neal sat on the couch, looking at the cold mug of coffee with a list of chores lying beside it.



When Neal finally stood picking up the list of chores as he went, he realized he had a slight feeling of relief. Of all the things that Peter and El could have done or said … they’d been pretty patient and understanding with him. Neal recalled Peter’s wrath from the night before and inhaled nervously. Yes, it could have been a whole lot worse. While Peter wasn’t technically done, Neal knew then somehow, he’d be alright.

For some reason Neal felt drawn to the basement. He headed down, went straight over to the mattress that he’d slept on and bent to pick up the blanket. For a second he stared at it in his hands. He wondered if it had been Peter or El who had covered him up. Remembering the coffee and the moisturizer, Neal thought it had been El. He folded the blanket over his arm carefully. He should take it to the laundry and wash it so it would be ready for those guests, if they ever ended up coming. Laundry was on the list anyway.



At eleven forty-five, Neal had completed a quarter of the list, and had answered two calls from Peter checking to ensure the tracker had not been ditched.
Then finally a knock Neal had been hoping for came at the door. Neal parted the curtain hardly daring to hope that it would be Moz, but it was.

“Moz,” Neal sighed with relief. “Come in.”

Moz however, standing in the shadow of the wall by the door, peered over Neal’s shoulder. “You alone?”

Neal rolled his eyes. “Just the dog, but you probably knew that … heat detector?”

Moz glanced at the bag that held his heat detector; the one that showed energy signatures, which signified the presence of a living being, even through walls.

“Passive infrared senses,” Moz acknowledged, keeping his face clear and merely stepping forward. He glanced around the foyer before heading into the living room and shutting the curtains.

“People will find that suspicious,” Neal pointed out, referring to the curtains.

Moz just looked at Neal and spoke airily. “Yes, but even suspicion is better than confirmation. They may suspect, but they won’t know for sure.”

Neal just sat at the chair. “Moz,” he sighed. “Where’s Kate?”

Moz softened his gaze and sat down letting his bags fall onto the floor. He spoke softly. “I don’t know. She’s a ghost man. She did an excellent job of disappearing … I’m looking for her, Neal.”

Neal covered his eyes with barely-contained stress. For a few minutes he wondered where she could be, whether she had disappeared on her own or if someone had made her leave.

Unable to get answers, he forced himself to let go of Kate for the moment. He knew if Moz said he was looking, then he was looking and that was the best thing he could ask of his friend right now.

“What about the tracker?” Neal asked, glad that he had something else to focus on.

Moz tensed. “It’s too good, Neal. The suit must have some sway; he got you the best. But then, he’d only have to show the Man your file to convince them he needed it.”

“What file?” Neal asked. “The slave file the center made up?”

Moz shook his head. “No. Your file; the one the suits have on you?”

Neal stiffened now. “Moz,” he said slowly. “Peter doesn’t know. He doesn’t know it’s my file.”

Moz blinked, trying to understand Neal’s words.

“What do you mean?!” He stood. “Wait … he doesn’t know who you are?! How could he not know?”

Neal shrugged. “He just doesn’t. They haven’t connected me, Neal Caffrey, to that file.”


Moz stared at Neal in shock, gaping, at a loss at this news. Eventually he sat down. “I thought that he got you because of who you were. How can he not know?”

“I don’t know,” Neal replied, “but I do know it won’t be long until he does find out. Moz, Peter knows more about me than any other agent; it’s only a matter of time before he starts connecting the dots. I don’t want to still be here when he finds out.”

“So then,” Moz said slowly, still stuck on the revelation that the Burkes didn’t know who Neal was. “If he didn’t buy you because he knew you, then…?”

Neal kept his face neutral and he spoke simply. “Company.”

Moz’s eyes widened in understanding. “So, he thinks he’s still chasing your ass when he’s actually—”

“Using it?” Neal asked coldly.

Moz tensed. “I told you not to do it, Neal. You didn’t listen.”

“I know. Save the ‘I told you so’ please, Moz,” Neal begged, tired.

Moz nodded, only to happy to move on. “I got access to your file. I figured we should find out what they knew, now that you’re stuck with the Suit.”


Moz shook his head. “They don’t know anything. I mean, the Suit knows a lot of personal details, which is creepy, but nothing concrete. They only have a fingerprint they suspect belongs to you from on a bond we cashed two years back.”

Neal nodded, not sure if he was relieved. He’d have to be careful to make sure that Peter never thought to compare his slave-center-prints with the one off the bond.

“Moz,” Neal spoke as a thought occurred to him. “Does Peter have a name for me?”

“He suspects you have a few aliases but he’s never been able to confirm any.”

Neal appreciated momentarily that his friend had perfect recall; no need to carry files with him.

Neal shook his head. “No—I mean, you know, a nickname?”

“An epithet?” Moz arched his eyebrow. “Yes, actually.”

Neal motioned with his hand, pointedly.

Moz smiled. “James Bonds.”

Neal took in the epithet with a vague amusement. “James Bonds?” He repeated. Then he remembered that file that Diana had told him ‘contained bonds’. There had had a pair of initials on the file jacket: J.B.

That had been his file he’d been looking at?! What was it that Diana had said? Peter was possessive of that file? Or fond? Something like that…. And neat, too?

“Huh,” Neal thought, and then he focused back on Moz. “I have to get out of here, Mozzie. I have to find Kate.”

Moz nodded. “I’m working on it. And I’ve got several leads on Kate. Don’t worry. We’ll find her.”

With all he had come to say, having been said, Moz stood up to leave. Neal wished he would stay longer but he knew why Moz was leaving and he knew Moz would be unlikely to risk being seen just to keep him company.

He walked Moz to the door and stood stiffly when Moz tried to cheer him up. “Don’t worry, Neal. Think of this as an opportunity. Secret operations are essential in war; upon them the army relies to make its every move.”

Neal replied immediately. “Sun Tzu. Are you saying I should treat this as an opportunity to spy on Peter?”

Moz shrugged. “Keep your friends close and your en—”

Neal nodded quickly. “Yeah, okay Moz, I get it.”

Chapter Text

Back in the living room, Neal opened up the blinds, returning them to where he thought they had been and straightening the couch cushion. Then he turned and sought out his only source of company; Satchmo.

He grimaced apologetically at the dog and pulled out the list of chores from the waistband of his pants. He waved the paper a little and spoke softly, “Sorry, Satchmo … you have to be bathed.”

The rest of the afternoon went by in flashes of concentration. What he was doing rarely required his immediate attention so Neal spent the time musing on possible heists or otherwise absent-mindedly thinking about everything—or nothing. Washing the dog inspired thoughts on the many sculptures of Colima dogs, though not rare or expensive, Neal knew of just about every type of art; it was the history of the culture behind such pieces that fascinated him.
Cleaning the bathtub, he thought about the many paintings and sculptures inspired by Venus Anadyomene or ‘Venus rising from the sea’, closely related to the birth of Aphrodite.
Hanging out the washing, he thought about works by Alexander Mcqueen. He had to admire someone who could do what he did with clothes.

He vacuumed, he washed the dishes, he dusted, he cleaned the windows, he scrubbed the furniture, he sorted the various odds and ends that were scattered about the house … he did all the small things on the list, working his way through until he was left with only two jobs he refused to do.

Honestly, it’s not like he didn’t try. He did. He looked at the mower and everything. And he looked at it from all angles. But none of the angles changed anything. No instructions popped out, the engine didn’t just magically start and the grass was still long. He poked the handle once and dust fell off the metal.

He went back inside.

Next he stood at the base of the stairs in the basement and looked around there too. He supposed just starting to clean one part would get him going. He looked at the box over to the left that had spilled its contents. Something made of fabric and covered in dust or algae lay tangled amongst old books, figurines, and gardening supplies. Were those polka-dots?
He looked over to the right quickly where a jumble of ropes, old clothes, cloths, and—and cobwebs, hung off an old rusted bike and a mannequin. He turned around and peered under the stairs.

No justifying, no reasoning, no rationalizing; it wasn’t necessary. Neal turned tail and fled.

He had a late afternoon lunch. He looked at the clock anxiously. It was after four. Peter and El would have had their lunch by now. He wondered what they had spoken about. He feared they would come home and things would change for the worse. Oh, he knew, Peter and El wouldn’t do anything too bad. But still, the situation was already bad enough. The last time he’d thought he could handle what they threw at him, it had been the tracker. He had thought it could easily be cut. Only now, he knew it couldn’t. Next time he saw Moz, he would make him go into more detail. He needed to know exactly what made it so special.

It had been a warm day; the kind where everyone at work looks out the window of their stuffy, slightly-uncomfortable offices wishing they were out in the park, reading a book or enjoying the breeze. Neal, having been satisfied with the work he’d done, followed Satchmo out with a glass of water and sat on the backyard bench that seemed to be home-made.

It was so nice just sitting there doing nothing. It had to be the first time in days that he’d been able to do nothing. And it was the first time in months that he’d been able to appreciate something as simple as the warm sun shooting rays between the leaves of the one tree that struggled to grow in the small backyard of a house in the brick-and-mortar suburbia.



Peter came home less than an hour later.

Elizabeth came in barely minutes behind him and Neal realized this had been deliberate. Clearly they had met for lunch and had discussed some things.

Unlike this morning, Neal didn’t spend too much time stressing over what the Burkes planned to do; seeing Mozzie had helped. It reminded Neal that this whole thing was temporary, even though he’d already been enslaved for months now. It had been a necessary evil; a role to be played to get what he wanted. Until Mozzie found Kate, Neal couldn’t go anywhere. Those times he’d tried to escape had been lapses in common sense. He figured he’d been in shock. And at the slave center, he hadn’t escaped for no reason.

Both Peter and Elizabeth had come home with files. Homework: a necessity if they wanted to come home early.
Neal had been in the kitchen cleaning up the dishes from his lunch so he was standing in the unofficial border between the living and the dining rooms, clutching a hand towel.

Peter sighed as he dumped the files onto the coffee table. “Diana’s going to call if something comes up.”

“I take it the stakeout didn’t go well yesterday?” El inquired as she pulled off her high heels one at a time.

Peter shook his head. “Hagan disappeared, and he left a clean room behind. We think someone tipped him off.”

“Informant in the hotel staff?” El suggested.

Peter nodded. “Diana investigated, but we didn’t find anyone. Spent the whole day chasing ghosts. He’s living up to the nickname.”

As Elizabeth gave him a sympathy hug and kiss, Peter glanced at Neal. Neal had settled into position leaning against the back of the chair, waiting casually and finding it interesting listening to El make suggestions to Peter. Didn’t that frustrate Peter? It would have annoyed him or made him feel inadequate if Kate suddenly suggested things to help him along on one of his heists. It seemed like El was either suggesting things Peter may not have thought of thus undermining his ability to do his job, or suggesting pointless things Peter had already thought of.

While El dashed upstairs to change into something more comfortable, Peter shrugged out of his jacket and greeted Neal.

“How did the jobs go?”

Neal blinked then he shrugged. “Time consuming. I did most of it ... there might be a few things I didn’t get around to doing.”

Peter nodded, not concerned in the slightest and Neal realized with a mild annoyance that the chores had been a general guide—something to keep him occupied. Sure, there had been a few things on the list that needed to be done but the rest would have been mere afterthoughts.

When Elizabeth returned downstairs Neal was urged to sit. Neal wiped his dry hands on the towel, before deliberately casting it aside. He couldn’t afford to have tells. He needed to start retraining himself.
Peter decided to come straight to the point. The Burkes sat opposite to Neal, staring straight at him so he had nothing but his own face to hide behind. He kept it carefully blank.

“El and I decided that we need help.”

Neal didn’t know what it meant at first; those words. Probably because he’d been expecting sentences containing words like ‘punishment’, ‘rules’, or ‘no’.

Elizabeth continued where Peter left off. “Peter and I think maybe we’ve been doing things wrong, so I made some calls. We have an appointment on Friday to visit a professional adviser. He should be able help us.”

Peter nodded. “We’re not going to punish you, Neal. Mostly because we agree that you didn’t intend any harm. But you can’t try something like that again, Neal.”

Neal looked between the Burkes.

He didn’t like the sound of this ‘professional adviser’. That seemed to Neal like they were introducing yet more elements that he’d have to find a way to cope with. No, he definitely didn’t like it.

He consoled himself with the thought that he wouldn’t be here much longer. It couldn’t be much longer before Moz found Kate.

Peter and Elizabeth seemed to want to move past the whole issue as much as he did. So, they left the conversation at that and with Neal’s help, Elizabeth pulled out the leftover stew for dinner.



After the dinner—during which Peter forced Neal to sit at the table with them—they settled down to watch a bad action movie full of plot holes. It prompted Peter and Elizabeth to spend the whole movie pointing out flaws and discontinuity scenes with Neal stuck squarely in between them. He hadn’t bothered even contemplating the idea of disappearing to another room this time, so he tried his best to enjoy the movie or at least enjoy the badness of it, but he only felt uncomfortable as Peter and Elizabeth talked across him with gestures that jostled him or in the quieter scenes of the movie, held each others’ hands over his lap, occasionally letting go to give him an affectionate thigh rub.

Eventually towards the end of the movie, El fell asleep on Neal’s arm and with the movie being as bad as it was, Peter figured an early night’s sleep wasn’t a bad idea. Neal pointed out that neither had done any of the paperwork they’d brought home. It was a delay tactic of course. It didn’t work. Peter merely pointed out that there was always tomorrow.

So Neal cleaned up the kitchen resigning himself to another night of ‘passion’. Upstairs, while Elizabeth was getting ready for bed in the bathroom, having woken as Peter was half-way into carrying her up the stairs, Peter led Neal over to his set of drawers having changed already and pulled out a pair of relatively unworn pajamas. Neal looked them over as Peter held them out.

“Those have dogs all over them,” Neal pointed out doubtfully.

Peter nodded. “They were a present from El from when we first got Satchmo. She went through a weird phase where everything reminded her of the cute puppy that was chewing my shoes and making a mess on the floor when he wasn’t playing with my ties.”

Neal, in another life, would have vehemently refused to wear something that ugly and covered in dogs but, in this life, anything that served as a barrier against any unwanted touching would be appreciated. Neal took them. He wouldn’t have normally worn a long-sleeved button up pajama top either, but again, he didn’t want his torso going unprotected if he could help it. Not that it would make much difference, really. If Peter of Elizabeth wanted him, some material wasn’t going to stop them.

Peter was waiting and El was still in the bathroom, so Neal stripped down knowing Peter wouldn’t appreciate his request for privacy while changing.

Peter smirked once Neal had finished buttoning up the two-sizes-too-large-top. “Somehow, everything looks good on you.”

Neal just returned Peter’s look with an indifferent gaze.

Once they’d all visited the bathroom, the Burkes fell into bed, asking that Neal switch off the light before he joined them. After Neal did so, he just stared into the dark, letting his eyes adjust, perhaps in a vain attempt to brace himself. It wasn’t until Peter twisted in bed and called him that he made himself move forward.

They maneuvered him into the middle. Once the blanket settled over him, he waited. But the Burkes merely snuggled against him and settled. He realized with surprise that the Burkes weren’t interested in sex tonight.

It took a while for Neal to fall asleep. He didn’t want to move in case he woke one of the Burkes up and they decided they were aroused or something but he wasn’t used to sleeping on his back. He listened as Peter snored and mumbled in his sleep and ignored El’s shifts as she tossed and turned or pulled on the blanket.



Peter and El woke up the next morning to find they were alone. Peter would have jumped up and dashed out with the assumption that Neal had taken off, if it weren’t for the smell of a cooked breakfast wafting up the stairs and into their bedroom. He sighed with relief even as it occurred to him that last night had been the first night Neal had slept without restraints—tracker notwithstanding.

He and El wrapped themselves in bathrobes and made their way downstairs to the dining room where the table was laid with cooked sausages, eggs, tomatoes and toast.

Neal was sitting at the end reading the newspaper that Peter had finished with the day before.

Peter eyed Neal suspiciously. It would be a long while before he took it for granted that Neal wasn’t up to something, but here Neal was, in front of him and—Peter looked down at the ankle—with a tracker still attached. That would do for the moment. He could worry about what Neal was up to later. For now, Neal deserved praise.

“This looks good, Neal.” Peter complemented approvingly.

El went up to Neal and hugged him from behind, giving him a big kiss on the cheek. “Good morning, Neal.”

Neal just rose off the chair and disappeared into the kitchen calling over his shoulder as he went that the coffee was on its way.

Peter and El exchanged a somewhat puzzled glance.

After Neal returned with the three steaming mugs of coffee, Neal settled down and returned to reading the newspaper, sipping from his mug every now and then, and ignoring the Burkes as they ate.

For some reason, for the first time, Peter could see the appeal of making a slave kneel on the ground next to the table when he or she wasn’t in the act of serving their owners. It felt a little too casual to have a third person who was supposed to be their subordinate idly reading the paper like he was just another member of the household. Peter had to shake his head with a reminder that he and El didn’t want some subservient, empty-headed sex toy; they had agreed that Neal would be like family, that his personality would be allowed to thrive, and that they would accept his flaws along with his strengths.



This day was similar to the day before, if not boring. After the Burkes left for work Neal took one look at the list of chores he been given before throwing it in the bin. He only cleaned up after breakfast then spent the rest of the day coming up with escape plans he’d probably never use. If—no, when—he did end up escaping, it would most likely be a plan that Mozzie had come up with. Moz had the access to the funds.
He had the information on the tracker and he had the information that Peter had on Neal. Thus he was the most informed on the situation.

After rechecking the safes (nothing new), and answering a few morning calls from Peter, Neal settled on the couch with Satchmo next to him and read a few novels in his attempt to curtail the boredom.


When Neal had read the same sentence at least five times in the span of five minutes Neal snapped the book shut and focused on that which was bothering him; the appointment the Burkes had made with that man—the professional adviser. He wondered what that was about specifically, but it could be nothing good.

He thought he’d heard of such professions. Usually the things he heard weren’t good. Well, actually the things he’d heard hadn’t been negative when he’d first heard them. He’d been a freeperson at the time and he’d assumed that people who sought out that sort of advice no-doubt needed it; that they had problem slaves and were perfectly justified in seeking the help. Now, however, Neal wondered more of it. All the advisers had different approaches. Some were okay and others … weren’t.

Neal knew at the very least that he could expect some sort of recommendation of a training program; that was how these advisers made their money. Unlike the training program Neal had been put through when he was first enslaved, these programs were tailored to what the owner wanted out of the slave. That might not happen yet; Peter and El had merely said they needed help. They’d made no mention of Neal’s involvement, but the chances of Neal getting out without some sort of retraining, were slim.

Neal would just put on his game face and take what he had to, just like he’d done through the first program. It was temporary so it didn’t matter.

So what if Peter thought that stuff applied to him? Neal knew who he was. And unlike other slaves who had been born into slavery or forced into it due to financial crisis, Neal had known what he was going into. This was another con; just a means to an end. Granted, it hadn’t been his idea and he’d kind of been forced into it. But it had still been his decision.

Neal had never thought much about slavery. Not like he did these days. And no matter how many new bad things he learned about it he still couldn’t deny that it was a neat system.

Instead of people leaving a black hole of dept for the banks or the government to deal with, the people themselves paid up their dept by being enslaved and sold. Then they would continue to contribute to the economy in the form of free labor.
It was good for the slaves too; instead of being forced to live on the streets, they were taken in by owners; sheltered, clothed and fed.

Chapter Text

In the afternoon after Neal had made Lunch for himself he searched for some sort of paper or canvas. With the exception of the soap figurine, it had been ages since he’d had the chance to practice his art skills. And he needed his art skills to remain in top notch. These long days he was spending alone were perfect opportunities that Neal was determined not to waste.

Neal didn’t waste too much time being picky, he couldn’t use anything that would be hard to stash quickly anyway. So, he settled down with a small notepad and pencil, content with the idea that doing miniatures would be perfect; they tended to be harder, especially if one intended to include all the detail of the life-sized versions.

When he was halfway through recreating his third lead-pencil version of a world-famous painting—this one a Dali—the phone rang. Not many telemarketers ever seemed to call; Neal guessed Peter being an agent had defended against such calls from getting through, so Neal figured it would be Peter calling again.

“Hey, Neal.” It was Peter.


“How are the chores going?”

“Fine,” Neal answered without skipping a beat.

“Listen,” Peter spoke, his voice sounding mechanical on the phone. “Would you take Satchmo for a walk?”

“You want me to take Satchmo for a walk?” Neal repeated. “Where? Around the backyard?”

Peter sounded vaguely amused. “No, I’ve adjusted the radius. You’ve got one mile. Take him to the park two streets down on the right. One of us normally comes home to do it, but we’ve both been busy lately.”

“Right.” Neal tried to work out whether he should be excited or not.

“Don’t go anywhere else, Neal,” Peter warned. “I’m going to be watching.”

“Sure,” Neal replied, ignoring Peter’s warning tone.

“Be back at the house in half an hour.”

Peter hung up then. Neal looked at the phone then hung up himself.

This was a golden opportunity. He should take full advantage of it. He wondered what his best option would be. He could steal a phone off some jogger or passing resident, but then the phone sim-card would most likely be cancelled before he got a chance to use it, especially as he had no intention of placing any calls today. He could steal a wallet but the I.D. would probably be reported stolen before he could do much. The money on the other hand—that had no expiry date, but what could he do with some pocket change? He looked at the clock and realized Peter would probably be wondering why he wasn’t moving.

He headed to the cupboard under the stairs where he knew the leash and other dog supplies were stored.



Neal didn’t find it amusing that the dog leash hung next to his own. He glanced at it warily before snatching the leash with bone decals and shutting the cupboard.

All the way down to the end of the street Neal couldn’t help wondering if he’d fallen for some trick of Peter’s and if this walk was really some test he hadn’t identified. Finally Neal stopped, cursed his head and told himself to enjoy the walk.

And he did. Enjoy it. The day was still warm despite the rapidly diminishing light. Every now and then Satchmo would ease on his fast-trotting gait and weave around a bush or a pole or a hydrant. Neal tried to give Satchmo as much slack on the leash as possible. He would have taken the leash off completely if he could be sure that Satchmo would stay with him and not suddenly run off after some mailman or cat. Besides they were right next the road and he knew Peter and El would never forgive him if something happened to Satchmo.

Neal suddenly frowned at his own thoughts. Why shouldn’t Satchmo be allowed the option of running after the mailman or a cat? Neal knew he was being petulant but the question still bugged him. He knew there were perfectly sensible reasons for not letting Satchmo run amok. But at the end of it all, what about Satchmo? What about what he wanted?

“Don’t put your issues on the dog,” Neal muttered to himself as they arrived at the park.

The park was a big one and though there was a sign warning against unleashed dogs, Neal figured when they were far enough in, that he could let Satchmo have a free run for a minute or two.

Oddly enough, the moment Neal unclipped the leash Satchmo stifled his enthusiasm and instead stuck close to Neal’s side. Neal tried to get Satchmo to take off for a run around, but the dog refused to be fooled by running starts or urges. Neal finally stood, hands on hips and frowned, perplexed, down at the guileless dog.

“Look what they’ve done to you.” Neal sighed and reattached the leash to Satchmo’s collar whereupon Satchmo immediately began sniffing with distracted tail-wags in the moments between each pull on the leash.

“If I don’t get out of here ...” Neal spoke quietly, “... I’m going to be exactly like you.”

Neal shuddered at the thought of a slave being so attached to one’s owners that they’d stay even when presented with freedom. He knew the Stockholm syndrome worked by sneaking up on the slave or prisoner and though they might know they suffered it down the track, it didn’t change how they felt. It was incredibly hard to reverse the effects. Neal was a bit … concerned. Though it had only been a few days, he knew that was all it took. He’d already been cornered into feeling guilty when Peter had attacked him for thinking about using that Zolpidem.

Fortunately that had been the only incident. He still didn’t like it when the Burkes touched him, and he hadn’t made them breakfast out of the goodness of his heart or some weird desire to please them so he knew he was fine for the moment.

Neal decided that he needed to spend a few minutes every day checking himself. He couldn’t afford to have anything sneak up on him. It didn’t help that the Burkes were kind people. That they harbored a desire to treat Neal as something they might care for, or grow attached to.

Neal ended up taking Satchmo around the park several times just to get him to walk off the boundless energy he didn’t seem to want to lose on his own.

He couldn’t help talking to Satchmo as though he were human. The dog was good company; just about the only thing in the Burke house that he could live with.

He started telling Satchmo that unfortunately it had been over twenty minutes and they had to start heading back.

He almost jumped when he turned towards the gates of the park only to find himself face to face with a cop.



Neal took a steadying breath. Okay, so he’d be a little late. Cops were notoriously suspicious of unaccompanied slaves. Satchmo didn’t count. Neal racked his memory, thinking back to the signpost that had prohibited unleashed dogs, but Neal couldn’t remember anything to do with any prohibitions on unaccompanied slaves. The cop was probably just making sure he wasn’t running or something.

Places flashed through Neal’s mind; the swimming pool, movie theaters, and restaurants were just a few of the places that banned unaccompanied slaves. Even then, slaves weren’t permitted to participate but merely to wait on their owners. Some of the more luxurious places even had storage for slaves while owners went on to swim or watch a movie, etc.

The cop seemed to be considering how best to start questioning Neal. Neal just stood, staring at this one blade of grass that was taller than the rest. He could see glimpses of Satchmo edging by his side, confused.

Normally a suspicious cop might ask a suspected slave if they were a freeperson or not. But the cop only needed to look at Neal’s clothes and the black collar around his neck to know that Neal was definitely not a freeperson.

Distractedly, Neal wondered where those clothes he’d been promised by that generous woman were. Maybe she’d changed her mind, or perhaps a family member had convinced her to change her mind. After all—generosity for a slave? Ludicrous!

“Do you have permission, slave,” the cop finally asked, “to be here?”

The last time Neal spoke to a freeperson who didn’t own him, it had been Mrs. Whitney—and before that, nobody—and she had told him in no uncertain terms that he’d been rude.

The cop was addressing him so he knew he should respond, but he wasn’t certain how.

“Yes, sir?” Neal finally tried.

“Who is your owner?” The cop asked impatiently. Neal decided not to waste time wondering this time.

“Agent Peter Burke and his wife.” He spoke carefully. Should he have used Peter’s title?

The cop straightened. “Agent? Of the FBI?”

Neal gave a nod. “Yes, sir.”

That blade of grass looked like it had been chewed at some point by a very tiny insect. It was slightly jagged on one side at the base. Satchmo whined. Neal ignored him.

“Does he have a number I can call?”

Neal gave the cop the number. Shortly after, as the cop dialed the number, he had a queasy feeling in his stomach. He wasn’t sure why.

While the phone was ringing, Neal shifted still staring at the blade of grass that he now noticed was slightly darker in color compared to the blades around it.

The cop glanced at Neal when he shifted and, suspicious, he pointed down. “Kneel.”

Once Neal remembered that he hadn’t given the cop his name he dropped to his knees. He knew he would have known immediately what the cop had wanted if he’d been paying attention instead of counting the number of ‘spikes’ on the grass blade. He ignored the cotton over his knees as they became soaked from damp ground.

Satchmo nosed at him and circled him looking for that elusive hug he usually received when a person got down to his eye level.

Neal kept him a bay with a slight twist of his body and listened to the one-sided conversation between the police officer and—presumably—Peter.

Neal found it interesting that at a crime scene or when the lines between their jurisdictions blurred that the police force and the bureau fought like cats and dogs but when it came to other every day things and one-on-one issues the cops and agents were best of friends. Neal almost snorted with amusement as the cop puffed his chest out obviously flooded with pride or gratitude at something Peter had said to him. After the cop closed the conversation with an assurance to Peter, he hung up and gestured to Neal to rise.

Neal stood carefully. The cop was talking to him, but Neal was watching this ant that had crawled past the blade of grass and appeared to be taking the hardest route home; up and down, over every leaf and shoot of grass that it could find within five centimeters of its path.

“…can go.”

Neal heard that. He looked up briefly. The cop had moved aside. Neal dipped his head. “Sir.”

He and Satchmo wandered idly all the way home.



After he’d come back, the first thing Neal had done was wash his cotton pants, scowling at the damp patches. He put the pants into the dryer straight away, not caring, at that moment, whether or not he was allowed to use the dryer for something so selfish. He just didn’t want to be wandering around pant-less when Peter came home. The puppy-dog pajama pants were quite possibly the worst option, so Neal kept that in mind only as a last resort.

After feeding Satchmo, dressed in his newly-dried pants, Neal considered whether or not he should bother cooking dinner for the Burkes. Aside from not knowing when they were going to be home, Neal wasn’t really in the mood to pander to their needs. He’d made breakfast that morning to see what would happen.

Well, he saw what had happened; El had beamed and Peter had said ‘well done, boy’ but had continued to be wary.

He decided to go back to his notebook.

It was dark by the time Neal heard the sound of somebody coming in the through the front door. He shoved the notebook—fat from some twenty-odd pencil-drawn miniatures—and pencil beneath the couch cushion.

He stood swiftly and moved around the coffee table so that he could see who it was coming through the door in the foyer.

It was Peter. Peter was shoving his shoes off his feet, grumbling as he went. Neal braced himself. It didn’t sound as though Peter had had a good day.

Neal analyzed everything; Peter’s impatience when dumping his bag, his huffing as he tried not slam the door, and the minor shakes of the head as he disagreed with himself.

Okay, so he was clearly worn from a day of frustration. Neal figured it had something to with Hagan slipping Peter’s clutches … but, there was something else; something he was missing.

After Peter dumped the files on the table and took a moment to take a deep breath he looked up at Neal.

“I had to deal with a long interrogation today. The suspect kept trying to flirt with me,” Peter grumbled.

Neal raised his eyebrows in understanding; of course. There was an underlying sheen of physical frustration. Peter was biting his lip every now and then and kept adjusting his pants and pulling at his tie.

On a warm day, Peter had probably been able to pass off his ‘discomfort’ as a mere effect of the weather, but Neal also took in Peter’s dark, hungry eyes, and his frustrated, constrictive movements. Neal also noticed Peter was acting terribly self-conscious.

Neal nodded and spoke back overtly facetiously. “Oh, a suspect made you feel wanted? You have my sympathies.”

“No,” Peter said simply. “It was suggested that I wanted the suspect.”

Neal shrugged. “So, what? They’re just baiting you.”

“It’s not good,” Peter replied. “I’m already being ribbed for liking Bonds.”

Neal froze. Quickly though, he forced himself to move. “Bonds?”

Peter shrugged. “El will tell you I’ve got a thing for him, too. I just like the chase. That’s all.”

“Right.” Neal glanced down at Peter’s pants. There was a definite presence now, if there hadn’t been before. “So, Bonds is one of your suspects?”

Peter shifted his stance further apart and pursed his lips together. “It’s an intellectual thing.”

Neal turned away, incredulous. That hadn’t even been close to what he’d asked. Oh, God.

He turned back. “Peter,” he asked lightly. “Do you like this ‘Bonds’?”

Peter tried to shrug but he was doing a terrible job of it. Neal noted the slight narrowing of Peter’s eyes, the slight move of his lips, and the slight twitch of his pants.

“Maybe a little,” Peter admitted, recognizing Neal’s penetrating look for what it was. “You remind me of him.”

Neal had nothing to say to that.

Peter shook his head. “I couldn’t concentrate,” he confessed. “I kept thinking of you. It’s why I came home early.”

Neal looked up at Peter who was staring at his paperwork.

Then Peter spoke, decisively. “I’m going up to bed, and you’re coming with me. Then I’ve got to work on this.” Peter cast a hand wave in the direction of the paperwork with a tired look.

Neal looked up towards the stairs. Then he spoke, carefully concealing his resignation. “Will Elizabeth be joining us?”

Peter shook his head and adjusted his pants again. “She’s got a Charity dinner that three of her temp staff pulled out of because they’re sick. She’ll be in late.” Peter had a sad look.

Neal waited. Peter didn’t looked like he was about to move. He was probably remembering his kiss and hug with El at breakfast or something.

Chapter Text

Neal was standing, staring out the window, thinking over the revelations. That Peter liked him—well, James Bonds, anyway—shouldn’t have surprised him. Their cat and mouse chase was more than just a simple rivalry or competition. There had been a respect and admiration for the opponent on both their halves. Neal would be lying to himself if he denied that he’d enjoyed being the mouse to Peter’s cat.

But Peter was actually aroused by him. That was a whole different level of admiration. And here Neal was waiting to serve as a substitute for himself because as far as Peter knew; he wasn’t him!

He heard Peter come into the room behind him, still grumbling to himself.

To cover his bewildered thoughts, Neal spoke. “The suspect really got to you.”

Peter sighed. “I had to endure it for three hours. Not pretty.”

“You get anything?” Neal asked, curious, still looking out the window.

“No,” Peter replied, annoyed.

“Just discomfort,” Neal summarized.

“And all with my team watching through the two-way mirror,” Peter added.

Neal bit his lip in an attempt not to smile. “I’m sure you looked fine, you probably looked very stoic.”

Peter turned Neal around and shook his head. “Don’t you start.”

Neal conveyed a contrite expression. “So, who was this suspect?”

Peter groaned. “She’s actually the girlfriend of a suspect. We pulled her in under the guise of questioning her about some missing stamps.”

“Oh,” Neal murmured. “Hoping she would let something slip about him?”

“Yeah,” Peter put his hands on his hips. “But we got nothing. We still don’t know anything about Bonds.”

Just like that, Neal’s world distorted. Neal hoped he hid the shock that coursed his veins. He attempted to keep his face neutral.

“Bonds?” Neal repeated. “The guy you like?”

“It’s not that I—it’s not, okay look, no … Yes, that guy.” Peter sighed.

Neal’s mind whirled. The FBI knew where Kate was—the FBI had Kate?

“You got nothing from her?” Neal murmured.

Peter shook his head vaguely.

Neal needed to know more—he was desperate to know more. But he couldn’t question Peter, not without rousing suspicion. He looked down at Peter and made his decision. He stepped forward and like it was a job—a job he knew would distract Peter—Neal fingered Peter’s fly before pulling it down slowly.

“What was her name?”

Peter looked down then back up at Neal. “Why?” 

Damn, he wasn’t as distracted as Neal had hoped.

Neal stammered inwardly. He managed to wrangle control and convey an even tone. “I might be able to help?”

Peter arched an eyebrow. “That’s true. Kate Moreau?”

Neal’s blood turned to ice and he concentrated on the band of Peter’s pants, undoing the belt, gently, taking his time. Peter watched Neal intently, hoping Neal might have something.

“You know her?” Peter asked.

Neal didn’t feel confident enough to lie. He thought quickly and didn’t bother hiding his distraction. He stayed quiet for the moment as though racking his memory. He decided to redirect. “She didn’t even give you a name for the boyfriend?”

“No, he’s still nothing but an epithet,” Peter answered. “Do you know who he is?”

Neal hesitated—deflection, deflection—then croaked. “Without a name?”

“Yeah,” Peter agreed dejectedly. “That’s okay. It was worth a try.”



“Do …” Neal cleared his throat, and concentrated on unbuttoning Peter’s shirt through the opening of the cheap suit jacket. “… do you guys still have her?”

Peter shrugged out of his jacket and raked his hair even as Neal continued to unbutton his shirt. “No, we had to let her go.”

“So,” Neal tried to say off-handedly. “You guys just spent three hours flirting before cutting her loose?”

“We’re following her,” Peter informed. “She might lead us back to Bonds.”

“What makes you so sure she’s the girlfriend?” Neal asked as if he didn’t really care. He was down to the last button now.

“She’s been identified in the company of the man described as our suspect.” Peter let Neal slide the shirt off one arm then the other.

“You have a description?” Neal asked carefully as he folded Peter’s shirt carefully and laid it over the side of the bed. “I thought you didn’t know who he was.”

“James Bonds?”

“Oh that’s cute—the name: clever,” Neal said as he moved around behind Peter and massaged his shoulders; Peter was tense. “He does bonds?”

“Yeah,” Peter confirmed, enjoying the back rub. “He’s slim, apparently cute, with dark hair, and blue eyes.”


“Yeah.” Peter smirked. “See why he reminds me of you?”

Neal shrugged. “I suppose. So, I look like him? Is that why I remind you of him?”

Peter nodded reluctantly. “Something like that.”

“So,” Neal continued hoping he wasn’t pushing Peter too far. “This Kate girl flirted with you?”

Peter thought back, looking mildly contemplative.

Impatiently, Neal looked down, and tried to keep the insane jealousy at bay. “And … you were aroused?”

Peter frowned then. “By Kate?! No—she’s….”

Peter shook his head looking disgusted.

Neal was confused. And he tried not to be offended. “You said downstairs….”

“No,” Peter explained. “It wasn’t her; it was what she was saying.”

Neal looked perplexed. Forgetting himself, he stopped what he was doing. “What was she…?”

Peter stepped out of Neal’s grasp. “She spent three hours teasing me about chasing Bonds because I might like him. She kept whispering … you know, suggestions and innuendo.”

Neal struggled to maintain his indifferent, slightly-interested tone. “She was distracting you.”

“Yeah.” Peter nodded. He turned and gazed at Neal hungrily. “She was. And it worked.”

“It did?” Neal asked, not sure what else to say.

“I had to get Diana to take over,” Peter admitted uncomfortably. “She didn’t get anything either.”

“Huh.” Neal stood staring into Peter’s bare shoulder. He wasn’t sure how he felt about the knowledge of the FBI having had Kate today; that she’d been barely thirty minutes away, that Peter—his owner and chaser—had been interrogating her just hours earlier.

He needed to tell Moz. But he couldn’t. Not right now. For so many reasons. The main one was standing in front him. Peter had stepped forward while Neal was distracted and now Peter was rubbing hands up Neal’s flank. Neal just let himself fall pliant under Peter’s touch and lifted his arms when Peter pulled his shirt off.

Then Peter spoke again, hopefully, “Do you have any contacts that might be able to tell you where this Bonds guy would be?”

Moz jumped to mind. Neal looked down and ghosted Peter’s erection. “You’re really hard.”

Peter nodded mildly. “So you don’t know anyone?” Obviously, he wasn’t easily distracted.

Neal swallowed and looked up. “My contact would ask if I were crazy, if I asked him where Bonds was. What the heck did she say to you?”

Peter blushed, if you could call the red that crept up his neck a blush. “She would have made a good … writer.”

Now, Neal’s own neck burned hot. “You made it easy for her.”

Peter nodded. “The guys at work, they think I have soft spot when it comes to Bonds.”

“Why?” Neal asked as Peter nudged him backwards onto the bed.

“I—I tend to …” Peter shrugged as he helped Neal out of his pants. “… Obsess. Over his file, his crimes, anything to do with him, really. They don’t get it.”

Neal nodded in agreement before he could stop himself, not that he needed to stop it, but it was a dangerous time to do anything that wasn’t analyzed from all directions. “Right.”



With his clothes cast aside and both men naked in the cool warmth of the room, the conversation fell on the wayside. Peter retrieved the bottle of lube from the bedside table and covered his fingers then rubbed himself over, already oversensitive and aching. Peter let his shoulders relax, thinking over his stressful afternoon that had been driven by the one desire to get home to Neal. Now, he was home with Neal, and he could take his time.

Neal wasn’t nervous or anxious. He was too distracted by his thoughts, and this was business. He might still be able to get more information. So when Peter lowered onto the bed and bent Neal’s legs up by his sides, squeezing in between them, Neal just moved as he was prompted.

“It was hell,” Peter said finally as he braced a hand on Neal’s knee and started fingering the edges of Neal’s hole with the lubed fingers.

Neal deliberately made himself put aside all thoughts of Kate and returned to the physical; he arched as Peter slid in a finger and his breath hitched as Peter stretched him, going faster than last time.

Last time Peter hadn’t had a head start. Last time, Peter hadn’t been waiting too long, torturing himself with thoughts of riding Neal from the moment Kate whispered to Peter that his toppy tendencies showed, that he must love this thief he was chasing, that he must want nothing more than get his hands on that thief, pin him down and assert his dominance by…

Peter blinked at Neal, perfectly pliant beneath his grasp. He smiled. Bonds was just a nice distraction from the boring Mortgage cases. He had the two best people in the world to come home to. He had Elizabeth and he had Neal. He didn’t need some thief.

Peter had absently added a second, then a third finger and Neal was holding himself as Peter pushed in and out, going as far up as he could, occasionally touching on the lining of the ventral wall as he went.

Peter noticed by now that Neal wasn’t very vocal and he thought he knew why. For Neal—and for Peter, right now—sex was less about pleasure and more about business. Neal remained silent because to draw attention would be to take that attention away from Peter or El, to make it about him. And it wasn’t about him. Peter squeezed Neal’s knee in appreciation and made a stroke, particularly slow and long along the side of the anus. Peter felt satisfaction as he drew out a low almost-stifled moan from his cute Neal before him.

Neal squeezed his knees together around Peter’s hips and Peter smirked in amusement before shifting them apart again and moving up, pulling out his fingers slowly, sensually, one at a time. No need to rush, even if it was something he was doing because he needed it.

Neal shifted up at Peter’s touch and waited eyes closed, propped up on elbows, head hanging back, as Peter lined himself up. Peter realized he liked it better this way, being able to see Neal’s front; the abs flexing and relaxing in ripples, Neal’s penis as it twitched to sensations, hardening slowly, Neal’s face as he tensed and relaxed in the same instant.

Neal seemed to be concentrating, perhaps preparing himself for that moment when Peter would finally apply pressure and push in. Peter looked down and admired the way the head of his cock seemed to be reaching out instinctively to fit into Neal. He toyed with his head pushing in only slightly then pulling back. It was surreal, the control he wielded not only over his own body, but over Neal’s. He could see Neal’s muscles reacting to the slightest touch.

Finally, Peter couldn’t play anymore. He pushed in until his head was buried, teasing the walls of the inch long anus. Neal felt the pressure and when it didn’t seem to move or shift he pushed down but Peter reached down with his left hand and pushed on the underside of Neal’s thigh with a soft warning. Neal fell back. It’s not like it made any difference to him, really. Peter patted the thigh, satisfied that Neal had listened and he looked down again, away from Neal with his shut eyes, his taut body, he strained shoulder muscles, and his waiting, neutral expression.



Peter took it slow. He could—and he would—go fast, later. It took minutes just to move in a few more inches. Peter loved watching as he went in further, as Neal’s anus stretched around him. It was heady, this power to take his time, to watch and to explore to his heart’s content.

El always had things she wanted to do with Peter, and a certain way or a certain speed and Peter found himself wanting to please her. But it was Neal there this time, and the sex was only for him.

Peter smiled and shifted forward a bit more, getting closer by slipping his left arm beneath Neal’s leg. Once Peter had slipped in inch by inch as far as he could go, he took a moment to admire the sight; he was gone, completely hidden within Neal and he could feel the warmth, the lining, the pressure. He wanted to savor it but even better; he moved out a bit then back in again. He felt the wave of pleasure envelope him as the sensation rippled up his cock into his body.

He closed his eyes and slid out, then in again, going a little father and speeding up as he went. As he thrust harder and faster, Neal began to move in time to Peter’s thrusts; to meet the impact and maintain slight control of his own body.

Peter let him, because it felt so good and he liked it anyway, that Neal would rise up to meet him when it suited them. That they worked well together. Peter leaned forward, bent and slipped in under Neal’s other leg. He marveled at the difference. He was able to get closer, to thrust further and harder. And! And Neal was groaning now. Quietly, nevertheless, Peter had managed to illicit a reaction. He was sure he could stop and Neal would say no more, that if he changed it, Neal would fall silent again, but Peter liked Neal’s loss of control; of his hardly being able to help it. It was the only kind of truth Peter felt he got from Neal.

As he sped up, Peter needed to change his angle. He leaned forward forcing Neal to bend almost in half. Neal fell off his elbows, onto his back and Peter lifted Neal’s ass and went deeper than before. The thrusts became shorter but faster. Neal’s tense arms were over the top of his head and he lay with his head over to the side like he was trying to relax, waiting for Peter to ride out his lust. But relaxation was impossible.

Though, Neal didn’t seem to be getting hard unlike the last two times, he was still caught up in the sensations and pace, which ensured that tension remained in his arms, shoulders, back and legs. As Peter approached the climax Neal stiffened, his heels dug into Peter’s back and he arched, perhaps sensing what was coming. Then, because like El the previous night, Peter hadn’t used a condom, he flooded Neal as he came. They shuddered as the endorphins ripped through them.

Neal relaxed first, releasing his hold on Peter and letting his legs slip down the sides of Peter’s arms. Peter just stayed in place breathing heavily and relieved that his hard on had finally eased.

Before pulling out, Peter grabbed a towel that had been waiting on the bed over to the side and put it under Neal. As he pulled out carefully, with a few small thrusts, Neal spoke.

“You would have had that problem in the past….” Neal guessed. “Without El around, what did you used to do?”

“Take a cold shower,” Peter replied as he mopped himself up briefly before catching the majority of come off Neal.

Neal shifted up into a sitting position, legs still spread on either side of Peter. “They have showers at the Bureau, don’t they?”

“Yeah,” Peter answered, sliding off the bed. “They’ve come in use in the past.”

“But not this time?” Neal noted.

Peter shook his head. “I’ve got you, right?”

Peter headed to the door before pausing. “I’m going to clean up then head downstairs to get started on the cases. You could take a shower then join me downstairs?”

Neal nodded. He mentally tossed aside what Peter had said; deciding that it wasn’t worth stressing over and wished he had a phone. He wanted to call Moz.

Chapter Text

Downstairs, after he’d cleaned himself up, Neal didn’t really want to sit. He knew he’d fidget and Peter would notice. Besides, doing mundane tasks like cleaning up the kitchen allowed Neal to think.

His thoughts always started out the same way; it was that incredulous disbelief accompanied by the silent thought of ‘Peter likes me?!’

Soon though, Neal couldn’t help remembering the finer points of the chase; the art of the clues and messages he’d left behind, the humor he’d shared with his pursuer without ever having met him. The admiration he had for a guy who could keep up with him save that last step. The mutual respect and understanding. The fact that Peter knew him so well. It should have been creepy but all Neal had ever had with Peter was a sense of fun and camaraderie; of sport and games.

When the doorbell rang, Neal paused, wondering if he’d imagined it. He reasoned that, though no-one had visited in the three days he’d already lived with the Burkes, it was only three days; he barely knew how their house was run. It wasn’t unreasonable for a doorbell to ring. So Neal swung the kitchen door open but Peter was ahead of him.

“I’ve got it,” Peter called. “You keep doing what you’re doing.”

Reluctantly, Neal backed up, letting the door swing shut. He tried to listen but all he heard were the muffled sounds of Peter opening the door and making an enthusiastic greeting.


“Hey, boss.” Diana smiled back, eyes glittering. “Do you mind if I come in?”

Peter moved aside. “Of course not! Beer?”

“I’ll pass,” she replied comfortably. “I’ve got plans tonight. I just wanted to talk to you and drop these by.”

Peter drew his brows together as he took the file that Diana held out to him.

“What’s this?” Peter started to open the file but before he could, Diana leaned in and put up a hand in an indication to wait.

“Is your slave around?”

Peter stopped and took in Diana’s serious expression. He put up a finger indicating for her to follow him into the living room.


There was a muffled sound of some sort of metal object, perhaps utensils or a pan being put down before the kitchen door opened and Neal came out, holding a dish towel.

“Go upstairs,” Peter told him. “I’ll be up in a sec.”

Neal wiped his hands on a dish towel and laid it over the back of the chair before heading towards the stairs, casting a curious look at Diana as he went. He tore his gaze off her though, when he reached the stairs. He headed up, head bent, and in deep thought about what Diana’s clandestine meeting with Peter could possibly be about.

Nothing good, he guessed.

Because Peter hadn’t specified any further instruction beyond simply reaching the second floor, Neal leaned against the wall at the top of the stairs with crossed arms, listening intently for any muffled conversation but he thought he only heard Peter walk across the floorboards … into the kitchen maybe. Then he could hear the sound of Peter making his way up the stairs after him.

Neal cast a casually patient look at Peter as the agent rounded the bend, reached the landing and drew parallel with Neal.

“Come on.” Peter moved a few paces down, stopped by the door to the single guest room and turned, nodding with his head for Neal to enter into it.

Neal moved off the wall and obediently stepped inside before turning and waiting, hoping Peter might explain a little, if not in words then in body language.

Neal could tell Peter was anxious to get back downstairs to Diana. Peter was nervous and tense. Neal figured Diana probably had some news or research files for Peter. Maybe something Peter had asked for, for a case—a confidential one.

Or possibly—most likely—it was about him.

Peter was fiddling with a key ring covered with various keys, trying to find the right one. Neal moved back and sat on the bed watching as Peter searched, distracted, for the right key to the bedroom door. The fact that Peter intended to lock him in only further strengthened Neal’s suspicion that what Diana had come to tell Peter concerned him.

Finally a soft sigh of satisfaction escaped Peter as the right key inserted neatly into the lock on the outside.

Peter looked at Neal. “Don’t pick the lock,” he warned. Peter might have said more but he let the unspoken threat hang knowing that Neal understood that he was prepared to cuff and mitt him if necessary. Instead of wasting more of Diana’s time though, Peter just shut the door and Neal listened as the standard key turned in the standard lock.

Relaxed, Neal just gazed at the brass knob, contemplating it with patience. How much time should he wait?

Well, he smirked, bemused; he should at least wait until the shadow outside the door moved away. Peter was clearly waiting on the other side for some sign of defiance or rule-breaking. So, Neal just leaned forward, resting on his elbows and waited. Finally the shadow accompanied by the sound of footsteps moved on, back down the hall but paused again at the top of the stairs.

Listening patiently, Neal just continued to wait.


As Peter came back down the stairs, Diana sent a querying look his way and Peter nodded. All clear.

Diana smiled faintly and at Peter’s gesture, she sat down on the couch. “Do you remember asking me to investigate Neal Caffrey’s past?”

Peter nodded, half excited, half instantly concerned. “You found something?” he asked warily.

Diana took a breath then shook her head, looking at the file that Peter picked up again. “No,” she said. “That’s just the thing. I couldn’t find anything. I mean, you’ll see if you open it; I managed to track him flying around the country and sometimes overseas, but that’s it. Nothing before eighteen years of age, and no license, no job history, no education, not even a Facebook page.”

Peter frowned, confused. “Nothing?”

Diana shook her head again, frowning with concern. “I used all my contacts. I even looked at the sealed files and fed his prints in the military database. Nothing.”

Peter sat in silence, ignoring the file in his hands. Then suddenly a thought struck him. He let his eyes rove until they settled on Diana. “What about the criminal database?”

Diana stilled, considering her boss’ words, and then shifted her chin back in surprise. “Well, no, I didn’t try that one. I mean, I put it though a standard search. If Caffrey were a known criminal with a conviction, it would have come up….”

“But what about unknown prints? Open cases?” Peter suggested.

Diana swallowed. “Not all prints are logged in open cases, I’d have to manually compare some of them—I can do that … but, Peter, consider what you’re suggesting.”

Peter looked Diana in her eyes. He chuckled lightly and raked his hair. “I know. But it doesn’t hurt to check.”

But Diana didn’t share his humor. “Peter, what if he is involved in an open case?”

Peter shrugged. “Doesn’t make any difference does it? I’ll just order him to tell me everything. Once he does we can close that case. Look, he’s Neal. He may be a pain and he may be smart. But I highly doubt his prints will turn up. He’s probably just some bored kid who was home-schooled out west somewhere.”

“He knew about Hagan.”

Her words struck Peter, hard.

Peter chewed his bottom lip. “How long would it take to check his prints against the criminal database—all parts of it?”

“At least a day.” Diana answered. “If I get it fast-tracked. Tuesday next week at the latest.”

“First thing tomorrow.” Peter decided. “Start looking.”

Diana stood. “Yes, boss.”

At the door, Peter paused, calling to her to wait. He went and scooped up a couple of files and came back, handing them to Diana. “Can you call the judge, get these warrants, and then get these files logged and the reports processed tomorrow morning, too?”

“Sure.” Diana nodded. “Have a good night, boss.”

“You too, Diana,” Peter answered with a forced smile. “Thanks.”

After he shut the door, he turned and stared at the file that Diana had brought him. It was lying, unopened, on the coffee table. He wondered what it was that Neal was hiding.

And around the corner, hidden behind the bend in the staircase, well within earshot, Neal exhaled softly.



In the small, single guest room, Neal sat on the single bed, after having triple-checked the door was locked again.

He realized that if he ever wanted to find Kate, or indeed if he ever wanted to taste freedom again; get back to his real life, he would have to run—way sooner than he ever intended.

Neal decided Saturday would be the best day for it. He needed time to get in contact with Mozzie, because he couldn’t do this without him, so he’d need Thursday. When Peter went to work the next day, he’d do that. He’d get in touch with Mozzie somehow and organize something with him. And Mozzie would then need Friday to get it all ready.

Saturday. Neal took a deep breath. That was it. It didn’t matter what happened now. He couldn’t afford for Peter to strengthen security or get used to owning him while knowing his history. He couldn’t allow Peter any time to adjust, especially if the guy found out in the next two days who he really was. And if he didn’t … if Diana didn’t find out until after Saturday—well, that was a bonus. At this stage, Neal was going to plan as though Peter would know it all—the truth—before the week was out.


He tried to tame his mind, but the tension gripped Neal. And when Peter came upstairs to get Neal to cook him dinner after Diana had left, he noticed.

“Don’t pout, Neal.”

Neal took a deep breath and stood, schooling his facial features, grateful that Peter had assumed his tension was a result of having been locked up. “What do you want for dinner?”

“Not stew.”


The charity dinner El was running was only getting more rowdy as time passed. With no end in sight, El had called to let Peter know not to wait up.

And aside from Neal asking if he should take Satchmo for a walk and being told the dog was fine with one walk a day, the men barely spoke.

Neal realized at some point that he should have been annoying Peter; he would have been doing exactly that—asking Peter questions and otherwise trying to find out about Diana’s visit—if he hadn’t actually heard it all.

“So,” Neal mumbled; his heart not really in it. “Did Diana have some important information about a case or something?”

Peter looked up briefly from the television which was going despite Peter’s heavy concentration on the files spread out over the coffee table (how did he concentrate?). “No,” Peter answered. “She just came by to say ‘hi’. She didn’t want you around.”

Neal had to give Peter his dues; the guy could lie, despite being a ridiculously honest person. As it was perfectly reasonable for a freeperson to not want a slave around listening in on friendly visits, Neal could say nothing more and he was grateful.

That night, long after Peter had fallen asleep with files falling off the bed, Neal rolled out over the side. El wasn’t home yet. It was just after midnight. He cherished his ability to leave the bed without waking his owners. He knew that was an advantage that might give him the edge he’d need on Saturday, if he ended up running. When. When he ended up running.

Neal made his way downstairs pointedly searching for the dog. But Satchmo was on his mat. He barely twitched as Neal alighted on the ground floor in the foyer.

As his hand hovered over the front door knob Neal hesitated. Then bent and rolled up his pants so the light on the tracker was showing. It glowed a cool, constant green in the eerie darkness that was only semi-lit by a streetlamp shining in the window from the street outside.



Even though Peter had made Neal test the tracker radius several days previously Neal couldn’t be sure the radius wouldn’t have been changed or fine-tuned since, so he opened the front door and stuck his foot out. He looked at the tracker. The light remained lime-green.

Then Neal took another two steps forward. Still green.

On the sixth step forward the light on the tracker changed to yellow and flashed. A beeping sounded out. Fast and light, Neal recognized it for the warning that it was. He took a step back and was relieved when the light changed back to green and the silence of the night around him settled once more.

He was standing at the base of the stairs. This was as far as his tether would allow him to go.

Good enough.

Neal knew if someone were watching, they’d make themselves known.

He sat down on the stairs, prepared to wait.


Half an hour later, Moz hadn’t turned up so, disappointed, Neal figured Moz was elsewhere. Probably sleeping.

Neal rose off the stairs and started to turn, dreading the bed that waited.

A car was approaching on the street behind him but Neal thought nothing of it until it slowed and a wary voice called out, following the closing of a car door. “Neal?”

Neal froze, swallowed and braced himself before turning.

He made a point of lighting his face up with raised eyebrows and a grin. “Elizabeth!”

Elizabeth paid the cab driver and walked up to him. She had a serious, ‘don’t bother’ look.

Neal let his grin fade and he cocked his head but Elizabeth just continued to stand there watching him.

“Cold?” he asked. When she didn’t answer, Neal looked down. He gestured to her bag. “Do you want me to take that?”

“Neal.” Elizabeth didn’t budge or acknowledge his words. “What are you doing out here? Does Peter know you’re here?”

“He’s asleep.” Neal shrugged.

Elizabeth looked away for a second. “What about your anklet. I thought Peter had it set to the house?”

“He has,” Neal confirmed. “The stairs are as far as I can go.”

Elizabeth didn’t ask for proof, fortunately. Neal was sure he would have felt a little like a puppet if he’d had to prove it.

Elizabeth curled a hand under his arm and took him with her up the stairs. “Come on. Let’s talk inside.”

Neal followed her direction and ended up sitting on the couch while Elizabeth took off her coat and hung it up before settling down opposite him. She yawned and rubbed her forehead. “What were you doing, Neal? Do you do that every night?”

Neal wasn’t certain if it would be a good or a bad thing for Elizabeth to suspect that he did this every night, so he went with being vague. “Just needed some air.”

Elizabeth stared at Neal. She realized that she didn’t believe him.

“And the backyard was too far away?” El asked skeptically. “A window too hard to open?”

“The front stairs are in my radius,” Neal defended.

“If I wake Peter up,” El told him. “He’s going to chain you.”

Neal almost groaned. Not the chain.

“And mitt you,” she added as an afterthought.

Neal pursed his lips. “I was just—concerned. For you. I couldn’t sleep.”

Elizabeth’s eyes softened.

Neal kept his eyes clear. He was past the point of caring enough to try much at all.

And his eyes … were perhaps what made Elizabeth hesitate.

She frowned a little. “You couldn’t sleep because you were worrying about me?”

Neal shrugged, feigning reluctance to admit such a truth.

“Okay,” Elizabeth finally said, too weary to fight Neal for the truth, standing as she went. She held out a hand.

Neal looked at it for a second. He would have preferred if she’d taken him by the arm or just told him to get on upstairs. Taking the hand was an intimate gesture. But he took her hand and dutifully followed her upstairs.

Half an hour later, when she joined him in bed, Elizabeth hugged him a little tighter than usual as she fell asleep. Neal supposed he had only himself to blame.


Chapter Text


The next morning was agonizingly slow. Neal almost swore Peter and Elizabeth somehow knew that he wanted them out of the house and were deliberately taking their time to frustrate him. Neal did everything he could to make their transition out of the house and on their way to work go faster without being obvious. He hung around waiting for the prompts to make coffee, help with breakfast and get their coats. Aside from letting Satchmo out the back door and washing the breakfast dishes, Neal deliberately avoided volunteering to do anything.

Even without his hopefully-subtle help, the Burkes were only leaving just after eight; three and a half hours after Neal had woken from his restless sleep.

After Neal shut the front door behind the Burkes, he leaned against it, worn out from his balancing act of hiding his anxiousness and trying to appear indifferent as always, but at the same time, like he was actually appreciative of them. Although he had actually been appreciative of Elizabeth this morning because it had been as if last night never happened. He had kept waiting for her to tell Peter of her his midnight stroll. But she hadn’t.

Satchmo whined.

Neal turned his head, still weary, and grimaced. “Careful, Satch,” he warned the dog. “If I can’t figure out how to get a mobile phone in here without leaving the house, I might have to turn you loose in the street to get a good samaritan to return you and hand-deliver a phone personally.”

Neal paced. He already had a number of ideas. Some involved calling Peter and lying. Others involved calling professionals (like the cable guy) to the house but Neal wanted nothing to arouse Peter’s suspicions so that meant no trails and no lies. That made trying to get in contact with Moz awfully hard. Briefly, Neal wondered why Moz hadn’t given him a phone. Then Neal wondered why he hadn’t asked Moz for a phone. Slips in foresight like those did no con man any good.

Neal was considering a plan that involved luring the postman up to the door, when the doorbell rang. Neal headed the door immediately mindful of the opportunities that could be presented by a visitor right around the time that he was in search for a phone.

It was Moz.

The exact person that he needed. It was too easy that Neal stood for a moment just staring at his friend. Was he a mirage? Neal shook his head and ushered Moz in quickly.

“Greetings, Mon Frère!” Moz chirped as he turned to face Neal in the living room.

“Moz,” Neal smiled. “I was about to call you … as soon as I found a phone.”

Moz nodded. “I thought you wanted me when I saw you waiting outside last night.”

Frowning, Neal gestured in confusion. “Wait—you saw me last night … why didn’t you talk to me?”

Using calming motions, Moz hastened to explain. “Not in person. I’ve got cameras in place. I’m monitoring your situation, Neal.”

“Are they infrared?” Neal demanded. “Because that’s just gross.”

“No, Neal.” Moz replied, scandalized. “Listen, you wanted to talk. So talk; I can’t stay long.”

Neal realized Moz was right. He was wasting time. Moz was here now and that’s what mattered. He moved on.

“First,” Neal said forcefully. “You need to give me one of your spare phones.”

Taking it for granted that Moz would pull out a phone, Neal let his thoughts continue.

“I should have asked, but I forgot; I had things on my mind,” Neal started. “But you would have remembered, so that begs the question; why didn’t you supply me with a phone?”

Moz sighed and then whined as if it was totally obvious. “Come on, Neal.”

Neal blinked in stunned silence as the meaning of Moz’s words hit hm.

A moment later he cleared his throat. “You didn’t give me one because I’m a slave?”

“It’s illegal,” Moz defended.

“Since when do you care—” Neal snapped.

“Since you’re living with the Suit!” Moz shot back. “Can you imagine the trouble if you’re caught with something like a phone?”

“I wouldn’t have told him it was from you,” Neal snarled. “Besides, I can hide a phone from Peter, Moz.”

“I’m sorry, Neal,” Moz said, and he did sound sorry. “But it’s different. So long as you live with a suit, I can only break the rules so far.”


“It’s a stupid rule,” Neal said, dejected. “Not letting—”

“What would slaves do with a computer, Neal? Or a phone, or a television?” Moz asked, incredulously.

“They could have relatives to call,” Neal pointed out strongly. “And it’s boring—”

“What is this?” Moz asked, confused. “Since when do you care?”

Neal quieted. Since….

But Neal shook his head. He wasn’t one anyway, he was running on Saturday and it would all be over; the biggest con he’d done in ages: over....

“I don’t. I just think it’s stupid.” Neal muttered. “So you’re really not going to leave me a phone to call you on? Even if it’s an emergency?”

“What kind of emergency?” Moz asked. “Neal, you’re a slave. Aside from finally taking my advice and running, I can’t see any reason why you’d need a phone.”

Neal just stared at Moz. Finally Moz got it. “You’re running? You’re getting out?”

Neal nodded. “I have to, Moz.”


“Listen,” Neal spoke, deciding Kate was more important at the moment. “Peter told me he pulled Kate into the FBI—they were interrogating her just yester—”

“I know, Neal,” Moz assured, cutting through Neal’s explanations.

“You know?” Neal tried not to feel like the wind had been stolen from his sails. Besides this was a good thing. Moz should be ahead; it was only natural. “And? Where is she, Moz?”

There was a silence. Neal stared at the vertically challenged man before him; Moz was cleaning his glasses.


There was a sigh. “Neal. Give me time, I’m tracking her; she hasn’t stopped moving.”

“Why—where is she going?” Neal demanded.

But Moz didn’t answer. “I’ll tell you when you run.”

Neal wasn’t satisfied with that. “Moz!”

Then Neal took in Moz’s posture and expression and gave in. He knew when Moz was at his most stubborn. This was one of those times.

“Just tell me she’s okay.”

“She’s okay.”

Neal breathed a massive sigh of relief.

“I’ll keep an eye out, Neal,” Moz told him, starting back towards the door. “First chance we get, we’ll go after her. Keep watch, you may need to run anytime, I’ll be ready.”

“Wait, Moz.” Neal said suddenly. “That’s not all.”

“Neal,” Moz groaned. “We’ve already been talking here too long.”

“This is important,” Neal said hurriedly. “Peter and Diana are investigating me. Diana is in the process of comparing my prints. I’m lucky she didn’t already find something; Peter’s had her looking all week.”

Moz was silent for a few seconds before replying with urgency. “Is that why you need to escape? How much time do we have?”

“Not long,” Neal answered nervously as he nodded a quick confirmation. “The results could be in as early as tonight … or as late as Tuesday, I need to run on Saturday.”

“Oh, Neal!”

“I know, listen.” Neal spoke decisively. “Do you think you could organize a mass harum scarum for Saturday?”

“Oh,” Moz murmured, perking up, clearly impressed with the idea. “We could do everything; trains, planes, cabs, buses. So you’re just going to cut it?”

“Yeah,” Neal braced himself and subconsciously rubbed his ankle with his foot. “Just cut it, run and take a ticket. Use all my aliases and give me a ticket to one Peter doesn’t know about. Don’t do more than one for the alias I’m going to use, Moz.”

“Cut me come slack, Neal,” Moz muttered. “I’ve done this before.”

Then Neal smirked. “Get a couple for James Bonds … ooh and some for Peter Burke!”

Moz rolled his eyes. “Trying to send a message?”

“Just want to say ‘hi’” Neal said innocently.

“You live with the guy!”

“He doesn’t know that,” Neal answered simply.

When Moz didn’t answer, Neal got back down to business. “So what time should I should I move?”

“The moment Peter gets the call alerting him to the mass activity; he’ll be distracted then, won’t he?” Moz reasoned.

“Okay,” Neal agreed. “But I’m not going anywhere until you tell me about Kate; where she is. The first thing I’m doing after cutting is meeting you.”

“But, Neal—” Moz groaned.

“No,” Neal cut him off with finality. “I need to know, now Moz. Otherwise I don’t care about Peter finding out who I am. I either find Kate on Saturday or I accept my new life. You hear me, Moz?”

“Neal,” Moz mumbled. “No need to be dramatic.”

“I am serious!”




Moz attempted to leave again, assuming that Neal couldn’t possibly have anything more to say. He’d just curled his fingers around the brass handle when Neal came up beside him and took a deep breath.

When no sound came out and Neal just fiddled with the palm leaves of the plant in the pot by the door, Moz turned and took in his posture. For the first time Moz began to wonder if this ‘situation’ Neal was in was affecting him more than either conman had allowed themselves to consider as possible.


Neal looked up and sighed. “I found out yesterday….”

Moz frowned; whatever Neal was trying to say must have been pretty bad for Neal to behave this way.

“What?” Moz murmured with ever-mounting concern. “What is it?”

Neal rolled his eyes with exasperation. “I found out yesterday that Peter has a serious … infatuation for—”

Neal paused suddenly and looked at Mozzie as if imploring him not to laugh. “—for me.”

Moz shifted in place and waved his hand haltingly. “Of course he does. He wouldn’t have bought you if he didn’t at least like you a little.”

Neal grimaced and considered Moz for a moment. Then he spoke very pointedly. “True. No. I meant James Bonds. Peter likes James Bonds.”

Moz blinked. “Oh,” he said quietly, then, “Oh!”

Neal waited for the inevitable confusion or shock. But Moz smiled. It was at times like this that Neal seriously thought Moz was just a child sometimes. The look he’d get on his face of pure delight; it could get ridiculous.

Neal groaned and turned, pacing towards the stairs before raking his hair and turning back to face Moz and the inevitable teasing.

But now Moz looked contemplative. He was thinking. Then he looked at Neal and nodded slowly. “You know, it’s not really that surprising. A rose by any other name….”

“A rose?” Neal demanded, utterly bewildered. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means it doesn’t matter what you call it … or you … the rose is the same, so why wouldn’t the suit like you under both names?”

“Really, Moz?” Neal moaned. “I’m a con artist. James Bonds, Nick Halden, Neal Caffrey … slave … criminal—completely different personalities, not to mention Peter has never met James Bonds and he barely knew Neal Caffrey when he bought me.”

“I never said it would make sense,” Moz contradicted.

“You said it was not surprising; that indicated sense was involved,” Neal countered.

Moz gave up then. “Fine, fine, whatever—Neal, why does it bother you so much? Doesn’t everyone you meet like you?”

“No,” Neal answered as if the thought were laughable.

“Name one person who didn’t like you from the moment you met,” Moz challenged.

“I can name lots,” Neal retorted. “The majority of people don’t like me at first. It’s only because I con them, that they like me.”

“Well, see!” Moz pointed out. “By your own admission they all end up liking you anyway.”

“Yeah,” Neal admitted, shortly. “Because I want them to. I never, ever tried to get Peter to like me.”

Moz scoffed.

“What?” Neal asked sharply, realizing Moz disagreed.

“You’re seriously telling me …” Moz arched an eyebrow. “… that you haven’t been flirting with Peter the entire time he has been chasing you down? Teasing him? Challenging him? Playing with him?”

Neal frowned.

“Like just now,” Moz said indignantly. “When you asked me to include ‘James Bonds’ and ‘Peter Burke’ in the harum scarum … what was that for? Oh, that’s right—so that you could ‘just say hi’!”

Neal had fallen quiet in the face of Moz’s all-too-true words.

Moz glanced around, edgily, his energy spent. He’d made his point anyway.

“I’ve got to go …” Moz decided, self-consciously squaring his shoulders, as if bracing himself to leave the house. “… and organize stuff.”

Neal nodded numbly and moved only to shut the door behind Moz who had left without a backward glance. Neal spared a momentarily annoyed thought for having been left without a phone again. Of all the rules in the world, that was the one Moz didn’t dare break? Actually, Neal had seen Moz break that rule; handing off phones or bugs or other odds and ends that were classed under the technology umbrella to discontented slaves willing to act as spy or informant. It was the ‘Suit’ that deterred Moz from giving him a phone.

Damn Peter.


When Neal had been in the planning stage in the past he was always busy. He made the plans with Moz and acquired the funds and worked out their alternate escape plans and planned for every contingency and when all that was done, he packed. He’d organize safes or transport or storage containers for the latest stash. Then he’d sell off or give away anything they didn’t need or anything that could tie him to a crime, like a bicycle that might have been used as a getaway vehicle or more mundanely; the paintbrush set he’d acquired for that particular job. Last—like everyone else—he packed his personal belongings. Not that he ever had much; just a few clothes, and maybe a few keepsakes or souvenirs. Everything else—like beloved or valuable possessions would already have been put into a safety-deposit box so there was never much. The only other things left to do were last-minute. Loose ends that needed tying were tied, phone numbers were burnt, and aliases put away for next time, contacts consulted, and that last little note to say ‘hi’ to the FBI agent chasing him left in place.

This time all Neal could do was stress.

Moz had to take care of everything.

Moz was going to be organizing the con, the escape, the funds and the ‘hi’ to Peter. And he had no clothes or valuables with him; just that stupid grey outfit.

He hoped Moz had the presence of mind to organize clothes for him. Of course he would.

Okay, no. There were things that Neal could do. He had to stop sulking for one. Neal stood up with a fresh determination and headed up to the small room on the third floor that he knew Elizabeth stashed bits and pieces into. He was sure he’d seen a sewing kit up there.

Rather than bring the kit down to the living room where he would have had far more space to work in, Neal just knelt in the cramped space and picked out what he needed. The Burkes could come home anytime and it was easier to stash the kit in its proper room. He picked several needles, pins and, after a quick run to the second-level bathroom, a few hair pins. They should be enough. Neal picked out a fine light-grey thread and threaded a small needle.
He sewed the needle in his left hand-cuff, a pin in his right, a hairpin in the seam at the base of his shirt around the back. One went at the base in the seam next to the button on his front. Some went into the base of the pants cuffs. And for good measure, because Neal knew you could get into odd physical positions sometimes, he sewed a few items into his neck collar and the inseam of the waist pants. He hoped he’d done a good job of sewing the sharp ends with an extra layer of thread to prevent pricking. It wasn’t his own skin he was worried about; Neal had endured worse pain after all but the Burkes—particularly Elizabeth—cuddled him at night, and they might feel the pricks. It wasn’t often people ignored a prick of the skin, so if they did feel it, his plans could very well crumble around him, but it was worth the risk. He wouldn’t allow a lock of all things to stop him from leaving this Saturday. And things like the coat hanger he’d used on the bedroom door the previous night weren’t always available.

Neal knew there was more he could do to avert Peter’s attention come Saturday but sometimes, going all out to turn somebody’s attention the other way actually attracted attention.

Still, Neal considered it all. He could hide Peter’s car keys, back up the toilet, teach Satchmo some secret ‘tricks’, put itching powder in Peter’s suits, turn off the utilities, turn off the alarm clock, put the clocks forward or back an hour … and about a hundred other things that made Neal smirk but he knew all those things could very well backfire on him or rouse Peter’s suspicions. Neal finally concluded that it would be best to behave as normal.


Chapter Text

Just in case though.…

Neal set up a contraption in the kitchen, specifically below the sink, where the pipes were. If he needed it, he could set off a distraction in the kitchen without ever going near it.

That done, Neal took a break and flopped down on the couch with a coffee and flicked through the channels on the television. He didn’t watch much, and he didn’t think he’d ever tried to watch daytime television. From what he heard; it sucked anyway.

Then a channel caught his attention and once he flicked back and found it, he watched it with a rising burn of angry indignation.

It was called ‘Slave Solutions’. It was an audience interactive show in which a so-called slave whisperer would consult a member of the audience on the floor in front of the rest—and the cameras—on the problem they were having with the slave that knelt between them.

“Having guests,” the whisperer was saying. “is often an important social interaction and will either improve or worsen your standing with them—so naturally the nerves you may be feeling are being absorbed by your slave. She clearly takes on your stresses. They can be quite smart and they tend to be more empathic than people realize. I would plan ahead if I were you. Get her to prepare everything a few hours before the guests arrive. Of course if you want to get to the heart of the problem, we could have a few private sessions. Just come to me after the show and we’ll set it up. Alright? Okay, who’s next? Ah, yes, we’ll get right to you and your OC slave just after a word from our sponsors….”

An advertisement flashed onto the screen. “We, here at Slave Barn, have all that you could possibly need! Studded leashes and collars—the hottest styles, summons bands—all the latest tech, personalized clothing—turn your slave into a convenient walking advertisement!”

Neal switched off the television and sat, grinding his teeth.

Then he made himself take a deep breath.

He forced himself to uncurl his fists and put down the remote, gently.

Moz’s voice flashed to mind. ‘What is this? Since when do you care?’

Neal shook his head at himself. What was that quote? Ah, walk a mile in anothers’ shoes. He couldn’t recall who’d quoted that; too many variations. Wasn’t it supposed to be Jesus? Or Buddha? Well, he did that for a living. So, what was so different now?

Neal often absorbed another identity for the purpose of gaining something. That’s what he’d done here. So, it shouldn’t have been any different.
Deep down, Neal knew why it was different but he was determined for there to be another reason; he didn’t want to acknowledge the truth.

Annoyed, Neal dropped the subject.


Thursday night, Peter and Elizabeth both worked late. Though worn out from the day, they both seemed pleased to see Neal. Neal realized—when Elizabeth hugged and kissed him affectionately and Peter looked genuinely happy to see him and proved it with a loving pat and one-armed hug—that the Burkes were becoming quite attached to him.

In bed, Elizabeth proved to be playful but only to a point. She kissed Neal and smothered Peter. Peter and Elizabeth ended up cradling each other having used the last of their energy to put their heads together on the same pillow to murmur to each other sweet nothings until one or both closed their eyes. Neal took in the scene after standing up. He pulled the blanket up over their shoulders and moved out of the room.

Downstairs, with his hand trailing over Satchmo who had dropped to the floor beside the couch Neal was lying on, Neal’s last sleepy thought was to reassure himself that he’d be up before the Burkes anyway; he’d probably have enough time to have breakfast ready too.



Neal might have slept in—despite his intention to rise early—if he hadn’t suddenly woken up, struck by a thought that had somehow weaved its way into his dream. He blinked in the early-morning sunlight that flooded the room and rose to his feet.

“Morning,” came a bemused voice.

Neal looked around, inwardly horrified and maybe just a bit confused.

“We both had an early start this morning.” Peter was saying over at the table, half reading his paper while eating his cereal. “Elizabeth has already gone. I’m going in about ten minutes. I’m sure once I’ve gone you’ll make up for sleeping down here by doing some chores.”

Absently, Neal nodded. Wait, no.

Neal wondered how best to address the issue that had rather rudely interrupted his sleep. He straightened and shook his head, clearing it for the day ahead. He entered the dining room, approaching the table. Peter seemed to have gone back to paying full attention to the newspaper. Neal could see the page open to the crosswords.

Neal pulled out a chair opposite Peter and sat down, focusing intently on him. Eventually Peter looked up sensing a heavy gaze on him.


Neal smiled and spoke in what he thought would be a tactful tone. “You forgot about Elizabeth’s birthday tomorrow again, didn’t you?”

Peter didn’t react for a second, and then he shut his eyes and cursed, hanging his neck while slamming the pen down. “It’s the stupid cases!”

Neal made some soothing noises while motioning to Peter to calm down with a palm. “It’s okay, Peter. You’ll just go shopping today, won’t you? It’ll be fine.” Neal leaned on the table, portraying ease, ignoring his desire to stretch.

Peter was still shaking his head, scowling. Then he huffed. “You know what I should get her?”

Neal nodded softly. “Yeah. Two things.”

Peter paused and nodded. “Yeah?”

“Lingerie. No woman ever has enough and your wife is so stunning that anything you get for her will look great,” Neal told him, honestly.

“Lingerie?” Peter frowned. “I don’t know how to find—how to buy.…”

Neal grimaced sympathetically, and then bit his lip as though thinking on the issue. He realized that he could probably take advantage of this. Going out would allow him to gain access to a phone; which was always a good thing to have in case an emergency popped up—and especially in a planning stage. “Well, I could go with you. I—I can help.”

Peter turned his chin, hopefully. “You? You know how to shop for lingerie?”

Neal nodded lightly. “Sure.”

Peter leaned back in his chair, consoled. “Okay then. And the second thing?”

Neal hesitated a moment. The second one might take some convincing. Lingerie was expensive and so were day spas. He didn’t know how much more money Peter was willing to spend on Elizabeth, as much as he did love her….

“You need to pamper Elizabeth,” Neal said, deciding to make it a non-negotiable rule. Momentarily, he caught his reflection in a glass cabinet and attempted to smooth his hair down.

“Right,” Peter agreed hesitantly. “How?”

“You don’t have to do anything,” Neal said lightly, refocusing on Peter. “There are places that do that for you.”

Peter narrowed his eyes and before the agent could start imagining the opposite thing he had meant, Neal decided to continue.

“A day spa.” Neal smiled and leaned forward on the table as if to whisper conspiratorially. “Elizabeth will love you for it!”

Peter agreed surprisingly quickly. “Fine, fine … but we can’t go shopping tonight. Our appointment is tonight.”

“Surely you can take some time off from work to go shopping this morning or something?” Neal suggested, ignoring the casual mention of the appointment. “It wouldn’t take long; an hour to get lingerie, max.”

“I really can’t, Neal. Especially not on a Friday. Not if I want my weekend to stay clear, there are too many cases—and it is El’s birthday tomorrow. She’ll kill me if I have to go in the office.”

“Well, Peter.” Neal spoke dismissively. “The cases can wait ‘till Monday, can’t they?”

“No.” Peter shook his head. “It’s not that simple, Neal. If I don’t start clearing my desk of cases, I’m going have too many to keep up with. Then I won’t have time to focus on either Hagan or Bonds.”

“But, Peter,” Neal argued. “Elizabeth is more important than catching some—”

“Neal,” Peter said, bored. “It’s work. It’s something everyone has to do.”

Neal closed his mouth, not trusting himself right now. He’d had plenty of retorts in mind for that but that would have alerted Peter to his slightly different outlook on life—and subsequently: on work.

Peter took a deep breath, having just made up his mind. “Look.” Peter decided. “We’ll go shopping on my lunch hour. I’ll take you into work with me this morning.”



Neal showered quickly and ate some toast before doing the dishes. He saw him going in with Peter as opportunity—he chose to see it that way, anyway. If Moz wasn’t prepared to tell him where Kate was heading, then maybe he could find out on his own. The FBI was tracking Kate and Peter was likely to get updates. Also, Neal might be able to snag a phone. Maybe even get a moment, some time, to call Moz to make sure the plan was moving along.

Neal was absent-mindedly drying cutlery before feeding them into the compartments in the draw when Peter entered and cleared his throat.

Neal mentally cursed. He didn’t like the sound of that. He turned and gave a smile. “Yes, Peter?”

Peter held up a pair of wrist bands. Neal squinted at them. They had engraved details; Peter and El’s names, address and phone numbers.

“I.D. bands. I want you wearing one of these every time you leave the house,” Peter informed him.

“W-why?” Neal stuttered, taken by surprise.

“The other day at the park?” Peter reminded him. “People may not always be able to get though to me. I work odd hours and go undercover.”

Neal frowned indignantly. “But, I’m going to be with you today. And besides, what am I? Chop—” Neal stopped at Peter’s look. He changed tack. “You know, I … I can always tell them these things myself. I know the address.”

Peter started to nod. “Sure, but people tend to—”

Peter stilled, forgetting his words entirely. A thought had just struck him.

Neal waited, but Peter only narrowed his eyes at the band he was staring at. Peter turned it in his hands and Neal realized Peter was reading his mobile number. It was right above Elizabeth’s number. Neal tried to work out what was so interesting about the numbers.

“Peter?” Neal murmured cautiously, still in the dark.

Peter looked up and flicked the band, contemplating. “Neal … how did you know my number?”

Neal frowned, confused. He tilted his head and started to talk but Peter gestured again.

“The other day at the park; the cop called me …” Peter recalled. “… on my mobile.”

Neal nodded. Then he froze. Oh, damn.

Neal remembered feeling queasy as he’d told the cop the number and now he knew why. He had memorized Peter’s mobile phone number, as well as a host of other numbers and tidbits of Peter’s life years ago, just in case a situation ever came up when the information might literally come in use. He never dreamed that having that knowledge would actually endanger him.

“I probably should have,” Peter said. “But I never actually told you my number.”

Neal shrugged. “How else would I know it?”

“No.” Peter rejected Neal’s insinuation. “You know my number, but we didn’t tell you. How do you know it?”

When Neal didn’t answer, Peter scowled.

“Damn it, Neal. How did you know about Hagan? Who are you really?”

Peter must have seen something in Neal’s eyes because he turned, frustrated; knowing with one-hundred percent certainty that he was onto something.

Neal just dropped his shoulders, figuring he still had silence on his side.

If need be.

“What are you saying?” Neal asked with a confused tone.

Peter looked at him with a dissatisfied expression. “I know you have a past. I want to know what it is. Tell me.”

Neal just shook his head, playing the part of a helpless, innocent and confused slave. He shrugged to complete the effect.

Chapter Text

Neal didn’t know how much longer he could keep this up without being forced to tell a lie. He didn’t know why he had such a problem lying to Peter. It probably had something to do with the guilt of maintaining the ruse that he didn’t know Peter. He didn’t want to help it along any further than necessary. And … maybe he held respect for the agent….

Peter quieted, wondering what he could do to get Neal to talk. Finally he just stepped forward, seized Neal’s wrist and snapped one of the I.D. bands in place.

“You’re staying on a leash, by my side until you tell me what I want to know,” Peter threatened. “Go get your leash.”

Neal didn’t move; he was dreading the day ahead and wondering how he was supposed to get away from Peter long enough to steal a phone if he was physically tethered to Peter within three yards.

“Neal,” Peter ground out. “Now.”

Neal glared momentarily before dumping the dish towel and slipping past Peter and out of the room. He paused in front of the door that opened the cupboard beneath the stairs and did his best to take a deep breath and unclench his fists. He was doing that a lot lately.

It was fine. He exhaled slowly. He’d be fine. He’d find a way deal with everything, no matter what.

But he still wrenched the leash off its hook and returned, reluctantly, to the kitchen where Peter was doing his own breathing exercises.

Peter held out a hand for the leash. Neal only just held back from tossing it at him and, instead, placed the end in his palm, calmly, with as much cold detachment as he could muster.

At the back of his mind, Neal wondered why this was bothering him so much. Leaving the center when he’d first been bought, he’d hardly cared. Of course, back then, he’d been reeling in shock and was even marveling at the sheer coincidence of having just been bought in ignorance by the very guy that was hunting him down. It had been a new thing, a change to his routine, a development.

Now? Now, this was Peter’s control; an affirmation of his ownership. It was entirely different thing. This thing—it was a power struggle and it had come at a bad time, when the only thing Neal wanted to do was to get an effing phone to call Moz … if the need arose, so that his one chance to find the love of his life didn’t disappear!

Neal licked his lips. It was probably already too late. Kate was probably already long gone and Moz just hadn’t wanted to tell him….

Neal looked up as Peter moved forward and brought the clip up. Then, after the leash was attached, Peter took it one step further. He disappeared, telling Neal to remain put. Neal did, but only because he was drained of any will to bother with petty defiance. When Peter returned he had something that flashed silver in his hands but Neal didn’t get to look properly. He avoided looking at Peter who was concentrating on fiddling with the collar and standing uncomfortably close. Then as he heard the snick of a lock engaging, Neal realized what it was. He moved a little, looking into the refection of the stainless-steel fridge.

A combination padlock. Neal gave a weary scoff. The leash was locked on. And he couldn’t pick the lock. He could probably guess the combination if he had time to himself to think on numbers that meant something to Peter.

Shortly, Neal decided to turn his mood around. Even if he didn’t end up getting in touch with Moz again, even if, for whatever reason, the escape didn’t pan out, he could still find out from the FBI where Kate was.

Peter clicked his fingers in front of Neal, bringing Neal out of his thoughts.

“Go wait by the door,” Peter said icily. “I’m going to adjust your anklet. Then we’ll go to work. Anytime you want to start talking, you let me know.”



Neal stood in the foyer, stone-stiff, glowering. Peter had put the leash handle on the door knob, telling Neal not to remove it. It wasn’t locked or tied. Just hanging there, taunting Neal. As Neal had nothing better to do, other than avoid testing Peter’s ire, Neal had just accepted the order. Grudgingly.

As Peter passed to go upstairs he shot Neal an angry look. “God, Neal. Look at yourself. And you wonder why we have problems?”

Actually, Neal never wondered why. Because he thought he knew why.  But Peter’s words still hit him; he wondered what the agent meant by that. Neal looked towards the wall of the foyer. There was a decorative, ornate wood-carved frame holding a mirror. It was part of a coat-rack and side-table for random possessions such as keys, notepads, and jewelry. Peter and Elizabeth treated it as mostly decorative though. He moved in front of it.

He looked his mirrored-self over and was startled by the image. It was nothing like the images of him in the two-way mirror at the center, or the reflection he’d studied a few times in the upstairs bathroom.

There was a slave he hardly recognized staring back at him.

The slave was dressed in simple gray garbs, a wrist band, and wore a black leather collar; no mistaking his status ... and yet....

This man—this young twenty-something slave stood before him, head held high, a frown coloring his features, his arms crossed and body language radiating a wave of anger and defiance.

It was the eyes that made Neal want to say something to remind the slave of what he was. The eyes sparkled with a dark independence, defiance and a desire to control his surroundings.

Neal swallowed as he continued to take in the slave before him. Within seconds, his judgment of the slave passed through his mind and it wasn’t anything he wanted to know:

That slave was not a good one; he held delusions of freedoms and rights. He was behaving all wrong and it was so blindingly obvious. The slave had no right to be angry, or to stand like that. How did his owner tolerate it? Neal knew without a doubt that the slave had lessons of humility and subservience to learn.

Then Neal felt horror wash over him at his thoughts as he reconciled the idea that he was the slave and the slave was he.

He thought the same way. Despite everything, he still thought the same of slaves as he’d always thought of them as a freeperson.

Neal was deluding himself. He held the double-standard—not the Burkes. Even in absolute equality with other slaves, he still held himself above them, still believed them to be mere shadows of a freeperson; that they existed only to serve.

Neal closed his eyes, wanting to ignore the reality but the image that reflected back at him in the mirror—the one of him, not just a random slave, but him—burned in his retinas.

It was that day in bed all over again, the morning after his escape attempt, when Peter had told him that the training did actually apply to him.

Neal opened his eyes and exhaled, trying to slow his heart rate. He unfolded his arms and looked himself over.

Neal decided it was because he wasn’t meant to be enslaved. Other slaves; they were dragged in or born into it. He, Neal Caffrey, had not been born into it and he was too smart, too entitled and too skilled to fall in the same trap. Except he had, but it hadn’t been—

“Let’s go.”

It was Peter and Peter was picking up the leash and opening the door before Neal had finished his thoughts. He felt a tug on the leash and quickly returned to reality. “Yeah.”



He was a bastard.

It was over thirty minutes later. They were walking through the car parking lot toward the entrance that would lead inside the Bureau and Neal was still stewing over his judgment of the ‘the slave in the mirror’.

He couldn’t help it though. He couldn’t help holding himself up on a pedestal, because he knew that—well, he had … he had a complete control over—

Peter tugged him out of the sliding doors of the elevator on the twenty-first floor

—okay, maybe not a complete control … but it wasn’t like….

Neal groaned quietly, frustrated. Nope. He was an arrogant, egotistical, holier-than-thou bastard!

Neal was so distracted that when Peter stopped and said to sit, Neal just dropped into the nearest seat.

“Not there.”

Neal blinked. He looked up. Peter was staring at him. He looked around. He was in Peter’s seat.

“Sorry,” he mumbled.

“Neal?” Peter murmured, concerned, as Neal crossed the room and sat in a spare chair, stiffly. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” Neal replied tersely. “When is your lunch hour? We’re still shopping for Elizabeth, right?”

Peter frowned, suspicious. “Why are you so eager to shop for El? Are you up to something?”

Neal sighed, too tired to hide his weariness. “I’m just trying to move on, Peter.”

Peter sat down on the chair and turned it towards Neal, still holding the leash. He was glad it was long. He didn’t feel like letting it go for some reason. The fact that he couldn’t work Neal out made him nervous.

“It can’t be that bad,” Peter said, verging on pleading with Neal. “Why can’t you just tell me?”

Neal gave Peter a look before leaning back in his chair.

Peter blinked in surprise. “There really is something, isn’t there?”

“You’ll just have to wait and see what Diana comes back with,” Neal told him flatly.

Peter pursed his lips. “You picked the lock and you eavesdropped.”

“That’s what you’re focusing on?” Neal arched a brow.

Peter huffed and turned towards his desk. “If you know Diana is investigating, then why not just tell me?”

But Neal didn’t answer. He just folded his arms over the tiny table in front of him and rested his head on them.


Perplexed, Peter had left him alone and focused on his cases; it was Friday, after all. He didn’t even ask Neal to do any filing. In a way, Peter just wanted Neal to sit and wait.

An hour later, he realized why. They were doing one of those … game things. The ones where the first to … to blink or talk or relent or whatever—that person conceded defeat. Peter was waiting, because judging by Neal’s constant glances at the window, the tracing of the patterns on the table, the wistful watching of the bustling of the office and whatever else that might catch his attention, Neal was easily bored.

It was a weakness of his. Maybe one that would see Neal giving Peter what he wanted.

To give him something to do, even something as mundane as filing, would give Neal something to focus on.

Neal was being equally stubborn. Peter knew he really wanted to ask about his cases. He saw the longing glances. But Neal hadn’t made so much as one comment. About anything. Not just the cases.

The more time that passed, the bigger the secret was. In Peter’s mind anyway. At one point, after some rapid growth in the size of the secret, Peter found himself wondering if Neal had ever killed anyone in his past. Fortunately, common sense prevailed….

Another hour passed….

Just to see how receptive Neal was, he decided to give Neal a break.

“Can you get me a coffee?”

Neal looked surprised. No doubt Neal knew about their ‘game’ as much as he did.

“Sure,” Neal answered, but then he glanced at the leash that was attached to the arm of Peter’s chair.

Peter put up a finger in a gesture to wait. He knew Neal wouldn’t like this, but he didn’t trust Neal, not right now, not now that he knew Neal must be hiding something bigger than he’d initially expected.

He picked up the phone and pushed a button, presumably to connect to an extension.

“Diana? Can I send Neal down to you? He’s going to make me a coffee …” Peter paused. “Thanks. Get him to make you one too; his coffee is to die for.”

Peter hung up the phone and craned his neck to look in the bullpen. Diana was leaning on her elbow, looking into his office from where she sat at her desk.

Peter gave Neal the leash. “Go straight to Diana, she’ll show you where the kitchen is.”

Neal nodded, stood up and left. Once he closed the door behind him—the only part of the wall that was solid—he paused and let out a controlled breath. Knowing he was being watched, if not by Peter, then by the scary agent that Peter seemed to favor, Neal made his way down the stairs.

He reached Diana’s desk and, uncertain, he just waited. Diana eventually stood. “This way.”

She didn’t ask to take the leash; something Neal would be eternally grateful for.

As Neal numbly set up the pot in the kitchen, Diana leaned against the counter and folded her arms.

Suddenly Diana spoke, surprising them both. “Do you have anyone?”

“I—I …” Neal looked at her. “I’m sorry?”

“Well.” Diana uncrossed her arms and gestured vaguely with one hand. “Is there anyone?”

Neal shook his head. “No … why would there … No, I don’t have anyone. Why?”

Diana looked away. Neal pushed the button on the machine and pulled out two mugs.

Neal frowned and braced himself. “Did you … did something come up in that search of yours?”

Diana looked at him sharply. “You know about that?”

Neal shrugged as he watched the pot slowly fill as the machine whirred.

“No,” Diana answered, taking Neal’s shrug as a ‘yes’. “It’s not because of that.”

Diana looked at him for a minute before speaking again. “You were lying. You do have someone.”

“Who would love a slave?” Neal said, attempting to throw Diana.

Diana fell quiet though.

“Oh.” Neal berated himself a minute later when it finally occurred to him. “What’s his name?”

Diana glanced at Neal. “Her name is Christie.”

“Her? Oh.” Neal nodded. “How long?”

“About a year.” Diana sighed. “I tried to buy her, but she’s a medic.”

Neal winced. Medics—or any specialty slaves—would be expensive; far over the budget of an FBI agent. “Sorry.”

Diana just shrugged. “What about you?”

But Neal couldn’t. He just couldn’t.

Diana turned and leaned to the side on the bench. “You don’t have to use her name.”

Neal was very aware that Diana was a good agent and that this could be nothing but a fact-finding mission, but something about the way she spoke told him that, while she might use anything he said to fatten their file on him, she was genuinely interested.

“I love her, she—” Neal started, deciding that he could say … some things. “She’s smart. Her eyes sparkle, and she has the sweetest smile—shy though, kind of cautious sometimes, but her whole face lights up….”

Neal trailed off as the machine finished its work. He placed a hand on the handle of the pot. “I miss her.”

Diana was giving a soft smile.

Neal waited for inevitable questions but Diana didn’t ask any more.

To ease the mood, Neal pointed to the coffee. “I’m not sure even I can do anything good with this stuff.”

Diana grinned. “Peter seems to have faith in you.”

Neal rolled his eyes.

“With the coffee,” Diana clarified.

Neal glanced at her and gave a nod as he poured the coffee into each mug.

“Does she—Christie—love you back?” Neal asked as he handed Diana a mug.

Diana stared off to the side. Then she gave small nod. “Yeah.”

Neal smiled. “Then you’ll be together one day. I believe it.”

As Neal picked up Peter’s mug, Diana hesitated. “Neal, no-one else knows….”

Neal blinked in surprise. “Really?”

Diana returned his look was a hesitant shrug.

“Okay.” Then Neal frowned. “Why would you tell me then?”

Why indeed? Diana didn’t know. She just looked at her mug. “You understand. I don’t know.”

“I won’t tell anyone,” he assured her.

“Not even…?”

“Not even Peter,” Neal confirmed. “Though I imagine he’d understand.”

Diana nodded. “Yeah, definitely; he’s a good boss.”

Neal stayed quiet. He was ready; the coffee was made but Diana didn’t look like she was ready to return just yet. Neal knew he’d have to wait.

“Is he …” Diana asked, distracted. “Are he and Mrs. Burke good owners?”

Neal regarded her carefully. He wondered if this was Peter’s doing—if it was some test, but Diana really seemed concerned, so he took another chance. He answered her question, only after he'd considered it carefully.

“They’re good,” Neal told her. “A bit lost sometimes, but they mean well.”

Diana looked at him with deep scrutiny. Neal just looked back.

“Why does that annoy you?” Diana asked, curious.

Neal smirked appreciatively.

Diana seemed to realize he wasn’t going to answer. “We should head back. Any chance you can save me some trouble and just tell me your past?”


Chapter Text

It was all closing in. If Neal hadn’t had practice controlling himself, he’d be biting his nails, sitting on the edge of his seat and maybe yelling at Peter to stop slurping his coffee.

Instead, Neal was sitting sideways on the chair, relaxed, arms sprawled over the table and the back of the chair, amused, watching Peter as he rubbed his forehead for the umpteenth time.

He assured himself that even if Peter and Diana found out, he wouldn’t be any worse off. What could Peter do? His own plan would remain the same; find Kate.

Okay, so that was actually the goal. Still, nothing changed.

Increasingly, Neal was imagining that moment when the jig would be up and he’d have to acknowledge his prior life, even if all he did was hang his head in the face of Peter’s shock. He knew he’d be fine in the telling, but he wondered how Peter would react.
There was only really one thing he couldn’t be sure of about himself; Neal didn’t know whether he’d be able to suffer Peter’s smugness at owning his rival. Neal couldn’t imagine Peter not acting smug. Who wouldn’t?

Neal smirked. He imagined the roles to be reversed. It would certainly be a fine thing to own Peter.

Neal was almost tempted to give in and tell Peter now, if only to see his face. But the longer he could keep up his secret, the better. If only so that he could maintain a certain level of naiveté. He was sure that after Peter found out, the security tying him down would double, maybe even triple.

Neal glanced at the sky outside. It had to be nearly lunchtime. He tilted his head in a vain attempt to read Peter’s watch.

“It’s eleven,” Peter grunted.

Neal didn’t bother with being surprised; of course Peter would notice what he was doing.

“What time do you go to lunch?” Neal asked hopefully.


Neal dropped in the chair, dismayed. A whole three hours.


Because Peter had the appointment that evening, he decided it wouldn’t hurt to leave for lunch early at one. When he and Neal were standing up, tucking the chairs in under the desks, Hughes came in for a status update.

This time, Neal was permitted to stay and listen, mostly because Peter didn’t want to let him out of his sight at this stage, especially as last time he’d left Neal with a babysitter, said babysitter had rushed out of the office to save a make-believe damsel-in-distress.

At first Neal had listened intently, but as it was often with the truth, he found a lot of what Peter told Hughes pretty boring and run-of-the-mill.

Hughes only offered Peter approval and few notes of advice.

“Hand off those smaller cases to some agents in the bullpen, Peter,” Hughes told him. “Get back to Hagan and Bonds.”

Peter nodded clutching the back of the chair. He knew he needed to work on his controlling tendencies and share some of the workload. He needed to have more faith in the probies and agents below; they were just as hard-working, intelligent and diligent after all.



“And Peter.” Hughes paused in the doorway. “If you’re going to be bringing in your slave to work, you need to file for insurance. Bureau policy. That way, if he gets damaged, you can get a new one.”

“Of course.” Peter muttered as Hughes shut the door behind him.

When Peter stayed in place, thinking, Neal filled in the silence. “I thought the center gave insurance?”

Neal didn’t know all that much about the bureaucratic, political, or financial aspects of slavery. He’d never had any reason to know before his enslavement and afterwards … well, it was none of his business.

“No,” Peter answered, distracted. “They offer refunds for defects … and a warranty for two years. But insurance is something El and I have to buy at some point. Here, they provide insurance for employees’ possessions that are utilized at work.”

Peter wasn’t about to say anything, but what Hughes had said bothered him … a lot.
He tried to think of various reasons why, but finally he couldn’t keep hiding the truth from himself and admitted, uncomfortably, in his head, that he didn’t like the thought of replacing Neal. He liked the thought of Neal being ‘damaged’ even less. When had that happened?

Then he’d been talking; answering Neal’s question…. And not even by choice. Just automatically. Peter realized he’d have to shelve his thoughts for now and think on it, later. Alone.

At least with the personal insurance he and El would buy—sometime next week—they could choose the insurance that would provide the financial help to pay to fix Neal, if needed, rather than buy a whole new slave. Once he did that, he’d be able to take Neal in for a check-up. He wasn’t too worried; the center had given him the standard check-up report before his purchase had even cleared. He figured Neal was good for a while.

“So,” Peter announced. “Let’s go.” He handed Neal his coat to carry. He didn’t need it just yet. And it was bulky.

Glad to be leaving, finally, Neal just packed the coat over his arm and headed for the door, holding it open for Peter.



Out on the road, in the car, it was only when Peter had to stop at a red light that he turned his head to look at Neal, perplexed. “Where am I going?”

“I had wondered that,” Neal replied sardonically. “Does Elizabeth have a favorite lingerie shop?”

Peter just stared blankly back at him. Neal smiled softly. “Okay, let me try again. How far do you want to drive?”

“Not far,” Peter answered, anxiously checking the time.

“Greene Street,” Neal said promptly. “It has two good stores. La Perla and Kiki De Montparnasse.”

Greene Street was literally two streets away from the Bureau.

Peter had to go around the block, having driven in the wrong direction, and though he didn’t want to question a good thing, he did wonder how Neal knew of the closest stores that sold decent lingerie.

Peter had to drive around the block a few times until a spot opened up. Once they’d parked, Peter looked at Neal. He looked like he would have loved nothing more than to simply order Neal to go find something and be back within twenty minutes—and he’d just wait in the car, read a sport magazine or something.

Instead—perhaps grateful that he had Neal around at all—Peter muttered nervously. “So which one … do you think?”

“Well.…” Neal considered the two stores for a second. “La Perla has a better range, but Kiki De Montparnasse had an interesting style you may want to look into.”

“Uh,” Peter practically whimpered.

Neal took a sympathetic breath. “We’ll try La Perla. Elizabeth seems like ‘simple and refined’ would suit her. Kiki De Montparnasse may not be right for her.”

Peter accepted Neal’s suggestion but he didn’t even try to take off his seat-belt.

“I could go in and have a look for you?” Neal offered, knowing Peter would never let him. It was worth a try though, if it meant being alone long enough to steal a phone. Fat chance, Neal knew. It would require letting him loose for one. Peter would even have to remove the collar—something he hadn’t done at all—if he wanted Neal to buy the lingerie; the shop employees would never sell to a slave.

The offer seemed to help at least bring some of Peter back. He gave a minuscule shake of the head.

“It’s not as bad as you think, Peter.” Neal murmured, getting tired of the sitting-and-doing-nothing. “You know your wife’s taste, right? You just have to buy something you think will appeal to her.”

Peter bit his bottom lip.

“Peter!” Neal said warningly.

Peter looked at Neal, nerves forgotten. “What was that?”

Neal just grinned. “Peter, okay, look, I’m going to be with you every step of the way. But we actually have to get out of the car. I would’ve come around and dragged you out by now but….”

Neal looked at the leash Peter had looped on his own seat-belt.

Neal waited, not sure what else he could say. It looked as though Peter might take his sweet time after all but then the agent looked down and nodded uneasily, realizing he was overreacting. “It‘ll be fine.”
Peter unclipped the seat-belt, and exited the car. Neal followed suit with relief.

“Okay,” Neal spoke, as they met on the footpath. “They’ll ask you questions. But don’t worry. You’re not the first nervous husband to go in looking for lingerie for his wife.”

“Right,” Peter responded, swallowing his anxiousness. He took up Neal’s leash and began fiddling with it, absently.

Neal seemed to know he was serving more as a security blanket than anything else at this stage. “Come on, Peter.” Neal started forward. “La Perla is just up ahead.”


When Neal could feel Peter safely walking beside him, clearly distracted with thoughts of how he was going to do this, Neal concentrated on scanning each person walking in the opposite direction. It was hard enough to steal a phone without the mark’s knowledge but he had to pick someone walking towards him in a way that Peter wouldn’t question it if Neal were to dodge past them, narrowly ‘missing’ them.

The second problem would be concealing the phone. He didn’t exactly have pockets. He would have to rely on sleight of hand. That wouldn’t be an easy ruse to maintain if he was going to help Peter with shopping for lingerie. At the last second, Neal ducked around a pretty mark deciding to leave it until they were done shopping. The car would be a useful place to stash the phone, temporarily, later.


Chapter Text

It was only the presence of a slave by his side that caused the shop assistants to take Peter at more than face value when he walked in the door.
At first glance, he looked like another awkward husband who had stumbled into a shop out of his price range. An awkward husband with a terrible suit. But the guy had a slave. That made him stand out somewhat, from the usual clientele.

And not just any slave either, the lady by the counter enthused. This guy was dashing. She could tell by his eyes and manner that he was familiar with the type of store he was in. But she concentrated on the man with a bad suit; he was the one she had to impress, the one with the money. Though she did sweep an impressed look over his slave as she approached, making it known that she thought the client had great taste.

“Hello sir, my name is Lauren,” she spoke politely. “Can I help you find anything here?”

Peter raked his hair ending with a firm hold on his neck while looking to Neal surreptitiously.

“I, uh,” Peter tried. “I need lingerie.”

Lauren nodded with a fixed smile, clearly still waiting.

“For....” Peter dropped his arm and wrung his hands nervously. “For my wife.”

“Well,” Lauren clasped her hands together, smiling broadly. She turned and gestured towards the back wall. “We have a great selection. I’d love to help you select some choice items. If you could tell me your wife’s size, we could get started.”

“Uh,” Peter paused. Then he looked down at his hands and brought them up. “She’s about—”

“Excuse me,” Neal suddenly interrupted. “Please, sorry, I need to talk to my owner for a moment.”

Lauren, though she seemed surprised at Neal’s interruption, or the fact that he’d spoken at all, simply nodded, perhaps knowing what it was Neal intended to pull Peter away for.

Peter allowed Neal to pull him slightly until they were standing by a display near the front window.

“Please tell me you weren’t about to tell the lady that Elizabeth is about yea big with your hands?!” Neal muttered, pained.

Peter just bit his cheek and shrugged.

“Okay,” Neal checked. “You don’t know Elizabeth’s size?”

“Uh,” Peter mumbled. “Medium?”

Neal looked to the floor, knowing that a simple twenty minute shopping trip had turned into a sixty-minute hell.

Experimentally, Neal decided to ask a question. “Peter, have you ever heard Elizabeth talk about cup sizes?”

“Sure, she talks about that stuff all the time.” Peter felt though, that he and Neal might be talking about two different things. “She usually goes with wine glasses for most events, though.”

When Neal just chuckled incredulously, realization dawned on Peter.

“Oh,” Peter mumbled sheepishly. “You mean….” He gestured vaguely to his own chest.

Neal nodded. “Yeah, but don’t worry, Peter, I did the washing, remember? I think she might be ‘thirty-four D’.”

“You—you think?” Peter muttered, uneasily. “I don’t want El thinking she’s too big if I get something too small or … or—”

Neal pursed his lips. “Then you should have rifled through your wife’s drawer like any good husband would have.” He ignored the judgmental gazes of the eavesdropping shop assistants.

“You should have told me to,” Peter bit back. “Like any good slave would have.”

“Gentleman!” Lauren called, concerned. “I mean—sir. Sorry, I didn’t mean to address your slave … um—can I help you with something? Is everything alright?”

Peter took a breath and pasted a smile on his face. “Fine—we’re fine. Can we look at thirty-four D … stuff?”

“Right this way,” Lauren replied gratefully.


Peter pulled Neal over. “Pay attention. Which one.”

Neal dragged his gaze from the giggling women across the shop and looked at the two slips he had helped Peter narrow the list down to. Lauren was holding one in either hand waiting for the final decision.

Neal glanced at Peter. “You want me to pick?”

“I just want your input,” Peter defended.

“Well.” Neal scanned each slip. “The Indiscrete is a classic; it’s black, you can usually never go wrong with black. And it has lace. It’s only about ten dollars more. But the Maison is more fun. Made of silk and satin. It would suit Elizabeth. They both would. It’s up to you, Peter. Which would she like best?”

But Peter still couldn’t decide.

Neal sighed. “The Indiscrete is safe. The Maison will show you took a risk.”

Peter considered. “Which would you get for your wife?”

“If she looked similar to Elizabeth?” Neal muttered, guilelessly. “The Maison.”

Peter turned to Lauren. “I’ll the take the Indiscrete.”


“Why’s this stuff so expensive?” Peter grumbled as he tossed his delicately wrapped present into the back seat after entering the car.

Neal, who had been fed into the car already, just grimaced in sympathy. “Elizabeth will love it, and you’ll forget about the cost, I promise, Peter.”

While Peter was checking the traffic, about to move out into it, Neal slipped the phone he had lifted down the side of the seat and tried to ignore his concern. Peter was a very smart FBI agent, and it wouldn’t take much for him to notice something like a stolen phone.

“What was that other thing … a massage?”

Neal couldn’t understand how a guy who worked for the FBI—and excelled—could get so many ordinary, everyday stuff wrong.

“No, a day at the spa,” Neal corrected, trying his best not to sound patronizing. “You just have to buy a gift certificate. She should be able to choose her own program. You just need to decide where.”

When Peter bit his lip, clearly trying to keep himself from saying anything, Neal rolled his eyes.

“There’s a day spa about a mile from your place.”

Peter grinned.


The day spa insisted on Peter choosing the program so when he turned desperate eyes on Neal, Neal just held out a hand to take the pamphlet.

“Get the Pampering Trio. It includes a massage and a facial. That’s what she’s there for and it’s not too expensive.”

After the gift certificate had joined the wrapped slip in the back, Peter fell quiet.

Eventually Neal had to check if Peter was just being quiet, or thinking deep thoughts, if only to distract himself from his own deep thoughts—mostly worries about the phone that felt like a dead weight on his mind. He couldn’t figure out when he’d get the opportunity to make a call.

“Are you okay?” Neal murmured.

When Peter didn’t answer, even though he’d clearly heard Neal, Neal decided to move on. “You did well. You’re going to be in her good book for years.”

Peter grunted, discontentedly. “I couldn’t have done it without you, Neal.”

“Is that what’s bothering you? Peter, that’s the whole point.” Neal waved dismissively. “You’re supposed to do that. Just think of it this way; next time you need a present for Elizabeth, you know of two things to choose from. You’ve learned something new.”

Peter didn’t really take Neal’s words to heart, but he nodded. “Yeah.”



Peter ended up taking Neal back to the office with him, much to Neal’s delight. But Neal didn’t complain—though his irritation was clear—as the last thing he needed right now was a lecture reminding him that Peter was still expecting answers in exchange for getting off the leash. But Neal didn’t find that reward tempting because he knew the second Peter found out, any previous promise that involved lessening the security would go out the door; the leash would probably stay. At least he’d managed to take the phone with him by tucking it into the band of his pants on the side away from Peter.

So Neal just sat without prompt up in Peter’s office and resigned himself to a boring afternoon.

About an hour later, Neal insisted he needed to go to the bathroom.

“Neal!” Peter whined. “I’ve got a meeting in two minutes.”

Neal knew that. “Yeah, I’m sorry, Peter. Look, you’ve got a tracker on me. How far am I supposed to be able to get?”

Peter gave Neal a pointed look like he wasn’t going to buy that.

“You weren’t going to take me into the meeting with higher ups anyway. I could go get you a proper coffee from down the road, that way when you get back, you’ll have something to help relax you,” Neal cajoled.

Peter’s eyes hardened and Neal knew he hadn’t liked that suggestion at all. In his mind, Neal would use the coffee venture to do something he wouldn’t approve of. And he wasn’t really wrong.

“Or not. Let me go to the bathroom and I’ll go straight over to Diana afterwards,” Neal promised.

“You’ll do that,” Peter told him. “I’m setting your radius to the building. Wait a moment.”

Neal didn’t mind. He’d finally get a moment alone. Any moment alone was good.


In the bathroom, Neal called up Moz’s emergency number, hoping Moz still used it. It was a number that Moz insisted Neal must never mention even when they were apparently alone. “You never know who may be listening” was Moz’s reasoning. Which was why Neal hadn’t said anything; hadn’t asked Moz if he still had it. If he’d asked, Moz would have binned it.

“Mockingbird Cages,” a familiar voice quipped. “What kind of birdcage are you looking to buy?”

Neal smiled. “It’s me.”

“No names!”

“… I didn’t use—”

“I’m just saying,” Moz replied, quickly. “What’s up?”

“Everything on track?” Neal asked, biting back the desire to wind up his friend.

“It’s all good to go,” Moz answered, happily.

“I need clothes.”


“Real clothes.”

“Of course! I went to my favorite—”

“You didn’t,” Neal groaned.

“Hey, it’s the art of blending in that—”

“Okay! Sorry, M—man,” Neal paused. “Listen, after Peter gets that phone call—you know the one—meet me two streets down from … my current residence. At a park, okay? I’m not going anywhere until—”

Moz cut through, bored. “Yeah, I get it.”

Neal quieted, momentarily grateful that he was going to be gone this time the next day.

“…. Is that all?” Moz asked.

Neal nodded, cleared his throat and voiced his reply. “Yeah, that’s it.”

“Okay, call me again, if you need to.” Moz replied, relaxing his rule about reusing emergency numbers a little. “I’ll wait until after tomorrow to toss the number.”


Then Neal heard the tone. Moz had hung up. Neal turned off the phone and tucked it in his pants, prepared to return to the office.


Having satisfied his need to talk to Moz again—albeit in brief hurried tones—Neal started thinking about the appointment the Burkes had made that afternoon. He wondered what would happen but as he was completely in the dark about what to expect he just resigned himself to the reluctant waiting game.

At this stage, from where Neal was sitting—by Diana’s desk—it looked as though Peter really might forget his appointment and as per Elizabeth’s subtle, unspoken instructions, it was Neal’s job to remind him, but he couldn’t help feeling vaguely like that was something akin to expecting a cow to remind the farmer to sell it to an abattoir.

There were still a few hours so Neal tried to put his mind to better thoughts like the look on Peter’s face when he received that inevitable call the next day; a direct effect of the harum scarum he’d asked Moz to initiate.



Ah, the harum scarum. Such beautiful chaos and Neal would be able to slip away in the pandemonium and go find Kate. But not until after Neal had accompanied the Burkes to the appointment. Neal wondered if he’d be the same….

He’d heard stories about some of these advisers suggesting programs that literally took away a slave’s personality. But that was after weeks of treatment, if not months. One appointment wouldn’t do that. In fact, Neal thought it might be more of an introductory session anyway. A basic meeting between the potential instructor and the Burkes to see if what the adviser had to offer was what they were after.

After that, he’d be gone. So, further appointments were something Neal wouldn’t have to worry about.

Momentarily, Neal couldn’t help it as the thought of Peter and Elizabeth being ripped off flashed into his mind, after all; Neal was someone they’d paid a fair bit of money for. Neal wasn’t sure he’d be able to move on and forget about them with that piece of his past hanging over him.

Maybe he could compensate them. Pay them back what they’d paid for him. It was a ludicrous thought but it made him feel better. Not only would he feel as though he’d repaid their kindness but he would feel a relative freedom from having bought himself off the Burkes. He wouldn’t have that nagging knowledge that technically he belonged to the Burkes overshadowing him as he fled in search for Kate. It would be done. A chapter in his life closed….

From somewhere inside, a thought mocked him, ‘Oh, sure, pay the people who enslaved you … don’t behave like a thief the one time you should.’

Neal looked up at the conference room where he could see the profile of his owner listening as the higher ups spoke to one another. Then Neal smiled ruefully as he realized that it still wouldn’t work. Even if he paid back every penny and then some for lodging, Peter wouldn’t accept it. Not in a million years. Neal knew that. Neal knew that Peter would chase him down, to claim what was his, to claim that which had never stopped being his. And that was fair enough too, because no matter if the money appeared in his mail box or account—Peter would still have the paperwork that allowed him to claim Neal as his.

And what would happen when Neal fled at the same time that the harum scarum would come into effect?

Neal knew Peter might put two and two together; that the agent mightn’t need Diana’s research or some test result on Neal’s fingerprints to know that it was way too big a coincidence for his slave to run at the exact same time that James Bonds caused that entire ruckus.

Neal swallowed as the thought struck him; that no matter what ended up happening—Peter would know that he and James Bonds were one and the same by Tuesday night, though—at this stage—sooner rather than later was looking more and more likely.

He’d have to be far more careful; Peter would know not only his real name after he ran but the smaller stuff; stuff like the likelihood of him going off after Kate, or that he was familiar with New York to extent of being able to recommend lingerie shops and day spas. Peter would also have enough to find the hidden stuff, like medical records, once he put the two files together, or his educational history.

These thoughts swirled around in his mind, over and over in a desperate attempt for his mind to be ready for anything; to be able to predict what would happen. It wasn’t until a shadow fell over his face and he felt a small tug on his collar that he looked up and saw Peter standing before him, eyebrow arched.

“Time to go.” Peter looked at Diana. “Thanks, Diana. You’ll call me if something comes up?”

“Sure thing, boss,” Diana replied, cupping a hand over the transmitter of the phone she was on.

Neal rolled his eyes as he stood knowing what the call would be regarding.

In the elevator, Peter looked at Neal who was staring blankly at the lit-up numbers indicating the floors.

“Excited?” Peter asked in reference to the appointment.

Without taking his eyes off the lit numbers, Neal only hummed.

Peter wasn’t all that eager himself but he was curious as to what he could expect. He wasn’t sure he and El would bother returning if the adviser tried to treat them like the many hundreds of other slave owners before them. He and El were after something different, something personalized and if the professionals couldn’t understand that, he wouldn’t be coming back.


Chapter Text

“Honey,” Peter called, catching El in his hold as she finished pinning her hair back. “We have plenty of time. Just let me change, and then we’ll go.”

Elizabeth tried to hold off from being impatient. She settled with giving Peter a reminder. “The traffic is usually worse on a Friday night, hon; we need to allow time to find a parking space too.”

“We’ve got plenty of time,” Peter assured her.

“I have to feed Satchmo,” El muttered quickly, heading for the door.

Peter waved as he plucked the towel off the hook in the bathroom. “Neal’s doing that.”

El paused. Old habits die hard. She shared a smile with Peter’s back. It was kind of nice that she didn’t have to worry about doing everything herself.

Elizabeth realized, as Peter entered the shower after undressing, that this was her only real chance to talk with Peter privately.

She edged back in the bathroom and shut the door. She leaned against the sink counter and watched as the steam from the hot water of the shower filled the room.

“Honey,” Elizabeth started. “How do you think all this is going?”

Peter paused and pulled the shower curtain apart long enough to see Elizabeth’s worried frown.

“We’ll find out tonight,” Peter said over the sound of the water.

“No, I mean,” Elizabeth murmured as she watched her husband’s silhouette. “He is right for us, isn’t he? I mean, we didn’t imagine it, right? He belongs with us. So, it wasn’t a mistake.”

“What’s wrong, El?” Peter asked, poking his head around the curtain.

Elizabeth twirled her ring absently. “It wasn’t what I thought it would be. I didn’t think we’d have problems. At least none that we could find in the first week. Maybe it’s us?”

Peter sighed, then disappeared into the shower again. Soon he was talking back.

“El, honey, don’t stress.” Peter said firmly. “We can ask these questions tonight. But … for what it’s worth, I don’t think it’s a mistake.”

“You don’t?” El asked hopefully. All she wanted was a little reassurance.

Peter parted the curtain, letting some water out and smiled.

Elizabeth smiled back. She felt a little stupid for worrying so much. But she knew she had good reason to. There were issues … but maybe they weren’t that bad.

She sighed, and addressed another, less urgent, thought. “So, you took Neal to work today?”

Peter nodded before letting the curtain fall back, separating them again. “Yeah,”

Ordinarily, Peter would have floundered at this because the reason for taking Neal to work had been to shop for Elizabeth but the gifts were at the back of his mind. He soaped himself as he thought, annoyed, about Neal and his damn past.

“Yeah, you know how Diana is investigating Neal?”

“Yeah,” El said slowly, thinking back to when, in the middle of talking about Hagan on the phone at work, Peter had told her what he’d asked Diana to do. “Did she find something?”

“No,” Peter answered, his voice muffled as he failed to raise it over the sound of the running water. “Worse; she found nothing.”

Elizabeth frowned. “That’s unusual. Isn’t finding stuff Diana’s specialty?”

Elizabeth could hear the smirk in his voice when Peter answered next.

“Of sorts … so I asked her to check the criminal and bureau databases.”

“She didn’t already do that?”

“Not all of it.” Peter rinsed off. “Neal was eavesdropping and then this morning it became apparent that Diana and I are on the right path. Whatever it is, it’s big. And Neal doesn’t want us to know.”

Elizabeth’s eyes widened at that thought. It didn’t seem like Neal could be capable of anything that warranted landing in a file at the bureau. Could she live with him if he’d done something bad?

“Anyway,” Peter continued. “When I realized that he was hiding something for sure, I told him to either tell me or I’d leash him. He stayed quiet.”

“He obviously didn’t talk at work either,” Elizabeth noted, unnecessarily.


Peter emerged from the shower and grabbed the towel from the basin. Then he paused in front of Elizabeth. “Hey,” he ran a palm down her arm gently. “We’ll work it out.”

Elizabeth nodded then took a deep breath. “Peter … I like him.”

Peter stopped moving and looked straight in Elizabeth’s worried eyes. He raked his hair. And he chuckled softly. “So do I.”

“No, I mean,” Elizabeth pressed. “I care for him. I don’t want to lose him. I know it’s only been a week but—”

“I know,” Peter cut over her. “I know. Today, Hughes told me to get the paperwork for insurance in case I ever needed a replacement for Neal…. And that annoyed me. I care about him too, El.”

Elizabeth loved that Peter felt the same way but she still couldn’t relax. “He doesn’t like us, Peter.”

“You don’t think so? Peter asked. He’d thought about it himself. “You know, just when I think he doesn’t—I see him look at us, when he doesn’t think I’m watching, and there’s something in his expression; in his eyes. I think he does like us. I just don’t think he likes where he is.”

“He seems so angry, sometimes,” El sighed.

“He is angry,” Peter admitted. “I’m not sure why, but I’m willing to bet it has a lot to do with what he doesn’t want Diana to find out.”


The center they’d be going into, to attend their appointment with the slave consultant, had a policy; Neal would have to wear some form of identification at all times. So, for all intents and purposes, Neal was ready. They rushed out the door amidst fears they’d be late because of bad traffic. And they reached their destination thirty minutes early due to unprecedented, good traffic.

Elizabeth just grinned as she looked around at the nightlife; some malls were still open and clubs could be seen here and there, even children were out an about as it was still early. Elizabeth decided she wanted to window shop along the busy, lit-up street during the time they had to spare before their appointment.

Peter and Neal trailed, side-by-side, along behind her. Peter made a few approving grunts each time Elizabeth glanced at him to see what he thought. Neal guessed though, judging by the amused glint in Elizabeth’s eyes, that she knew Peter wasn’t really paying attention.

It became a little clearer to Neal how Elizabeth could run a business so well. From what little he heard of her murmurs both to herself and to Peter, it was clear that she was not just idly looking at things that interested her but cataloging potential resources for her company as well as drawing inspiration from the pieces she found in the shop windows.

Neal found it both a relief and an annoyance that the Burkes seemed to ignore him while they wandered along the street. While it was both nice that they didn’t expect Neal to pay any attention or work to entertain them or keep up with their musing and it was nice that he could see this part of Peter and Elizabeth; to be able to watch their doe-eyed, wide-smiled and affectionate interaction, it was also an annoyance because it reminded Neal that he was, more or less, a contraption to be turned on or off depending on whether the Burkes wanted him to say or do anything. The worst of it, though, was seeing, right in front of him, exactly what he wished he could have with Kate.

Neal was with both Peter and Elizabeth and the last thing he wanted was for either of them to glimpse even one second of wistfulness on his face so Neal shoved the thoughts of Kate out, promising himself he’d think about her that night after the Burkes had fallen to sleep.

Instead, Neal made a point of watching as Elizabeth poured over each item in the shop window of a second-hand furniture store.
He knew, from past experience that it was often the smallest tidbits of information that came in use later. Anything he learned about the Burkes in this innocent window-shopping evening could potentially come in use. That’s what he told himself anyway. Mostly he was bored and his mind kept jumping to Kate and the plans he’d made for the next day. Neal felt a rush of adrenaline and giddiness at the thought of the next day; of the idea that the next night, he’d be far, far away from the Burkes!



He realized he was smiling vacantly and berated himself. See, that was why Neal had to watch the Burkes as though his life depended on it. He was just forcing himself to eavesdrop on Elizabeth’s quiet muttering and squeals of admiration over a couple of ornate wooden jewelry ‘cupboards’ when angry shouts pierced the air of the ambient street.

Peter and Elizabeth both turned to look where Neal was already staring. A man dressed in leather was shouting down at a young blond-haired man who couldn’t have been over twenty-five—close in age to Neal.

Neal couldn’t hear the specifics but words like ‘useless’ and ‘good-for-nothing’, mixed in with some choice swearwords, rent the air. Peter stepped forward, not quite sure what was going on just yet. But then the angry, leather-clad man stalked over to a tree growing from the square patch of grass on the sidewalk and ripped a branch down before charging back at the cringing man.

Seeing what was about to happen, Peter shouted, “Hey!”

The branch swung down in an arc and hit the man, full force. Neal winced in sympathy as the man screamed. Peter was crossing the street, yelling at the attacker now. Neal watched with a torrid fascination, standing next to Elizabeth. He hadn’t even noticed the leash dangling, loose down the front of his chest. Elizabeth came up next to him and cringed, grabbing his arm as the branch came down hard for the umpteenth time.

“Hey,” Peter bellowed. “FBI! Put the stick down!”

“Piss off!” The man growled back.

Peter pulled out his badge, conveniently tucked in his wallet. As he drew parallel with the aggressor, Peter lowered his voice and used his confident and authoritative voice. “Back away now and drop the stick.”

The man snickered and lowered the stick to his side. “This is my slave, pig,” he spat. “So piss off and mind your own business.”

Peter smiled dangerously, armed with all he needed to know as he scanned the young slave’s telltale scars on his arms, legs and face beneath the fresh lacerations from the branch.

“What you’re doing is illegal,” Peter stated, standing protectively next to the slave who kept his eyes fixed on a crack in the concrete.

The man scowled. “No, it’s my slave—”

Peter cut him off carelessly, “Oh, you haven’t heard of the slave protection act that was passed in ninety-one?”

The man looked ready to rip Peter from limb to limb. “That‘s rubbish—not able to hit what’s yours? It’s absolute rubbish! They behaved back when we could torture ‘em!”

“Oh, you don’t like that?” Peter deadpanned. “You’re not going to like this either; you’re under arrest. Your slave will be confiscated.”

The man scoffed and turned away.

“Sit! Down!” Peter ordered leaving no room for argument.


Neal had lost all feeling in his arm. Elizabeth, who was clutching his arm, was tense; breathing loud, shallow breaths as she watched as Peter single-handedly secured the scene. Peter was standing, glaring with equal venom at the abusive man who sat, shooting daggers with his eyes, a few yards in front of him.

Then Peter was on the phone, calling up for a few local LEOs to come and escort the man down to the nearest precinct where he and his slave would be processed into the system. When he started talking to the officers after they arrived, Elizabeth calmed down and loosened her grip. But she still tucked her arm into his and huddled close. They were standing as an item, watching transfixed, like all the other spectators that had paused to watch.

“That’s Peter,” Elizabeth murmured with pride as her husband handed back a notepad to an officer, presumably having written down his details.

Neal smiled softly, understanding and even sharing her sense of vindication that Peter had bested such a nasty person. That he’d rushed to the defense of a slave only confirmed what Neal already knew about Peter. That he was an honorable, caring agent that believed strongly in justice and in the system being able to deliver said justice.



“It’s illegal to hit slaves?” Neal asked, unable to help himself. He’d seen owners hit slaves in public before.

Elizabeth nodded, distracted next to him. “If there's still evidence of the damage after twenty-four hours, yes; the punishment is considered excessive. But only mongrels hit slaves at all these days.”

Well, that was new. Although, now that Peter and Elizabeth had pointed it out, Neal realized he remembered from a young age, when the world seemed to change overnight. Suddenly people were punishing slaves differently. Obviously, it hadn’t been an important enough thing to commit to his memory.

Neal took a deep breath and returned to the present as Peter crossed the road.

Peter approached Elizabeth who hugged him, smiling and moving to kiss him. “Peter!”

Peter smiled, reassuringly, not completely over the rush of the adrenaline. He held El’s arms and peered down at her. “I’m sorry, honey.”

But Elizabeth waved off his apology and instead wrapped her arm around his torso, tucking herself into him. Peter smiled affectionately at her, holding her close and took a look at his watch. He sighed. “We’re late.”

“I’m sure they’ll understand,” Elizabeth murmured, content.

Peter looked at Neal and beckoned him silently to come around his other side. Once Neal settled in on the other side of Peter they started walking, making their way to the building. Neal was fiddling with his own leash by now, waiting for that inevitable moment when Peter would take it back. Though Peter had noticed, it wasn’t until they were in front of the glass sliding doors; the entrance to the building, that Peter took it, giving Neal a shoulder pat as he went.


Inside the doors, it didn’t take long for all three to feel overwhelmed. The waiting room was full. There were people lounging on chairs, some standing and chatting at a coffee stand, people coming and going from the halls off to the side of the room.

“Um.” Elizabeth squeezed Peter’s hand. “I’m going to the reception.”

Peter nodded. “We’ll be over there.” He pointed somewhere, vaguely, over to the right, where the chairs were.

Neal took in as much of the scene as he could while he followed Peter who was edging around people, apologizing to every second person.

Peter reached a chair and dropped into it, perhaps hoping to go unnoticed. Neal took a quick look around. No other slave was sitting on a chair. Neal could either remain standing or he could kneel beside Peter. He was sure if he sat down on the chair, no-one would question it, but Peter mightn’t want to appear different to anyone else. Neal couldn’t blame him. This was one of those few times where the last thing Neal wanted to do was draw attention to himself. So he knelt, discretely, beside Peter who automatically moved his hand around Neal’s shoulder. Neal leaned into it, appreciating the security of Peter’s comforting presence. The two men watched, wide-eyed and feeling a bit daunted by the casual air the rest of the owners seemed to have. None of their slaves seemed uncomfortable either. Just neutral. Some were taking the opportunity to massage the shoulders of their owners while others simply watched the ground or kept an ear out for a command, any command.

Everywhere he looked it was all … fine. Neal frowned, looking around for answers. He did it slowly, knowing quick movements would alert Peter, and who knew who else, to his nerves. Finally, as he watched a slave follow his owner out of the room, Neal understood why he didn’t like it. The lot of them were content. Stockholmed!

What kind of center was this? Was it that good that it had created harmonious relationships between slave and master for almost every client?


Chapter Text

Elizabeth joined them; sitting on a chair on Peter’s other side. She leaned close, whispering to Peter. Neal couldn’t hear what she said but it can’t have been interesting because Peter just hummed to say he’d heard. Elizabeth had probably been told they’d have to wait for a bit.

It might have been more than fifteen minutes, but Neal had spent all the time concentrating on absorbing and analyzing everything he could about each set of slave-and-owner. He wanted to be as prepared as he could. Most of them seemed to be a contradiction of sorts. A slave, for one second, might display a familiarity as he leaned in to listen to their owner’s words but then a calm detachment would settle over them as they settle back into place in the next second. It was like they were close but not close at the same time.

Professional. That was it! At least in the public eye. Neal realized his nerves had disappeared the more he’d treated this experience like an insider study into the social dynamics between an owner and slave. It was all rather fascinating … when Neal forgot that it wasn’t an impersonal thing that was happening. This was his life. But not after tomorrow, he quickly reminded himself as his gaze settled, curiously, on a couple of newcomers who had just walked in the door.

“Mr. and Mrs. Burke?”

Neal snapped his eyes around to the reception where a young, pleasant-looking brunette with her hair clipped back up off her neck, stood smiling as she looked around the room.

Peter followed Elizabeth’s cue and stood.

Upon spotting them, the brunette half-turned and gestured towards the hall. “This way.”

Peter and Elizabeth fell into step beside the woman as she started off up the hall. Neal just trailed along off to the side, just behind Peter.

“My name is Sam,” the woman said. “I’m going to show you the facilities; just a brief tour then I’ll take you straight to Doctor Lehman who will be your case manager.”

Elizabeth introduced herself and Peter as they followed her around a corner.

“I hope we’re able to provide you with what you’re looking for,” Sam said, gently. “Right through here. This is our locker room.”

Sam guided them though a door marked ‘lockers’ on a steel plaque.

“If you ever need to attend a session with Dr. Lehman alone—that is, without your slave …” Sam gestured to Neal, who had guessed what the next words would be and was taking in the room with a mild apprehension. “… then you’re welcome to utilize one of our lockers.”

Peter and Elizabeth looked around the room. It became apparent what she meant as they took in the fact that ‘lockers’ were all in the shape of numbered doors.

“Now,” Sam spoke. “Dr. Lehman generally likes for you to bring your slave to the first session, so I’ll just show you quickly how to use the lockers.”

Peter and Elizabeth glanced at each other before looking back at Sam. Sam smiled and walked over to the nearest door. She pushed the handle down and opened the door. Inside was a small room, long enough that two people could stand, one behind the other, inside comfortably. A bench jutted out of the back wall, presumably so that slaves could sit during long-term storage.

“Once your slave is inside,” Sam was saying and Neal was wondering if she was waiting for him to go in, but neither Peter nor Elizabeth made any motion to indicate that he should, so Neal gratefully stayed back.

“… simply shut the door and pull out the key card. Once the light turns red, it’s locked. Keep your card with you at all times. If you lose it, tell reception immediately. All staff carry a universal key card in case of emergencies in which your slaves will be escorted out and returned to you at the safety zone.”

Peter and El nodded.

“Any questions?” Sam asked.

Peter and Elizabeth shook their heads although Elizabeth did wonder if now would be a good time to show her approval of their emergency service and consideration of the slaves. But, she felt a bit daunted by Sam’s energy and didn’t really want to interrupt her.

“Okay,” Sam nodded, smiling. “Then I’ll show you the emergency exits and where to find the bathrooms. After that, Dr. Lehman will be waiting for you.”



Dr. Lehman reminded Elizabeth of her geography teacher; the one who was always patient with the class and answered any questions with respect no matter how stupid they were. He had seemed to understand how each student learned best and would listen, for hours if necessary, to another who needed to time to talk. He would always observe and learn as much as he would teach. He’d had a quiet energy and no-one had been able to tell exactly how old he was.

Dr. Lehman had the same quiet energy and the sort of underestimated-ability to discern things about a person. Elizabeth felt immediately comforted; she felt a little more like their issues were nothing at all—nothing that couldn’t be solved anyway. He had her smiling within moments. Even Peter felt an immediate comfort and confidence in the doctor.

They had met in the hall outside his office. But instead of going straight into the door marked ‘Dr. Lehman’, he moved down the hall about five yards and opened another door which had no plaque at all and murmured to Peter.

“If you don’t mind, could you have your slave wait in this room? I’d like to talk to you and your wife alone.” The doctor glanced between them. “Take your time. Once, you’re ready; I’ll be in my office.”

Once Dr. Lehman had disappeared into his office, Peter and Elizabeth smiled at each other.

“I like him, Peter,” Elizabeth said, delighted but keeping her voice low.

“He’s alright,” Peter allowed. No good judging too soon.

Then Peter opened the door and, as one, the three of them peered inside. It seemed to be a gym. It had mats on the floor. Mirrors on the walls over to the left, with a bar running along it. Neal frowned, bemused. Did they teach ballet here? There were several large rubber balls at the end of the room and about five cupboards over to the right.

“Neal,” Peter spoke. Neal recognized the silent cue.

He edged into the room, slipping past the Burkes. This room was better than a locker. He wasn’t going to complain. Besides, the longer he was alone, the longer he could withstand their brainwashing. Because that had to be it. They had to be brainwashing the slaves.

Peter seemed to want to say something, probably to rattle off a number of ‘don’ts’ to Neal but he was unable to settle on any one thing, so he just gave a Neal a look which Neal returned with a slight nod, happy to placate Peter. It’s not as if he could gain anything by causing trouble.


Once the Burkes had closed the door and had presumably made their way up to the Doctor’s office, Neal turned and took in the room a second time. He walked over to the cupboards, curious to find out what was inside. But then, something made Neal stop. He turned towards the mirror and narrowed his eyes, thoughtfully. There hadn’t even been a lock on the door. He realized it was a test. Probably to see whether he was a trouble-maker or the kind of slave who had more curiosity than he should. Rifling through the cupboards or attempting to leave the room would only lose him marks, Neal guessed.

Neal looked to the ground, turning to hide his smile from the mirror, and headed back, away from the cupboards before sighing. With no way of knowing how long he’d be waiting, he lowered down onto his knees, figuring that would help prove his point and save him energy at the same time.



In the office chair, Dr. Lehman smiled and took his eyes away from the glass that served as a two-way mirror into the room next door. He looked at the Burkes who were watching as Neal looked idly around the room.

“I looked at his file,” the doctor said. “It rates him with a genius level of intelligence.”

Peter took his gaze off Neal, knowing the Dr. Lehman had a point to make.

“He’s smart,” the doctor summarized. Then he gestured though the glass. “Smart enough to know when he’s being watched.”

If anyone else had made that observation about his slave, Peter would have felt pride, even going to so far as to puff his chest out, but the doctor wasn’t interested in compliments. He seemed to merely be making observations.

“That can sometimes be a problem,” Dr. Lehman finally stated, “because they often develop an arrogance that stems from the idea that they’re smarter than their owners. It doesn’t happen often as most slaves just aren’t that intelligent.”

“His I.Q. is only a point higher than Peter’s,” Elizabeth said, moving forward in her chair as she turned her gaze to the men.

“And two lower than El’s,” Peter added.

“You’re all smart people,” Dr. Lehman noted, pleased. “Good, that gives you a better chance of handling him.”

“You think handling him will be a problem?” Peter asked, letting a sliver of his FBI persona through.

“Not for long,” Dr. Lehman assured him. “Everyone goes through an adjustment period, Mr. Burke.”

“It’s actually Agent Burke,” Peter said quickly. “So, it’s normal to have some problems?”

“Yes, it is,” The doctor answered. “Actually, from what I’ve seen so far, your slave is already better that most of the cases we get.”

“But, all you’ve seen is Neal kneeling in there,” Elizabeth pointed out.

The doctor swiveled his chair and turned on the computer screen on his desk. “I like to observe the interactions of new clients with their slaves from the moment they come in the door.”

An image of the waiting room came up on the screen.

“Your slave knelt and stayed quiet. When you initiated physical contact with him, he responded positively. The downside is, he looked to the other slaves and imitated their actions before initiating subservient behavior. You don’t want him learning from external sources at his own convenience. You want him learning from you at yours.”

Peter and Elizabeth were already impressed with the doctor’s insight and it had barely been five minutes. This was good. They subconsciously shifted forward, eager for the doctor to continue.

“We’ll address what you’re looking for in your slave but first we’ll look at something that every slave owner needs to be able to do.” The doctor turned away from the desk and took off his spectacles.
When he was sure he had the Burkes’ undivided attention the doctor spoke simply and clearly.

“Do you know how to make your slave listen to you?”

Peter wasn’t quite sure of the question. He thought there was more to what the doctor was asking. Elizabeth nodded hesitantly; after all, Neal did listen to them, right?

“Not sure?” The doctor guessed.

When neither Burke answered, Dr. Lehman put the folder that was in his lap, aside, onto the desk before leaning forward on his elbows.

“Do you get the impression he only listens to you because he has to or it’s in his best interest? Maybe he analyzes your order first or acts as if he’s in control despite accepting your words.”

Peter knew exactly what the doctor meant and he said so.

Dr. Lehman nodded and picked up the clipboard. “I guessed as much. Smart slaves usually bide their time and like to believe they’re only allowing their owners to control them. So, before we talk about what you want from your slave, I’m going to teach you how to make him listen.”

Peter and Elizabeth exchanged a glance. That sounded good.

Peter knew he hadn’t quite broken past Neal’s defenses. It would be good to be able to learn how to make Neal lower his defenses and actually listen to him and not because of any reason other than he simply wished it.



The doctor continued. “There are various ways to get them to listen. Sometimes, it’s telling them to kneel, sometimes, putting a hand on their shoulder, torso, neck or chest works. For the smarter ones, humbling them usually works best. I recommend this method for your slave; the best way to humble him is to remind him that you own every part of him, even the parts he may consider private.”

There was a silence.

“His penis, Agent Burke,” the doctor clarified, gazing at Neal who was now sitting cross-legged. “He won’t be able to deny the truth; that you own even that part of him. He can trick himself and say that he’s allowing you to touch his shoulder or chest, but he would mostly likely not ever get used to his genitals being vulnerable to you.”

Peter frowned, at a loss for words.

“I’m not suggesting you overtly take him in hand … just a simple pressure through the material of his pants will do. When we get smart ones, about seventy percent will only respond properly with that method. It comes down to what works, Agent Burke. I’d like, before we go any further, for you and Mrs. Burke to go into that room and find out how to make Neal listen to you, don’t be afraid to explore all your options.
You need to get him to that point where all his defenses are lowered and there’s not a single thought in his head; he’s just waiting for you to speak. You’ll know when you get him to that point. Some clients describe it as a surreal moment of clarity in which they feel their slave is completely open to them. There should be nothing for him, but you.”

Peter nodded, taking it all in. Elizabeth just fiddled with her hands. When the doctor just kept looking at them, expectantly, they realized he had literally meant right then.

“Now?” Peter asked.

The doctor nodded.

But Elizabeth shook her head. “I’ll leave this one to Peter.”

“It’s best if you both—” The doctor started but Elizabeth cut him off politely.

“I don’t want Neal listening to me like that.”

Peter sighed. He understood why Elizabeth didn’t like it. This was going in the opposite direction of treating Neal like family but Peter could see the appeal of knowing how to make Neal listen properly if the need ever arose. It’s not like he’d need to do it much.

“Are you going to be watching?” Peter asked uneasily.

Dr. Lehman opened his desk drawer and pulled out a small remote. He pressed the button and the glass of the two-way mirror flexed, turning white, thus; impossible to see through. “Take your time. I’ll get Mrs. Burke started on the multiple-choice form.”

“What’s that?” Peter asked as he stood.

“An easy way of finding out what you want from your slave.”


Peter paused, hand on the doorknob, in the hall. He wasn’t sure how he was supposed to do this. It shouldn’t have been a big deal. He knew every part of Neal. He’d had sex with him. But … this wouldn’t be of a sexual nature. Peter supposed it was the strangeness of it that had him worried.

He twisted the doorknob and stepped through. Neal looked at him sharply and started to rise as Peter shut the door behind him.

Neal could sense Peter’s unease. He tried to ignore it. He just needed to face whatever it was; once he did, it would be over and done with and he’d be gone the next day. But if even Peter was nervous….

Neal wanted to ask Peter what it was but something made him want to keep his mouth shut. Peter seemed to want him to stay quiet too. Peter came up close, until he was standing a yard in front of Neal.

Peter paused as if prepping himself and he took a deep slow breath. He realized he was worried he wouldn’t find that ‘place’ the Doctor had described. What if Neal could withstand it all? What if his defenses remained intact and all Peter got to show for it was the memory of a weird session of touching Neal in various places?



Trusting the Doctor’s recommendation, Peter decided to just go straight to Neal’s pants and see what would happen. Peter slipped closer until Neal was staring at Peter’s throat. There was only about half a foot between them now. Peter braced himself, stressed from delaying the inevitable and raised his hand before settling it on Neal’s torso. Then slowly, gently, he ghosted over the band of Neal’s pants and down until he could feel the presence of Neal’s penis through the material.

Neal wasn’t sure what was going on, he guessed the consultant had taught Peter some trick and Peter was testing it out. Neal just looked straight ahead, flitting his eyes from Peter’s throat to the wall in the distance past Peter’s neck.

Peter looked into Neal’s face, knowing that if this was going to work, he’d see it in Neal’s shocked and unveiled eyes. Peter decided now or never and applied pressure, not too hard, but certainly enough for Neal to be incapable of ignoring what Peter was doing. Peter hadn’t even noticed putting his other hand on Neal’s waist. He watched Neal, resolutely, not blinking. But aside from pursing his lips a little, Neal didn’t react at all.

After a minute, Peter let up on the pressure and considered the slave before him who had not only not reacted—much—but seemed completely unperturbed. Then Peter shifted his gaze, to look over Neal’s shoulder and blinked. What now?

Peter took half a step back. He was still close but now he could see all of Neal. Neal just waited. Peter decided he may as well try the doctor’s other suggestions. Should he get Neal to kneel next? But then Peter looked back at Neal … and his eyes were drawn right to his throat…

Peter brought up his right hand and placed it on Neal’s collarbone before moving up under the chin. With his thumb, he pushed Neal’s chin up before closing his palm around the side of Neal’s throat and applying the faintest of pressure to Neal’s jugular with his thumb, all within a matter of seconds. The effect was instantaneous. Neal’s eyes shot to his.

He could feel Neal’s pulse increasing in rate and Neal opened his mouth slightly, until Peter could hear his soft tenuous breathing. Peter looked into Neal’s eyes, exploring the range of emotions that were flitting around in them. Peter could see pleading, a little anxiousness, but most of all, he could see defeat. He’d finally overcome Neal’s defenses and Neal knew it.

Peter stood there for what felt like the longest time, just peering down at Neal, getting used to this new reaction from him; of complete openness and vulnerability. Peter didn’t know why it was his hand around Neal’s throat that did it. Neal knew as well as he did that he would never choke him. Peter also wondered why the collar around the neck didn’t cause the same reaction. Peter finally figured it was either because it was inanimate, or it sat too low, or because it was a very poor substitute for his hand.

Finally, Peter rubbed Neal’s neck with his thumb; a sort of small sign of approval. “You’re being so good, Neal.” Peter murmured as he stepped back. “I don’t know how much longer we’ll be. Stay here for a bit, okay?”

Neal just stood; shoulders slumped, staring down at the ground now that his throat had been released. He listened as Peter left the room and tried to shake it off mentally after the door closed, indicating that he was alone. Next time Peter decided to do that, Neal would be better prepared. Peter had just caught him unawares.

What was with the fondling beforehand though?


Chapter Text

When Peter re-entered Dr. Lehman’s office after a quick knock, El was engrossed in filling out a few sheets of paper that, from what Peter could see, had multiple boxes running down the page with various ticks. Dr. Lehman had been typing on his computer but stopped at Peter’s return.

The Doctor spoke. “Did you find the way to make him listen?”

“I think so,” Peter said as he sat down on the couch next to El. “I tried his pants straight away. He didn’t even flinch. So, then I tried his neck and he … just instantly—it was like he couldn’t stop me from coming in.”

“His neck?” Dr. Lehman repeated, obviously at least mildly bewildered. “A hold on his jugular?”

Peter nodded. “That was one of the….”

“Yes, I know,” Dr. Lehman conceded. “No, it’s fine. I find, though, that only the slaves who are quite familiar with their owner react to the choke-hold.”

Peter frowned, sharing the confusion. “I’ve only known him for a week.”

“I suppose it could also be a sign of great respect for you,” the doctor suggested.

“Why would that method reveal things like that?” Elizabeth asked, having been listening.

Dr. Lehman smiled at the fair question. “Because the choke-hold is actually a request of sorts. Agent Burke, more or less, asked the slave’s permission to dominate him. Usually only slaves who have an intense familiarity or respect—even love—for the owner will respond to it.”

“Neal doesn’t love us.” Peter grunted, matter-of-fact, ignoring the idea that he had requested anything.

“No, I agree,” Dr. Lehman said. “And, clearly he doesn’t know you. Which begs the question, why does your slave respect you, Agent Burke?”

“It doesn’t make sense,” Peter said, despite not wanting to challenge Dr. Lehman. “Why would me putting my hand around Neal’s throat be a question?”

“Well,” Dr. Lehman spoke softly. “Did you ever intend to choke him?”

“No,” Peter replied, surprised. “Of course not.”

“Trust me, when I say this: your slave knows that,” the doctor stated.

“Right,” Peter agreed.

“So,” the doctor continued. “None of the other positions or touches are threatening—not potentially life threatening.” The doctor added hastily when Peter looked like he was about to debate that. After all, if a hand was on his crotch, Peter would take that as a threat

“Okay,” Peter said in a way for the doctor to continue.

“The other positions are designed to demand or call attention,” Dr. Lehman explained. “Taking a hold on his throat is a symbolic threat—not a call for attention. Slaves who don’t respect their owner will disregard the threat because they know it is an empty one. Slaves who respect the owner will concede defeat. It’s hard to explain why, as the reasons differ from slave to slave, but those are the facts.”

The Burkes looked at each other conveying their thoughts in each others' eyes. After a minute Elizabeth broke eye contact and Peter stared at the floor, still thinking on it.

“Can you give us some hypothetical reasons?” Elizabeth asked him.

Dr. Lehman thought for a moment. There really weren’t too many examples of the neck hold working due to the slave respecting an owner.

“Sometimes a slave will respect an owner because the owner has proven superiority over him, whether intellectually or physically or otherwise. It can sometimes be because the owner has a skill set that the slave admires. Other times, the owner has the respect of a freeperson due to power, or money and slaves recognize and emulate this.” The doctor tried to think of more, but he was coming up empty.

Elizabeth nodded, grateful. “Maybe we should ask Neal.”

“He’d stay quiet, El,” Peter said.

“Agent Burke is right.” The doctor stated, swiveling in his chair to retrieve another pen. “Your slave is probably not even aware of it.”



Dr. Lehman handed the pen to Peter who took it and held it awkwardly, not quite sure what he was supposed to do with it. When Elizabeth shifted, leaning into him, and placed the clipboard, with the multiple-choice sheets, over their laps the purpose of the pen became clear. While Peter took in the sheet of paper and its purpose, the doctor pushed the button on the remote again, making the glass clear.

Neal was leaning against the wall, on the floor, legs out in front of him, thinking about something, far, far away.

Dr. Lehman kept his silence for a long time after that. The multiple choice sheet was self-explanatory. Even Peter found himself liking it for its simplicity. Down the page on the left were the categories of slaves. For example, a tick had been placed next to ‘Companion slave’ and next to ‘House slave’. Then in the remaining columns were the jobs that could be expected for those types of slaves to do. In the same row as ‘companion slave’ were the jobs: ‘sex’, ‘company’, ‘conversation’, ‘gaming’, and 'escort' etcetera. After ‘House slave’ were jobs such as ‘dishes’, ‘linen’, ‘cleaning’ etcetera. The best part was they were allowed to select jobs unrelated to those categories without selecting the category it belonged to. For example, Elizabeth ticked ‘cooking’ under the category of ‘chef slave’ which was a specialty slave category and Peter selected ‘mowing’ from the ‘yard slave’ category which the Burkes had no desire to categorize Neal as.

Obviously the papers couldn’t hold every single job possible. Dr. Lehman had told Elizabeth to think of it a prompt sheet, or cheat sheet; something to inspire ideas and to clarify the basics of what they wanted from their slave.

By the time Peter and Elizabeth had finished, satisfied with their selections, they had over twenty ticks. They hadn’t realized they were expecting so much from Neal and when Dr. Lehman asked if their slave knew how to do everything on the list; it occurred to them for the first time that they hadn’t even asked Neal what he could do.


Dr. Lehman told them to take the ‘cheat sheet' home and use the week to either direct their slave to do each job or to teach him the jobs he couldn’t do. Any problems and Dr. Lehman would arrange a class for them to attend to help them teach their slave.

Just before Peter was going to head to the door to hold it open for Elizabeth, after thanking the Doctor for the very helpful session, the doctor held them back.



“I have an exercise for you do try,” Dr. Lehman told them. “It’s designed to develop the natural submissiveness towards you by your slave and also to increase his reliance on you. At some point before your next appointment with me, put a blindfold on your slave. Leave it on for at least forty-eight hours. Being unable to see will limit the influences on your slave and his options will be limited. Being unable to see will make him more dependent on your direction. And I don’t mean for you guide him around the house; he’s been there a week, he’ll find his way around easily enough, no. I want him relying on you to tell him what to do next. If you don’t have anything for him to do, tell him he’s dismissed. Once dismissed, you will find he will most likely simply kneel or sit and wait as he would be unable to do much else. You’ll find he will be more inclined to listen to you as well. Hearing you is all he will hear while blinded. He will develop a reliance on listening to you. If you can, start it tonight. The only times you should not have him blindfolded is when you’re out in public or having him do something potentially dangerous such as cooking or mowing.”

It wasn’t a bad idea. See, it was for tricks like this that Peter had been willing to see a slave consultant in the first place. “What’s to stop him from taking the blindfold off himself?”

“You,” Dr. Lehman asserted simply. “Tell him you’ll add another day if he does.”

“What if he thinks we’re punishing him?” El asked quietly.

“Why would he think that?” Dr. Lehman asked. “You want him blindfolded. It’s that simple. He shouldn’t question it. But there’s nothing wrong with telling him that you’re teaching him to be a better slave—if you’re worried about it. Just make sure you don’t change the routine. If you intend to have sex with him tonight, don’t let the blindfold change anything.”



It had to have been hours. Neal picked at his nail for the umpteenth time. But it was as clean as it was going to get. Seriously, what were they doing in there?

Suddenly the door opened again. Peter and El stood outside. Neal stood quickly, wondering if this was when the ‘training’ would start. But Peter beckoned. They looked weary but satisfied. Elizabeth was folding a few papers and inserting them into her bag. When Neal reached the door, Peter took up the leash with a smile for Neal. Elizabeth squeezed his arm before starting off down the hall.
Neal wanted so much to ask where they were going after they passed the door to the doctor’s office.

When they reached the waiting room, confusion balled up with hope hit Neal. Could that have been it?

He didn’t let himself believe anything remotely positive until Peter and Elizabeth pushed the doors open and stepped outside. Now, Neal was even more curious. What kind of session had that been? That had been nothing like the month-long training he’d been forced to go through when the center had first acquired him. There had been no instructors shouting at him. In fact, aside from the meeting with Dr. Lehman and the tour from Sam, Neal had had no contact with any such instructors. And yet, Peter and Elizabeth were behaving as if the session had been a satisfying one.

Neal barely noticed the trip home. Before he knew it, Peter was leading him up the steps to the place he’d been forced to call home for almost a week now.

Once inside, after Neal had helped Peter out of his coat and hung up Elizabeth’s bag, he stood in the foyer watching them, waiting for that moment when one of them would take pity on him and tell him about the appointment. The frustrating thing was, Neal knew he couldn’t ask, not without portraying 'un-slave-like behavior'.

When Elizabeth headed to the kitchen in search of what they could have for dinner and Peter, to the door to let Satchmo through, Neal decided he didn’t care.
He approached the dining room where he knew he’d be heard even by Elizabeth in the kitchen. “That appointment wasn’t what I expected.”

El came out and sighed, then she looked at Peter. “We should order in, Peter.”

Peter shut the back door and nodded. “What do you feel like?”

Elizabeth didn’t answer.

“Italian?” Peter asked.

“I do like Italian,” Elizabeth replied. “But let’s try Chinese tonight?”

“Sounds good,” Peter answered neutrally.

Neal just looked between them. At the back of his mind he was happy with the idea of ordering food; it meant he wouldn’t have to cook, but he was mainly distracted. Neal considered whether or not to do a pointed ‘ahem’ but he figured that would be taking it too far. Fortunately the Burkes had heard him and had just been getting the dinner plans out of the way because Elizabeth, instead of going to the phone to order up some Chinese, came over to Neal and gave him a comforting pat.

“Neal, the appointment was mostly for us,” she said. “Though it did concern you, it’s mostly about teaching us how to be proper slave owners.”

“Although,” Peter put in. “El, the doctor did say we should start that exercise—”

“Tonight.” El nodded. “I figured we’d wait until after we’ve eaten?”

Peter saw the mercy in allowing Neal dinner first and he nodded in understanding.

Neal just blinked at the obscurity of it all. He was tempted to show his lack of understanding with some deliberate hand wave that would clearly convey an unspoken but sardonic ‘Hello!’


Chapter Text

Neal was upstairs in the bathroom, brushing his teeth with a cheap three dollar brush, trying to rid himself of his Chinese food breath when Peter appeared in the doorway, clearly waiting for Neal.

Once Neal had finished, thinking all the while that this slave relationship with the Burkes had to be unusual (because how many other owners would watch a slave finish brushing his teeth?), he dried his hands and tried not to fear the unknown when Peter took his arm and led him out of the bathroom.

Downstairs, Peter prompted him onto the couch and sat next to him. Neal looked at Peter, confusion evident on his face.

“Waiting on El,” Peter said softly. “She’s making something.”

Elizabeth wasn’t much longer. Neal watched as she came down the stairs, hoping to see what it was she had made, but apart from a strip of fabric he couldn’t see anything.

Elizabeth handed Peter the fabric. “What do you think?”

Neal observed the fabric, trying to figure out what it was as Peter spread it out. It narrowed towards the ends. El had stitched the edges. Neal guessed the fabric had been part of an old shirt or something. It was black and looked like it had been folded to double the thickness. He couldn’t work it out. But then Peter nodded.

“It looks good, El.” Peter held out the strip. “Do you want to put it on him?”

Neal’s eyes shot back to the fabric. What the heck was that thing?

And El took it, but she hesitated. “Didn’t you want to talk to him first?

Neal had never been so left out of a conversation in his life. Usually people were hanging on to his every word. It wasn’t even like he hadn’t heard every word. He just didn’t understand what they were talking about. Neal figured they were being vague on purpose.

“No,” Peter said. “After.”

Elizabeth sat down next to Neal on his other side and turned him until he was almost facing Peter. Neal resisted the urge to turn his head back. Then El murmured, a hand on his back, rubbing automatically. “Neal. We’re going to blindfold you. It’s an exercise the doctor suggested.”

Neal looked at Peter, questioningly. But Peter merely met his gaze and spoke. “For two days. If you take it off before we do, it’ll be three. Got it?”

Neal couldn’t understand the point of the exercise and he figured he’d never understand. It wasn’t like his owners would want to sit down and explain the secret of these tricks … because then it’d be too easy for Neal to foil them.

He just nodded reluctantly, keeping in mind that this was going to be cut short by his departure the next day anyway. Neal realized, though, that he was becoming increasingly dependent on that hope, to cope with whatever happened.

He was grateful that he at least knew the purpose of the fabric now. He sat still and closed his eyes as El brought the strip of fabric down over his eyes from behind and began tying it at the back.
Once Elizabeth was finished, she prompted Neal to shift until he was sitting straight on the couch again, then she checked the fold and made sure it was even and covering his eyes properly. Neal opened his eyes ignoring the pressure of the fabric. He couldn’t even see out below where sometimes there’d be a crack. El had done well. He closed his eyes again and just waited, tense, promising himself that he wouldn’t give in to the brainwashing….

“Looks good,” he heard El murmur. He felt her shift closer and tried not to startle when he felt El kiss the part of his temple that wasn’t covered.

Then she left. But Neal couldn’t tell how far she’d gone. He tilted his head, straining to hear her but she either wasn’t moving or she’d left the room.

Peter watched Neal while Elizabeth moved to the other chair and sat down knowing what Peter intended to talk to Neal about. Peter couldn’t help liking the sight of Neal in a blindfold. He was emanating a sort of vulnerability and tension. Peter suddenly felt very excited. Startled, he realized he was turned on by the idea of taking Neal to bed while blindfolded.
But for now, he needed to use Neal’s new level of attentiveness.



“Neal,” Peter began, loving it as Neal automatically turned his head to listen. “This morning, I put that leash on you because you wouldn’t tell me what I wanted to know.”

Neal gave a slight acknowledgment but stayed silent.

“I’m prepared to leave it on if you’re still not prepared to talk,” Peter told him. “And tomorrow, you can follow Elizabeth around—it’s her birthday anyway.”

Neal tried to ignore the immediate concern of being leashed into the next day and potentially unable to make a move and leave when the time came. Being blindfolded would only complicate things too but he figured when Peter got that phone call he’d hear it and the Burkes would be distracted long enough not to notice him removing the blindfold.

Peter took his silence to mean Neal wasn’t going to talk and sighed. “Fine, it stays on … Neal, the dishes need to washed.”

Neal paused in confusion.

“I’ll remove the knives,” El informed him. “It’ll be safe.”

Neal lowered his head, showing a mild gratitude for the consideration but that hadn’t been his first thought.

“How do I know if I’ve cleaned them properly?” Neal asked, hoping he looked like he’d known Elizabeth had been present all along.

They didn’t answer at first, then not wanting to give up on the exercise this soon, Peter just said the first alternative that came to mind. It wouldn’t do for Neal to realize that they hadn’t thought of this. “I’ll look them over and you can rewash the dirty ones.”

Neal would have turned his head and smirked but as he had no idea where Elizabeth was, except that she was somewhere ahead of him, he couldn’t be sure he would be able to hide it. So, Neal forced himself to maintain a poker face. This was going to be hard.


After he washed the dishes with meticulous care and passed Peter’s inspection, the Burkes informed him that he was free from any tasks for the time being. From what he could hear, as he edged into the living room, following the wall with his right hand, the Burkes were watching television; a Friday night movie that sounded action-packed.

Neal couldn’t be sure that both Burkes were watching it though and he didn’t want to seem like he cared where they were or what they were doing, though he ached to know. He hated not being certain of his environment. Not wanting to convey this uncertainty outwardly, Neal just passed the television as fast as he could and headed for the stairs listening for any protest. But, as he received none, Neal carefully felt his way up the stairs. At the top of the stairs he wondered if he could risk heading into the single room. He didn’t want to push it too far; after all, it was a guest bedroom. He would have continued up to the third floor where the larger guest room was but the last time he’d been in there, he’d been hauled out by an irate Peter. Neal decided to play it safe; getting down two sets of stairs later was calling for trouble anyway so he edged into the second room along on the left, past the master bedroom. Inside he paused, wondering if he should sit on the bed.

The problem was, Neal felt too vulnerable to sit down but there was nothing else to do. He couldn’t exactly just stand in a doorway for the rest of the night with nothing but his conflicted thoughts for company. Neal was tempted to do back down and settle on one of the armchairs in the living room where he’d be able to at least listen to a movie but he knew that would be giving in and placing himself in a place easily accessible to the Burkes.

Neal decided to edge around the house, figuring it would be useful to form a map in his mind in case he wasn’t right next to the front door when Peter’s call came the next day.

Within half-an-hour, Neal was bored again.

He rationalized to himself that it didn’t matter if he gave in to his impulses, the ones that told him to join the Burkes downstairs, not tonight; not the night before his escape. He didn’t have to worry about Stockholm syndrome anymore. He was leaving the next day.



Earlier, when Neal had edged out of the kitchen, following both the wall and the sound of the movie they were watching, the Burkes forgot all about the movie. They had watched Neal with great interest, particularly Peter who was especially interested in seeing whether the Doctor was right. When Neal had hesitated for a fraction of a second, too fast to catch unless one was looking for it, Peter smiled triumphantly. But then Neal had slipped through the living room towards the stairs and Peter had frowned. He was considering calling Neal to come sit on the ground by his legs so that he could ‘check the blindfold’—and maybe run his hands through Neal’s hair while he was at it, or just hold Neal’s shoulder while he watched the movie, but then El had caught his eye.

He knew she wanted him to let Neal go and see what happened, after all; they couldn’t be sure of the effects of the blindfold if Peter gave Neal orders. Not that he couldn’t order Neal. But Neal had barely been blindfolded for half an hour and they had forty-eight hours to do all the ordering later. So Peter had stifled his call and just watched with El as Neal cautiously ascended the stairs.

About forty-five minutes later, when Peter was debating whether or not to go find Neal, Neal came down the stairs, still blindfolded. He wondered if Neal had taken it off at all, but then he figured that Neal wouldn’t want to seem like he was bothered by the blindfold and had probably stubbornly left it alone.

Neal cocked his head on the bottom step, probably wondering where he and El were. Peter decided he could at least let Neal know where he was. “Neal?”

Neal looked straight at him. It was eerie, Peter felt like Neal could see through the blindfold but he knew it was impossible. El would have checked to make sure it wasn’t see-through. Neal had just been following his voice. When Peter said nothing more, Neal took a breath and started towards the living room.

Neal held out an arm slightly, hating how vulnerable he must look. When he hit the wall he had been looking for he moved past it to where he knew an armchair sat but then a bewildered thought struck him. What if Elizabeth was sitting there? He had no idea where she was and Neal was in no mood to call out to her. So he just stood awkwardly for a minute until Peter spoke again.

“Neal,” Peter called, taking pity on him. “Come over here.”

Neal sighed softly, knowing that obeying Peter would save him from the embarrassment and confusion but he hated the dependence he had on Peter.

Leaving tomorrow, Neal reminded himself as he started forward towards Peter.

Peter pulled Neal closer once he was within reach and Neal followed his prompts until he was sitting, his back to the couch, on the floor next to Peter’s knee. Peter patted him on the shoulder a few times before resting his palm in the crook of Neal’s neck.

Neal had to admit, now that he’d found a place to sit, had something to listen to, and knew where at least one of the Burkes were, that he felt a lot more relaxed. Eventually, as the movie became too complex for Neal too follow on hearing alone, Neal tilted his head until it rested on Peter’s knees and allowed himself to enjoy the peace. He felt as the tension gradually drained away.

Peter wasn’t sure if Neal had fallen asleep but he’d been resting his head against his knee for some time now. Peter played a bit with the ends of Neal’s hair enjoying the feeling of Neal’s dependence on him. It felt nice; that Neal had lowered his defenses enough to relax next to Peter. To be honest, Peter hadn’t really watched much of the movie; he’d spent most of his time staring down at Neal with the same thoughts swirling in his head. He’d think about how perfect Neal was, how awesome the doctor was, how much he loved that blindfold on Neal and would debate whether or not to disturb Neal and take him to bed or to just enjoy this all-too fleeting evening with his two favorite people sitting close against him.



Finally, Peter thought one too many times about how good it would be to ravish Neal while he was blindfolded, and Peter became too aroused to ignore it any longer. He nudged El. When she took her eyes off the movie and looked at him, Peter conveyed his desire silently and Elizabeth nodded, with unspoken permission. But then Elizabeth spoke softly.

“I’m going to go next door and see if Mrs. Whitney needs me to take her shopping. It’s still early.”

Peter looked at the clock. It was after ten. “El?”

Elizabeth seemed to realize it was really too late so she changed her mind. “Maybe I’ll go to the gym.”

Peter shifted, concerned now. But Elizabeth leaned over and kissed him. Then she stood. Knowing, she wanted to talk privately, Peter edged Neal’s head off his knee and back onto the couch cushion. Neal just sighed and settled in place so Peter stood and followed El out of the room.

“El,” Peter said as the kitchen door shut behind him. “Honey, what’s the matter?”

“Peter, don’t be mad or upset, okay,” Elizabeth said gently. “I’m just not interested in having sex with Neal.”

Peter frowned. “What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know,” El sighed. “It’s not right for me. I need him to enjoy it.”

Peter sighed, understanding. “Oh, well….”

But El just smiled and hugged Peter. “Tomorrow it’s my birthday. I want my way with you … alone.”

Peter smirked down at his wife. He really was too lucky. “As you wish hon.”

Elizabeth murmured as she broke away from him, “Good boy. Now go have fun.”

But Peter was still worried.

“Honey,” Elizabeth spoke, knowing what Peter was thinking. “I like Neal. We’re not replacing him. It’s not him. It’s slaves in general. They just don’t do it for me. But I saw you. You like it. You love Neal. I love it when you smile like that.”

“Do you …” Peter scratched the back of his neck awkwardly. “Do you want to watch?”

“No,” El replied flatly. “I’m going to take a drive.”

“You don’t have to leave the house.” Peter frowned.

“I want to,” El assured him. “You wouldn’t stop worrying about me otherwise. I think I really will go to the gym. I’ll be back in an hour. I’ll want the shower when I get back.”

“And you’ll get it,” Peter said, smiling, as El teasingly left the kitchen.



Neal was only half-asleep. The kind of sleep where even while dreaming, he could still hear, feel and otherwise sense things as they happened. They mightn’t register straight away but he’d be aware of enough to make decisions. Neal made the decision to ignore Elizabeth’s voice and Peter’s absence. When Peter came back after a door closed somewhere over to the left, Neal tried to ignore him too. But Peter was talking to him. Nothing recognizable but he was making it hard for Neal to pull away into the smoky haze of his wandering mind.

From somewhere he heard unintelligible mumbling while he was hefted up onto his feet. A few seconds later and he realized he was the one mumbling. Neal huffed softly as his mind became a little clearer. Somewhere within, he realized he was going to lose the battle to stay in his dream-like state. Peter’s voice became clearer and Neal shifted, taking a bit more of his weight as Peter led him over … somewhere. Neal blinked, but his eyes met resistance and there was no light. Presently, Neal remembered the blindfold and before he could stop himself, he reached up intending to remove it on impulse, but then something caught his hand. It was Peter’s grasp.
Neal turned his head to listen as Peter murmured, focusing on moving him ahead, “…exercise, remember? It’ll probably feel better. You’ll notice things you haven’t before.” Peter’s voice drifted away until it came back as Neal’s foot met an object. “… sensitive skin—watch out. Step up.”

Neal lifted his foot up over the first step as Peter hugged his shoulders for the extra support. As he concentrated on ascending each new step, one at a time, Neal let Peter’s words fall over him until at the top he noticed the meaning of Peter’s gentle murmurings. Feeling ambushed, Neal pulled away.

“I can walk!” He mumbled indignantly and he headed off the left, knowing that’s where Peter wanted him to go; into the master bedroom. Unfortunately, Neal misjudged the distance of the door from the top of the stairs and walked, unexpectedly, into the wall.

Neal backed off the wall in surprise, holding it at bay in case it tried to follow, and before he could establish in his mind what the heck had just happened Peter was encircling him in his protective hold, instantly concerned. He turned Neal and looked him over looking for any sign of a knock to the head or a cut to the face. Then Peter rubbed over his scalp and cheek, murmuring in sympathy.

Neal just stood, dazed and confused. “Ow,” he said quietly.

“Oh, Neal,” Peter replied as he kissed the part of the forehead that Neal had rubbed absently. “Just let me take you in and guide you to the bed. I won’t let you hurt yourself.”

“I don’t know,” Neal said, tiredly, resisting Peter’s gentle pull. “I don’t want to, Peter. Please, I—I can’t see.”

Peter frowned. Why did Neal sound so tired?

“Neal,” Peter said, wanting to put Neal’s fears at rest. “Come on, I’ll take care of you. I’ll show you how to relax, not seeing anything will only help.”

At Peter’s insistence, Neal let go and allowed Peter to pull him—presumably—towards the master bed in the master bedroom. It was just once more. Only once more would he have to endure it. And he was tired enough that he probably wouldn’t notice much anyway.

Peter looked at Neal fondly. He loved Neal for listening to him, even if he’d first put up a token resistance. He thought about Neal’s easy-going—albeit conflicted—acceptance of Peter’s and Elizabeth’s ownership. About how talented Neal was with making coffee, how well-behaved he was in public, about the last two times Peter had had sex with Neal; Neal had just given Peter the reins, allowed him to penetrate with little drama. He was useful, Peter decided, to say the least. And now, more than ever, Peter wanted Neal to know this; to know that he appreciated Neal for the incredibly beautiful slave he made; all those useful parts of him that made up who he was.  He was a man who so perfectly fit into their house, and their love.

“Neal,” Peter spoke proudly. “You’re so goddamn perfect. You know that, right?”


Chapter Text

Neal sighed as Peter helped him slide onto the bed. Peter just knelt next him and rubbed his back, seemingly not wanting to relinquish his physical contact.

“Neal?” Peter prompted. “You’re beautiful, smart, and useful … perfect!”

Neal felt Peter shifting, and the bed moving beneath him. Neal was leaning on a hand for support, half twisted away from Peter, and his legs folding sideways as he leaned on his left hip and thighs. He tried to concentrate on feeling Peter behind him. He wanted to know what Peter was doing but the agent wasn’t settling or moving with purpose. He seemed to be getting comfortable, perhaps. Neal longed to take the blindfold off; at least then, he’d know when to brace himself. He turned, shifting his weight onto his butt and off his palm. He looked towards Peter in a vain attempt to read Peter’s actions. Foiled, Neal lifted his right hand intending to find Peter’s location and position. But Peter caught his hand and interlaced his fingers with his own.

“Lie down, Neal,” Peter murmured as he leaned forward so that his chin was hovering over Neal’s shoulder. “Relax.”

Peter wanted Neal to stop anxiously trying to ‘see’ his surroundings. If Neal would just lie back, Peter could help Neal enjoy his other senses. He was curious for the first time about more than just straightforward sex. Peter figured that was another thing Neal was good for; a never ending source of experimentation, of fun, of inspiration. Because Peter felt inspired.

Peter guided Neal’s head to a pillow. When Neal had stopped shifting, Peter pushed Neal’s folded legs, straightening the knees out until his legs were lying straight down the middle of the bed. Then Peter straddled Neal, still clothed. Peter moved some of Neal’s hair out of his face, lacing his fingers through his hair, parting the strands before moving his fingers down to where Neal’s shirt was covering him up.

Neal had flinched in surprise as Peter had rifled his hair, then again as Peter started on his shirt, pulling it up from his torso, baring his warm skin, exposing his nipples.
Neal lifted his head as Peter pulled the shirt over it before sliding it down off his arms. Then Neal’s skin jumped at the unexpected contact from Peter’s warm hands down the side of his torso. Neal wanted to see, to know what to expect; to stop reacting so much to each of Peter’s caresses. Peter trailed his fingers up over his belly and around his naval, while bringing the other hand up onto his side and rubbing the ridges of Neal’s ribs.

Neal reached out and found Peter’s thighs on either side of his hips. He found as he held them lightly that he could sense a little more and coupled with Peter’s shifts over his abdomen, it gave him enough of an idea of what Peter was about to do. As Peter leaned forward Neal braced for Peter’s hands to come up to his chest. When Peter shifted back, placing more weight on Neal’s thighs, Neal knew Peter would trail his hands down to his hips.

Peter was tickling him. Not to the point of laughter, but just enjoying causing Neal to break out in rashes of goose-bumps. When he leaned forward and Neal took Peter’s lowered torso in hand he was expecting Peter to play more with his ribs or even trace his collarbone again. But instead, he went further and now, Peter was kissing him. He started in the crook of Neal’s neck and traced his way down, bracing himself on Neal’s torso. Surprised, Neal moved his hand to Peter’s chest, perhaps in a blind attempt to make Peter back off and to ground himself. Peter was being way too caring. Way too gentle.

Neal scrunched his eyes, knowing the differences between this and the last session of sex was different for a reason. He recalled Peter’s words that he was so “useful” and “beautiful”. Neal let out a barely stifled groan as he realized Peter had meant it. He hadn’t just been getting in the mood; he had been reinforcing his attachment to Neal.



Peter shifted away, pulling his hands off Neal. It wasn’t until Peter moved up off the bed that Neal raised his head, once again automatically searching with his eyes, despite the blindfold. But then Peter murmured. Nothing with words. Just to let Neal know he was still around. Neal rolled onto his side and tucked his hand beneath his cheek, trying to listen for sounds. When he caught the sound of a zipper, Neal stopped trying to listen and dropped back heavily into the folds of the pillow.

Then Peter was back on the bed. Neal ignored Peter as he trailed a gentle hand over his back down from his neck to the band of his pants. Then after shifting—presumably onto his knees to get more leverage, Peter slipped his fingers beneath the band and in a few quick, smooth moves, slid the pants off.

Neal tucked his knees up and brought up his other arm, pinning it under his head and trying to ignore the slight breeze coming from somewhere.

“Cold?” Peter murmured. Neal didn’t respond. Peter shifted off the bed and Neal heard the sound of a window slamming shut before the door followed it.

Neal’s shivering subsided but he tensed as Peter returned. But Peter didn’t position him on his back or on his knees. He didn’t try to shift Neal at all. He just snuggled in with Neal and ran his hands everywhere, just flowing from hips to thighs, or from shoulder to back to front. Neal felt the occasional bump of Peter’s knees against his and their cocks met and rubbed a few times. Eventually, Peter lifted Neal’s arm and put it aside, murmuring right in front of his face as he traced the lines of Neal’s cheekbones, chin and hairline.

Then Neal felt Peter shimmy down. He lifted his head, apprehensive. And yelped, moving back as Peter made contact with his nipple—not with fingers. Peter traced Neal’s outline ignoring Neal’s attempt to trace Peter’s movements with his own hands. When Neal settled with a hand on Peter’s chest and the other on his arm, Peter just felt spurred on and moved forward. But as Neal kept his hands squarely in Peter’s way, Peter just shifted down even further and took Neal’s cock in hand, tickling the head. Neal shifted away from that too. Neal could almost feel Peter’s smile as Neal bent on himself in an attempt to keep a handle on Peter’s errant arms. Then Peter settled, presumably watching Neal with amusement. Neal fell upwards, stretching back out, his head hitting the pillow. He let go of Peter with his right hand and rolled onto his back. His left hand informed him that for the moment, Peter wasn’t following. In that position, Neal took a break and focused on easing his heavy breathing.
Changing tack, Peter took a hold on Neal’s hand. Neal pulled away assuming Peter was telling him to take his hand back but Peter held fast. Neal just turned his head trying to see what was going on, again. He decided he’d burn this wretched blindfold first chance he got the next day.

Peter shifted his grip onto Neal’s wrist. “Open your hand, Neal.”

Neal reluctantly uncurled his fingers. Peter shifted, making the bed move again, and then Neal could feel him applying something cold and wet into the palm of his hand. Neal frowned beneath the blindfold. He felt as Peter sat up and moved closer to Neal before seizing his other hand. “Neal,” Peter murmured.

Neal felt Peter bring his palms together and he wrinkled his nose as he felt the stuff Peter had applied spread outwards, covering his palms and fingers. Then, he was rubbing, as though lathering soap, at Peter’s silent guidance.
Neal guessed what it was. His only question was who it was for.



When Peter was satisfied he shifted on the bed again and Neal waited, awkwardly, holding his hands out above his torso. Then Peter seized his arms and pulled, making Neal roll over onto his side. He let Peter guide his hands apart and down. Then, Peter had led him to his target; Peter’s cock. Peter gently moved Neal’s hands until Neal had the idea and was rubbing, coating Peter’s shaft with the lube, from the base to the end. Neal just averted his mind and allowed his automaton movements to take it away. He ignored Peter’s encouraging words and noises and he deliberately didn’t react to the kiss to the forehead. Neal was idly thinking about how to crack a Coswald-one-thousand safe when Peter brought him back to reality and pulled himself out of Neal’s grasp.

Peter rolled him over onto his back, rolling with him, staying in close proximity with only a knee and his hands keeping his weight from crushing Neal. He thrust against Neal lazily, enjoying the casual rubbing of both their cocks.

Neal was clearly disinterested. Peter could see that. He backed down the bed, trailing his hands as he went. He knew he was good at this; El liked it when Peter was this hands-on. And Peter enjoyed it; it was natural for him to want to touch, he liked touch and he wanted to teach Neal to like it too. He took up Neal’s cock and caressed it gently, but then Neal shifted, squirming, pulling at Peter’s hip with the tips of his fingers, trying to reach him, to read Peter’s posture, maybe to plead with Peter. Neal raised his knees, shifting his legs out from under Peter effectively cutting Peter off from access to his cock. Peter paused for a moment but decided to let it go.
He’d talk to the doctor about finding ways to relax Neal during sex, maybe get him to enjoy it. Maybe then, El would be more interested. Peter knew El was picky. She’d told him how in the past she’d broken up with boyfriends who hadn’t valued sex the same way she had. She needed to get a lot out of it. That’s why she and Peter thrived with each other, he was happy to give her what she wanted.

Peter looked back at Neal. Neal wasn’t quite at the stage where he could tell him to like it. He knew Neal was still hung up on himself; his past. But they’d get there—especially if the Doctor could give them more advice like they’d received tonight.

Peter had shifted up and was idly tracing swirls on Neal’s knee, humming with reassurance. But he wasn’t easily deterred. Besides, Neal wasn’t trying to deter him, just trying to change the play. Peter didn’t mind, he was in the right mood for it; he was languid and flexible. He shifted up, checking himself. He spread Neal’s knees and leaned forward, arching over him to kiss Neal in the forehead, above the blindfold. He thrust down the underside of Neal’s cock, past his balls and down into the folds of the blanket beneath Neal. Neal flinched at the feel of the lube that rubbed on him from Peter’s cock. Then Peter sat up on his knees. He looked Neal over.

Neal was breathing through his mouth, tense and expectant. Someday, Peter would find out what Neal’s warm, moist, gentle mouth would feel around his sensitive erect cock. But not until Peter knew how better to direct Neal; how to correctly guide him, prompt him or cue him without losing the mood. There had to be tricks for that. But, not tonight.



Lazily, Peter found Neal’s hole without looking, and he just shifted forward but he needed to line up better. Peter leaned forward again, forcing Neal’s thighs back and tucked his forehead into the crook of Neal’s shoulder, shutting his eyes. Then he was in, in a few smooth, lubed thrusts. He paused for a minute to see if Neal would try to wriggle away or shift Peter off him but aside from holding Peter’s torso and tensing from the initial thrust itself, Neal made no such attempt.

Not surprising; he hadn’t put up much resistance the last two times either. The second time, Neal had even resigned himself to it, much like he was now. Peter thrust slowly and turned his head to nibble at Neal’s ear thinking idly about all the great things the doctor was sure to be able teach them. Then Peter shifted back up, still inside Neal and started drawing patterns over Neal’s chest, around his nipples, over his collarbone, all the while moving his hips lazily.

Able to relax—as best as one could in such a situation—and not have to worry about bracing himself, Neal just ignored Peter and thought about nothing at all. Until he realized something he really should shoot himself for not noticing before.

He mumbled at first. And finding it cute, Peter kissed him. Neal turned his head, his lips closing and tried again. “Peter—where’s Elizabeth?” Not that Neal wanted her there. He was just curious and it wasn’t like he was worried about preserving the mood.

The thrusts stopped. Somewhere above him, Peter sighed. “She went out.”

Neal frowned. But he didn’t question Peter.

“Had something important,” Peter told Neal, not wanting the slave to think he was free of any obligation to have sex with El. It was none of his business but Neal’s simple question had made Peter miss her.
He hadn’t had any personal time with her all week. And sex with her really was perfect—even better than his wild imaginings with Neal. He thrusted absently a few more times but it was gone; his desire. It had been replaced with worry.

It didn’t make sense. El was the one who’d wanted Neal. Which had struck Peter as odd at the time because, like he’d thought earlier; El was picky about who she took to bed. But she should be able to have sex with Neal. Neal was a slave, and slaves were supposed to be molded to be what owners wanted. And El knew that. She depended on that. And she’d successfully had sex with Neal too, Peter recalled. He pulled out of Neal; patting Neal’s knee as he went and fell back over to where could sit on the edge of the bed. Elizabeth had said the sex had been good but then she’d told him Neal had gotten angry with her. That had clearly put her off—had confused her.

Peter looked over at Neal. Neal clearly wasn’t an angry bedmate with him. Reluctant and disinterested, but not angry. So what was it then?

Peter stood and went around the bed to where Neal was lying, tense, clutching the bed, in the dark about what was happening. Peter hadn’t even come and judging by his flagging erection, it probably wouldn’t happen. Peter could take care of the rest in the shower if it didn’t go completely. He sighed as he nudged Neal’s shoulder. “Neal,” Peter murmured. “Come on.”

Neal rolled over, following Peter’s guiding hold. Once he was standing, Neal stared down, bracing himself on the bedside drawers and waited. Peter took Neal’s arm, pulling him past the furniture, wary of not letting Neal stub his toe, and out of the bedroom towards the bathroom. Peter placed the furry bathroom mat up on the toilet seat cover and pushed Neal down onto it. Startled, Neal’s arms flew out looking for purchase on a basin, or wall, or anything. His hands found the toilet paper dispenser and the side of the counter. Then something rough but warm was thrown over his back. Neal pulled what he realized was a towel over his shoulders and around his front.



Peter patted his shoulder, then after pressing down momentarily and telling Neal to wait, he moved away, but then Neal felt the tugs on his neck as Peter tied the leash onto the towel-rack railing for good measure. Then the sounds of water began running. Evidently, Peter was going to have a shower. Neal just huddled into himself wondering why Peter wanted him in the room while he showered. Not that he could see anything anyway.

After ten minutes of listening to various sounds of Peter squeezing bottles, clicking lids, banging his elbow on the wall, (cursing) and occasionally muttering to himself, Neal finally heard Peter open the shower door and step out.

“Come on, Neal,” Peter called after wrapping a towel around his waist and briefly shaking his hair free of the excess water. Neal looked upwards, questioningly.
For gods’ sakes, he couldn’t even tell if the bathroom light was on or not. Peter came over and untied the leash. He half pulled it, and half prompted Neal up with a hold on his upper arm. The towel was pulled away from him and Neal was prodded forward with a gentle warning to step over the guard-rail that bordered the shower. Neal averted his head as he hit the still running water but then as the water warmed his bones, Neal embraced it. He almost put his head under but Peter, who was clearly still there, stopped him.

“Don’t get the blindfold wet—it won’t dry properly.”

Neal gave a nod of assent and felt around for the soap. Peter fed it into his hands and so Neal wondered if Peter was going to hang around and watch him for the whole shower.

“I won’t bump into anything,” Neal promised.

Peter hummed. “No, I know.” He wondered whether he should get the sponge and help Neal clean himself off but there’d been no real mess this time and he wanted Neal to be in a receptive and tranquil mood; he doubted Neal would appreciate his help. So he slid the shower door shut.

“I’m going to go get dressed, Neal.” Peter told him. “Come in to the bedroom for fresh pajamas. I want to talk to you afterwards.”

Figures, Neal thought, as he listened to Peter leave, shutting the bathroom door behind him. Of course Peter wanted something from him. But Neal did have to admit, Peter had surprised him with his care. It was kind of nice.

Ah. There it was. Neal scowled. Peter had actually managed to make Neal think he’d been ‘nice’.

That was probably another of the doctor’s tricks. Neal couldn’t understand why the doctor would be so subtle about it. But then Neal thought of all the slaves he’d seen in the waiting room, all as happy as each other to be there, to be serving their owners indefinitely....


Chapter Text

Neal held the leash out, away from his skin. It was cold with damp and Peter had only handed him a pair of slacks so far.

“Neal, arms up,” Peter said as he drew near. Neal could hear his footsteps.

“Neal,” Peter repeated. Neal raised his arms, confused. Half way up, Peter put something over them. Neal realized what as Peter pulled down.

“Peter,” Neal almost whined. He managed to lower his tone to a soft, factual one. “I can dress myself.”

“I know,” Peter replied, before pulling the hole down over Neal’s head. Peter was careful not to push the blindfold out of place. Neal was forced to drop the leash before pushing his arms the rest of the way through the sleeves.

After Peter had smoothed the fabric down over his torso and pulled the leash out (making Neal wince as its cold wetness slid over his chest), Peter took Neal’s hand. They made their way over to the bed and sat down. Then Peter placed Neal’s hand down on his knee and cupped it with a firm hand.

“Neal,” Peter began. “I need you to tell me about the sex with Elizabeth. What happened? Don’t leave anything out.”

Neal’s cheeks burned. And he forgot all about his hand being stuck on Peter’s knee.
As with all the ‘sessions’ with the Burkes, Neal had practiced the ‘out of mind, didn’t happen’ technique on the ‘session’ with Elizabeth.

“Neal?” Peter questioned beneath his breath disapprovingly, recognizing that Neal wasn’t going to make it easy.

Neal hesitated, wanting to skip over this part. But aside from telling Peter what he suspected Peter really wanted to know—why he had snapped at Elizabeth—Neal couldn’t see any other way forward. He just had to make it quick, like ripping off a Band-Aid.

“We came back from shopping,” Neal started, emotionless. “I ran Elizabeth a bath, after which she took me into the—here. Um, she … she prepped me and then….” Neal nodded. “Afterwards, I was rude. Told her she should have used a condom.”

Peter sighed, releasing Neal’s hand. Neal took it back, hesitantly but with relief. Then Peter took up the leash and wound it around his fist a few times. He pulled out his mental shovel; he was going to have to dig.

Peter opened his mouth but he must have tensed or shifted or something, because Neal seemed to sense what was coming.

“Peter,” Neal spoke with a hint of weary desperation. He counted not being able to direct his big, wide, apologetic eyes on Peter as a disadvantage. He tried to lace it all in his tone instead. “It had nothing to do with the sex itself. I promise you, it won’t happen again.”

“It can’t,” Peter said firmly. “If you have issues, you come to me. El worries too much. If you put her off like that.…”

“I understand,” Neal said quietly.

“Good,” Peter said firmly. “So tell me what it is. Now.”

Neal drooped in posture, reluctance radiating from every pore.

“Neal.” Peter said in a way that conveyed in no uncertain terms that Peter would only wait so long before he—

“It’s not …” Neal started. Neal was grateful for the first time that he was blindfolded. Talking about this was hard enough. At least he couldn’t see Peter. He could pretend he was alone. “It’s not anything to do with Elizabeth, not really.”

“But?” Peter nudged, impatiently.

Neal realized that he'd just have to say it. 

“She reminds me of …” Neal struggled at this point not to shut down completely. “… of my girlfriend.”



Peter blinked in surprise. Whatever he thought Neal’s issue would be, a girlfriend had never occurred to him. The idea that a slave would have a girlfriend, that was—well, not laughable, not exactly (maybe a little), but … highly unlikely. But then Peter reminded himself that, until recently, Neal had been free—just like him actually. Peter mused for a minute at the oddness of that thought. The thought that Neal was once—like Peter—able to buy things, make his own choices, possibly own a slave himself, drive a car, have a job, study, and earn money. It was strangely exhilarating, those thoughts; that Neal could have been this whole other person with confidence, smarts, traits, personality quirks and … and girlfriends.

“Peter?” Neal prodded carefully; unaware of the bemused look of wonder that was adorning Peter’s features.

“A girlfriend?” Peter echoed. “Would that be the same person you were hacking into my computer to find?”

Neal almost turned his chin. He had been unprepared for that question but he managed to maintain what he hoped was a neutral expression. It didn’t matter because Peter seemed to take that as a sign that he was right.

Peter chewed his lip as he pulled at a fraying spot on the leash. “Not ex-girlfriend?”

Neal stifled another sigh. But what the hell … what did it matter if Peter knew? Neal was leaving. He was leaving, damn it. He would not fail.

“No,” Neal confessed, heavily. “I was enslaved and she disappeared; we never broke up.”

Neal tried to hear something, no matter how small that might tell him what Peter was thinking. But he could only hear silence.

Finally Peter took a breath. “That doesn’t give you any—”

“I know,” Neal breathed.

Peter mercifully didn’t insist on driving home the rest of the message. He accepted it. “You’re going to apologize to El.”

Neal nodded, prepared to agree if it meant they could move on from this subject. In case Peter wasn’t looking at him, Neal voiced his agreement softly. “Okay.”

There was another silence as Peter considered whether that was it; whether he should worry anymore, whether Neal truly understood that his past should have no bearing on his behavior.

Neal waited with bated breath, hoping the questioning would end with that simple word. Then Peter broke the silence, moving a little beside him.

“Tell me about her.”

Peter wanted to know who this woman was that could cause a beauty like Neal to remain so hung up on her and he was curious as to how Neal would describe her. He was surprised by Neal’s answer.


Peter knew his eyes had widened. Neal had just finished assuring him that his behavior wouldn’t be affected by his past again.


Neal squirmed slightly. “Peter,” he tried, hating that he couldn’t lie. “You don’t want to hear about her.”

“I believe I do,” Peter stated. Neal winced as he heard the pointed warning in Peter’s tone.

Neal didn’t want to sit there and tell Peter anything about Kate, but what could he do? This wasn’t like with Diana; it wasn’t his choice. Peter was demanding.

Neal sat there, wondering how he’d be punished if he didn’t talk. Then Peter dropped the leash, moved off the bed and walked across the room. Neal tried to work out what Peter was doing. He wondered if Peter had lost patience already. Was Peter going to lock him up again? What more could he do? He was already blinded and leashed. And hitting was frowned upon.

Then Neal heard Peter coming back and he stiffened, tense and waiting. When Peter stopped next to him, Neal concentrated every fiber of his being on being prepared for anything. He felt much like he’d felt when Peter had been mad at him for supposedly having drugged El.



Then Peter placed something in his hand gently, before patting Neal’s back and coming around to sit down again.

“She’s beautiful,” Peter admitted, softly, the anger gone from his voice. “If she reminds you of El … I can imagine her with dark brunette hair and blue eyes?”

Neal fingered the soap figurine in his palm and couldn’t help the tears as they welled up. Somewhere amidst his shock, he was doubly grateful for the blindfold but hated it at the same time. He couldn’t see it. He couldn’t see her face. But he could feel it. And he rubbed his fingers over every line he had etched into the soap, making it look more and more like his true love.

Then the aching to see her again overwhelmed him. Without thinking on it, Neal reached up and pulled the blindfold off. Then, blinking in the artificial light, Neal struggled to get his shocked, worn eyes to settle on the figurine.

“Yeah,” he finally whispered after he’d taken in every line again; the shape of her head, framed by the hair flowing down over her shoulders, the bemused happy smile she had when she couldn’t quite work out if Neal was serious or not, her jaw line, her familiar, unique chin, the eyes that seemed to be able to see through him.

Neal took his nail over a few parts where the soap had worn down, having rounding the edges, making her features less stark. With a few careful scrapes, it looked brand new again.

Then Neal felt an arm settle over his shoulders. Peter took the still-tied blindfold out of his scrunched hand and tossed it onto the bedside drawers, then sighed next to Neal. “Tired?”

Neal nodded, refusing to take his eyes off Kate.

“El will be home soon,” Peter said, vaguely. “Might go put Satchmo out for a minute.”

Neal was actually kind of surprised; Peter had left him at that point. Being an FBI agent, Neal figured Peter would automatically make a good interrogator—that that was why he’d brought out the figurine; to make Neal talk. But he hadn’t asked anything more. Neal shook his head slightly and, alone in the room, he spoke to Kate.

“I can’t figure him out,” Neal admitted.

Neal just stared at her, letting his thoughts drift, sometimes remembering a moment with her, and other times reminding himself strongly that he would find her again. When he heard the footsteps on the stairs, Neal spoke again to the soap figurine. “I miss you.”

Peter didn’t try to take the soap figurine off Neal. He just prompted him into bed and let Neal hold it protectively to his chest. Neal’s last thought, before drifting off to sleep was that the former cake of soap had to be the strangest ever ‘comfort blanket’.

Peter’s last thought before drifting off was that the soap figurine, the woman—Neal’s girlfriend—looked familiar.


Chapter Text

“Honey?” Elizabeth’s soft voice penetrated Peter’s fuzzy mind. He mumbled and rubbed his forehead, before rolling over.

“Peter?” El persisted. “Come on, honey.”

Then Peter’s eyes shot open and he rolled back towards her. “El? It’s your birthday!”

El cooed for a second, and ran affectionate fingers though Peter’s disarrayed hair. “Honey, I know. I have to go into work.”

“Mpph?” Peter tried to sit up, frowning. “No, why? El—it’s your birthday. There’s cooked to be bacon.”

“I—Peter.” Elizabeth smiled, struggling not to patronize her husband, but he was being adorable. “It’s only for an hour. Go back to sleep. When I get back, we can have breakfast.”

“Neal!” Peter demanded, flinging his arm out to the side. There was a muffled protest as Peter accidentally landed his arm on Neal’s ear. Peter moved his hand down and shook Neal’s shoulder impatiently.

“You can’t go in to work on your birthday,” a sleepy voice cited obediently.

Peter looked back at Elizabeth and took a hold on her hand, while making eager eyes, and gesturing towards Neal’s still covered form. “See.”

Elizabeth smiled, patting Peter’s hand as she withdrew hers from his grasp. “Just for an hour. I promise. Look at it this way; it’ll give you enough time to wake up and give me a proper birthday breakfast to come back to.”

Peter scowled. He knew when he was being played. And he knew she was going to win. “Any requests?”

“Hmm,” El hummed, thinking for a moment. She wasn’t one to waste an opportunity. “Surprise me?”

“Ah,” Peter replied, not entirely sure if the request was a good one. But he’d do his best.

Elizabeth bent over and kissed each man goodbye on the forehead, having already showered and dressed. “Don’t forget to walk Satchmo.”

After they heard the downstairs front door shut indicating Elizabeth’s departure, Peter knew they should get up but he was still sleepy. Peter looked at the bedside clock and found out why.

“Six-thirty,” Peter mumbled, shoving his face back into the pillow. “Crazy woman.”

Neal on the other hand was awake. And once he was awake, it didn’t matter what time it was; he was awake. But he was content to lie there in bed for a little longer just staring at the soap figurine that Elizabeth had placed on top of her bedside drawers before slipping in and falling asleep with her head on Neal’s chest the night before. Neal hadn’t wanted to part with it but Elizabeth had rationalized that it would be safer kept out of the bed.

Neal smiled at the figurine. Today was the day.

Neal pushed aside the bed covers and slid out, feet first. Even the sight of the tracker didn’t diminish his good mood; it just reminded him that he’d be cutting it sometime today. His smile became wider.

Peter mumbled something unintelligible as Neal left the room. Neal chose to ignore it. Peter was always talking in his sleep anyway.

God, the house was so much better now that he could see. Granted he’d only been blindfolded for one evening but it had been long enough.

Neal guessed they would have tried putting it back on him the next day if he’d been staying around. Good thing he wasn't.

When Elizabeth had come in the previous night and had seen Neal’s unhampered eyes, she’d made a soft noise like she was surprised. Then Peter had shrugged and she’d left it alone but not before bending down to plant a kiss on each of Neal’s eyes which he’d hurriedly shut. Neal had been floating somewhere between awake and asleep at the time, so it hadn’t bothered him that much.

After visiting the bathroom, he wandered downstairs, giving Satchmo a cheerful greeting. The dog cocked his head at him and when it occurred to Neal that the Burkes would also be cocking their heads at his sunny demeanor, he realized he’d need to tone it down.



He headed to the back door, opening it wide, but the dog merely gazed back at him, sitting on his haunches, unimpressed. Neal shrugged at him. “I can’t take you walking myself. This is the best you’ll get until Peter gets up.”

At the mention of the alpha male's name, the dog stood up and headed for the stairs. Neal smiled as he watched Satchmo go. “Smart dog.”

Elizabeth had often asked Satchmo “Where’s Peter?” so the dog was used to the game. He always found Peter. Always.

Neal smirked at the thought of Satchmo bounding in on Peter as he headed for the kitchen and looked around.

Okay. He marked off in his head the breakfast foods he could make, based on what he knew they had.
Eggs, bacon, toast … French toast, cinnamon toast, tomatoes, cereal, toasted cheese melts … pancakes! Or was it hotcakes? Neal opened up a few cupboards and the fridge. Waffles, check. He could probably make scones from that stuff. No muffins. Oatmeal, no sausages. Not many fruits. And vegetables weren’t ideal. Ooh, potatoes; he could probably make hash browns. Porridge, yogurt, mushrooms. No crumpets.
Neal paused at this point; he was obviously very influenced by Europe. Scratch the scones.
Wait? Tomatoes and mushrooms? Did Peter and Elizabeth even enjoy those for breakfast? Probably not. Scratch those too.

Finally, Neal figured he’d thought on it long enough. What should he go with?
Maybe just all of the above? He was in the mood for it. And Peter could probably go down the road for pastries.


When a fully-dressed Peter entered the kitchen, he looked Neal over and smiled, forgetting his annoyance at having been chased out of bed by a licking Satchmo. Neal had melted cheese on his nose, gravy on his temple, pancake batter all over his elbows and flour everywhere else. Neal glanced at Peter and spoke quickly. “I forgot about omelets.”

Peter looked around. There was food everywhere; in the oven, in the microwave, on the stove and all over the counters. He normally might have said something at this point, but Peter didn’t know where to begin. Finally he nodded. “I think El will be surprised.”

“Satchmo needs his walk,” Neal reminded him. “There’s a pastry shop down the road, isn’t there?”

Peter nodded. “Yeah, but I don’t think we need….” But at the innocently earnest look on Neal’s face Peter just trailed off. “I’ll be twenty minutes.”

“Mainly bagels,” Neal suggested. “And muffins, maybe?”

“Sure.” Peter nodded.

Neal really was perfect for them, Peter thought as he struggled to attach the leash to an over-excited Satchmo, in the living room. Neal made everything more exciting. Even breakfast.


Half an hour later, Peter returned and after taking the leash off a huffing Satchmo who’d dropped onto his flank just inside the door, Peter took the two paper bags into the dining room where a striking breakfast spread had been set up on the table. In the center of the table were two jugs, one containing juice and the other, water. And Peter could smell the unmistakable, delicious aroma of coffee. Neal had thought of everything. There had to be over twenty different types of food. Peter shook his head. It was overkill, really. But he kind of liked it … that Neal was spoiling them—El—like this. It was nice and it made Peter think that Neal was really beginning to settle into his role here.



Then Neal emerged from the kitchen, stopping at the sight of Peter, with a wide-eyed look on his face, like he hadn’t heard Peter come back. Neal had a plate of plain toast in his left hand and a jar of jelly in the other.

And it hit Peter. Something—a sense of déjà-vu—hit him right then. He looked at Neal’s face. It was the exact same expression Peter had what—dreamed last night? Peter stared, trying to remember the dream he’d forgotten since waking up.

“Peter?” Neal murmured; his voice distant to Peter’s ears. “Did you get the bagels? I’ll butter them and we can put them next to the toast.”

Then it was gone—that familiarity. Peter couldn’t even remember what had triggered the dream anymore. But it still niggled at him.

“Um,” Peter spoke, trying to clear his mind of the distractions. “Yeah. And mufsh—muffins. I wasn’t sure what ones I should get so I got plain and blueberry.”

“Perfect,” Neal said. He headed to the table to place the toast down near the center of the table.

“Perfect?” Peter mumbled under his breath. Peter handed the bags to Neal and said something about going to the bathroom.

Up in the bathroom, Peter stared down into the mirror, not paying any attention to the reflection. The word echoed in his mind. “Perfect,” he said aloud again. “Neal is perfect.”

“Neal is perfect,” he said a few more times. Then it flashed in his mind. Where the words had come from; in his dream, he’d said it repeatedly. ‘Neal is perfect’. And the words had always been followed by that expression: the one from Neal’s face, downstairs; the wide-eyed look. The one that made Peter think there was something hidden in Neal’s eyes. Like he wasn’t seeing everything and then other images had flashed, but always with Neal’s expression in the backdrop. Hagan’s name had blurred past his eyes. ‘Neal is perfect’, would echo again. Diana’s voice had thundered sharply in his ears. 'He knew about Hagan.' And then something white and small and shaped. And familiar. Neal is perfect….

Peter left the bathroom and entered his room. And there it was; the white object from his dream that had spiraled through, like a key dancing out of his reach.

The figurine.

Peter knew he was missing something. And he knew the answer was right in front of his eyes. He’d seen that woman before. He was sure of it. Too bad it was made of soap. Not detailed enough and with no colors; the woman could have been any Jen, Beck or Sally….

Peter was now convinced that his subconscious was trying to tell him something.



“Nothing is perfect,” Peter told himself, just before he headed downstairs. He approached the dining room where Neal was now setting out two sets of cutlery.

“Set yourself a place Neal,” Peter said simply, leaving no room for argument.

Neal dipped his chin, saying nothing. He had been planning to keep out of the way, and pick at what was left once Peter and El were done. But he wasn’t going to bother arguing with Peter either. The effort wasn’t worth the trouble. He was more comfortable eating with them now than when he’d first come to them, anyway.

When Neal emerged from the kitchen with the third set, Peter went into the living room and sat down. And when Neal had finished laying the cutlery on the table and had given the spread a general sweep of his eyes, Peter waved. “Neal.”

Neal wiped his hands on his pants, knowing he had flour and batter everywhere. He’d have to clean himself up. He self-consciously stood in the living room doorway, deciding not to risk messing up the chairs.

“Today is El’s birthday,” Peter announced, as a way of leading to what he wanted to address.

Understanding this, Neal refrained from rolling his eyes and just waited.

“Your job today …” Peter said, coming straight to the point. “… is to make sure El does not go wanting for anything. Be her shadow. And um … help me. If I’m being clueless—”

“Like you were when we went lingerie shopping?” Neal suggested contritely.

Peter paused, giving Neal a ‘hardy-ha-ha’ look but then his eyes widened. “The lingerie! Where are El’s presents?”

Neal pointed upstairs. “You put them in your sports memorabilia box, remember?”

Peter nodded, relieved. He waited for his heart rate to go down before resuming with telling Neal his marching orders. “So, your priority is El, and tonight…. Tonight I should take her out to dinner. She wants me to herself tonight, so you’ll have to make yourself scarce. You can sleep on the third floor in that bedroom up there.”

As delighted as Neal was to hear that, despite knowing he was preparing to be gone by then anyway, Neal kept his expression crystalline-clear.

Neal nodded. “So, you’ve made reservations somewhere…?”

Peter frowned. Damn it, this stuff was hard. He thought of everything at work, why couldn’t he do the same at home? He cursed in his head. “Do you think I can get reservations this late?”

Neal, used to Peter’s bumbling-husband nature, just replied. “It depends on the place.”

Neal knew though, that providing his own plans went ahead, Peter would not be keeping the date; he’d be too busy going after him. Momentarily, Neal felt a pang of guilt for having organized his escape on El’s birthday. But it was just an unfortunate coincidence; one Peter would murder him for if he ever caught him.

“I could always cook dinner for you guys,” Neal suggested. It was an empty suggestion, with Neal knowing he wouldn’t be around for it, but it was better than letting Peter go to the trouble of making plans at a restaurant.

Peter looked towards the dining room table where the extravagant breakfast waited. He knew if Neal cooked dinner, it would likely be just as impressive, but there was something nice and a lot more indulgent about going out for dinner in one of those places with ambient lighting and soft music flowing in the background with nice tempting smells wafting out of the discrete kitchen doors.

“We’ll have dinner here if I can’t get a reservation this late,” Peter decided, rationally.

“El will be back soon,” Neal murmured softly. “I’m going to go clean up?”

Peter recognized the query. Neal wanted to know if he was dismissed. Peter nodded. “I’m going to start making calls.”



When Elizabeth returned, Neal was—as ordered by Peter—her instant shadow. He took her files off her, gently put her laptop on the coffee table, hung her coat up and allowed her to hug and kiss him. He then smoothly wished her a ‘Happy Birthday’.
Peter was upstairs, fetching the presents, so Neal asked Elizabeth if she’d like a coffee, to delay her. Peter had wanted to be there to greet her at the door.

“That sounds lovely,” Elizabeth admitted with a heavy sigh.

“Here, sit down,” Neal directed, gesturing to the armchair that faced the couch—and away from the dining room. “Your feet must be aching. I’ll take your shoes off and then fetch you some coffee.”

Elizabeth liked to wear ridiculously high-heeled shoes to make up for her height; sometimes dealing with difficult customers could be hard if you were looking up, instead of straight at them.

Elizabeth nodded and kicked off the shoes, before Neal could get at them. “Ah,” she sighed happily as she sank into the chair. She laid her head back and closed her eyes. Sensing that she still wanted him, Neal hovered.

He guessed right. El started talking to him without opening her eyes.

“There’s a gala planned for this afternoon through to tonight,” she explained. “And Stacey had a panic-attack after the client called up and yelled. I’m going to have to hire someone else to help us both out for things like this. Poor Stacey.”

Neal chewed his lip, sympathetic, but he privately thought Elizabeth should probably fire Stacey. El’s business wasn’t an easy one to run and she couldn’t afford for her staff to be panicking just because of one angry phone call.

El suddenly opened her eyes and beamed. “Hmm! Something smells delicious!”

Neal smiled. No point in lying. “Breakfast is waiting. But it’s not completely ready yet. I’ll get you your coffee.”

Peter came thundering down the stairs, beaming at Elizabeth, as Neal rounded the corner into the kitchen.

In the kitchen, Neal checked the time. It was only a quarter to eight. Neal guessed that Moz would probably activate the Harum Scarum around late-morning. He’d have to keep up his ruse for a few more hours.


The presents were propped up on top of the fireplace after Peter teasingly suggested they wait until after breakfast to which El had said it was actually a good idea. Neal was secretly relieved as he hadn’t been sure how much longer the food would have stayed warm, if it hadn’t already gone cold.

Peter led Elizabeth into the dining room and watched with delight as El’s face broke from enjoying the attention from her love-struck husband to incredulous at the sight of the breakfast on the table before her. She looked immediately at Neal who only maintained a quiet neutrality from where he was standing, waiting to tuck Elizabeth into her chair. Then, biting her lip, she looked at Peter and smiled.

“Peter,” she said hesitantly. “It’s … amazing.”

But Peter never took credit where it wasn’t due. Not at work with his agents and Hughes, and not at home.

“Neal did it,” Peter said proudly. “Isn’t he great?”

“I had nothing to do with the bagels,” Neal said, wondering if Peter even knew the meaning of duplicity. “Or the muffins.”

El turned to Peter and moved up to kiss him affectionately. As she pulled away, she smiled and murmured to him, “Store bought?”

Peter nodded, leaning down to kiss her again. “Yup.”

El laughed and turned to Neal. “It looks great, Neal. You’ve outdone yourself.”

Neal shrugged then pulled out the chair for her. She moved forward and sat down, giving a grateful nod.

“You’ve set yourself a place, haven’t you Neal?” She asked, looking around.

“Hmm,” Neal hummed. “Would you rather—?”

“Don’t you dare,” El warned. “You’ll sit with us.”

“Of course,” Neal replied. “Beverage?”

“Sure,” Elizabeth said, quietly. She watched as Neal poured her a glass of juice after she’d nodded at his prompt.

“What would you like to try first?” Neal began to ask as he placed the drink in front of her, near her empty plate.

El frowned softly. “Neal, stop it,” she pleaded.

Neal looked at Peter who seemed perplexed.

“Excuse me for a second,” Neal said, ducking as he headed for the kitchen.



Peter cast a glance at El but she was watching Neal with an uncertain expression. She dropped her gaze when he disappeared.

Peter figured he could ask Neal what he’d done this time to offend El, rather than bother her any further.

Neal was standing in the kitchen having known Peter would come in after him.

“What did you do?” Peter had started to demand but Neal held up a hand.

“Nothing,” Neal said, exasperated. “Just what you told me to. But she doesn’t like it.”

“Doesn’t like what?” Peter asked, tying to think back to what he’d asked Neal to do.

Neal sighed. “I’m not entirely sure, but it seems like she doesn’t like having someone wait on her, filling her every need. She’s a very independent person, Peter. She probably isn’t used to it. It freaks her out.”

But Peter took a step forward, sensing something else in Neal’s frown. “Neal?”

But Neal shook his head. “It’s between you guys. Peter, you have to talk to her about these things.”

Peter opened his mouth to retort, not quite sure what he was protesting. But Neal spoke again.

“Not today, though.” Neal guided. “I’ll just tone it down a bit. Peter, I promise, she’ll relax. But I can’t be her shadow—no, Peter I’ll still watch out for what she needs, but I’ll have to be more subtle about it. Okay?”

Peter’s eyes had narrowed, suspicious that this was a way for Neal to wriggle out of his obligation, but he figured he could corner Neal later, if what Neal said didn’t prove true. He’d watch El and if she relaxed like Neal said, then Peter would let it go.

“Fine,” Peter said. “Just don’t forget; today is all about El. Got it?”

Neal nodded, conveying his understanding, all the while imagining the painful death he was sure to get if Peter ever managed to get his hands on him after today. Neal had just been told explicitly for the second time that day that if the attention detracted from El in any way, shape or form, then Peter would not be happy.
And Neal was waiting on one of the biggest distractions he could possibly imagine so that he could skip out on them. Yeah, no, he’d be dead if Peter ever caught him.


Neal was thinking idly about how he was going to pack all the uneaten and untouched food into the fridge so that it would all fit. Elizabeth had said she’d take some next door to Mrs. Whitney, but that still left a good amount left over. He’d finished eating earlier so now he was just sitting waiting, politely, while Peter and El continued to make their way through the fair-size servings on their plates.
Their conversation kept puncturing the air so they were eating slower than usual. Peter was just telling Elizabeth that she should consider replacing Stacey while Elizabeth wouldn’t hear of it, saying Stacey was still only new to the industry and would grow to be immune to harsh clients in time, just like she had.

“Honey,” Elizabeth said, over Peter’s mumbles. “I cried the first time I had a mean phone-call. They make you feel really bad and tiny until you realize it’s not really about you.”

“Did you do it in front of your boss?” Peter asked, determined to convey his point.

“Well.” Elizabeth paused. “No, I called the client back and—”

“There you go, El,” Peter pointed out. “If you had cried in front of your boss, what would have happened?”

El bit her cheek. “He probably would have fired me,” El admitted.

Peter nodded. “Mmmhmm, that’s a boss’ right. You should fire Stacey.”

“You know I can’t do that,” El said, taking another bite.

Peter smiled at her. “You’re just too nice.”

El shrugged and changed the subject. “Neal, these are really good!”

“I aim to please,” Neal said softly, basking in the truth of his words.

“Where’d you learn to cook?” El asked as she swallowed her next helping.

Neal looked over the table with a mildly bewildered look. “They’re only breakfast foods. You don’t learn to cook them anywhere … you just pick it up.”

El looked opposite to where Peter was digging into his eggs. She smiled. “Peter never ‘picked it up’.”

Peter looked up, chewing contemplatively. “Neal, what’s a linebacker?”

“A what?” Neal asked, surprised.

Peter grinned at El. “We ‘pick up’ different things.”

Elizabeth rolled her eyes even as she smiled back.



“What about that other one?” Peter asked as he picked up a piece of toast. “What’s her name, Yvaine?”

“Yvonne?” Elizabeth checked. “She’s taking care of events for tomorrow and Tuesday. She’s already helped Stacey a few times. Yvonne is really good, Peter, but she can’t do everything.”

As Peter and Elizabeth became closer to finishing, Neal figured he could get started on the clean-up. He cleared his throat and said as much but Peter shook his head. “Leave it.”

Neal dropped back in his chair looking at Peter with a questioning look in his eyes.

But Peter had eyes only for El. “We’ll go into the living room and do the presents. So, we’ll worry about the clean-up later.”

“I don’t mind cleaning up alone,” Neal offered. “You can give Elizabeth your present while I’m in the kitchen.”

Peter really wished Neal wouldn’t argue. He took his gaze off El and looked at Neal. Neal recognized the irritation in Peter’s face.

“Cleaning up is noisy,” Peter said pointedly. “It’ll ruin the occasion.”

“Sorry,” Neal said, dropping his chin.

Neal just stayed quiet while they finished off the last of their meals. He glanced at Peter every now and then. It had been subtle so far, but occasionally he’d caught Peter’s lingering gaze on him, like a thought that bothered him had struck him again, but as soon as Neal looked up, Peter would go back to doting on Elizabeth.
As he finished, Peter looked at Neal again, but this time he didn’t look away when Neal looked back. Neal got the sense that Peter was trying to work something out. Unnerved, Neal looked down and focused, steadfastly, on picking the dried pancake batter out from beneath his nails.

It occurred to El that it was moments like these that ruined the easy-going atmosphere much more than a few clangs coming from the kitchen would have. Peter needed to take it easy and relax his hold on Neal a little. She wasn’t sure what it was about, but she’d also noticed Peter’s tension around Neal, like he was waiting for something bad to happen; for Neal to take off his mask and cackle evilly. She’d have to talk to Peter.

Peter knew his unease was showing but the more time he’d spent around Neal that morning the more nervous he had become. He hated knowing there was something he was missing and he felt an overwhelming need to make sure Neal did nothing he couldn’t analyze from all directions. But maybe he was overdoing it; he could see the concern in El’s eyes. He’d have to talk to her.

“Peter,” Elizabeth stood. “I’m going to change.”

Peter didn’t miss the message. He nodded. He and Neal waited until El had disappeared upstairs. Then Peter sighed. “Look, just go wait in the living room. Don’t do anything. Just sit.”


Upstairs, Peter entered the master bedroom where El was standing, looking out the window. He grunted softly and she turned.

“What’s going on?” She asked directly.

“He’s hiding something,” Peter explained, feeling anxious.

“He’s been hiding something ever since we got him,” El said softly, coming up to Peter. She took his hands and leaned in, catching Peter’s eyes. “What’s this really about?”

“I’ve just got this really bad feeling,” Peter said frustrated, trying his best not to squeeze El’s hands. “Like it’s right in front of my face. That stupid figurine!”

Elizabeth frowned and turned to look at the soap figurine. “That? What about it?”

“I recognize her,” Peter muttered. “I’m just not sure where from. And it’s irritating me, because I’m pretty sure it’s important.”

“Honey,” El sighed, feeling Peter’s frustration. “You need to relax. You’ve been onto him from the very beginning. If he’s hiding something, then something will give and we’ll deal with it when it does. But you do need to relax. Especially today; I like it when Neal relaxes and you’re not letting him so much as breathe easy.”

“You like it when Neal relaxes?” Peter repeated. “Is that why you had a problem with Neal earlier?”

El wanted to answer but instead she smiled. She didn’t want to get into this right now. “Peter,” she guided him to the door. “I’ll admit we do need to talk about that, but right now, I’m just so excited to finally get at those presents you’ve been keeping just out of my reach.”


Chapter Text

Neal did his best to avoid Elizabeth’s gaze as she opened the card that contained her gift voucher to the spa. The last thing he needed was for El to give him some grateful look or to mouth her thanks to him. There was something terribly wrong when an owner thanked a slave and Neal couldn’t stand it. It made his arrangement personal and it was hard enough keeping things professional as it was, what with him knowing Peter.
If it stopped being professional, then Neal ran the very real risk of becoming attached to his owners. Oh, he knew he was leaving and he used that thought as an anchor—far more than he’d have liked too—but it didn’t change the doubt that Neal knew shouldn’t have been there—and wouldn’t have been there if his owners had been anybody else; anybody but Peter and Elizabeth.

Neal might have looked idly around the room or gazed out the window but that was behavior that indicated a slave that wasn’t concentrating on its owners and so out of the habit of conveying the natural slave submissiveness, Neal just hung his head, looking down at his hands, as he thought the opposite of what he was supposed to think.
He considered the measures he’d need to take to ensure his own escape. As soon as he’d get the chance—when cleaning up in the kitchen, maybe—he’d find and stash something sharp; a knife or a pair of scissors, both of which could be found in the kitchen, bathroom and basement. Those implements would take care of the tracker and the collar.
The only reason he hadn’t already done this two days previously, like he’d wanted to, was that he couldn’t risk Peter and El noticing something missing or out of place, like Peter had done with the drugs. Bits of thread and needles didn’t rate high on the list of things most likely to be missed, so at least he’d been able to prepare for lock-picking scenarios. But, now that he was another hour closer to his deadline, Neal had no choice but to take the risk, otherwise he’d be forced to run with the tracker in the hope that Moz would have something prepared. Knowing Peter’s scary reaction time and his current suspicions, Neal wasn’t big on his back-up plan.

He looked back up and found El sitting on the couch, kissing Peter by way of thanking him for the additional gift she had displayed over her knees; the slip he’d bought with Neal’s help. Elizabeth hadn’t asked for that item so Neal felt safe in continuing to watch them as Elizabeth giggled with Peter’s loving arm over her shoulders.

“It’s beautiful, Peter,” Elizabeth gushed, impressed.

Peter smiled, very pleased with himself.

Elizabeth glanced at Neal but both men sensed her question, even if she didn’t intend to voice it. Neal shook his head.

“Peter chose that himself,” Neal told her, honestly.

Elizabeth looked back at Peter, a half smile forming.

“It’s true,” Peter nodded, proudly, ecstatic that El seemed to like it.

Elizabeth hugged him closely, ducking her head and tucking it beneath his chin. “I love it.…” She picked the slip up again and checked the tag before pausing with a slight frown.

Both Peter and Neal stilled, holding tense breaths.

“…You even got the right size,” El noted, impressed, and perhaps a tad surprised. She looked at Peter, eyes wide. She’d been fully expecting to have to exchange for the correct size. After all, she’d had to do that before.

Peter smiled, pulling her close and kissing the top of her head. “I might have had a little help.”

Elizabeth didn’t thank Neal, fortunately, but she did send a glinting-eyed look his way.
Neal ignored the delight in her eyes and went back to thinking on escape routes. The problem was, he wasn’t exactly sure where he’d be when Peter got the phone call and he couldn’t exactly just look up out of the blue, when Peter’s ring-tone sounded, and announce to Elizabeth or Satchmo ‘Oh, hey, that’s my cue’.
He also couldn’t even think about the departure until he was sure that the call was the right one. He’d have to be within earshot of Peter to know.



Fortunately, Neal had a fair idea of how he could manipulate the Burkes so that he’d have the free access to the front door, and the distraction for Elizabeth, for when that fateful phone call finally came. If it worked out, he wouldn’t even have to use the distraction he’d set up on the pipes beneath the kitchen sink.


Peter was eager to see Elizabeth in the slip, if just to make sure she really was happy and comfortable in it. El was happy to try it on and appease Peter’s excitement. So, she scooped it up and headed for the stairs.


Neal looked up and at Elizabeth’s fleeting summons before she disappeared around the corner; it occurred to him that she wanted his help in putting it on. He would also, no doubt, serve as a confidence booster. When Peter stood, she—seemingly psychic—called out from upstairs.

“No peeking, honey!”

Peter looked to Neal, and tilted his head towards the stairs. Understanding his message, Neal stood and made his way up the stairs.

This was a good thing; it indicated that Elizabeth wanted to save the best for Peter and was treating Neal as the help with the backstage pass.
Peter was comforted by that. He knew that, obviously, despite the good looks of many men who had no doubt approached Elizabeth, she had chosen him and now she was showing that once again.

He realized, going to the trouble of actually getting a present that was right for Elizabeth, on time and wasn’t ‘wrong’ in any form, was actually quite satisfying. Peter was riding a high on endorphins.

Upstairs, Neal knocked softly on the master bedroom door.

Elizabeth’s voice floated out. “Neal?”

Neal took that to mean she wanted him inside. He braced himself and entered, closing the door behind him.

When he located her in front of the mirror, holding the slip up in position in front of her chest, he stopped in place and waited.

Then he groaned inwardly, realizing that Elizabeth might very well use this opportunity to thank him for helping Peter with the shopping.

She turned. She smiled. She spoke. “Thank you for helping Peter shop for the spa voucher, Neal”

Neal sighed softly. She wasn’t thanking him for the slip but for fulfilling an ‘order’ she had given him. That wasn't too bad. It seemed Elizabeth knew there was a line and wasn’t interested in crossing it. Neal was so grateful. He wondered why it mattered so much. He just couldn’t help feeling the relief.

He nodded and El turned back around. She sighed in admiration. “It’s so nice. I probably won’t wear it more than once.”

Neal came up beside her. “Better to have worn it and be left with tatters, than keep it pristine and have no memories.”

Elizabeth smiled, shaking her head slightly. Then she leaned to the side. “Can you unzip my dress?”

Neal did as she asked in one smooth move, after edging around behind her, and then he patiently helped her out of her dress, before taking it from her and heading to the closet without prompt. After shutting the closet door on the hanging dress, he turned back around and watched as Elizabeth slid the slip down over her head until it settled comfortably on her shoulders.

Neal was glad Peter had ended up going with the Indiscreet. It was hard enough not thinking of Kate right then.


Neal blinked and refocused. “Hmm?”

Elizabeth was facing him. “How does it look?” The slip fit her just so, it hugged her frame but not so much that it pulled. It was perfect on Elizabeth. Like the slip had been tailored just for her.

Neal gave an approving nod. “It looks great; suits you perfectly. But you know, it’s about whether you like it or not … and maybe Peter’s allowed to have an opinion.”

Elizabeth grinned. “Good. You know, I’ve never actually worn something that Peter bought me—not something like this. He did get me shoes once.”

“You had to go back for the correct size,” Neal guessed, gently.

Elizabeth nodded. “He means well.”

He does mean well, Neal conceded privately. Then Neal gestured. “Your slip still has a tag—I’ll go get scissors.” Who knew he’d have a good reason for lifting scissors so soon?



“There’s a pair in my top draw over there,” El informed, pointing to the drawers near the door, just as Neal was about to head out.

Neal stopped and, recovering quickly, he moved around to the front of the drawers. He mentally crossed his fingers and pulled the draw open. He paused and almost grinned ruefully. It was only a pair of nail scissors. Ah, well. He’d have another chance soon to find a proper pair—hopefully. He pulled out the scissors and returned to Elizabeth who had turned around. Then Neal carefully cut the tag, catching both ends of the plastic tie.

“All done,” he murmured as he tucked the seam back in and stepped away.

“Good,” Elizabeth breathed, turning back to the mirror to prep herself mentally. Neal gave her the moment by heading back to the drawer to return the tiny useless scissors.

“Do you think Peter will like it?” Elizabeth asked him.

Neal didn’t say anything. When she turned, wondering why he hadn’t answered, he gave her a look indicating that he didn’t intend to answer such a silly question but then he took a breath. “Of course he will.”

Elizabeth let out a genuine smile, her eyes sparkling. She stepped forward and hugged Neal, trapping his arms by his side, while indenting his cheek with a kiss. Then she released him, patted his cheek once and started for the door. “Go and tell him I’ll be right down.”

Bemused, Neal made his way out, past her and down the stairs. She probably wanted to duck into the bathroom quickly. As he rounded the corner on the stairs Peter looked up at him, trying and failing to hide his impatience. Neal looked back at him, revealing nothing in his expression and spoke simply. “She’s coming.”

Neal watched as Peter’s eyes lit up but the Agent looked down, nodded and sat before huffing. “Right.”

Closed book, Neal thought sardonically, the kind with clear covers.

As Neal reached the ground floor, Peter stood up again, approached him, and latched onto his elbow before steering him to the pillar between the living and dining rooms.
“If we end up,” Peter spoke, leaning in toward Neal, “in the mood for—me and El, that is, not you—”

“I’ll go clean up,” Neal replied, catching Peter’s drift.

“I doubt anything will happen, but yeah, if it does….” Peter shrugged and stepped back.

“I promise, I’ll make myself scarce,” Neal told him solemnly.

“Nothing will happen, though,” Peter guessed. “Until tonight.”

“Got it,” Neal said, widening his eyes a little, wondering if Peter was ever going to get the message. But Neal understood; Peter was a little nervous.

Peter nodded, apparently, finally getting it enough to be satisfied. He went back to the couch but didn’t sit.

“Do you want some water, Peter?” Neal asked, feigning concern.

“No,” Peter said distracted, and then he swallowed. “Actually, yeah, maybe.”

“Okay,” Neal said, soothingly. “Relax, she won’t be long.”

Peter nodded, distracted, as he looked up towards the stairs again.

As Neal headed to the kitchen, he moved his hands to his front, hiding Peter’s phone in his palm.



In the kitchen, Neal stepped back, keeping half an ear out for the sounds of either Burke approaching. He looked over his handiwork. The phone couldn’t be seen unless you were looking for it, but it didn’t look deliberately hidden. It looked casual and he knew it would work like a charm. But there was a certain amount of luck riding on whether or not Peter received a call that was the one Neal was waiting for. This neat little set-up would be ruined if it wasn’t the call Neal wanted.
Not much he could do about that though, so with Peter’s phone sitting right where he wanted it, Neal stalked over to the cutlery drawers and pulled out the sharpest but smallest knife he could find. It was a nice little thing, designed for chopping small vegetables. He wrapped the blade in paper-towel and slid it in behind the band of the tracker, shifting it until it was safe and snug against his ankle, with the sharp edge of the blade in its wrapping, facing out at the back. Then he checked to make sure his pants covered it. It did, just barely. Neal would have to avoid bending, squatting or doing anything that would hike his pants up.

Neal started for the counter with an empty glass he’d already pulled out and filled it with some bottled water. Just as was about to leave the kitchen, he checked himself mentally. As Neal couldn’t think of anything else he could do except wait, he took a deep breath, gearing himself for the day ahead. He glanced at the clock as he placed a hand on the door. Less than an hour to go, Neal guessed. He felt a spark of excitement and nerves, before pushing forward. He’d already been in the kitchen longer than could be reasonably explained away.

He emerged from the kitchen to find Peter still waiting, thankfully too distracted to think about Neal or his suspicions. Though, Neal knew it would only take one second for Peter to be reminded of his concerns

When Peter saw Neal he frowned.

“She did say she was coming down?” Peter checked.

Neal smiled as he handed Peter the glass of water. “She did,” Neal confirmed. “But then she went into the bathroom, I think.”

Peter rolled his eyes. “Oh.”

Neal moved away, where he knew he’d be able to blend into the background once Elizabeth finally came back down.

But Peter had leaned back on the couch after taking a gulp of water and was looking around lazily for something. “I wonder if there’s a game on.”

“What about Elizabeth?” Neal asked tactfully, moving forward, picking something up off the armchair. He edged over to Peter and passed him the remote.

“She could be ages,” Peter grumbled, peering at the remote looking for the power button. “Especially if she went into the bathroom.”



Peter spent five minutes mumbling the finer points of American football to Neal who now knew what a linebacker was. Ask him what it meant to have a linebacker in the game, though, and he was still clueless. It was during one of its advertisements that Elizabeth came down the stairs. She was dressed in a nightgown though, probably to make sure she didn’t show off for the neighbors. Peter stood up, taking in her expression. He could tell instantly that it was perfect.

Neal quietly switched off the television and picked up Peter’s glass intending to give the Burkes some privacy but Elizabeth caught his attention with a signal.

Neal sighed and settled by the wall. The Burkes were being very controlling today.
Elizabeth walked over to Peter and smiled. “I was thinking….”

“Uh huh.” Peter smiled, having guessed already, what was coming. He could also see it in her teasing eyes.

“We should save it for tonight,” she murmured before sinking into his arms. Peter just held her. He didn’t mind that idea too much.

Elizabeth spoke into Peter’s chest, perfectly content. Neal could barely hear her murmurs but he caught the gist. She was saying that the slip was faultless and made her look amazing, so thank you, and just ask Neal.

“Not even a peek?” Peter asked, his eyes sparkling. But Peter slipped his hands into the folds of the gown and gave a soft moan. “Oh, that feels good.”

Elizabeth laughed softly. “You’re peeking, Peter Burke.”

Neal wanted to sink to the ground, sing ‘lalala’ and think about forging a Kandinsky. Peter and Elizabeth had been married for years. How were they not past the lovesick, newlywed stage? Or was this a normal marriage? The kind that was healthy and burned brightly forever?

Peter had managed to part the gown. He looked down with wonder and smiled. Elizabeth just waited, watching for her husband’s reaction.

“El,” Peter said marveling the sight. “You look stunning.”

“Oh?” Elizabeth teased as Peter stole another kiss.

Peter nodded. “We should definitely wait until tonight.”

Neal traced invisible patters on the frame of the archway he was standing next to as Peter kissed Elizabeth deeply. When they finally parted, Peter murmured to Elizabeth, looking like Elizabeth was his whole world. “Happy Birthday, hon.”


Chapter Text

Elizabeth decided, some minutes after she had changed in order to stop Peter looking at her all doe-eyed, that she could no longer ignore the mess and announced that after they’d cleaned up, they could worry about what to do with the rest of the day.

Peter and Elizabeth were headed into the dining room when Elizabeth suddenly paused, tilting her head. “Honey.”

Neal stopped as well, following Elizabeth’s lead. He watched her carefully but as the silence settled around them, he heard what had caught her attention. His heart jumped.

“Is that your phone?” Elizabeth asked, looking perplexed. “Sounds like it’s in the kitchen.”

But Peter always had his phone on him. Peter felt up his pockets and when he found them empty, he lifted his eyebrows. “I’ll go check.”

Elizabeth let him go, sliding out from under his arm and started towards the table while Peter headed for the door. “Let’s get started then,” she said, looking task-ready despite the prospect of a gargantuan clean-up.

She looked up at Neal who was standing by the pillar. Neal winced apologetically. “Do you mind if I…. I need to visit the bathroom.”

El smiled. “Of course not—”

El forgot her words as there was a loud clattering from the kitchen. It sounded like Peter had dropped a large number of pans onto the floor.

El frowned concerned. “Peter?” But there was no answer.

Elizabeth was closer to the door than he was so when Neal made as if to head forward, El waved him back. “I’ll check on him. He’s probably fine.”

Neal nodded, portraying reluctance. When she disappeared into the kitchen Neal started forward and pressed an ear to the wall, knowing he didn’t have much time.


Peter entered the kitchen, following the sound of his ring-tone. It was definitely his phone. He looked around, waiting for the next sound. It seemed to be coming from the corner near the sink where a large stack of pans were drying. Neal must have cleaned up as he went, as least a little. Peter edged closer. He leaned forward and there, behind the coffee jar was his phone, buzzing on the counter, spinning a little on the surface. Peter frowned. He must have put it down and forgotten about it. He dropped onto his heels and brought up his arm, reaching through the gap between the pans and the various items on the bench. He seized his phone and pulled back but his sleeve caught one of the pan handles as he withdrew. Peter cringed, shutting his eyes as the pans went clattering to the floor.

He winced at the sight of all El’s upturned pots. She wouldn’t be happy. Then the buzzing of the phone drew his attention again. He looked at the screen. Diana was calling. She never called him on the weekend unless it was important. He pressed the button to answer and put the phone to his ear.


“Yeah, Diana,” Peter answered, concerned. “What’s going on?”

Just then, Elizabeth entered the kitchen. Peter was frowning. He held up a hand, signaling that he was on the phone while grimacing apologetically. El seemed to sense his worry and crossed her arms, concentrating on his side of the conversation.

“Sorry to interrupt," Diana said, sounding harried. "But we just got alerts signaling some extensive James Bonds activity."

“James Bonds?” Peter repeated. Oh no, he didn’t—not on El’s birthday. He wouldn’t! “What activity?”



Neal backed away from the wall. This was it. That was the right phone call. He took care not to let the adrenaline take over. He couldn’t run. That would attract attention. He glanced at Satchmo as he headed to the door, and appreciated that the dog made no fuss.
He looked behind himself and, seeing the room still clear, Neal opened the door careful to turn the knob slowly. He only opened the door wide enough to slip through. Once he was outside, with the front door closed softly behind him, Neal dropped onto one knee and pulled the knife out carefully, flinging the paper-towel away. Then he took a hold of the tracker band and carefully, with the sharp side facing outward, began to cut it. He treated it like a saw at first until the blade was unlikely to shift from the plastic. Then Neal made quicker cuts and in a matter of seconds the knife was through the plastic. Still kneeling, Neal brought the knife up to the collar and swiped in one slash, out from under and cut the leather.

It was done.

Neal panted for a moment, staring at the items in his hands. He threw the knife into the bush, but hesitated with the tracker and collar, the leash still trailing from it. Sighing, Neal just dropped them in that spot and, giving a quick sweep around him as he went, he started off down the street towards the park he’d taken Satchmo to earlier that week. Moz better be waiting. He still needed to change….


In the kitchen, Peter frowned as Diana revealed what the activity was. Elizabeth saw Peter’s expression deepen and figured she would only distract him. Besides he’d tell her afterwards; he always told her everything. So she left the room, giving him the space he needed to be Agent Peter Burke.

“Plane tickets? Seventeen of them? For just one of his aliases?” Peter was asking.

“We never confirmed the alias,” Diana allowed. “But, yes. And there are six bus tickets going to four places under two others. Boss, there’s too many to name, but from what I can see, so far he’s used eleven aliases to order over thirty plane tickets, buy more than forty bus tickets and even cab companies are getting called out to places for these names.”

Peter knew instantly that none of those tickets would be used. Or maybe only one would. But which one? It seemed more likely though that James Bonds was using this whole thing as a distraction—he did have other unsuspected aliases, surely. But why? So that he could transport something big out of the area? Nothing else made sense … unless he was just playing with Burke, making him use up resources, just to annoy him. But … he was….

“Boss,” Diana sighed. “Ten more alerts just came in. Somebody just bought thirteen train tickets from stations all over, mainly Grand Central, using another of Bonds’ suspected aliases. Do you want me to send some agents?”

But, Peter was frozen. He looked at his phone. It was right there. It was right … there!

“Neal,” Peter whispered.

“Boss?” Diana spoke.


Elizabeth hummed, as she placed some cutlery onto a dirty plate. She used a knife to scrape egg and other leftovers onto the one plate. That food would be going to Satchmo. She’d have to get some plastic wrap to cover those other dishes. And she might heat up that—

“El,” Peter shouted, bursting out of the kitchen door. “Where’s Neal?”

Elizabeth stopped, startled at Peter’s sudden entrance, in the middle of collecting another dirty dish. “He—he said he was going to the bathroom.”

Peter looked towards the stairs. “Where were you?” He asked quickly.

“You made a noise,” Elizabeth placed the dishes down, instantly concerned. “So, I went in and checked on you.”

Peter looked back at El, frowning. “So, you never actually saw him go upstairs?”

When El shook her head, worried, Peter started towards the foyer. “Neal!” He shouted. “Neal?”

When there was no response, El looked up to the stairs. “I’ll go check the bathroom.”



Peter didn’t answer. He turned slowly towards the front door and stared at it while El disappeared upstairs, as if he could see the truth without having to open it. Alone, Peter braced himself and opened the front door. Upon spotting the items that Neal had left behind on the front porch; a cut tracker and a loose collar still attached to a leash, Peter numbly returned the phone to his ear.

“Diana?” Peter spoke, heavily. “You still there?”

“Yeah, Boss,” Diana answered, having heard Peter shouting, but not quite understanding about what or why.

“When did the alerts come in?” Peter asked.

Diana consulted something. “About fifteen minutes ago—but they’re still coming. We—Boss, we just got eight more.”

Peter could sense her immediate change in tone. “What are they?”

“Half are bus tickets for … for a James bonds and the others are plane and train ticket for a Peter Burke,” Diana informed him reluctantly.

“He’s playing with me.” Peter breathed, the feeling beginning to return with some of his anger.

“You think they’re distractions?”

“All of them, ghosts—yes,” Peter said, frustrated. Then before he could stop himself, he asked, “Diana, I need you to do me a favor.”

“Sure, Boss,” was the faithful reply.

Peter sighed, bracing himself, knowing it had all come down to this. He was finally acknowledging the impossible.

“I need you to get Neal’s prints and compare them to the one found on James Bonds’ bond.”

Peter mumbled a mantra in his head. ‘Please say you already did that, please say it’s impossible.’

There was a shocked silence on the other end of the phone. Finally, Diana could be heard swallowing. “Boss?”

“Tell me when the results come back,” Peter ordered, knowing Diana hadn’t done it yet, and not wanting to think about it all.

“Sure, Boss,” Diana replied automatically.

“Thanks, Diana,” Peter said before hanging up.

Elizabeth came down behind him as Peter put his phone away. “He’s not upstairs, Peter.”

“He’s gone,” Peter announced, picking up the collar and tracker and showing her.

Elizabeth brought her hand up to her mouth, shocked. “He ran away?” She asked confused. “But, why?”

Then Peter’s phone rang again. Peter brought it out again and answered it. “Burke.”

Elizabeth listened as Peter’s face darkened with annoyance and he only spoke in monosyllables. “Hmm. Right. Nope. Cancel it. Fine.” Peter hung up.

Elizabeth looked up, questioning.

Peter scowled. “That was the Marshal office, calling me to let me know that our slave cut his tracker. They were about to send some crack team of idiots to secure him.”

El bit her cheek, not daring to even try calming Peter down.

Peter raked his hair, dumping the items onto the couch. “I have to go find him.”

Elizabeth blinked. “Yes,” she agreed. “I’m coming with you.”

“Honey,” Peter explained. “I have to go into the office; I have to find him before I can go after him. It’s—it isn’t like going around in a car and shouting for a lost dog.”


“El—I understand, but it’s not—”

“You’re not telling me something,” Elizabeth stated, sharply. “Does Neal have something to do with…?”

Peter stilled, uncomfortably. “I don’t know, I’m not sure yet, El. I’ll tell you as soon as I’m sure. I promise.”

“Okay,” El said nodding. She understood. “But, as soon as you find out where he went, I’m coming.”

“Elizabeth,” Peter tried.

“Peter, he’s mine too,” El pointed out strongly.

“Okay,” Peter agreed slowly, having to admit to himself that El was right. Then his face changed to that of horror and guilt. “Oh, god. It’s still your birthday. I told him not to—I swear Neal will be punished for this when I find him.”

El waved off his words, giving his cheek a pat. “Don’t worry about it, honey.”

Peter smiled at his all-too-patient and understanding wife. “I’ll call you and pick you up as soon as I find out where he went.”

“Okay,” Elizabeth said, satisfied. “Then go find our boy.”

Elizabeth watched as Peter entered the Taurus, and drove off, nearly hitting a mailbox. She, like Peter, refused to think about what she suspected. It couldn’t be what she was thinking anyway. It was impossible, right? But she wasn’t dense, either….



Diana sat in the chair, staring at the computer screen, arms folded, fingers tapping against her arm, impatiently reminding herself to breathe every few moments.

Finally the computer beeped. Diana closed her eyes, knowing that it meant the computer was done comparing the prints and had a result. She still couldn’t believe what Peter had ordered her to do. Finally she fumbled with the mouse, opening her eyes.

She directed the pointer to the button. She took a breath and braced herself, before pressing ‘show results’. The screen flashed before her eyes and she settled them on the bright red numbers that made her world plummet around her. No way....

“Ninety-nine point eight percent match,” Diana whispered. “Oh, Neal … Peter’s going to kill you.”

Ten minutes later, Diana was still sitting there, looking through the screen in a thousand-yard stare, when Peter came up in front of her. She didn’t jump. She’d guessed he’d be coming in anyway.

Peter gave her one look and spoke, wearily. “It’s him, isn’t it? My slave is James Bonds.”

But he didn’t wait for her reply or a reluctant nod or a sympathetic purse of the lips. He came around and looked at the screen himself. Upon seeing his suspicions confirmed in glaring, bright red numbers, Peter shook his head. He raked his hair and kept his hand on the back of his neck. Then he brought his hand back over his face, giving his temples a rub, running his palms over his eyes and ending with a cupped hand over his mouth, showing only disbelief in his shocked eyes. He couldn’t believe this.

Diana sat up, still shocked for Peter. “Boss….” She wanted to tell him how—how sympathetic she was, how shocked … but Peter shook his head again, so she changed the subject. “How did you know?”

Peter pursed his lips and shook his head again, annoyed, putting his hands on his hips. “I should have picked up on it ages ago. He’s a genius, he could pick locks, he knew about Hagan, he wouldn’t tell me about his past, Doctor Lehman said Neal familiar with me, Neal was asking about Kate, I even told him he reminded me of James Bonds, he took me shopping for lingerie, knew about spas, doesn’t know how to mow, and the figurine looked like Kate.” Peter finished up with an angry lilt to his voice. “Oh, and he can sculpt.”

Diana stood, cautiously. “Maybe you did know and just didn’t want to acknowledge it?”

“Maybe,” Peter grunted, crossing his arms protectively.

“Want to track him down?” Diana suggested, knowing full well that was all Peter wanted to do.

Peter wasn’t surprised that Diana had worked out that Neal had run. (Peter hadn’t exactly announced that part.) Any probie could work that out after matching Neal to the famous white collar criminal. Peter’s dark mood only served as a confirmation.

“What are you going to do after you find him?” Diana asked as they headed to a conference room with her laptop. Because Diana had no doubt that Peter would find Neal. Peter now knew him intimately. Peter knew Neal; the physical reality, as well as Bonds; the ghost version. Put those together and Peter knew everything.

Almost everything.

It now niggled at Peter more than ever; the question of how the heck Neal—otherwise known as the all-too successful criminal mastermind, James Bonds—had become a frigging slave!

Peter glanced at Diana, forcing his anger and confusion back and he finally answered shortly. “I’m going to bring him home.”

“Even if he’s…?” Diana trailed off letting the question hang in the air.

“Doesn’t matter who he really is,” Peter said as he sat, pulling a Bureau laptop forward. “He’s still Neal. Still mine.”



But inside, Peter was a mess. He knew on the surface of things, that it really was that simple; Neal did belong to him. He had the paperwork to prove it. But scratching past the surface revealed a whole swamp of messy facts. Fact: He respected James Bonds. Fact: James Bonds was a rival; an equal. Fact: James Bonds had once sent champagne to a surveillance van. Fact: James Bonds was talented, high-flying and successful.

It was hard to reconcile the two identities into the one: Neal Caffrey, slave and also the conman, forger, and fraudster, without falling to pieces mumbling ‘but’ for every thought that crossed his mind.

Yes, James Bonds was an equal, but Neal Caffrey was not. Yes, he respected James Bonds, but he wasn’t supposed to respect Neal Caffrey. Yes, James Bonds had proved he had flair, cheekiness and liked to tease by sending the champagne but Peter had seen no evidence of those characteristics in Neal. Yes, James Bonds was talented, high-flying and successful but those were qualities that were fully appreciated only if one was free. And Neal Caffrey was not.

Peter had no real clue what he was going to do once he found Neal again.


When Neal spotted Mozzie at the park, Neal felt the first signs of a break inside that had been caused by all the wear and tear he’d hidden for months. He felt like he was seeing the distant but symbolic finish line. The adrenaline had gone as quickly as it had come. Neal was tired. But he had to push, for that last sprint.

He came up beside Mozzie and almost lost it when Mozzie quipped some stupid quote about souvenirs. It wasn’t until he looked to where Moz’s eyes had strayed that Neal realized he had forgotten about the identification band that encircled his wrist. He groaned. It clung to him, this stupid con.

Neal ripped it off and threw it into a park rubbish bin before collapsing onto a park bench. It was only for a moment. God, he should have gotten a drink for himself when he’d fetched Peter one.

Moz sat next to him warily. “And Neal Caffrey is….?”

“Done with the con,” Neal finished, determined. “No longer a slave. Where’s Kate, Moz?”


“I did promise myself I’d punish Neal though,” Peter muttered as he waited for the computer to power on. “He ruined El’s birthday.”

Diana smiled at Peter’s grumpiness and also at the thought of Peter not being bothered by the idea of punishing the legendary James Bonds for a birthday slight of all things. But then she frowned. “How are you going to—?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Peter mumbled. “Make him massage El’s feet or something.”

Diana smiled again, but figured it would be wise to get back to the task at hand. After all, Neal—Bonds—Caffrey had a half hour head start on them.

“Any ideas on where to start looking?” Diana asked.

“Find Kate,” Peter said simply, typing into the laptop furiously. “We find Neal.”


Chapter Text

Elizabeth was kind of grateful for the mess the men had left behind for her to clean up. It gave her something to concentrate on. Not that her head wasn’t occupied by thoughts of Neal anyway, but at least this was way she wasn’t just standing at the window, waiting and watching for the Taurus to return or glancing at the phone as if it might ring any moment.

Elizabeth was wiping the pans over with the dish towel after having rewashed them, thinking about that last moment she had seen Neal. He’d asked her if she’d minded him going to the bathroom. He’d so looked genuine, El was currently wondering if his running had been a spur-of-the-moment thing. Had he just seized his chance? Had he been waiting for the perfect opportunity? Or had he planned it all? Had she been his puppet?
El frowned at the thought.

He had run. Elizabeth hung her head, devastated, for the umpteenth time since Peter had left. Neal had run. No, he’d escaped. From them. Why?

Were they really so bad?

While it wasn’t uncommon to hear stories of runaways, it was nonetheless unusual for a slave to escape. Escape to what? El knew, despite her worry and stress, that she and Peter were great, stuff-of-dreams, and beloved owners. So why on earth would Neal be so unhappy with them as to actually flee from them? Or was it about something else?

It was hard to think of the escape as anything but a slap in their faces because, even if Neal had run for some reason completely unrelated to them, it was still offensive because it meant Neal had chosen that reason over keeping them happy.

They’d just have to sit Neal down once they found him again, once they had him home, back where he belonged again. Just sit him down and work out what was going on in his head. They’d work it out and solve it together and then Neal would never feel the need to look beyond them ever again.

Elizabeth placed the pot, upside-down, on the bench and dumped the dish-towel over it, taking a moment to just stop. She sighed. “Neal.”

The El shook her head, forcing the gutted feeling she had to retreat. How had she become so attached to Neal in just a week? He felt like such an integral part of them now, and El wondered how she and Peter had lived without him before. It felt like Neal had been in their lives for ages.

And maybe he had.

Peter’s voice came floating back to her. “El, I don’t know.”

But he had known.

And so had she. The fear had been in both their eyes.

She didn’t know everything of course. She just knew that somehow, Neal Caffrey had something to do with James Bonds. Maybe Neal had help from Bonds? But that would mean Neal had been planning his escape. That thought floored El. Intent to escape. Bigger slap in the face.

But that idea didn’t seem right somehow. Elizabeth pushed the pot, covered with the towel, further onto the bench and turned to leave the kitchen.

Satchmo brushed against her legs as she walked into the living room. She bent slightly giving him a brief rub. “Hey Satchmo, baby.”

She scanned the room. Oh, come on. Peter was never this tidy. Where were the papers he always left sprawled over the coffee table after working on them with some game or other going on in the background? She headed upstairs. Hopefully his files would be with the laptop he’d left on the top of the drawers in the bedroom.

El paused as she found the files, lying on the master bed. Hopefully the Bonds file would be there. Elizabeth settled on the bed, sitting at an angle, her ankles crossed. She cradled her hands just staring at the files for some time. Then she swept her hair back and squared her shoulders. Rifling through the folders took mere seconds. The Bonds file was near the top. She pulled it out and before she could think on it any further, she opened the file and began to read.

There wasn’t much she didn’t already know. Even the anecdotes Peter had scrawled in the borders; thoughts of the day, questions, and guesses, were familiar. Some had even come from her. But the more Elizabeth read, the sounder her suspicions seemed to become, until Elizabeth believed her wild idea was the only thing possible. Still, she wouldn’t acknowledge it. Not until Peter told her. She had to hear it from him.



When Peter came home, he walked through the whole house looking for El until he went upstairs and checked the master bedroom. His wife was sitting on the bed staring at the soap figurine, turning it over in her hands.

She looked up. “He’s gone after her, hasn’t he?”

Peter’s heart sank at the sight of his wife, who was clearly upset and resigned to the idea that their slave—the newest addition to the house—had abandoned them.

“Yeah, I think so,” Peter admitted, coming to stand in front of her. Then he bent down, grasped her hands and pulled her up. “But we’ll get him back.”

Elizabeth exhaled, tossed the figurine onto the bed and turned back to Peter, determined. “You found out where he went?”

“Diana found a lead,” Peter told her, stepping aside. “Up for a road trip?”

Peter had been on long chases before, but it was Elizabeth who realized they may need to pack some supplies and clothes. Peter groaned at the thought of the retrieval of their slave taking longer than a day. But Elizabeth was right. It would only take ten extra minutes to pack a few things. Still, it stressed Peter, having to keep delaying going after Neal. He felt like he was wasting precious moments.

Just as Peter finished packing his laptop bag into a secure crevice in the back of the Taurus, El came up beside him.

“What about Satchmo?”

Peter exhaled, running the options through his head, then he pulled his phone out. “I’ll see if Diana or Jones is willing to stop by and check on him.”

“Keep the change,” piped Mozzie, as he handed a wad of notes to the cabbie. “Forget you ever saw us?”

The dollar signs in the man’s eyes were enough to assure Moz that he wouldn’t bother reporting the exorbitant cab fare. Moz shut the cab door and he stood with Neal on the side of the road, watching as the cab did a u-turn and disappeared back the way they’d come.

“You know,” Neal spoke softly, glancing around the dead part of town they’d stopped in. “If your buddy is not here….”

“He’ll be here,” Moz said confidently. “Only twenty more minutes drive, Neal.”

“Who’s this ‘Anthony’ guy anyway?” Neal asked, as he wandered down a ways and took a look in an alleyway.

“My contact says he knows where Kate went,” Moz replied, sticking close to the brick wall of the decrepit building they were standing outside of. “Just a small time hustler, word is Kate used him as part of her magic disappearing act.”

“I can’t believe you lost Kate, Moz,” Neal said again. He turned back to Moz, pocketing his hands. Granted the pants were not ones he would normally wear but at least it had pockets. He’d missed being able to assume the casual, hands-in-pockets stance.

“I did not lose Kate,” Moz refuted, hotly. “Kate disappeared—and she had help! Really experienced, professional help.”

Neal sighed. “It doesn’t make sense. Kate doesn’t have those kinds of contacts.”

Moz agreed with Neal so he didn’t say anything but the fact was, Kate had somehow found excellent help and had disappeared.

“It’s a good thing, Neal,” Moz soothed. “She’s safe if no-one can find her, right?”

Neal nodded and raked his hair. “Sure, unless the person, who helped her disappear, wasn’t really helping her. What if she had no choice?”

Moz sighed. “Neal.”

Neal turned to Mozzie. “It’s possible!”

Moz looked away and grinned. “Look, there he is!”

Neal looked to where Mozzie was pointing. A dark, old kind of car was approaching them from the end of the street. If Neal hadn’t known that it was Mozzie’s affiliate, he would have been immediately suspicious of the driver. He kind of still was. But he’d already questioned Moz, giving him a hard time about everything else. He figured he should show faith in the guy Moz had arranged to drive them the last leg to where Anthony was reported to hang out.

As he pushed the feelings of trepidation, at their continuing to rely on people he didn’t know or trust, down, Neal promised himself he’d just steal a car the next time they needed to move. He didn’t care if Moz rationalized that that was the quickest way to get caught. It wasn’t if you drove well. Moz didn’t drive well. But he did. Much better than Peter anyway.

Neal angrily berated himself. No thoughts of the Burkes, thanks!



They’d been on the road for thirty minutes when Peter decided he couldn’t stand it any longer. He and Elizabeth needed to talk. But he couldn’t bring himself to just announce the truth of who Neal was. Besides Elizabeth hadn’t asked; Peter figured maybe she wasn’t ready to hear it yet.

“El?” Peter murmured, keeping his eyes on the road, but not really out of concern for his driving. “How come you don’t like sex with Neal?”

El looked at Peter, surprised. She hadn’t exactly expected that question, but then she realized what Peter was doing. And she knew she owed him an explanation. But she didn’t know how to begin. She wasn’t entirely sure herself.

“It’s not that I don’t like it….” El said quietly. Then she seemed to change the subject and Peter was tempted to interrupt but something in her voice told him to wait. 

“You know, I stayed up on Monday night waiting to talk to you," El revealed. "But we never ended up talking. Not about what I stayed up to talk to you about, anyway. I forgot to, because of the whole drug thing.”

Peter vaguely recalled El telling him she had fallen asleep on the couch waiting for him. But he’d been so engrossed in anger at Neal that the comment had obviously gone right over his head.

“We can talk about it now,” Peter said, wondering what El could possibly say that they hadn’t already said to one-another. And so soon? Monday—that had been the day after they’d gotten Neal. Had something happened?

“We went shopping,” El informed.

Peter already knew that. He glanced at El to find her smiling softly.

“He just—it felt so nice, Peter. Having someone I could hand stuff to, and just talk to, idly. An arm to tuck myself into. It was like having you there. But it was Neal.” El was leaning on her elbow, with it propped on the armrest on the door of the car. She sighed. “You know, everyone who saw Neal were impressed. It was kind of nice to have the attention of the guy who had everybody else's attention.”

Peter could picture that. Yeah, he wouldn’t mind that kind of grocery shopping trip himself.

“But it wasn’t that stuff that I was going to tell you,” El revealed. “There was this guy at the shops. He came up and started bargaining with me—propositioning me. He wanted Neal.”

Peter frowned. “This guy came up to you and started trying to buy Neal off you?”

El nodded. They were both thinking the same thing; that it was an incredibly rude and weird thing, what the guy had done, coming up to El like that, trying to take her slave. People just didn’t do that. That was like someone trying to buy Peter’s jeans from him at the coffee shop.

“Yeah,” El whispered. “And Peter, he wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer. He got aggressive, physically grabbed my trolley to stop me from leaving.”

Peter slowed the Taurus, he ignored the cars going around him and he glanced at El for as long as he could. Seeing the fear on El’s face, Peter decided he would hunt that jerk down. Ah, if only El had told him Monday night, he could have had the guy already.

“That’s when Neal punched him.”

Peter did a double-take. “Neal punched him?!” A car screeched in the lane next to them and Peter hastily righted the car, steering it back over to the middle of his own lane.

Elizabeth smiled. “Yeah. And it was great! The guy ended up on the ground, knocked out of his senses.”

Peter tilted his head.

James Bonds had defended his wife.

It was a strange thought and though Peter knew Bonds was certainly capable of it if push turned to shove, it was an alien thought, but then Peter repeated the thought.

Neal had defended Elizabeth.

That was less strange. Neal was just that kind of slave; chivalrous. But Peter found himself crinkling his nose at the thought. He hadn’t known Neal was capable of that. He seemed too meek. But he had. He’d punched the jerk. And Peter could rely on him to do it again.

Peter’s fondness for Neal doubled.



Elizabeth could tell by the smile on Peter’s face and twinkle in his eyes, that Peter was impressed and delighted. She let him bask in the euphoria.

As they turned into another quieter district, Peter shook his head clear of the imagined play-by-play of Neal punching El’s aggressor and returned to concentrating on El.

“Okay,” Peter said with a smile. “That earns Neal some points, but what does that have to do with you deciding you don’t want to sleep with Neal?”

“That altercation; it was just part of a perfect evening with him. Him defending me like that, it was nice,” Elizabeth spoke gently, looking at Peter. “Afterwards, we went into a small shop filled with these older-style suits and memorabilia. Neal—you should have seen him, Peter. He was in heaven. He has great taste. And he charmed the owner of the shop. ...She never did send those—uh, anyway, after we came back, he ran me a bath. He talked to me. He listened to me. He just—just stayed with me. He was just perfect company after a long day at work, you know? He helped me relax and he seemed to be…. I know it must sound stupid.”

“No,” Peter answered softly. “No, it doesn’t sound stupid. When I went shopping for your presents … yeah, I was nervous, but he made it easier. There were times when it was—it just seemed easy, just the two of us.” Peter smiled. “I don’t know what I would have gotten you without Neal.”

“A mug that says ‘world’s greatest wife’?” El joked.

Peter chewed his lip, knowing El was probably not far wrong. But when she chuckled, he relaxed and smiled at his own ineptness. Then he motioned, as he turned onto a busier road. “Don’t stop; keep going.”

“Peter, I guess I just like Neal being happy.” El admitted, confused. “And I mean, I thought he was happy when I started having sex with him. He was even participating. But I don’t know. His head seemed to be somewhere else. At the end, it just fell apart….”

A few minutes of silence later and Peter murmured softly. “El?”

Elizabeth jolted out of her thoughts. “Um, yeah. It was like I spent the evening with two different Neals. I liked the first one. The second one reminded me of the Neal that punched that guy. I don’t want to be that kind of person to Neal. I just realized that I enjoyed all the other things we did, more that the sex.

“So…” Peter capped, trying to understand. “Neal is the perfect companion, in every way … except for the sex?”

Elizabeth nodded.

“And you’re just happy to have those other things, that you’re actually willing to forget the sex?”

El opened her mouth, startled. Peter had a way of stripping everything to its bare minimum.

“I guess,” she said slowly. “Yes.”

Peter gave a nod that told El that he understood but he wasn’t done. She shifted in her seat interested in what he had to say, but she had to wait for a few minutes while Peter went through a busy patch of traffic.

Finally, Peter relaxed in his seat as the traffic began to flow more naturally around him. “El, I actually spoke to Neal about that.”

El looked at Peter, wide-eyed. She wasn’t quite sure what to make of that. Clearly she had worried Peter more than she’d meant to.

“Well.” El scrambled, trying not to sound concerned. “What happened?”

“I found out why Neal behaved the way he did,” Peter revealed casually, as he changed lanes. “It wasn’t what you thought, El.”

Elizabeth felt the impatience growing. Damn the traffic. It was so inconvenient, having reduced their conversation to being intermittent and random. “Uh huh,” she prompted beneath her breath, nervous at the thought that she’d read Neal wrong. “What was it, hon?”



Peter finally managed to burst out of the main thoroughfare; they were on the outskirts. Their conversation had made time pass, unnoticed.

But Peter had gone quiet. He was dangerously close to the heart of the conversation. He decided he couldn’t continue the conversation like this. Despite knowing they were racing against the clock, Peter seized the first chance to pull over. Not an easy feat where they were, what with the limited parking spots.

When Peter had finished lining up against the edge of the road, he turned off the radio which had been going quietly in the background and he shifted against the seat-belt until he was facing El.

After a moment, Peter took a deep breath. “You reminded Neal of his girlfriend,” Peter said, knowing he’d been far too blunt. But El knew tact wasn’t one of Peter’s strengths.

El immediately recalled the figurine. “The woman Neal went after?”

Peter nodded. “Blue eyes and dark brown hair—like you.”

El brushed a lock of her hair unconsciously. “That’s why he...? Oh.”

Peter nodded. Then he spoke, frowning and speaking with a slight tone of offense, “Yeah, although, personally, I think that’s where the similarities stop. You’re nothing like her.”

El was looking down, but now she looked towards Peter out of the corner of her eye. He’d spoken in present tense. Peter had met Neal’s girlfriend. Elizabeth collapsed back into her seat. “Kate.” She whispered.

Peter looked at her sharply. But he wasn’t really that surprised. He reached out and brushed her hand, gently. “Yeah.”

Elizabeth looked at Peter. “So, Neal is….”

“Neal is James Bonds,” Peter finished, numbly, still not quite able to wrap the truth around his own head.

“Are you sure?” El asked, half-hearted. But it was rhetorical. She knew it was the truth.

“Diana compared the prints,” Peter answered anyway. “You know, I keep remembering things that I should have picked up the truth from. I can’t believe I didn’t see it.”

Elizabeth watched Peter. She knew he’d continue without prompt. At the moment he seemed to be remembering something.

“When we talked about the figurine,” Peter murmured. “I think that was the biggest clue. It just didn’t…. And the number—my mobile number; Neal must have memorized it when I was chasing him. God, El … I’ve been chasing him for years.”

“How did we end up with him?” El asked.

Peter made a face. El realized that was probably the question that was bothering Peter the most.

She looked away and murmured something that Peter almost missed.

“We slept with James Bonds.”

It was a random observation; one that El hadn’t meant to say aloud. Just a fact. But aloud, it seemed … more obvious, somehow. Though Peter had known it at the back of his mind; he hadn’t really … consciously noticed that fact.


Chapter Text

Nathan Anthony had gone into hiding. The word of two strangers seeking him out as well as the recent onslaught of visits from Feds had pushed the amateur hustler to go to ground. It wouldn’t take Mozzie more than an afternoon to find him, though.

When they had arrived to the apartment that Anthony was said to hang out in, Neal broke in, impatiently ignoring Moz’s insistence that they could very well be heading into a trap or perhaps they were being watched.

Inside though, Neal just looked around. Moz sniffed out a few hidey-holes and snooped around a few initially interesting possessions, but it was immediately obvious to Neal that Anthony wasn’t home.

Undaunted, Neal insisted they move onto the next most likely place that Anthony had retreated to but Mozzie argued that they needed to find and retreat to a base of operations.

Thoroughly irritated with his friend, Neal decided to let up, if only to move forward. He just needed to stop wasting time, and Neal suspected Moz only wanted him occupied while he went and ‘attended business’.

“Fine, Moz,” Neal snapped. “Do have a safe house?”

“Even better.” Moz smiled, not in the slightest bothered by Neal’s short temper. “A friend owns and operates a hotel. He’s offered me a room.”

“You never stay in hotels,” Neal pointed out, irritated, and wondering who this ‘friend’ was.

“It’s not for me,” Moz agreed. “I’ve got places, elsewhere, to be tonight. But I’ve checked the hotel out. It’s your style, Neal. There’s even a Jacuzzi in the room.”

“I’m not on holiday,” Neal grumbled, tired. Why did he need to keep explaining this stuff to Moz? Why did Moz assume he had time for this kind of malarkey? “We’re supposed to be finding Kate.”

“And until I locate Anthony,” Moz replied, smoothly. “We can’t do that. I need to talk to private sources Neal.”

Neal rolled his eyes. Moz always played up the drama. But right now he didn’t care. It could be Moz’s red-headed, crack-smoking cousin for all he cared. Just so long as Mozzie got results.

“Fine,” Neal murmured, turning away. “I guess I could do with a dinner.”

“Here’s the address,” Moz announced, already beginning to walk away, even as he handed Neal a piece of paper that Neal had to catch. “I’ll contact you when I can.”

Looking at the address, Neal worked out that he was about a mile from the Hotel. There were a few cabs passing by but Neal decided he would prefer to walk.



The freedom to walk, or indeed, do anything, without worrying about keeping instep with someone else, or anticipating their moves … it was unexpectedly relaxing. It occurred to Neal that even the simple stuff had been draining to do; too stressful and unfamiliar. And he hadn’t been in control. He’d been at the mercy of two people who liked calling the shots.

Neal looked up as he turned onto a crowded street. There were coffee, clothes and jewelry shops and a high-powered law firm at the end of the street. There were a lot more people here than there had been on the quieter streets he had left.

Neal smiled as he took in mark after mark; all the perfect types to charm and con. And perfect for every kind of con too; he could do something as simple as lifting a wallet or something as complicated as a long con that would completely annihilate their company. These people had it all. The men looked bored and they were outnumbered three to one by women, but probably only out here. Inside the buildings that lined the street, including the law firm, there would no doubt be men who were opting to work through lunch or hold meetings. Neal found that women relaxed more. It was a scientific fact that woman could multitask more easily than men. But the men were the ones who really moved up in the world. Whether that was a result of gender bias or hard work—

Neal’s eyes were snatched from the group of women whose voices were overlapping as they headed for the end of the street, and were drawn to a lone woman exiting a building, talking into a phone as she handed a file to—to a blond slave. He had a neutral expression and seemed used to catching the paperwork. He also held out a hand for the phone once the woman hung up. She muttered something and he held up a slip of paper.
Neal wondered if he was happy. He looked professional. Not happy.

Neal tore his eyes away from him. He tried to focus on which of the marks that were walking his way would be more likely to have several hundred worth of money in their purse or wallet, but his eyes kept moving away to a slave standing just inside the shop looking outside, to a slave following a couple of men walking down the street, to a slave who held open a car door for a distracted man who was yelling into his phone.

Neal knew, now, why pregnant women always saw babies. Everywhere they went: babies.

Neal now saw slaves everywhere. No matter how hard he tried to keep his mind occupied with thoughts of the con and, when that didn’t work, thoughts of finding Kate, he couldn’t help staring at each and every slave he saw. Before he’d become a slave, he’d never really paid any mind to the shadows that followed the powerful, the rich and the famous. It was expected, to see a well-to-do being trailed by somebody who could predict and meet their needs.
No, Neal had only ever seen the owners. They were the marks, not the slaves, although he had—with his ever discerning eye—swept a critical look over the slaves themselves, he’d never taken them at more than face value.

But now, Neal couldn’t help it as his eyes automatically roved to the slaves. He wondered if they were anything like him. Whether there were really as submissive as they looked or if they were just acting. Whether they were truly happy, and whether their desire in life was truly to serve their owners.

Neal narrowed his eyes as he watched an owner settle a hand on her slave’s shoulder as he shifted closer to her from where he was kneeling by her chair. She barely noticed, continuing to talk to her friend who sat across from her at the same table, outside a coffee shop, but Neal saw as the slave settled in place, relaxing his posture, seemingly content.

They really asked for so little. Neal hated it.



Peter had fallen quiet after rejoining the traffic. Elizabeth knew he was contemplating something, and it was definitely related to Neal, but he didn’t seem distracted or frustrated. He was just considering something, so El wasn’t worried, not about his mood and not about his driving—no more than usual anyway.

Sometime later, Peter cleared his throat. “You know, El,” he began. “Not sleeping with Neal isn’t going to help.”

Peter paused to glance at El. She was listening, albeit with a slight wariness.

So Peter continued. “It’s better to get past those things. And the only way Neal can get past it, is if he gets used to it. And anyway, if you want him to enjoy sex with you, like he does while shopping; we’ll just have to tell him. He’s probably not even aware of it.”

“Not aware of it?” El repeated. “Honey, he told you what the problem was. I’d say he’s aware of it.”

“No, I mean,” Peter clarified, patiently. “I mean, he probably didn’t mean it. It isn’t Neal’s fault that you remind him of Kate. You’ve got to give him more than one chance, El. He seemed sorry when I spoke to him. Insisted that it wasn’t you, and he knows his behavior was wrong. So it can only get better, but ignoring the issue and hoping it’ll go away to protect the parts you enjoy with him isn’t going to do anyone any favors, least of all for Neal.”

“I was confused, Peter,” El pointed out, softly. “I didn’t know what was wrong.”

“We know now,” Peter reassured her. “When we get Neal back home, the first thing we’ll do is put this Kate business to rest.”

“How?” Elizabeth challenged, hopelessly. “He seems pretty hung up on her.”

Peter nodded. “I was thinking the first step would be finding her. I told Neal at the beginning of the week that I’d help him find who he was looking for, but Neal refused—probably because he didn’t want me to know who he really was—but now that I do, we’ll find her and he’ll say goodbye and get closure. They never broke up properly. They will this time. And that’ll be it.”

“It’s that simple?” El debated, skeptically. “Honey, I don’t think so.”

And he knew it would sound controlling but Peter was only stating the facts. So he said it anyway. “We can make it that simple.”



Neal walked the rest of the way to the hotel with his head down, watching only the few feet directly in front of him. He ignored the people passing him by and struggled not to raise his head every time he caught just a hint of a slave nearby. It could have been their quiet assent as they answered an owner, a tiny flash of cheap clothing in the corner of Neal’s eye as they walked by, or even just a shadow … following another shadow.

Neal was relieved when he found himself in front of the hotel building and at the same time, seeing the hotel; it made him want to strangle Moz. It wasn’t just any hotel. It was one of the best. This was not the way to lay low.

Neal sighed, resigned to having to be wary for his entire stay. He would be questioned, maybe not vocally, but every eye would be on him, especially in these pedestrian clothes that Moz had oh-so-kindly found for him. He’d just have to make his way to his room as quickly as he could.

At least once he was in his room; he wouldn’t have to try to avoid seeing the stark reality of slavery.


Neal leaned against the back of the door he’d just closed. He listened as the slave bellhop moved off down the hall, after having shown Neal to his door despite a lack of luggage. Neal shook his head. Oh, curse the fates. He couldn’t look at the world like he’d used to.

At least he was free and clear from it all the rest of the night, or until Moz contacted him. Neal took a few steps forward, sweeping a hesitant gaze around the room. It was luxurious but Neal couldn’t bring himself to care. He’d taken one step towards the kitchen to see what kind of wine they might have available when he was forced to stop and peer over his shoulder, back at the door.

Someone had knocked. It was a quiet, polite knock. Neal turned fully, still staring at the door, wondering what fresh hell was out there now.

Despairingly, Neal made his way back over to the door, took a hold of the knob and twisted it, bracing himself.

It was a young woman with sandy hair. She wore a white, slim-fitting top with gold-color detail and a white skirt. She also wore a gold-color collar. Neal recognized the flowing cursive that was the hotel insignia in place at the forefront of the collar.

He just couldn’t escape it, could he?
Neal cleared his throat.

“Hello, sir,” the woman spoke, holding her gaze towards Neal’s feet. “I wondered if you needed any services?”

“Uh,” Neal stuttered, dismayed. He tried shaking his head, but of course she wasn’t looking at him. She continued, oblivious to his reluctance.

“I’m an expert masseuse, but anything you’d like is fine. Perhaps I can—” She’d suggested in a well-practiced speech. One that Neal wasn’t interested in hearing any more of.

“That’s fine,” Neal interrupted smoothly. “I’ve been on my feet all day, so I think I’m just going to rest. But thank you, the … the hotel service is … is good—uh, impeccable. Thanks anyway.”

The woman gave a nod and mini-curtsey before turning away. Then she stilled as a new voice called a few doors down from Neal’s room.

“Hey!” A slurred, male voice called. “Hey—you, slave girl! I’m *hic* I’m in need of s-s-service.”

Neal saw the flash of fear on her features before the resignation set in. Without thinking on it, Neal put out a hand on her shoulder and stopped her from turning. He moved out of the doorway a little, far enough to see the staggering man who was blinking blearily at them.

“Oh,” Neal pretended to groan apologetically. “I’m sorry. I’ve already claimed her services for the night.”

The man frowned and took a step forward.

“She’s unavailable,” Neal emphasized, slowly, in the face of the man’s confusion. “Sorry.” Then without waiting to see if the man assented, Neal pulled her in and shut the door.

They stood in place, perhaps waiting for the angry banging on the door, and when nothing came, Neal made his way towards the kitchen again, deciding the coast must be clear. Just because he hadn’t been prepared to see her used by the drunkard didn’t mean Neal needed this. He deliberately ignored her presence for the moment.

Good going Neal, he berated himself. In the kitchen there were two bottles of wine. Neal grabbed one, uncorking it with a corkscrew he’d found in the drawer. At least this was real wine. Hopefully it would be a good vintage.

After he’d poured himself a generous serving, he headed to the couch and collapsed on it, closing his eyes. It was a good couch.

It must have been five minutes; Neal had sat there, not moving. Just taking in the peace.

“Would you like a massage?” A tentative voice came from the near the door. Neal opened his eyes. The woman was looking at him, wondering what it was Neal wanted from her. He knew she thought he was looking for sex from her. After all, what massage lasted all night?

He shook his head in response to her question and chewed his lip, wondering why he hadn’t done anything to dispel her belief. “God, I’m sorry.”

Neal stood back up, placing his wine glass down onto the coffee table. He headed to the kitchen and poured another glass. Coming back into the living room and, grateful for the few minutes of peace he’d been granted, he raised the glass in her direction, offering it to her. “Care to join me?”

She took the glass. He knew she didn’t consider it a kindness. It took all sorts to fill a hotel. No doubt he wasn’t the first to treat her like a date.

He motioned towards the couch. When she sat, he followed suit. Then he leaned forward. “I’m not interested in your services,” he informed, bluntly.

The woman straightened and she lowered the glass. She looked tired.

Neal put up a hand, attempting to stop her thoughts. He guessed it’d made no difference to her. If she couldn’t service him then she’d be forced to look elsewhere. The hotel demanded it. How else would they charge patrons more in the morning?

“Rest here for tonight,” Neal offered gently. “They can charge me for it.”

Neal saw her eyes widen in surprise as the full implication of his words hit her.

“I—I’m sorry?” She questioned, nervously.

Neal shrugged. “I don’t know if there’s more than one bed, but if there isn’t, you can take the bed. Get some sleep. Rest easy. I’ll stay on the couch, if need be.”

She looked horrified. “I can’t, sir, no thank you.” She made to depart, hastily.

Neal stood up, blocking her exit. “Please,” he insisted. Then he changed tack. “What’s your name?”

“Lily,” She answered, reluctantly, looking to the side.

“Lily?” Neal murmured. “Please, stay. I don’t want you to have to go out there and … not when you don’t have to. I won’t do anything. I don’t have an ulterior motive. I just want to give you at least one night off.”

Lily looked torn. She wasn’t sure what to make of Neal’s apparent kindness but she so wanted to find out, because any kind of hope—but it sounded too good. And it was weird. No freeperson ever cared. Full stop.

When she shrugged, Neal recognized that she had consented to taking the risk.


Neal nodded. He was done with trying to convince her anyway, so he was relieved that she’d chosen not to fight him any further. He had started back towards the couch when her voice stopped him. It wasn’t as meek but he sensed her caution.


“Why what?” Neal asked casually.

“Why would you do that, sir?”

“Neal is fine,” he corrected as he turned to face her again.

“Why would you do that, Neal?” Lily repeated, nervously, but apparently fine with using his name.

Neal looked vaguely at the wall. If he hadn’t had such an ‘interesting’ day or indeed, such an ‘interesting’ week, then he might have been able to redirect or skim straight over the question, but there was something about knowing that Lily might understand that sapped him of the rest of his strength. He settled on the couch.

It wasn’t until she sat down opposite him where he couldn’t ignore her presence that he finally took a breath and mumbled, “Because I’m not free either.”

Lily stiffened. Typical. She shook her head slightly. Neal was just another freeperson intent on making it all about themselves, it seemed. Here comes the condescending lecture. ‘You’ve got it good, you don’t have to worry about bills, and costs and working. Your owners do that for you, blah, blahity, blah. Nobody’s free, not really. My cage is a gilded one, blah!’

But Neal knew by her body language that she’d misunderstood him.

“Meaning,” he clarified, softly. “I’m no freeperson.”

He watched with a distracted interest as her eyes slowly morphed from irritation, to confusion and finally to surprise.

“You’re…” she spoke, amidst disbelief, forgetting to hush her tone. “You’re a slave?”

Neal gave a slight nod. “Mind, I haven’t been for very long.”

Lily’s eyes widened as the full implication of Neal’s revelation hit her. “You escaped?!”

Neal gave an abashed, lopsided smirk.

She shook her head, but he could see delight in her eyes.

“Oh boy,” she whispered. “You’re in a world of trouble if you’re ever caught.”

“I know,” Neal agreed, calmly. “And my owner is an FBI agent.”

She gaped at him, giving him an incredulously berating look.

“You know,” Lily spoke, shifting in place. “Hotel slaves are supposed to report anything suspicious to management. I’d say runaway fugitive slaves count.”

Neal shrugged, bored. “You can report me if you want,” he said, indifferently. “But I doubt it matters; the hotel owner is a friend of my friend. Besides, I’d be long gone before anyone could corroborate your story.”

A serious expression had settled over Lily’s soft features. Neal noticed that under the harsh make-up, a few light freckles dotted the bridge of her nose. She spoke sympathetically. “You’ll always be looking over your shoulder, especially if a Fed is after you … why bother?”

Neal smiled faintly, appreciating her bluntness.

He thought about Kate, about her face, and in particular, this one image of her that kept coming to him, of her looking over her shoulder at him as if she was only just aware of his presence. She’d had the widest eyes, like she was considering asking him a million different questions. Like she was about to ask him where he’d been…

“There’s this girl,” he explained, wistfully.

Lilly made an ‘ah’ noise. “Say no more,” she said, kindly.


Chapter Text

Elizabeth looked to the side where Peter was re-entering the car.

Peter settled in his seat, sighing with exasperation. “Anthony isn’t there. By the looks of things, someone has broken in.”

“Neal?” El suggested, quietly. She wished she could maintain tact, but there was just no room for it. No getting around the truth of things.

“Certainly capable of it,” Peter grumbled, remembering all the times Bonds had allegedly broken into places. “But there’s no evidence one way of the other.”

Elizabeth kept quiet. Peter was the agent, and though he’d never turned away from her advice, her advice was just that; advice. Peter was the one who did that stuff for a living. He was the one who had risen to the top of the white collar office. He was the one who had gone to Quantico. And he was the one with the seventy-eight percent case-closure rate. So she was quite comfortable with taking a back seat and letting Peter call the shots.

Peter was considering their options. And just because she didn’t work with him, didn’t mean Elizabeth couldn’t read him like an open book. That was often how she kept up, because Peter wasn’t exactly known for his ability to share information. He was just about as good at communicating as he was with hiding what he was thinking from her, which worked out well.

Peter looked out the window and glanced up at the night sky.

“It is getting late,” El agreed. “Maybe we can start fresh in the morning?”

Elizabeth knew Peter was doggedly stubborn when he had his nose to a scent, particularly when it was personal. She knew he’d get frustrated if he couldn’t get anywhere, and because she’d worked over the years, since she’d known him, on showing him all of the above in her own discrete, calm and patient way, Peter recognized what she’d said between the lines.

“Yeah,” Peter muttered, reluctantly. “We should find a place to stay. Anthony can’t be far, which means Neal won’t be far away and they both have to sleep. We can do this in the morning?” He tried to state it strongly but ended up phrasing it as a question. El recognized her cue.

“Yes, we can and we will. First thing in the morning,” Elizabeth said, reassuring Peter who once again, knew exactly what she was doing.

“Yeah,” he repeated, his tone clipped.

“Peter,” El stated, firmly, not fooled. “We’ll find him.”


Elizabeth had thoughtfully packed a small overnight bag containing the bare necessities to save them unpacking the two larger bags. It only contained bathroom supplies. El knew Peter wouldn’t notice anyway. He’d most likely stay awake all night, that is, if dozing fitfully in between bursts of activity didn’t count.

In the motel room, as expected, Peter paced. Now that he was static—unable to do anything productive—the ideas started flowing and beyond calling Diana who’d been mercifully patient despite the late hour phone-calls, there wasn’t really anything Peter could do about the ideas until morning.

“Boss,” Diana’s voice came though sounding tinny and high-pitched. “If Neal so much as smiles at a desk clerk, I’ll find out about it and call you. I promise. Get some sleep.”

And before Peter could come up with any more inane commands that she would have done without prompt, she informed him that she was hanging up. And then, to Peter’s surprise, she hung up.

“She told you to get some sleep?” Elizabeth guessed, smiling at Peter’s baffled expression. He stared at the phone then, realizing that he must have come off as gratingly obsessive; he put the phone down while considering whether or not he should get flowers for Diana on his way back.

He decided Diana would find flowers offensive.

“I’ll take her to the shooting range or something,” Peter told himself. Then he looked at Elizabeth who was reading the motel room services information. “Remind me, El; I have to get supplies in the morning.”

“Supplies?” El asked, frowning and wondering whether this was a part of one of Peter’s ‘ideas’.

Peter nodded. “Yeah, we didn’t think about what we were going to do once we caught up with Neal.”

Elizabeth put the information booklet aside and stood. “What do you mean?”

Peter tilted his head and spoke hesitantly, “Well, honey, it isn’t like before, is it? A leash won’t be good enough anymore. Neal is … James Bonds.”

“You think he’ll escape again?” Elizabeth asked, trying not to feel bitter. Would they always be on edge around Neal now?

Peter gave her a look. It was enough to put across his point. He may as well have said ‘duh’.

But Elizabeth looked away, contemplatively. “Actually,” she asserted. “Peter, I disagree.”

Peter arched a disbelieving eyebrow. “You don’t think, given half a chance, Neal will try and escape again?”

El cocked her head. “Okay, he may, yes, but Peter, that’s not what I meant.”

“I’m not sure how else you can spin the—” Peter started, confused.

Elizabeth nodded. “Look at the way he’s always tried to escape; alone, secretly, under the cover of darkness … away from you, Peter.”

“I’m not sure I follow,” Peter stated, even as he started following her train of thought.

“Neal never challenges you, Peter,” El explained. “I doubt that will change. He’s always been James Bonds. We just didn’t know it before. It’s not the leash that kept him there. The tracker might have helped, but I think it was mostly you, Peter. He knows he can’t beat you … and one only has to look at you two to see why. And even without the physical advantage you have, Peter, you’re also smart and Neal knows that.”

Peter was looking down at the bed, taking El’s words in, and mentally turning them over. She was right. Neal had always done what he had told him. He’d never fought Peter over anything. A faint protest had been the extent of Neal’s defiance.

El concluded her thoughts. “That’s why he waited until we were distracted. He couldn’t just pull free of his bindings and run, not with you around.”

“You’re right, El,” Peter said, conceding her points. “But we still need to know what we’re going to do with him when we find him.”

Elizabeth sat back down on the bed.

“I think we should blindfold when we find him,” Peter blurted out.

Elizabeth looked up, wide-eyed. “Blindfold him?”

“It’d give me an advantage,” Peter mumbled. “And anyway, he wasn’t meant to have taken it off. When he did, he escaped. Dr. Lehman told us not to let him take it off and we did, and see what happened.”

Elizabeth smiled. “Peter,” she teased, bemused. “I think that was a coincidence.”

“Besides,” Peter continued, ignoring El’s tease. “He cut his collar, we bought a spare leash, but we had no spare collar, so that’s something we need. I’ll just go to the slave supply shop in the morning and see what they’ve got. They’re bound to have more stuff available than the slave center did.”

El realized for the first time that Peter was scared. He didn’t show it; it was one of the few emotions that Peter Burke worked extra-hard to cover up and this was his way of regaining control. Going shopping for stuff, so that he felt…

“Peter,” El intoned, gently. “Are you afraid of not being able to control him?”

Peter turned desperate eyes on her. “He’s James Bonds, El,” he let out, overwhelmed at the notion. “How do I … what am I supposed to....? This is what he does, El!”

Elizabeth stood and drew Peter into her arms. “Hey,” she commanded, firmly. “He’s known who we were the whole time, and Neal still listened to you. Whether he wanted to or not. All you have to do is be yourself.”



“Oh, god!” Lily moaned, sliding up, stretching out as far as she could in the bed.

“Yeah,” Neal gasped, softly. “This is good.”

Lily shifted to her side and tucked her arms around the pillow before burying her face into it. Across the room, in the other king bed, Neal smirked as he watched Lily sigh with contentment. Then he rolled over, onto his back and stared at the ceiling.

A bed all to himself. He hadn’t thought it would be that big a deal, but he could feel the tension leaving his muscles even as he lay there, awake. Despite all the stress about finding Kate, Neal felt that there was a very real chance that this might be the best sleep he would have had in a real long while.


But Neal slept restlessly. He kept dreaming of … back, going back, instead of forward. Being pulled the wrong way. Unable to reach the door that was just in front of him. Of gaps closing the closer he got and of echoes; echoes that he never could quite understand like they were warning him but only vaguely.

When Neal woke up in the early hours of morning, he couldn’t remember much, just flashes of frustration, and doom. He put it all down to stress and worry: anxiety.

“I couldn’t sleep either,” a tired voice sighed in the room.

Neal looked at the other bed sharply.

“Not very well anyway,” the shadowy profile in the next bed elaborated.

Then he caught a flash of her arm as she moved in the bed and Neal relaxed. “Lily,” he murmured, remembering the slave-girl. “I forgot about you being here.”

Lily twisted onto her elbow. “I can go if you like.”

Neal shook his head. “Nah, stay as long as you can.”

Neal looked around the room, reluctant to expend much energy, but he needed to find out what time it was.
The alarm clock by his bed was glowing in the dimness of the room, so Neal found it easily enough but it wasn’t until he lifted his head after mentally goading himself, that he saw the time. Not even five in the morning.

“So,” Neal tried to talk lightly. “Why are you having trouble sleeping?”

He was at least a little interested; she didn’t seem like she was pining over a lost lover after all.

Lily mumbled something and shrugged. He recognized that she was retreating into herself. But then she looked up. She was timid and a little wary of the question but as she opened her mouth, Neal realized she actually did want to tell someone. Stranger’s ear and all that.

“You know,” she started hesitantly. “Life has a funny way of teaching you lessons. Take karma for instance—that’s a good word for it.”

Neal watched as Lily shifted a little, more confident in talking now that she’d started.

“It’s been a long time since I was alone … in a bed like this anyway,” Lily mumbled; her voiced a little distorted by the pillow. “It jut brings back memories.”

Neal propped himself up until he had several pillows beneath him. He looked at her, his interest piqued.

Lily sat up and after a moment, continued ruefully, “My mother was rich. Well off; she inherited my father’s wealth. He died when I was three. Mother wasn’t very … nurturing. She liked to have fun. So, she gave me a slave. A nanny, I suppose.”

Neal looked down. He knew this story wouldn’t end well, but it wasn’t about the story. It was about Lily being able to talk about it. So, he looked back up and listened.

“Her name was Tara. I was nasty to her,” Lily admitted. “Anyway, when I was twelve, Mother died.”

Lily went quiet for a while. Neal shifted until he was sitting with his back, cushioned by pillows against the headboard of the bed. He just waited.

“After she died,” Lily said in a quiet voice. “I found out that she spent it all. I didn’t understand at the time, but I was told that I was broke and that she’d left behind debts.”

Neal closed his eyes in sympathy. It was cruel that a twelve year old child should have such a rotten fortune.



Neal glanced at Lily. The young woman was looking out the window of the bedroom.

Staring vacantly, she seemed to be talking to no-one now; just voicing aloud what had happened in a clear—albeit quiet—factual tone.

“A child’s status can’t be converted … so I was….”

“They invested in you,” Neal finished. “Put you in a ‘home’ to learn some ‘useful skills’?”

Lily nodded stiffly. Then she took a breath and completed the story with a fake nonchalance. “And when I was eighteen, I was sold into the hotel industry.”

Neal swung his legs over the side of the bed, throwing the blanket off as he went. He took a breath and grimaced. “I’m sorry, Lily.”

Lily shrugged and copied Neal’s actions, until she was sitting on the edge of the bed, facing Neal. “That’s not even what bothers me. I don’t know what happened to Tara. She put up with me … and I don’t—I don’t know what happened to her. I—I miss her. She was the closest thing I had to a mother. A real one.”

Neal looked away, out though the window, at the dim morning. He thought he could see a slight, light tinge to the night. It wouldn’t be long before the sun rose. He looked back at Lily. She wiped her cheek. He realized she had cried.

Lily gave a self-deprecating smile. “Sorry. I just wanted you to know ... I understand. Find your girl.”

Neal smiled.


“Peter,” Elizabeth called, catching his arm as he passed, heading for the door. “I called around, there aren’t any shops open until eight.”

Peter stopped, frustrated.

“Fine,” he said, shortly. “I’m going to go anyway, ask around, and find out how many motels there are. He’d probably stay in a place that takes cash payments.”

“I think he had help,” El whispered just as Peter reached the door.

He turned, and gave a nod, while airing his own thoughts. “I’ve been thinking about it myself. At first it could have been a coincidence, but after connecting Bonds to Neal, those alerts … they had to have been caused by someone else. Neal was with us the entire morning if not the majority of the week.”

“Which means,” El concluded, uneasily. “It might be harder to find him than we thought.”

“No,” Peter refuted. “How we look for him changes a bit, but it just means more people involved and; more people talking.”

When Elizabeth still didn’t look certain, Peter cupped her face. “Hey, this is what I do. It’s fine. Besides, more help, means more resources; chances are Neal is going to leave a trail using these resources.”

“So.” Elizabeth trailed a finger down Peter’s chest to his pants pocket. Then tracing the bulge lightly, she drew out the phone. “Diana will be able to find him then?”

Peter, who had been unsure of what his wife was up to, broke out into a grin. “I’m counting on it.” He shook his head. “I don’t know what I’d do without her, she'll probably have something already.”

“You’re going to call her now?” El asked, wincing as she drew in a sharp breath. “Maybe you should wait…?”

“Nah,” Peter said, taking the phone. “It’s late enough. Hopefully she’ll have something.”

Elizabeth looked at her wristwatch and twisted her mouth, unsure. It wasn’t even seven in the morning yet.


Chapter Text

A thought occurred to Neal as he watched the shift manager cast a glance at Lily who was keeping her gaze downcast from where she was standing off to the side.

“I trust you’ve found our services satisfactory?” The manager asked discreetly, as the wait-staff placed the breakfast foods Neal had ordered onto the table in the center of the room.

“Superb,” Neal replied smoothly, using the fake smile he used on those he secretly despised. “If it’s not a problem, I was hoping to keep some of these services until I check out?”

The man smiled, pleased. “Of course not; there’s no limit to the service we provide.”

After the wait-staff headed out of the door taking the delivery trolley with them, the manager gave a short bow and departed from of the room.

Lily looked up after Neal shut the door. She seemed to sense his frustration.

“Don’t worry about it,” she told him. “They leave us alone for the most part.”

But Neal heaved a sigh and headed to the food. “It just occurred to me … even as a slave, I’m lucky.”

“How so?” Lily asked, passively, as she opened up a breakfast tray to find some steaming hot food beneath the metal lid.

“I’ve got owners that actually…” Neal started, but at the flash of Peter’s and Elizabeth’s faces he hesitated.

Lily turned to face him, putting the lid back down as she went. When Neal looked into the distance she absently fiddled with the ends of her sandy hair. She could be patient but it was one of those times where she felt the other person didn’t exactly need or want to think, absently or otherwise.


Neal blinked back to the present. He swallowed and resumed where he left off as if nothing had happened. “At the end of the day … they care about me." And Lily could see that had been difficult to admit for Neal. He continued, "I’m not used for business or profit.”

Lily lowered her chin and smiled, wryly. “Right,” she agreed. “But would it make that much of a difference?”

Neal shrugged. “I actually don’t know,” he admitted. “But, if I get hurt … they’re going to be upset about it. And I won’t catch STDs from them. I don’t have to worry about drunken guys hitting me. And they—they’ve got this dog….”

Lily edged closer to Neal, concerned. “Neal … are you saying—are you—”

“What?” Neal said, defensively. “I’m not saying anything. I’m just saying I’m lucky as far as … as being a slave goes.”

Lily nodded quickly. “Sure,” she said, calmly. “Neal, can I ask you a question?”

Neal nodded numbly.

“If it weren’t for this girl you’re looking for,” Lily said, carefully. “Would you have escaped? You—you said last night, after I asked you ‘why bother?’ you said it was because of the girl.”

“What are you saying?” Neal asked, alarm creeping up on him. “What do you mean?”

Lily seemed like she wanted to stop; to leave well-enough alone, but she knew Neal wouldn’t be able to drop it now. “Could you be content with your owners if you didn’t have this girl pulling you away from them?”

“No,” Neal denied, horrified by the doubt that was pooling in his stomach.

Lily seemed to know that she had touched a nerve. One that Neal wanted very much to bury. Lily seemed apologetic. She lifted the lid off the tray again and spread out two plates. “What would you like?” she asked, distracted.

Neal dropped into his chair. “Not much … listen, I’m expecting this friend to come back any time.”

“Oh,” Lily mouthed, dropping the small metal spatula back onto the tray. “I should go.”

Neal grasped her arm and pulled her back to the vacant chair. “No. Sit. Eat.”

But Lily sat stiffly in the chair.

Neal picked up a fork and motioned with it, casually. “It’s fine. I’m only telling you so you don’t worry.”

Neal was so casual and distracted that Lily could tell easily that he had meant what he’d said, so she eased back in the chair and picked up a fork.

The next few minutes consisted of the sounds of two subdued people making every effort to take advantage of the five-star breakfast meal; something neither knew if they’d get the chance to enjoy again. Oddly enough, the meal may as well have gone uneaten; it wasn’t enjoyed it all that much.

Neal gave up and dumped his fork, opting for a sip of his coffee.

“You should know,” Neal said idly. “My friend is kind of … tactless.”

“Meaning he’s never been a slave and has no clue that it isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be?” Lily surmised.

Neal smirked, appreciating Lily’s astute conclusion.

“He’s odd.” Neal shrugged, placing the coffee mug back down.

“He’s typical,” Lily stated, coming off harsher than she had meant. “Sorry, but if you’d met him after you were enslaved … would he have paid you any mind, let alone be your friend?”

Neal’s immediate impulse was to admit, tersely, that Mozzie probably wouldn’t have looked at him twice, but then Neal hesitated, thinking about the security-conscious, oddly-entertaining, and secretly loyal man.
Neal decided he couldn’t be sure. While what Lily was insinuating had merit, Neal allowed for the possibility that he and Moz had become friends because of who they were, and not what they were.

“Hmm,” Neal murmured, not wanting to stake an opinion either way. “How do you know we met before I was enslaved?”

“You said you hadn’t been enslaved long,” Lily answered promptly, without missing a beat. “So it was a lucky guess.”

Neal smiled softly. He knew he should shut up; he had already told her way too much, but he didn’t feel any wariness around Lily. She was a stalwart kind of girl, Neal could tell.

“You never did tell me how you were enslaved,” Lily noted.

Neal nodded, not bothered, but he looked away. The meaning was clear; he didn’t want to think about it. That or there was something he couldn’t tell her.

Lily cocked her head, and spoke gently. “Was it financial?”

Neal turned back to her, considering her question carefully. And he thought about the circumstances that had forced his fate to turn foul. Finally he gave a mild look of affirmation. “I guess you could say it was financial.”

Lily shrugged lazily. “Isn’t everything?”

No, Neal thought privately. Not everything. Not for him anyway.


Moz returned around thirty minutes later. The first Neal knew of his return was when he and Lily were on the balcony looking over the city. Neal had been wondering silently as to where Moz was and what was taking him so long. Lily was taking in the sun on the deck-chair, pointedly keeping out of sight, lest any hotel staff look up and see her looking like she was enjoying herself.

“Neal!” Moz had called. “Neeeeeal!”

Neal headed into the door, wondering why Moz couldn’t look discreetly around the room before yelling.
What if Neal had been using ‘Nick’ or ‘George’? He made a note to berate Moz later.

The moment Neal parted the white lace curtain and stepped through, back into the living room, Moz waved a piece of paper. “Let’s go, Neal. We’ve got a meet.”

“Anthony?” Neal asked, his eyes following the paper Moz was still motioning about.

“No,” Moz said, distracted. “Just the … Neal, who is that?”

Neal glanced over his shoulder at Lily who was looking Moz over with a mild skepticism.

“This is Lily,” Neal said simply, leaving Moz to introduce himself as whoever he pleased.

Moz gave a nod. “I see. Neal. A moment?”

Neal dipped his head. “Excuse us, Lily.”

“Actually.” Lily motioned to the door unenthusiastically. “I really do have to go now. But good luck, Neal.”

Neal nodded. He wished he could do more or insist that she stay, but he knew she couldn’t. “Take care.”

Lily paused by the door, deliberately ignoring Moz’s critical analysis. “And, Neal … thanks.”

Neal just gave a small nod and watched as Lily stepped out, shutting the door behind her. He couldn’t help but feel that he should have said more, or maybe that it had been too simple, her stepping out, like they hadn’t found a kind of peace in each-other’s company. But they had both known it would be that abrupt, her departure. It was never going to be right.

“I leave you for one night, Neal. One night! You can’t even be alone for one night,” Moz criticized shrilly.

“It’s not like that Moz,” Neal opposed, irritated. “And it isn’t important. Tell me what you found.”

“She called you ‘Neal’!” Moz shrieked. “You told her who you were!”

Neal ignored Moz’s incredulous accusations. He didn’t even bother pointing out that Moz had yelled his name in Lily’s presence because, well, Moz was kind of right. “Moz, focus,” he snapped. “Anthony?”

Moz shook his head, not thrown by Neal’s sharp rebuke. “Neal … word in town is there are two Feds looking around; a man and a woman. The woman is said to be gorgeous; blue eyes, brown hair. That’s the Suit and Mrs. Suit! Lily … has just become a loose end.”

“She’s not a loose end,” Neal said firmly. “Look, forget Lily, Moz. And forget the Burkes. Tell me about Anthony!”

Moz sighed and took his glasses off. As he held them up to the light to inspect the glass, Moz spoke. “Word is Nathan Anthony is looking to shoot the next Fed who comes knocking. He’s tired of looking like a narc. Wants to make his point.”

“So,” Neal said, simply. “We tell him we’re not Feds.”

“Right,” Moz agreed, returning his glasses. “We have to talk to some buddies of his before he’ll talk to us.”


After calling Diana, Peter had told Elizabeth that his probie was calling all ports of accommodation in town to see if anyone had checked in the previous night, regardless of the method of payment. Then Peter had left, promising not to be long.

Peter had been gone for an hour and during that time, rather than sit and wait, Elizabeth had done her own digging; calling various businesses, capitalizing on the ones she’d associated with through Burke Premiere Events, trying to find out any information she could on odd or suspicious happenings. And aside from talk of a couple of Feds looking around—which El realized were herself and Peter—there was nothing.

She was just calling another local bank to ask if they’d seen anyone looking like Neal making any withdrawals when Peter stalked into the room, tossing a shopping bag aside and motioning to El with the phone stuck to his ear.

“Okay,” he said, glancing at his watch. “Thanks Diana, we’ll check it out.”

“Did she find Neal?” Elizabeth asked, trying not to pin her hopes on Peter’s answer.

“A man matching Neal’s description checked into a hotel room on fifty-second last night,” Peter said quickly, maintaining a neutral exterior. “Let’s go.”


Peter wasn’t sure, later on, how he opened that hotel room door and maintained his indifferent professionalism in the face of the empty room. Inside, he had been disappointed once more, he’d cursed the hopelessness that sank in his stomach, and he’d felt very much like throwing the lamp that was on the table by the door into the wall opposite. Instead, he stepped into the living room and cast a glace around.

“He’s moved on,” he stated quietly. He heard El sigh. “We’ll find him, El. This is good, we know he was here.”

“We think he was here,” El corrected.

“How many other blue-eyed, brunette-haired Adonises do you know?” Peter asked, attempting a light tone, which he failed. Then he turned to the hotel shift-manager that had accompanied them. “I need to know who had contact with him. I’d like to ask them some questions.”

“Well,” the manager spoke a little nervously. He hadn’t been told why the FBI was looking for the latest hotel guest. “I spoke to him myself, this morning, uh, about an hour ago, when we delivered breakfast. I was there to check on the slave, to find out if she was still there.”

“What slave?” Peter asked, stepping forward.

“He spent the night with a slave,” the manager explained unhelpfully. “Said the service was ‘superb’.”

Peter scanned the man. “Right, which one? I want to talk to her, can you bring her here?”

“Uh, yes,” the man managed to decide. “I will. Just a moment.”

By the time the manager returned with a sandy-haired, white-clothed, and nervous looking slave, Peter had searched every room and aside from finding a few wine-glasses in the sink and two messed-up beds, he’d found no evidence of whether it had been Neal who’d stayed or, if it was, where he’d gone next.

Peter took one look at the slave and decided if she was going to talk, it wouldn’t be with the manager around.

“Can we have a moment?” He asked, pointedly. The man looked taken by surprise but he bobbed his head and left the room.

“Do you know who we are?” Peter asked as he came to a stop in front of the slave who was looking down, patiently waiting.

“No, sir,” she replied.

Peter cocked his head. The slave had lied. He was sure of it. But she hadn’t exactly fidgeted or anything so he ignored his instincts.

“What’s your name,” El asked, coming up beside Peter.

“Lily, ma’am,” the young woman answered.

“My name’s Elizabeth,” El shared kindly.

“We’re looking for the man you serviced last night,” Peter started bluntly.

“And this is Peter,” Elizabeth continued as if Peter wasn’t interrogating the woman.

Peter looked, bewildered, at El.

Unfazed by her husband’s incredulous look, El patted Peter’s forearm, pushing it slightly. “Honey, why don’t you go check out the balcony? Neal might have left some clue there.”

Peter mouthed his confusion but at El’s pointed glance at Lily who was still looking down, he sighed dramatically before heading to balcony door, prepared to stand outside and wait uselessly while his wife took the namby-pamby approach to getting the information they needed out of the slave.

“Neal?” Lily repeated, frowning. “Ma’am, the man I served last night introduced himself as Daniel.”

“That doesn’t mean anything,” Peter told El, having heard Lily’s helpful tip. “Bonds uses aliases all the time, hon. I’ll get Diana to put an aler—”

El had waved at Peter dismissively while nodding, the thought had already occurred to her. Peter huffed and stepped out, batting the white lace curtain aside as he went. Then Elizabeth turned back to the slave and motioned to the couch. “Let’s sit down.”

Lily allowed El to lead her over to the couch and then they sat, facing each other.

“Do you remember the man you spent the night with? Neal—or Daniel…?” Elizabeth asked, starting small. According to the manager, she’d been with him a mere half hour previously.

“Yes, ma’am,” Lily answered obediently.

“It’s really important that we find him,” Elizabeth told her, hoping she didn’t sound like she was pleading in any way.

Lily didn’t say anything. So Elizabeth smiled, hoping it would be reflected in her tone. “So, if you can tell us where you think he might be, that would be really helpful.”

Lily shrugged, slightly. “I’m sorry, ma’am.”

“Anything at all,” Elizabeth tried again. “Even something as small as—I don’t know….”

Lily realized then that this could go on forever. They were desperate enough and once the wife gave up, the man would step in and he’d be demanding with her but he’d get nowhere either.

“He didn’t really say anything important,” Lily said, gently. “I remember he said something about his birthmark changing color if it was going to rain.”

El sat back, frowning. “Neal doesn’t have a birthmark.

Lily nodded. “This man did, ma’am, on his upper right thigh. Shaped like Italy.”

“Neal definitely does not have a birthmark,” Elizabeth insisted.

You would know, Lily thought to herself. Outwardly she just looked up helplessly.

Peter popped his head in, frowning, clearly having been eavesdropping.

Elizabeth stood and gave Peter a significant look.

“Okay,” El said glancing at Lily. “Thank you.”

Then before Lily could look for a dismissal and before Peter could say anything, El headed for the door. Peter followed suit, flaying the curtain out behind him as he went.

Outside, after Peter had only just shut the door, El looked at Peter. “She’s lying.”

Peter turned his head. “You think?”

“Yes,” El said firmly. “She’s protecting Neal. I don’t know why. But, Peter, we’re not going to get anything out of her.”

Just then Peter caught sight of someone over her shoulder. El turned her head; it was the shift manager returning.

“Hey,” Peter called. “You have cameras … can we see the footage?”

Chapter Text

Neal watched the three men converse. Moz had moved away from him, steering the men until their attention was off Neal. Neal supposed he should be grateful; the men hadn’t taken kindly to his impatience, and no doubt one or both of them had been considering letting him know, and not in the most passive of ways.

Neal crossed his arms. Moz’s conversation with the two men was taking too long. He’d already been standing here for ages. And he could practically taste the scent of Kate’s perfume. He was so close!

Neal almost flinched visibly when Moz spoke right in front of him, startling him from his thoughts.

“Got the address,” Moz announced, satisfied, waving a piece of white paper in front of Neal’s nose.

Neal snatched it and quickly read the untidy scrawl. Then Neal looked up. “He’s in a warehouse?”


Elizabeth had been right. Peter squeezed her hand as they watched Neal on camera, exiting the room with an unidentified male, one they couldn’t see clearly, about fifteen minutes after the slave-girl had departed.

“He’s avoiding the cameras,” Peter observed aloud as he watched the curious looking stranger. The man moved oddly; stiffly, sideways, ducking, shifting in stops and starts and at one point Peter could have sworn he used a mirror to look at something over his shoulder. Neal had been walking along beside him as if the man’s behavior was perfectly pedestrian.

“He left fifteen minutes before we came, Peter,” El said, her voice tinged with despair. “We only just missed him.”

“We’re close,” Peter said, attempting to be upbeat. “We just have to—”

But Peter was interrupted by an incoming call.

Elizabeth couldn’t tell who it was or what it was about, other than to guess that it was Diana and that it was about Neal. Hopefully.

Peter wasn’t saying much. His face was interesting to watch though. It went through a fairly varied range of expressions all conveying interest and deep thought. Mostly though, he was listening intently.

When he hung up, he looked at the phone in his hand, considering something, and then he looked at Elizabeth.

“Diana found Anthony,” Peter said quietly. “He’s in a warehouse.”


When Neal saw the warehouse that Moz had picked out from among the rest, his chest constricted and his throat seemed to dry instantly. He had no idea why he was this nervous. This was only a pit stop on the road to finding Kate. They’d go in, ask Anthony where she’d gone and, one way or another, they’d come away with the information they needed and Anthony would only be a wisp of a memory—a stepping stone he’d crossed momentarily. And yet….

Neal couldn’t rid himself of the foreboding feeling he had.

“Listen, Moz,” he suddenly murmured, not averting his gaze from the warehouse they stood twenty or so yards away from now. “If anything happens….”

“Nothing will happen, Neal,” Moz said confidently, if not with boredom—he’d noticed Neal’s nerves.

“I know,” Neal agreed. “But if it does. Find Kate. I don’t care what it takes. Just find her. Make sure she’s okay.”

Moz didn’t reply.

Taking his silence for reluctance, Neal spoke once more. “You can have the rest of my stash—anything, Moz. Just find Kate.”

“Nothing is going to happen, Neal,” Moz insisted, again trying to stifle a tinge of annoyance. “Keep your stash. I’m not doing this bec—”

“I know, Moz,” Neal stated firmly.

“Let’s just go in,” Moz pleaded. “And Neal. Try to be less … confrontational. This guy is on edge; he’d probably shoot you as a form of therapy.”

Neal rolled his eyes. “Let’s go.”

There weren’t any guys patrolling outside so Neal figured Anthony’s muscle would be inside. It wasn’t often that a hustler like Anthony would have muscle but a guy that paranoid about the Feds hitting him up for information and portraying him as a narc would likely make an exception and hire some men for the occasion. Otherwise, Neal figured, he would have holed up in a small room or skipped out of town, instead of opting for a hide-out with space. Neal also acknowledged that there was a chance Anthony was here prepping for some scheme.

Either way, he and Moz were about to walk in, unarmed, unprepared and defenseless with only the word of some ‘buddies’ of his that Anthony would be receptive to their visit.

Naturally, when Neal walked in, while ignoring the scrutinizing gazes of the two men just inside the door, he wasn’t expecting the guy—Anthony—to break into an ear-to-ear grin.


Neal mentally ran over every detail of every person he’d met while donning the name of Nick Halden but he came up empty. Neither he—Neal Caffrey—nor Nick Halden had ever met Nathan Anthony. He was sure of it.

“I’m sorry,” Neal said, cautiously. “Have we met?”

“Nah,” Anthony replied, waving casually. “I only know ya by reputation. Awesome, man, awesome!”

“Right,” Neal muttered. Then he decided to just go straight to the point. “Well, perhaps you could help me?”

He heard Moz give an exasperated sigh beside him. Neal realized he should probably have buttered Anthony up a bit more. But idle chatter wasn’t tempting like it once was, not when his girlfriend was missing.

“Sure, man,” Anthony answered enthusiastically, moving forward. “What’s up? Got a job?”

“No,” Neal said, apologetically. “No, I just need some information. And I’ve heard you might be able to help.”

“Yeah, sure,” Anthony said softly, eying both men, wondering what information he could possibly have that Nick Halden would need so bad that he’d be prepared to chase down a small-time hustler like him.

“Great.” Neal nodded. And he braced himself. “Do you know where I can find a woman by the name of Kate Moreau?”

Anthony’s countenance darkened immediately, but Neal could tell it wasn’t directed at him. Anthony shook his head. “Couldn’t have imagined the broad would attract so much trouble. Do ya know the Feds have been asking after her? Making me look bad.”

Neal winced sympathetically. “Yeah, I heard about that.”

Anthony shrugged and relaxed his expression. “Well, I didn’t tell ‘em nothing. And mostly because I ain’t like that. But even if I was, I wouldna been able to. Not much anyway.” Anthony shrugged.

Neal tried not to let the disappointment flood him. He kept his face clear and instead caught the guy’s attention again with an ‘ahem’. “Right,” Neal said casually and he cast about for some slight sliver of information that the man might possibly be able to tell him. “Not even…”

“But,” Anthony announced. “I did—I mean, I do ‘ave a name. Some guy that gave her the resources she needed or actually moved her himself. It ain’t not much, but it’s a name, right?”

Neal stifled his frustration; yes, a name was good but it sounded like another name-hunt, the same as hunting down Anthony; just a long, annoying goose chase. “Okay.” He accepted. “Can you tell me what it is?”

“You know what,” Anthony smiled and gestured. “I like ya, Halden, so I’ll give ya the name, eh? Free of charge.”

“Appreciated,” Neal told him, not bothering with a smile. “What is it?”

“Adler,” Anthony answered, smiling. “Right; Adler—he’s the one ya need to find.”

Neal zoned out then. Adler! Neal swore in French.

It was only when Moz poked him and hissed that Neal shook his mind clear, mentally righting himself. He looked back at Anthony who was casting a glance at his men, wondering why the infamous Halden looked lost to the world.

“Adler?” Neal repeated, his tone clipped. “Are you sure?”

“Dead set,” Anthony grunted.

Neal nodded.

Then the warehouse doors echoed with a purposeful, metallic clanging.


Peter sighed as his wife stubbornly refused to listen to reason.

“El,” he moaned. “Please.”

“No,” El insisted. “I’m not letting you go in there alone.

“They’ll probably use you against me,” Peter told her.

“They think I’m FBI, like you. They won’t use me, Peter,” El reasoned irrationally. “I’m not letting you go alone. Besides Neal might be there.”

Peter closed his eyes for a moment. “Fine,” he said, giving in. “But you stay right behind me, El.”

“Agreed,” El said happily, shutting the car door softly.

Peter had his gun drawn which El had to admit made her very nervous. It wasn’t often she saw Peter with his armored FBI agent demeanor. She snapped her mind back to what was important when Peter turned to her, frowning.

“The doors are all closed,” he noted. “We can’t ambush them, unless…. We’ll have to lure them out.”

El thought over the ways they could successfully lure whoever was inside out, and finally she realized sometimes simple was best. She chewed her lip before speaking. “Honey, get ready.”

Peter blinked at her. “El?”

“They’ll come out,” she said, confidently. “But you need to be somewhere … not there.”

“And you need to be safe, behind me,” he reminded her.

“I’ll hide,” El said nodding. “Don’t worry, Peter. Now, come on, we’re wasting time.”

When Peter was around the corner from the door, prepared to surprise anybody who came out from behind them, he nodded to El who was standing at the door. Then to Peter’s horror, she raised a fist.

Seriously? Peter gave El a mortified look. El was knocking?!

Elizabeth rapped her fist against the metal of the door, but her knocks echoed, causing an indistinguishable series of metallic bangs.

Then she rounded the other corner opposite Peter. They heard the sounds of indistinct shouting, followed by the sound of a loud, heavy, metal door being pushed open over the concrete ground. Awful sound.

A man swung out, looking around, searching the smallest sign of movement. When El spotted the nozzle of a rifle held in his hands down low, waiting, El couldn’t help but make a sound as she drew a quick intake of breath. The man swung in her direction and stepped out cautiously. El moved backwards, huddling, her back against the wall, wondering if she should sprint for the warehouse across the bitumen. Then she heard Peter’s voice shout, full of venomous warning. She moved to the edge and poked her head out where she saw Peter standing behind the man with a gun raised to his head. As she watched, the man reluctantly dropped his rifle.

Then El caught sight of movement from the door.

“Peter, watch out,” she called, too late.


Holding their hands over their ears they waited until the banging subsided. Then Anthony was glaring at the door. He cursed. “Who was that? Find out would ya?” He barked at the two men.

Neal glanced at Moz. Then he stepped forward and leaned in to Anthony. “Hey,” he whispered. “Is there a back door?”

“Yeah,” Anthony mumbled, distracted. “Beyond them crates; behind a grate—there’s a door. It makes a good hidey-hole too, if ya wanna wait. I wouldn’t mind talking shop with ya, Halden, we can just wait for my men to scare em’ intruders off.”

“I don’t think we’ll stay, sorry,” Neal told him, even as he and Moz headed for the crates.

But Anthony didn’t seem to care; he was distracted by the sound of shouts. His men didn’t sound like they were successfully scaring off whoever was out there.

Neal and Moz had only just slid the grate aside, out of sight of all the commotion, safely hidden for the moment behind the crates, when they heard the report of a gunshot. Moz darted through the hole but Neal paused. He could tell no-one had been hit, that it had only been a warning shot, because instead of screams or groans, there was a stunned silence. Only for ten seconds or so, though.

He heard Anthony swearing. Then he heard other voices. And they sounded….

“Oh,” Neal groaned quietly. He realized what was going to happen and even as the dread settled into every fiber of his being, he focused on being practical. “Moz, go. Find Kate.”

Moz spun and peered out at Neal from in the darkness. He hissed. “Neal!”

“It’s the Burkes,” Neal replied. “I can’t let Anthony shoot them.”

“Neal,” Moz whined, angrily.

But Neal had that expression; the one where Moz knew nothing he said would make a difference. Neal had doomed himself.

“Just find Adler,” Neal said coldly. “Go.”

Moz looked like he wanted to say a million things and because he knew he wouldn’t have the chance, he opted for stubborn silence instead. He scowled then turned, disappearing into the darkness.

Neal took a breath, and then hastily edged his way to the end of the line of crates hiding his presence until he could see around the side. About thirty yards away at the other end of the warehouse, Neal could see Anthony waving his gun as he ranted about how much Feds sucked. He seemed to be in a state of panic at having been found. Neal could tell the guy wanted to know how he’d been found but was instead ranting whatever words his anger made him spew. Neal looked to where Anthony was looking. Peter stood, unarmed, glaring at the guy face on, partially shielding Elizabeth who looked scandalized, like she wanted to sit Anthony in the naughty corner until he learned how to control his temper.

Anthony’s two goons were on either side of them, weapons trained on them. Neal knew the majority of threats made by criminals against feds weren’t worth any notice; most were blowing off steam or talking themselves up but Neal didn’t like the crazed look in Anthony’s eyes or the tinge of desperation in his voice, nor did he like the look of the goons who, he could tell, knew what they were doing. He wouldn’t put them past having killed in the past.

Anthony was running out of things to yell and Neal knew time was short.

He took a breath and stepped out.

Chapter Text

“Anthony!” Neal called, interrupting his rant. He took on an agitated tone. “What are you doing?”

Anthony turned his head and frowned, perplexed. “I thought you’d gone,” he called back.

Neal glanced at the Burkes and ignored it as his stomach fluttered; their gazes were uncomfortable. Peter was glaring calmly at him and Elizabeth’s face had morphed from determined and strict to delighted.

“Yeah,” Neal said softly, and then he spoke up, returning his focus to Anthony. He motioned to the guns. “Would you mind? I’d rather there was no shooting going on.”

“You’d rather?” Anthony repeated. “Man, these are Feds.”

At his own reminder, Anthony looked back at the Feds and looked set to start bellowing his hate again but instead straightened his hold on the weapon and squared his shoulders.

Hating what Anthony was forcing him to do; Neal moved further away from his ever-diminishing chance at escape, slipping smoothly in between Anthony and the Burkes, and bared his palms by his sides in a neutral message to calm the hell down. “Put your gun down, Anthony,” he prompted calmly.

“What are ya doing?” Anthony asked in disbelief.

“Unfortunately,” Neal replied smoothly. “I can’t let you shoot them.”

“I can still order my men to shoot ‘em,” Anthony pointed out, lowering his gun.

“And I’m asking that you don’t,” Neal said swiftly. “Please,” he added.

“If I don’t,” Anthony grumbled aloud. “People will think I invited ‘em over 'ere for tea.”

“We don’t like tea,” Peter quipped.

Neal rolled his eyes. “No, Anthony, no-one knows. Besides they're not here for you.”

“That’s true; we’re here for him,” Peter chirped helpfully.

Neal almost—almost—jumped forward at the feel of fingers curling, gently but firmly, around his arm. He hadn’t even heard Peter coming up behind him. Neal turned his head slightly and saw the agent standing at his side in his peripherals. On his other side, El was peering out from behind Neal’s shoulder, having also moved up quietly.

“You’re here to arrest Halden?” Anthony asked uncertainly.

“Nick Halden?” Peter asked, sounding amused.

Neal only just stopped himself from closing his eyes in dismay. Nick Halden must have been connected to James Bonds by the FBI. He wondered what he could say to convince Peter that he was only using a random name he'd heard from somewhere—say Peter's files, but as he opened his mouth Peter cuffed Neal on the back of his head softly, not at all hard, but it surprised Neal who ducked forward.

“We know who you are ... Nick,” Peter revealed evenly, apparently having seen the lie coming.

Neal cringed and it had nothing to do with his head. He ignored Anthony for a second and half-turned.
He looked at Elizabeth first. She was looking at Neal with a mixture of apologetic agreement and curiosity. Neal was reluctant to turn his gaze on Peter, but he did and Peter wasn’t showing anything, he merely met Neal’s eyes. That made Neal nervous. It was like Peter was saving an outburst of some sort for later when they were alone.

He turned back to Anthony. And for the first time, Neal was lost for words. Now that the Burkes claimed they knew who he was—and he still had some reservations about that—there seemed to be no need to play both sides and shield information.

“What’s he talking about, Halden?” Anthony finally asked.

“It doesn’t matter,” Peter said before Neal could answer. “All that matters is we aren’t interested in you, Anthony. Nick is who we’re after. Now that we’ve got him....”

“Wait,” Anthony grunted, stepping forward, the gun by his side. “You’re arresting Halden?” He asked again.

“No,” Peter said, shortly. “No need, he’s—”

“Can you please not?” Neal begged, whining like a two-year old.

“Shush,” Peter commanded.

Neal fell silent with a heavy, resigned sigh.

Peter edged out from behind Neal a bit more, still with a vice grip on Neal. “He’s ours.”

Perhaps instinctively, Elizabeth emphasized Peter's words by stepping in close to Neal and taking Neal’s remaining arm, lacing her fingers within his, and tracing patterns on the crook of his elbow with her thumb from her right hand.

Anthony looked at them, taking in their stance, thinking over Peter’s words. “Huh?”

“Nick is our slave,” Peter explained, figuring he should keep Neal’s real name a secret. Nor did he like the idea, for now, that anybody should know that James Bonds had been enslaved. Nick Halden could be sacrificed though.

Neal slouched, mentally waving the alias goodbye.

Anthony stared at them for so long, trying to wrap his mind around the dashing, successful criminal Nick Halden having been, allegedly enslaved by a couple of Feds. It was his worst nightmare he decided. “Oh.”

“Might shoot ‘em,” Anthony said, glancing at his men. “Don’ like the idea of Feds owning Halden like that—then ya’d be able to run, Halden.”

Neal sighed, it was so tempting—the running part that is. When Peter squeezed his arm pointedly, bringing Neal back to the present. Neal glanced at Peter, huffing quietly.

“No,” he protested, looking at Anthony. “Don’t.”

“You ain’t got a clue what you’re saying, Nick,” Anthony said quietly. “You’re too good for Feds. Nick, come on, Man.”

Neal shook his head. He didn’t need this. “Stop.”

“Forget you then,” Anthony shrugged reluctantly. “But what about me? What’s people gonna think when they hear that I let pansy-ass Feds take Nick Halden? I’d be worse than a narc then.”

Anthony seemed to have made up his mind. He probably thought he was doing Neal a favor in the long run. Neal automatically pulled El’s hand in, attempting to shield her, but it was useless.

“Hold it,” Peter growled, giving up on Neal being able to talk Anthony out of shooting them. As it was, Anthony ignored him and gave his men a look. They cocked their rifles.

“What do you think the FBI will do to you when they find out you shot one of their own?” Peter threatened.

“Who’s gonna tell ‘em?" Anthony challenged. “Nick?”

“I’ll do more than that,” Neal snarled, having lost the last of his patience, and took a step forward, ignoring the strain on his arms. “Trust me Anthony, you shoot them, and you’ll find that what the FBI does will be nothing on what I will do to you!”

Neal felt as Peter’s grip on his arm loosened in surprise and El clutched tighter to him, stepping up behind him to close the distance.

Anthony’s expression darkened at the threat. “Maybe I’ll just shoot ya too.” He raised his gun and pointed it in his direction for emphasis.

“And my friend?” Neal asked, quick as a whip.

Caught by surprise, Anthony looked around the warehouse before settling his gaze on the crates. He cursed.
Nick’s mysterious friend was nowhere to be seen. A minute passed in which Anthony and Neal stubbornly stared each other down.

“Ya know what, this ain’t worth the effort.” Anthony finally growled He peered at Peter. “Ya wan' ‘im, ya can ‘ave ‘im.”

Anthony signaled the men, dropping his own gun. He jerked his head towards the door, making his meaning plain to Peter. “Go.”

Neal relaxed discretely, the tension leaving his muscles. He tensed his arms though, expecting at any moment for Peter and El to steer him towards the door and out of the warehouse, but Peter stepped forward until he was beside Neal.

“Wait,” he called to Anthony who was talking quietly to his men. Probably discussing where he should go now that the warehouse was compromised.

“What?” Anthony called suspiciously, his tone conveying annoyance.

“Peter,” Neal warned in an undertone.

Peter squeezed in a silent warning to be quiet. Then he looked at Neal. “Did Anthony tell you where Kate was?”

Neal blinked at Peter, surprised. “No.”

Peter looked away, back at Anthony and was about to talk but Neal twisted in Peter’s grip.

Peter looked at Neal sharply.

“He doesn’t know,” Neal said wearily even as his mind was adjusting to the confirmation that the Burkes really did know he was James Bonds. Why else would Peter use Kate’s name? “But he did tell me who might. Leave him alone. Let’s just go.”

Peter considered whether or not he might be able to get more out of Anthony but then he remembered that Neal, having the experience he must have had from his criminal life would have known how to get as much information as he could, so he turned back to Anthony. “Never mind. Might come back to check your gun licenses though.”

It was empty threat, everyone knew. Nonetheless, it made Peter feel better about leaving behind three criminals who’d held his wife at gunpoint. He guided Neal to the door and stopped outside, releasing Neal’s arm long enough to pick up his gun and strap it back in its holster.

Neal resigned himself to the constant control when Peter took up the hold on his arm again and started off towards the Taurus which was sitting patiently in the shadow of another warehouse.

Peter parked Neal by the side of the car, unlocking the door with a beep as he pushed the button. “We’re going back to the motel,” Peter announced coolly. “Then we’re going to pack the car and head home.”

Peter paused and peered in under at Neal’s face. Neal, sensing Peter’s scrutiny, looked up.

“Problem?” Peter asked shortly.

“No,” Neal mumbled, surrendering.

Peter nodded, satisfied for the moment, and then he scanned the warehouse they’d just left. “Your friend?”

Neal followed Peter’s gaze. “He’s gone.”

“Looking for Kate?” Peter guessed sharply.

Neal nodded then he squinted up at Peter; he’d mentioned Kate again. “When you said you knew who I was…”

Peter gritted his jaw, half angry and half tense. Seeing Neal—putting a physical face to James Bonds—it was making Peter’s head spin.

Peter realized Neal wanted to hear him say it. “Yeah, Neal,” Peter confirmed anticlimactically. “We know you’re James Bonds. There goes all my hard work.” He opened the back car door and looked back at Neal patiently.

Neal frowned. “There goes all your hard work…?”

“Not much use for a case-file, all that investigation, chasing you,” Peter muttered, dejected. “All for nothing; you landed in my lap. Speaking of which … how the hell did you get enslaved?”

Neal shrugged, deliberately ignoring Peter’s question. He knew Peter would ask him again later, but for now the agent mercifully let the question go unanswered; it was probably not the best time, not when they were standing in a warehouse district with a group of trigger-happy criminals waiting for them to leave.

Neal moved down into the back seat shifting along as El followed him and settled against him after buckling her seat-belt. Neal smiled softly. Peter was actually disappointed that the chase had ended without his say-so. No doubt he’d been dreaming of the day when he’d catch Bonds and tell him he was under arrest.

Peter checked that the child-locks were on before shutting the door and climbing in the front.
As the Taurus slowly rolled its way out of the metal and concrete jungle, Neal spoke up again, careful not to dislodge El’s cheek from his shoulder.

“When’d you find out?” He called.

“I asked Diana to compare your prints after you ran,” Peter answered, glancing at Neal in the rear-view mirror. “Why didn’t you tell me when we first got you?”

Neal gave Peter a mildly-incredulous a look in the mirror before averting his gaze. Peter was forced to reconsider his question. Criminals had a habit of playing things close; not revealing weaknesses, protecting potential advantages...

“Hmm.” Peter admitted to himself that he probably wouldn't have said anything either. “Did you know who I was the whole time?”

“Ever since they told me the name of the guy who was buying me,” Neal muttered, watching as the buildings passed the car window.

“You didn’t seem….” But Peter couldn’t find the right words. Shocked? Surprised? Disbelieving?

Neal scoffed. “I couldn’t believe it. I tried to buy myself as much time as possible.”

Peter narrowed his eyes even as he turned the car around a corner. “Wait a minute; that guy—I remember; he said you stole his glasses. You were being ‘playful’.”

“Couldn’t do the paperwork without his glasses ... or his pens,” Neal supplied logically. “Good thing he had a soft spot for me, he just thought I was nervous; reassured me that you guys looked like a nice couple.”

“I knew there was something iffy about you…” Peter said quietly, recalling the day. “It makes sense, looking back.”

“I wasn’t sure if you guys had bought me because you knew who I was or not,” Neal admitted softly.

“Yeah,” Peter agreed. “You did seem a little lost as to why we’d bought you; should have been obvious. Speaking of which, we’ll have to get you tested when we get back.”

“Tested?” Neal frowned. “For what?”

“We know you spent the night with another slave, Neal,” Peter replied tersely. “As we don’t know if the hotel keeps their slaves healthy—”

“No!” Neal said, horrified for poor Lily. “We didn’t have sex, Peter. Did you talk to her?”

“You’ll be happy to know, she tried to pass you off as 'Daniel' who had a thigh tattoo shaped like Italy,” Peter muttered derisively.

“Birthmark, honey,” Elizabeth corrected. She’d been listening, content, to their conversation.

“Right, birthmark. So, you didn’t have sex?” Peter checked, sounding confused. “But the hotel charged you for it….”

“Mmmhmm.” Neal turned his gaze back to the window.

They sat in silence for a while until, deep within city traffic and very close to the motel, Peter suddenly spoke again. He’d been trying to work it out himself but at last he had to ask.


Neal blinked, bringing himself out of the weary thousand-yard-stare he’d sunk into. He looked at Elizabeth but she seemed to think the question was directed at him.

“Why what?” He asked, looking at the back of Peter’s head.

“Why didn’t you have sex with her?” Peter asked bluntly. “I mean, did you know her or something? Relative? Was she just helping you find Kate…? What?

Neal sank in his seat, groaning softly.

“Neal!” Peter called, his eyes flashing in the rear-view mirror. “Tell me.”

Neal couldn’t see the point; they’d just think he and Lily were defective or something. So he looked away and stubbornly kept his mouth shut.

This irritated Peter more the escape itself. He spoke to El instead. “Can’t be sure Neal’s not lying so we’ll have to wait until the results come back. Besides I promised you it would be just us before Neal ruined your birthday.”

Neal would ordinarily hate being spoken about as if he weren’t there, or a perhaps just a dog, but he recognized that Peter was pushing his buttons. And the mention of El's ruined birthday was a petty punch to his gut to rouse guilt.

“Why don’t we just ask Lily,” Elizabeth suggested constructively. “She’s got no reason to lie, not to us. Not if we promise we won’t tell the hotel.”

“I withdraw my comment,” Neal said hotly, scowling. “We had sex, lots of it, just get me tested and leave Lily alone.”

Peter pulled over and twisted in his seat. Neal’s tone had been too insolent. He looked at Neal sternly. “Talk to El or me like that again, and I’ll put you in the basement—permanently!” It was an empty threat, but Peter’s dark and unimpressed expression was real enough.

When Neal looked down into his lap, shaking his head slightly, but apparently unwilling to push Peter any further, Peter turned, looking to the front and pulled back out into the traffic, muttering as he went. “I’ve got half a mind to do that anyway because you ran.”

Chapter Text

After a few minutes of driving, Peter had cooled down. But Neal still looked tense.

“Look,” Peter finally tried. “You ran after Kate, and you’re James Bonds; that’s what you do, I get it. It had nothing to do with us. We understand, but…”

Neal knew what Peter would say. That he shouldn’t have because he can’t and that he shouldn’t need a reason other than that’s the way it was. Neal was over these talks; the way he felt wouldn’t change, despite Peter’s reasoning. But he understood that Peter would never stop trying, because that really was just the way it was; slaves were meant to stay put. And even Neal couldn't argue with that.

“This can’t keep happening, Neal,” Peter continued. “Regardless of the reason, regardless of who you were and as much I do—” But Peter stopped. He sighed. “I can’t do this here. We’ll talk in the motel.”

The most damn annoying thing was, it was all Peter could do to stop himself from chumming up with Neal. He just wanted to talk about the good old days and compare notes. He wanted to ask about the various clues Bonds had left behind that he had never figured out. He wanted to pick apart Neal’s brain and find out the other half of who James Bonds was. He wanted to have the chance to sit across from him, one man having triumphed over his equal, and interrogate him; the second half of their game. He wanted to know if Bonds was the kind of guy who’d be able to charm the pants of the courtroom.

The trouble was, James Bonds was somewhere in that guy there. In a slave named Neal. And though he’d seen a glimpse of Bonds in Neal when he’d strode out to stop Anthony murdering him and his wife, he couldn’t see it. He knew it and he had the science to prove it but he just couldn’t see it.

They finally pulled into the parking lot of the motel. All three took a moment to breathe after the car was turned off, then Peter climbed out and opened the door for El. Because Neal was on the other side, Peter just closed the door after El had exited and came around behind the car, coming to a stop with his hand on Neal’s door handle. Before opening the door, however, Peter talked to El over the roof of the car.

“I’m going to get him to change,” Peter told her. “Are you hungry?”

El shook her head. “Not really, honey.”

“Okay, if Neal’s not hungry, we’ll talk for a bit. Thirty minutes max. Then we’ll pile in the car and head for home. I’m too tired to hang around here longer than we need to.”

El came around and stretched to kiss Peter. “Sounds good, hon. I’m going up. I need to visit the bathroom.”


When Neal climbed out of the car and stood with the open door on one side, the car itself on his other and Peter Burke blocking his way in front of him, Neal was forced to hold his breath as Peter looked him over, taking in his clothes. Peter’s eyes finally lingered on Neal’s bare neck; something he hadn’t seen before today. Neal could tell it unnerved Peter.

“Let’s go,” Peter finally allowed, distracted.

Neal looked around for where Elizabeth had gone; up the stairs and to the left but there were a fair number of rooms that way.

“Thirteen,” Peter informed him from behind.

Neal heard the sounds as the car was locked, and Peter’s footsteps behind him as he dogged his own.


Inside room thirteen, they could hear the sounds of Elizabeth moving things in the bathroom. Maybe freshening up or staring at her reflection in the mirror trying to recover from the day’s excitement.

Peter crowded Neal’s personal space until Neal was in the gap between the two beds. Satisfied, Peter fetched the shopping bag he had thrown aside when he’d received Diana’s call that morning and opened it up. Peter looked up at Neal who was eying the bag with trepidation; it figured Peter would be prepared.

“Undress,” Peter commanded. “Now.”

Neal dropped his shoulders in reluctant resignation. He looked like he wanted to protest but Peter just repeated himself softly.


With an order like that Neal would ordinarily be prepping himself mentally for his body to be used, but Peter and Elizabeth had concerns about his health following a possibly sinful night with another slave. So sex was out.

But then … it didn’t mean Peter wouldn’t or couldn’t be making Neal undress just to look at him. Maybe Peter did intend to have fun with him; they could still touch, or they could make Neal touch himself like a puppet on strings. They might use him for inspiration with each other or on themselves. Maybe their restrictions on their usage of Neal would force them to be more creative, to rely on other means to reach that climax.

The more Neal thought on it, the more he realized he was well and truly screwed. Even if they didn’t explore these things tonight, they most likely would another time.

He cast a questioning look at Peter once he was clad only in underwear and his shoes and socks.

“Take it all off,” Peter said.

Neal turned away. He looked up and tried to blink back his frustration. He kicked off his shoes first.

He heard the sound of a door opening as he was taking his socks off one at a time.

“Peter,” El spoke uncertainly from the doorway of the bathroom.

Peter was somewhere behind Neal. He seemed to know that Elizabeth was confused.

“El, I have to make sure he’s not carrying anything he shouldn’t,” he said calmly. “Then I’ll let him get dressed.

Elizabeth sighed. She suddenly realized she was tired. She’d let Peter take the lead so far but she couldn’t keep quiet anymore. She took a step into the room.

“Did you try asking him?” But she seemed to know Peter’s answer before he could even react. “For God’s sake, Peter. Ask him. He deserves that at least. He saved our lives today.”

Neal turned to look at Elizabeth, surprised. Peter was just as caught off-guard.

“Honey,” Peter tried, after a few minutes.

“No,” Elizabeth cut him off, frowning. “Peter, he came back." She repeated herself emphatically,"He came back to stop Anthony shooting us. And he isn’t just the slave he was before. Not anymore. Peter. He’s James Bonds as well. You know James Bonds. You know what kind of man he is.”

Peter looked from Elizabeth to Neal who was staring at the floor. Peter grimaced. He knew Elizabeth was right. He just hadn’t wanted to think about it. He’d had every intention of talking to Elizabeth about what had happened that day the first moment they got alone. But Elizabeth was right. It was something he shouldn’t delay. He had to acknowledge the basics at the very least.

Elizabeth seemed to recognize the conflict in Peter’s eyes. She came up closer to him and held his hand. “I know it’s weird and confusing and somehow it's all wrong. But this is us. Okay, Peter, it’s not anyone else. We don’t have to worry about what’s normal. We just have to find what works.”

Peter looked into her eyes. He could see her faith that he’d work it out.

He nodded and moved away out of her grasp. Then he picked the clothes he’d bought up out of the bag. They were heavier, warmer, Neal noted. But white. White was harder to keep clean.

Neal took the clothes cautiously. Peter looked at him and gave a small nod. “You got anything you shouldn’t have?”

Neal exhaled, wondering what he should do. Finally, he had to appreciate that the Burkes were making an effort here and besides, they’d find the stuff on their own.

“Nothing on me,” Neal admitted. “But in my clothes—there’s a few cards and a phone.”

Peter glanced at the neatly folded clothes Neal had been wearing, currently placed on the bed.

“Thank you, Neal” Peter said quietly, as he scooped up the clothes. “Get dressed. You hungry?”

Neal wasn’t hungry. “I had a big breakfast.”


“No, thank you,” Neal answered after realizing the question was directed at him. He was quite unnerved by this treatment. He wasn’t sure how long it would last. The Burkes would eventually get over the fact that he’d saved them.

Neal slipped into the pants, ignoring the fact that it had drawstrings. Then after pulling the shirt over his head, Peter sat down on the bed and gestured to the bed opposite of him.

Neal obeyed the cue and took a seat.

Peter seemed to be psyching himself up. Elizabeth sat next to him and took up Peter’s hand, rubbing a soothing pattern over his knuckles.

“You came back and convinced Anthony not to shoot us,” Peter stated heavily. “I reckon I had the situation under control, so you we—”

Elizabeth dug an elbow into Peter’s side. Peter looked at her smiling wryly. He kissed her head. “Okay, I needed the help,” he admitted. “The point is, regardless of whether we asked for it or not, needed it or not, you did help.”

“And we get that you sacrificed a lot,” Elizabeth added. “Or that you think you did.”

Peter and Neal looked at her with identical frowns.

Elizabeth glanced between them. “Well, we’re going to help Neal find Kate … right?”

Peter looked at Neal. “Yeah,” he said hesitantly. “Neal, we’ll help you find Kate.”

But Neal didn’t seem convinced.

“We will,” Peter promised.

“It’s not that,” Neal spoke, lubricating his throat. The conversation had made his throat go dry. “If we do … what happens then?”

Peter bit his lip and Elizabeth absently checked her nails.

Neal leaned to the side and stretched up, squaring his shoulders then he slumped. “If you don’t mind my asking … you intend to keep me any way you can, yes?”

Peter knew he’d sound like a broken record. “You’re our slave, Neal.”

"Okay,” Neal accepted, ignoring the spike of pain in his chest. “So then, when we find Kate…?”

“We don’t know,” Elizabeth admitted gently.

“Neal,” Peter spoke distantly. “Does Kate know what you are?”

Neal shook his head, distracted. “I don’t know.”

“Do you love her?” Elizabeth asked in a small voice.

"I don’t—" Neal closed his eyes. “I don’t want to talk about that.”

Peter took a deep breath; was he really about to say this? “Neal,” he said even as his heart began beating harder. "Be honest with us; tell us how you're feeling and maybe we can do something about it."

Neal looked down. A few minutes passed in which Elizabeth looked up and—imitating Peter—gazed at Neal willing for him to open up to them.

Finally Neal rubbed his sweaty hands on his pants—hating their whiteness more now—and spoke. “I can’t imagine not being with Kate,” he confessed, the words tumbling out. “I’d rather keep running from you and just suffer the consequences of being caught, if it meant I’d be with her for just one day.”

Neal’s bit of truth hurt Peter more than he’d have liked, but he did appreciate that Neal had been honest. He nodded. “We …” he said slowly, wanting to reward Neal for his attempt. “…will work it out. I promise, Neal.”

Peter had so many questions for Neal. So many. He’d accumulated them ever since Neal had run. Even before that. And he wanted to take advantage of the step forward but he knew Neal would shut down if he pushed it.

So he tried for humor instead. “So, with the Met … was it you who tripped the alarms two years ago…? We never did find anything missing. I figured you might have done a forgery. We checked everything.”

Neal scoffed, amused. “Sorry, Agent Burke, I can’t help you.”

Technically, Peter knew he could demand the truth of such things from Neal. But his question had done the trick. Neal had relaxed, even if just a tad.

“Okay,” Peter said. “We should go. When we get home we can discuss how you can make it up to El for ruining her special day.”

“Honey,” Elizabeth said, concerned, watching Neal’s posture stiffen.

“El loves foot massages,” Peter mused, distracted. “Back massages … shoulder massages—hell, she loves any kind of massage.”

Neal looked up at Peter and the agent met his gaze with a twinkle in his eye. Neal let out an easy breath. He knew Peter was frolicking.

So he gave a very mild smile. If a massage was all it took to make them happy, then whatever.

“She also likes cunnilingus,” Peter added, before ducking as Elizabeth threw a pillow at him.

Hmm. Neal looked out the window as he ignored the Burkes’ mock-teasing at each other. So had Kate.

Chapter Text

There were two more things in the bag and just after Elizabeth came back, announcing the motel-room key-cards had been returned, Peter drew one of them out. Just another simple collar. Because a slave without a collar was just odd.

Neal stayed still as Peter fixed it in place. Neal couldn't complain. He’d been expecting something worse like steel or padlocks to make it harder for him to cut and run.

Neal must have shown his thought in his face because Peter murmured to him that he just figured if Neal was going to run it didn’t matter what he was wearing; he’d just find a way out of it anyway.

“No matching leash?” Neal muttered softly as Peter pulled him up onto his feet.

“I only put a leash on you because you wouldn’t tell me who you were,” Peter said, looking at him. “It’s a bit redundant now, isn’t it?”

Peter let go of him when it became apparent that Neal was capable of staying at his side unaided. Peter picked up his phone checking for any messages then he spoke carefully.

“Anything else you need to do here, Neal?”

Neal frowned, unsure of what he could possibly do here.

“To find Kate,” Peter added.

“Oh.” Despite their promise, Neal was surprised that Peter was actually still thinking about that; he could tell that all the agent wanted to do was cart him home and perhaps fall into bed despite the lunch hour. He guessed Peter hadn’t slept well the night before. His fault probably. “No, not here.”

So Peter picked up the bag, ignoring Neal’s curious attempt at x-ray vision on the bag, and headed to the door.


Aside from Peter checking that the child-locks on the back doors were still on, the Burkes didn’t behave as if they’d just spent a weekend chasing Neal down. There were no paranoid questions, nor were there threats or glances in his direction to make sure he was still there and that he hadn’t jumped out of the window….

They talked about idle things. Peter mentioned Hagan a few times, and even went so far as to joke that he should check slave centers around the country to see if the elusive forger could be found. Elizabeth informed them of the hardships of training new staff to find their way around organizing a very important high-level executive ‘dinner’ for power-hungry maniacs in suits.

About a third of the way into the trip home they fell quiet and Peter found he could no longer escape the question that haunted him; how had Neal become a slave?

Because Neal was James Bonds and Peter couldn’t think of anyone less likely to fall into enslavement. It scared him, if he was honest with himself.
If James Bonds could fall prey to the national economic institution of slavery then what hope did anyone have? Slavery was only supposed to affect those who were too weak, lazy, or unintelligent to make their own way in life.

And Neal was smarter than some of the geniuses who claimed they kept the country running smoothly, more elusive than some of the country’s best spies, more talented than some of the most successful artists, and most definitely richer than he and Elizabeth were.

Peter suddenly straightened.

Neal was rich.

Neal was theirs.

If they couldn’t prove anything was stolen—which he probably could with about seventy percent of what Neal would have had in his possession—then it automatically…

Technically, anything Neal ‘owned’ was actually theirs.

Peter realized he’d eventually have to get Neal to tell him where his stash was. And once he did, a lot of museums and galleries would get their stolen items back. Money would be paid back to Neal’s victims and anything left…

Peter wasn’t sure what he’d do with anything left over. Neal would never have any use for it again. Unless he escaped of course, but Peter wasn’t going to even entertain that possibility. He wasn’t sure how, but he was determined to find and use measures to prevent Neal from getting one up over on him again.

Peter let out a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding in. This thing with Neal … it was full of surprises and unexpected turns. He couldn’t seem to ever have a quiet moment of thought without something new popping up.


Upon arriving home, Peter didn’t fall into bed like Neal had been expecting. Neal knew he was tired; he kept rubbing his eyes and had even yawned once or twice until Elizabeth had taken pity on him and made a fresh batch of coffee, so Neal hazarded a guess that Peter was depriving himself of much needed sleep because of him.

Watching a game on television next to an agent who was too tired to even follow its progress was not Neal’s idea of a good afternoon so he decided to push Peter’s buttons.

“Might take Satchmo for a walk…”

The dog had been overjoyed when they’d returned home and had given everyone a double helping of lickings. He was still walking from the master bedroom upstairs, where Elizabeth was checking her email and making a few catch-up calls, and back down to the living room, where Neal sat trapped on the couch next to Peter. Satchmo just couldn’t settle.

“No,” Peter replied flatly.

“I could go start making some dinner….”

Neal had no such intention to bother; there was still a massive amount of food left over from the large breakfast he’d made, which seemed like an eternity ago but was really only yesterday morning. Who cared if it was breakfast foods; they worked just as well for dinner and had to be eaten before it all went bad.

“Don’t,” Peter said shortly.

“There’re probably some leaves that need to be raked outside….”

Because when it came to the outdoors that was pretty much all Neal could do. And going outside to get a breath of fresh air sounded tempting to Neal, even if it was a thin possibility.

“Stop,” Peter told him, having caught on to Neal’s aim. “Just watch the game. I don’t care if you’re bored.”


It was late afternoon and Neal was just about ready to shoot himself when it became apparent that Peter had been doing more than just sitting and watching a game in an attempt to stave off sleep. The doorbell rang and Peter jumped up.

“Finally,” the agent growled.

Neal frowned and made to follow but Peter waved him back impatiently.

So Neal slouched then stretched, trying to work out the kinks in his back.

It became clear what Peter had been waiting for when the person who’d rung the doorbell came around the corner in from the foyer, carrying something that Neal had had no intention of ever seeing again.

“Agent Barrigan,” Neal observed quietly. His eyes moved to what she held in her hand, if only to avoid her beseeching gaze. He subconsciously moved his legs in, protectively-close to the couch.

Peter came back in and stopped beside Diana after having closed the front door. “Thanks, Diana,” he said, and held out an open hand for the new tracking anklet she’d brought with her.

“Sorry it took so long,” Diana apologized. “The marshals had paperwork.”

But Peter seemed to be grateful that he’d escaped having to do the paperwork and gave Diana a shoulder pat. He came around the table to where Neal sat and knelt down.

“Neal,” Peter prompted.

Neal reluctantly moved his left leg out. He didn’t know why Peter was bothering; the tracker had hardly slowed him down; it was only good for ensuring that he would have to properly distract Peter before running.

With the band properly secured, Peter rose to his feet again and looked to Diana.

“I need to visit the bathroom,” Peter told her. “Would you mind keeping an eye on Neal?”

“You’ve just put a tracker back on me…” Neal protested.

“Yeah, we all know how well that worked out yesterday,” Peter answered, even as he headed to the stairs.

“Then why use it?” Neal called as Peter jogged his way up the stairs.

But Peter didn’t answer. Neal wasn’t surprised. Why would Peter want to cater to Neal’s demanding questions? Neal shouldn’t have been questioning Peter in the first place.


“You idiot,” Diana said, after the sounds of Peter ascending upstairs died away. Neal looked at her sharply. But she hadn’t meant it. She looked like she wanted say lots of things but being unable to even begin; all she could do was insult him amidst exasperation.

Neal put his elbow on the armrest and stared straight ahead. He felt as Diana came forward and sat on the couch beside him.

“Do you know how many headaches you’ve given me and Peter over the years?” Diana teased lightly. “I must have spent thousands of hours studying your stupid bond. You can learn to fly a plane in less time.”

“Assuming you spent twelve hours of every day, but not weekends, studying a—‘a’, not mine; ‘a’—bond for four years—which I highly doubt—then that’s the equivalent of learning to fly a plane twelve and half times assuming you learn to fly in the standard thousand-hour time frame,” Neal rattled off, blearily.

Diana stared at him. “What are you on, Caffrey?”

Neal shrugged. “Sorry, Peter’s been punishing me with watching basketball; it turns my brain to mush and so it begins firing off neurons without permission.”

Diana smiled wryly.

“So I hear you’re the one who found me?” Neal baited, glancing at her.

“Well,” Diana began, not bothered, but Neal waved dismissively.

“I get it,” he huffed. “I’ll just have to bribe you next time I leave.”

Diana didn’t bother correcting Neal. They both knew that if he ever made any such attempt he would wind up on the floor, on his stomach, hog-tied for Peter to come and collect. It didn’t matter how sympathetic she was to his plight, Diana would never cross her boss. Now, if her boss was a dumb bastard, completely opposite to Peter then she might do things differently.


It was a miracle that Peter managed to stay awake until eight-thirty so when Elizabeth put her foot down and insisted that Peter should get an early night, Peter didn’t put up much of a fight.

“He nearly wore the floor out pacing the motel room last night,” Elizabeth told Neal in answer to his confusion that an FBI agent should be used to sleepless nights.

“Don’t take this the wrong way, Neal,” Peter mumbled as he latched onto Neal’s wrist. “I do trust you to defend my wife in the supermarket and I do trust you now, to stop petty criminals from pulling the trigger of a gun that’s pointing at us … but I can’t trust you to stay where I put you.”

Neal swallowed. He knew now that this was going to be a long night. Despite his uneasy sleep the night before, he had actually slept, so he wasn’t tired. What was Peter going to do with him? Put him in the basement again? Or a closet this time maybe?

But Peter dragged him up the stairs and into the master bedroom.

“Sit,” Peter said, prodding Neal in the general direction of the bed. Neal walked over and reluctantly sat then he watched in curiosity as Peter picked up the same bag that had contained his new clothes and collar.

“What are those?” Neal asked as Peter pulled out two pieces of black…? Cloths?

“Mitts,” Peter answered, moving over to the draws. He opened the top drawer and pulled out the ankle chain. “Proper ones.”

Neal exhaled, trying to cover a groan. It irked him that something so simple thwarted him so successfully.

In fact, he thought idly—with just a tiny flash of fear—he was all too dependent on his hands; his entire criminal career was built on those hands. Oh, maybe he could still con, but even then; the smallest nuances relied on his mobility of the fine-motor.

Peter came over to Neal and tossed the mitts onto the bed. Neal stared at them, ignoring it as Peter squatted to attach the ends of the chain to his ankle and to the bar at the base of the bed beneath where Neal was sitting. The mitts were high-quality. Designed to allow space for the hands to move within but not allow the fingers to spread out. Around the wrists were straps that were locked in place—even Neal couldn’t pick locks with his teeth—and on the straps themselves were various clips and ‘D’ rings. The mitts could obviously be locked together on either side or be attached to a tether.

Just as Peter was about to snap the manacle shut around Neal’s ankle, Peter looked up. “Need the bathroom?”

Yes! But Neal’s brain fast-forwarded to where he’d be in the bathroom and Peter would be right there in the doorway watching to make sure he didn’t climb out the window, just like before dinner, and Neal would be forced to admit that he didn’t actually need the toilet and just wanted to delay the inevitable.

“No,” he admitted with a heavy heart.

Peter snapped the manacle in place and checked to make sure it was locked before he moved up and sat heavily on the bed beside Neal, his bones creaking in protest. He was going to sleep like a log tonight; he was so relieved he didn’t have to worry about remaining alert for any of Neal’s shenanigans.

It wasn’t hard to work out the mitts; they were straightforward, despite the locks, the straps and the rings.

“They’re not too tight are they?” Peter asked, then, without waiting for an answer, Peter maneuvered his small finger beneath each wrist wrap.

“No,” Neal said quietly, moving his fingers, feeling as they met the resistance of the fabric that enclosed his loose fists. At least they wouldn’t make his hands cramp up, unlike the tight-fitting home-made mitts Peter had scrounged up. If Neal didn’t think on it, he might even forget these ones were there; it was only around the wrist that their presence was strongest.

Peter nodded, satisfied, then headed to the drawers, intending to change for bed.

Neal looked around both physically and mentally hoping there was something he could ask of Peter to keep him occupied; he wasn’t in the mood to sleep and he didn’t think Peter would make him crawl into bed with him. Not if the chain did what El’s cuddling usually did. Besides, Elizabeth wasn’t coming to bed for a couple of hours yet, so Neal wasn’t expected to sleep, surely.

That was a bad thing, Neal reflected. Time would move a lot slower for him.

Peter left the room but stopped just outside in the hall where he’d obviously run into Elizabeth. Neal heard them talking indistinctly. He thought he heard snatches of Peter telling Elizabeth where he’d put the key to the manacle so that she could let Neal visit the bathroom before she went to the bed or during the night if Neal couldn’t manage to wake him up which was a very real possibility.

By the time Peter returned having changed and checked over the house as per his FBI agent habit to ensure everything was secure, Neal had flipped through every idea in his head, rejecting them all based on the fact that in some way or other; he needed his hands. Reading was out, art was out, craft was out, practicing his sleight of hand and magic tricks were out … heck, even patting Satchmo and massaging Elizabeth were out.

Peter took in the room one last time before flicking off the switch and letting it plunge into darkness.

“Ow,” Neal hissed as Peter stumbled on his bare foot.

He felt as Peter reached out, discerning where he was by slapping a clumsy hand over his face and feeling over his head.

“Sorry,” Peter mumbled and leaned down to kiss Neal on his crown. Peter gave his cheek a pat then moved on, crawling over the bed to the top until he was able to tuck himself in under the sheets.

Neal shook off Peter’s touch by rifling his hair back up as best as he could, from where it had been flattened, and flexing his toes. He was alright. Bored, but alright.

Chapter Text

It had been a long night, like Neal had dreaded it would be, and aside from being helped into bed beneath the blanket—a hard feat with a chain needing to be tucked in under at the base—by Elizabeth, there had been no respite from the monotonous reality that life with the Burkes promised.

He did at least sleep heavily—a first in a long time—once he managed to drop off to sleep.

Neal hadn’t thought about what the next day—Monday—would bring. So when he woke to Peter’s easy but firm nudges to his shoulder and listened for a few seconds, unthinking, to Peter’s undertones, he was surprised to hear words like ‘Bureau’, and ‘big day’ coupled with ‘come on, Neal’.

But then, he shouldn’t have been, Neal thought crossly as he rubbed his eyes, trying to clear the haze of sleep from his mind. Not only was Peter über security-conscious with him right now and unlikely to leave him anywhere unaccompanied, but obviously Peter would want to jump into the files he had on ‘James Bonds’.

Neal mumbled indistinctly.

Peter doubled back, shushing him and digging under his elbows. “El is going to sleep in,” Peter informed him. “Come out in the hall.”

Neal edged off the bed and before he realized it, he was following Peter’s guidance across the room. Then a thought struck him and he suddenly stopped, not wanting to trip. He looked down but his ankle was free of restraints.

“I took it off,” Peter explained quietly.

And Neal looked at his hands. He hadn’t even noticed they were unhampered. He was still staring at them, so then Peter had to prompt him again. God, he was slow this morning. Neal put it down to all the stress.

Out in the hall, Peter stopped, prepared to listen. At Peter’s edgy nudge, Neal looked up and realized he had Peter’s attention.

“Oh.” And he had to furiously backtrack over his thoughts to remember what he’d tried to say. “What happens at the office, Peter? With the James Bonds thing?”

Peter shrugged, casually. “Don’t know yet. This doesn’t happen often.”

“Well,” Neal put forth as Peter started to move around the corner. “Wait, I mean you have to know whether—whether….”

“Whether what?” Peter asked impatiently. “Come on, Neal, we’re losing time.”

“Whether they’re going to slap an arrest warrant on me!”

But Peter appeared nonchalant. “Can’t,” he said simply. “Enslavement negates all previous life. The only thing the slave brings with them is their wealth—which often they don’t have in the first place—and that wealth becomes their owner’s. Speaking of which, where’s your stash, Neal?”

But Neal remained painfully silent.

“Yeah,” he said quietly when Peter didn’t shift his gaze or show any sign of letting up. “No, I already knew that part. But wait, so for all intents and purposes … I’m not James Bonds?”

“They can’t take you from me, Neal,” Peter stated with a touch of satisfaction. “But if I ever freed you … well, I’d have to arrest you.”

Neal stared unseeingly into Peter’s shirt, thinking over Peter’s words.

“But that’s a moot point….” Peter trailed off, pushing Neal to the bathroom. “Pee, shower, and then get your butt downstairs for breakfast.”

Neal decided that a well-rested Peter was an annoying Peter. He was far too bossy and didn’t pause long enough to let anyone around him catch their breath. He also couldn’t bear Peter’s energy; he didn’t envy whichever criminal Peter intended to set his sights on today.

As Neal stepped out of the shower he couldn’t help but feel that he might have thought too soon. Chances were he was the criminal facing the exuberant investigative energy of one Agent Peter Burke today.


“Only Diana knows,” Peter muttered as he drove the car into the parking garage.

“So far,” Neal murmured next to him in the passenger seat.

“I don’t know,” Peter said and he turned off the engine after rolling into a spot pretty close to the entrance. “I’m not sure whether I should tell anyone.”


“Oh, Peter,” Diana, scoffed, amused. “You’re going to continue ‘investigating’ Bonds just to avoid the hassle of paperwork?”

“No,” Peter muttered dryly, knowing his argument was going to fall through; Diana had a very efficient brand of reasoning. “I just don’t see the point. It’s not like anyone can arrest him.”

“You realize no one will believe for five minutes that Agent Peter Burke just suddenly woke up one day void of his overwhelming need to track down Bonds,” Diana pointed out flatly. “Besides you’d be wasting resources and you hate doing that.”

Peter sighed, leaning forward on his desk. “Yeah, you’re right.” Then he looked up anxiously. “How’s Hughes’ mood today?”

Diana took a contemplative breath. “I don’t know, boss; he always looks the same.”

“Yeah,” Peter agreed. Meaning Hughes always looked like an irritated old codger.


Peter left his office, closing the door carefully. He’d have to get Diana a new gun as a ‘thank you’ gift at this rate. She was really going above and beyond lately. Not everyone wanted to babysit slaves, which was why the first time, he’d stuck an inexperienced agent with Neal, which—looking back—was bound to have backfired, what with Neal being who he was.

Peter rapped on Hughes’ door for manners sake before he could back out. He opened the door at the muffled reply.

“Peter,’ Hughes acknowledged gruffly as he finished off his signature on just another form in his never-ending stack of paperwork. “Come in.”

Peter nodded his thanks, shut the door behind him, and then he moved to a chair and sat down, lost as to how he was going to do this.

“How are the cases going, Peter?” Hughes asked as he set his pen down and rested his elbows on his desk.

“Cases?” Peter asked distracted. “Oh, Hagan? Nothing new, sir.”

“And the Bonds case? Still proving elusive?”

Peter turned his chin, grimacing. “Actually, that’s what I came to talk to you about.”

Hughes furrowed his white eyebrows, concerned, intensifying his disgruntled expression.

Peter twisted his mouth a few times at a loss. Finally he managed to say … something.

“Bonds is…”

Sure, it wasn’t much.

Hughes arched an eyebrow now. He’d never seen Peter like this. Agent Burke always knew what he was thinking and saying; he was a good leader that way.

“He’s not exactly free to be a criminal anymore … sir.”

“You …” Hughes said slowly. “Caught him?” But then, why would Peter find it hard to say that? He caught and arrested criminals every day. Why would Bonds be any different?”

Finally Peter took the plunge.

“No.” Peter sighed. “You know my slave…?”

“Yes,” Hughes answered wondering at the implications of the swift subject change. “The one in your office?”

Peter nodded. “I found out over the weekend, that … my slave, Neal, is actually James Bonds.”

He wanted to say more, explain, because that couldn’t possibly be enough, that wasn’t right, it couldn’t be comprehended, Hughes would want an explanation, he’d want tests, proof, and for the whole story and Peter wanted to blurt it all out now, if only to understand it himself.

Instead, Peter clamped his mouth shut, waiting for the outcry.

Hughes’ eyes hardened immediately. It was a defense mechanism of his. He did it when he wasn’t sure if the information he was receiving was one-hundred percent trustworthy. Either that or he’d processed the information and was considering the ramifications already. Scrutinizing. That was it. He was scrutinizing. Peter just waited.

“Bonds?” Hughes reiterated, his voice laden with skepticism. He lifted a finger and pointed through the wall towards Peter’s office. “That slave in there is James Bonds?”

Peter nodded slightly, imagining Hughes to be as overwhelmed as he had felt when he’d first made the connection.

“Peter,” Hughes grunted, after a good few minutes. “When I said catch him…”

When Peter realized Hughes had trailed off deliberately and that his tone had been of an exasperated nature, he let out a weak chuckle which fortunately released some of his tension.

Hughes sighed like a sixty-year old man going on a hundred and ten. “Are you going to want to keep this quiet?”

“I’d rather it didn’t become general knowledge,” Peter admitted stiffly. “Though, it’ll probably get out anyway.”

“And you know this for sure?” Hughes checked.

“Fingerprint analysis returned a positive match. He’s definitely our forger,” Peter confirmed.

“Can I see those results?” Hughes asked, wanting to check over every knotted loose end himself.

“I’ll get Diana to drop them in,” Peter assented. At least Hughes wasn’t demanding a fresh sample from Neal to be retested. He would have needed actual proper permission—in the form of paperwork—from Peter for that though.

Silence settled around them; Hughes seemed to have a faraway look in his eyes. “And here I thought it wasn’t possible for you to learn any more about James Bonds than you already had. He a good slave?”

Peter hesitated. He knew Hughes wasn’t asking to be nosy. He was just morbidly curious.

“There are some complications,” Peter confessed. “But we’re working on it. He’s pretty good, considering.”

“He’d make a damn good Bureau slave,” Hughes reflected out loud. “Imagine those skills of his put to use for us.”

Peter sat up straight, feeling the strain.

Then Hughes looked at Peter. “I know it’s a little unorthodox, Peter, but you would you be willing to consider selling—”

“With respect, Reese,” Peter replied evenly, bringing his hands together. “No. El and I are…”
Peter couldn’t stand the idea of selling Neal. No! Peter met Hughes eyes and spoke with a firm calmness he didn’t feel. “He’s ours.”

Hughes nodded, accepting Peter’s answer amicably. “Well, you have to admit you know how to pick them, Peter. You’re going to sort out the case files then?”

Peter nodded relieved, falling readily in the FBI agent persona. “I’ll get the files logged, reports finalized, and the Bonds case closed by the end of the week.”

“Good.” Hughes nodded satisfied. “And Peter,” he added, as Peter rose off the chair.

Peter paused, standing in front of the desk.

Hughes looked up, twisting the pen in his fingers. “Are you going to interrogate him?

Peter looked down. The thought hadn’t occurred to him. Aside from lamenting the loss of equal to triumph over, Peter hadn’t really seriously considered interrogating Neal.
Because Bonds was gone and in his place was Neal. James Bonds may as well have passed away. He wasn’t accepting that Neal was the same guy very well.

“Heh,” Peter scoffed. It was weird but Peter had had no desire to really actually put Neal in with that identity.

Peter didn’t end up answering Hughes. He took a breath and nothing came out and Hughes seemed to accept it.

As Peter opened the door to leave, he overheard Hughes muttering, bemused. “A slave….”


When Peter returned to the room, he expected to find Diana and Neal talking. He knew they didn’t seem to mind each other and Diana had confessed that they shared a few moments but Peter hadn’t delved any further. But now, they were sitting quietly. Diana seemed tense and Neal was just staring out the window but as he shut the door behind him, they both fixed him with overly curious and perfectly at-ease expressions.

Peter knew something had happened.

“How did it go, Boss?” Diana asked, standing up. “Did Hughes take it alright?”

“He took it well,” Peter answered happily. He’d expected more probing questions and more doubt, like he had to have been mistaken. Instead, Hughes had accepted the basics without subjecting him to intruding questions, then he’d let him go, trusting him to clean up the case himself.

Diana grinned, but there was an underlying stiffness to it. “That’s great.”

Peter glanced from one to the other before nodding to Diana. “Yeah … is everything okay?”

Diana gave Peter an easy scoff, like Peter was fussing too much. “It’s all good, Boss.” Then she headed to the door. “Anything else?”

“Hughes wants a copy of the results of the Bonds DNA test,” Peter replied automatically.

“I’ll get it to him,” Diana told him, nodding.

Then she turned on her heel and made her way down the stairs to her desk, but as Peter watched, she stopped at her desk and looked to the side, enough that Peter knew she was glancing at Neal in her peripherals. He turned back to Neal and walked slowly around his desk, wondering what question he should use.

“Diana seemed tense,” Peter noted casually sitting down.

Neal said nothing. He was hiding behind his status, Peter knew. Slaves only answered questions. They did not share in casual, meandering conversation, unless the owner asked for it.

But they both knew that Neal only did that when it suited him.

He’d have to be direct. Fine. “Did you say something to upset her?”

“No,” Neal answered honestly.

Peter inhaled deeply, knowing that he couldn’t narrow the questions down to get the answer he was looking for. That could take all day. So he stood up.

“Stay here,” Peter mumbled as he headed for the door. With the door open he stopped and looked at Neal. “I’m going just there, so don’t push your luck. Just do what you did in the doctor’s gym; sit down, shut up and stay still.”

Peter knew Neal had heard him so he didn’t wait for the acceptance of his order. He left the room and headed down the stairs, avoiding the rush of agents hard at work until he came to a stop in front of Diana’s desk.

Diana looked up and closed her jaw, knowing the question that danced on Peter’s lips. She stood and moved back from the desk, prompting Peter to follow her. They were away from the general traffic area now so Diana spoke to Peter in a quiet undertone.

“I was talking about what would have happened if you’d caught him before he was enslaved,” Diana admitted. “You know those what ifs you talk about?”

Peter frowned. “And he got upset by that? Or did he say something …? Did he snap at you?”

Diana shook her head as she folded her arms. “No, I suggested that chances were, once he’d been sentenced, if he couldn’t pay back the debts he incurred—legally—he’d have been enslaved anyway.”

And it was true. Any finance that was considered to be profit of a crime was automatically confiscated; the criminal could not use it to pay back debts. And often their finances fell short, having been spent anyway. Neal would have had to serve his time, and then he would have been hounded by the system to pay back his debts and when he couldn’t…

Diana grimaced. “I should have shut up. I didn’t see it as anything but ironic.”

Peter refocused on her. “And how did he see it?”

“Boss, you wouldn’t understand,” Diana whispered, but then she mentally backed-up. “Sorry, I didn’t mean it like that. I mean, it’s complicated…”

“What did he say?”

Diana stopped for a moment wondering if she should. She had agreed with Neal and had wanted to apologize the moment his words were out of his mouth but she hadn’t. She’d just fallen silent.

Finally she just shook her head, at a loss. “He was offended. He compared himself to Chr ... Boss, it’s nothing. It won’t happen again. I said something and I realized it upset him.”

“That’s it?” Peter frowned. “I mean, if you found it unacceptable, I can talk to him.”

“No,” Diana said, quietly. Peter almost hadn’t heard her. “It’s not about me. Neal thinks since I found out his true identity that I think less of him. He hid it well, but he went quiet afterwards. He was hurt.”

“Hurt?” Peter frowned. “Why would he be hurt?”

“Because truth hurts,” Diana admitted, looking into Peter’s eyes. “I used to sympathize… well, I still do, but, when I found out he was James Bonds, I—he wasn’t exactly innocent … like Christie, see. So, it was easier to… I mean he had—Peter, you know Neal doesn’t like being slave, don’t you? You and Mrs. Burke at least understand that, right?”

“These sorts of things take time to get used to, Diana,” Peter said, nodding, focusing on the parts he’d understood. “No-one can expect any slave to readily adjust to it. And Neal maybe needs more time than normal; James Bonds wasn’t exactly bored and sad with his life.”

“I know,” Diana acknowledged, ignoring the irony that Peter thought he was defending Neal. Peter was right. And he was wrong at the same time. He was right about what he’d said, but that hadn’t been what she’d meant. It wasn’t that Neal needed to get used to being a slave and Peter just didn’t get that.

Then Peter took a sensitive kind of stance, he folded his arms and eased up a bit while glancing over his shoulder, checking for eavesdroppers. Finally, “Who is Christie?”

Diana chewed her lip before letting out the breath she’d been holding in. She looked up at Peter and smiled a little. “I love her.” Then her expression tightened. “But she’s a slave.”

Peter was contemplative for a moment then he looked straight at Diana. “You don’t like slavery then?”

But Diana couldn’t answer. It was too hard to just put it that way. It wasn't like she didn't like slavery. She’d had family slaves growing up; lots more than the average family because of her father’s job. It was natural; it wasn’t something she’d ever questioned but lately….

She shrugged, shaking her head. “It’s complicated.”

And that was something Peter could understand and agree with.


Back in his office, Peter threw himself into the files because he was tired of thinking. He pulled the next file from on the pile and pulled it over while taking another sip of coffee, then Peter looked at it to find that it had the initials 'J.B.' written across it.

Forced out of his comfortable world of white collar paperwork, Peter looked up at Neal who was watching the bullpen carefully, interested in something.

“Neal?” Peter called. When Neal didn’t respond, Peter opened the file. He wasn’t going to bother asking after a slave’s thoughts. So, he looked down, trying his best to ignore Neal’s peculiar behavior.

And he almost growled in frustration when the first thing he came across was his own hand-written James Bonds profile.

Smart guy. Quick. Agile. Charming. Very, very talented. The guy was slick. Neal… Peter looked at Neal. He scanned him, trying his best to see it.

But Neal was just looking out through the glass, in his own world. He looked so far removed from that happy-go-lucky conman that smiled his casual way into people’s confidences and bank accounts.

Peter looked back at his notes. Sure, they were more a summary than a detailed psych profile but it had been enough; it had ordered Peter’s thoughts and put the put the most important parts of the con on paper. Some day he’d find the three detailed psych reports he’d received from profilers and go through with a highlighter to see how many things they’d gotten wrong, but for now, Peter stared at the descriptive, messy, cursive paragraphs detailing the facts about Bonds that he knew were definitely true.

Peter looked at Neal again, apprehensive. “Neal?”

This time Neal glanced at him, giving a cursory appraisal. “Hmm?”

“What are you thinking?” Peter asked. Because he was wrong; it was worth knowing what Neal was thinking. Because he wasn't just a slave.

Neal angled his head and gestured out at the bullpen. “What do you see out there, Peter?”

Peter followed Neal’s gesture and looked out. Now that Neal had pointed it out, Peter saw what had caught his attention. The bullpen was still busy, agents everywhere, talking going on—that was all normal—but then there were subtle clues here and there; a few too many agents looking their way, a sense of social upheaval, and an excitement on people’s disbelieving, incredulous faces.

It wasn’t that obvious but to Peter, who had been at the bureau for too long not to recognize the signs of a group of agents who were—

“Oh, they know,” Peter groaned stiffly. Of course they knew. They were in a Bureau of investigation filled with agents after all.

“Yeah,” Neal agreed mildly.

“How did it get out?” Peter mumbled to Neal quietly. “Maybe someone in I.T. or someone in evidence; there’s always someone cleaning up or checking over work. It was probably when Diana compared the prints … unless someone was eavesdropping just now. Damn it.”

Peter looked at Neal. Neal was fingering the d-ring of his collar idly, while looking out, meeting the various gazes with a steely tension. He seemed to catch himself; he folded his arms over the table in front of him adopting a carefree air.

“I would think you’d be wreck,” Peter spoke, suspicious. He doubted Neal’s aim in life was to be known as the pet criminal slave belonging to the very FBI agent he’d eluded for years.

Neal shrugged. “Can’t do anything about it, can I?”

“You always this easygoing?” Peter wished he could take it as easy as Neal seemed to be taking things.

“Sometimes things don’t go according to plan,” Neal admitted, turning in his seat. Then he indicated the phone. “But you might want to double-check.”

Peter knew Neal was suggesting he call Jones on the extension to find out if they'd been right.

“No,” Peter answered comfortably.


Peter shook his head. “Jones or Diana will tell me if it has anything to do with me.”

“They will?”

“That’s their job,” Peter replied distracted as he went back to reading the various notes in Neal’s file. Bonds' file. Neal's file. Hmm.

The subject seemed to close on that note, so Neal returned to looking out at the bullpen. It was good practice. He hadn’t had many chances lately to hone his people-reading skills.

Chapter Text

“Okay,” Peter spoke. “We’ve got an hour to look into where Kate went before I have to call up a meeting with Jones and Diana about Hagan, so, you said Anthony gave you a name?”

“It would take longer than an hour, Peter,” Neal informed him neutrally, without turning to look at him.

“Right,” Peter accepted. “I figured we could squeeze in about an hour in the mornings each day.”

When Neal didn’t respond, Peter leaned forward. “So … name?”

Neal stared at the glass, unseeingly, while talking again but he didn’t give Peter a name. “When you were looking for me … whose trail were you following?”

Peter shifted back and Neal knew he was trying to understand what he meant.

So Neal clarified. “Kate’s or mine?”

“Both,” Peter grunted. “Kate’s at first, then yours. Why?”

“So,” Neal said quietly. “There’s a chance you can find Kate? The Bureau, I mean. You never finished pursuing her trail.”

“Her trail stopped with Anthony,” Peter said, clipped. He knew now that Neal was obfuscating; complicating the matter. Neal had more to hide. Oh, for the love of god. “Neal. The name?”

Neal looked down. Then he looked up again and Peter somehow knew, innately, that Neal was about to try manipulating him. He decided to let him try, just to learn his tricks.

“I think my friend will be able to find her,” Neal said, off-handed. “We could wait … and see if he does?”

Peter realized that while Neal’s behavior was screaming ‘suspicious’, his words were actually true. “Why?”

Neal shrugged. “It’s easier? He’s probably already half way to finding her.”

Peter considered the man before him. “Who is this friend?” he finally asked, accepting Neal’s request for the moment. He knew that he’d learn all of Neal’s secrets one day, but obviously he’d need a lot of patience until then.

“He’s …” Neal mouthed a few possible openers but finally settled with an unsatisfactory answer. “…a good friend.”


Neal turned his attention to Peter’s files. “That the Hagan case?”

Peter sat back. Neal may have a whole lot of secrets and issues up in the air, and he may be difficult and deliberately painful at times but ask him and he’d obediently admit he belonged to a Peter and Elizabeth Burke, so Peter figured he could afford to relax. Neal may not accept his place yet, but he did know it.


Neal’s shifty reasons as to why he didn’t expect or want Peter to start looking for Kate plagued Peter’s mind but only when he lifted his head to take a break from the paperwork before him or from the bright computer screen for a few minutes to automatically check on him.

Now that Neal had proved he often had ulterior motives and that he was quite the expert in white collar crime, Peter was reluctant to let him anywhere near the cases. So he’d put Neal over in the corner on a chair and successfully ignored him for fifty minutes.
After fifty minutes, Peter had passed Neal a blank expenses report form and pencil telling him to write up a list of chores he needed to do at the house, figuring it would help him out with controlling Neal’s movements over the week if he worked out some sort of system, but twenty minutes later another glance showed him that there was not even one word written on the paper. Peter had frowned and snatched the paper to find drawings and patterns over half of it; neat and obscure but wildly imaginative.

“What’s this?” Peter asked, nose crinkling. He found he liked the drawings despite his irritation that Neal was pettily disobedient.

Peter looked over at Neal who was calmly looking down at the pencil in his hand. Peter couldn’t see Neal’s expression because his hair was falling down over his forehead.


Neal looked up. “You,” Neal shrugged helplessly. “You put a pencil in my hand. I couldn’t help it, Peter.”

It was a bad sort of answer, but Peter found he didn’t care. His thin line of a mouth slowly turned upwards on one side.

Neal loosened up, softly scoffing as he placed the pencil down.

Peter slipped the paper back on Neal’s desk. “It’s fine; keeps you out of trouble.”

Peter was set to return to the paperwork he was filling out that would allow him to start putting to rest the James Bonds case files when there was a knock on his door. It was partially ajar but manners did Peter’s mood wonders and, with glass walls, every bit of privacy granted was luxurious.

“Come in,” he called as he watched Neal fold the paper until the drawings were obscured. Impressions were important, and Neal at least understood that him drawing at the Bureau would probably make Peter look unprofessional. Peter appreciated the gesture.

It was Jones.

Both Peter and Neal noticed Jones’ quick glance at Neal.

Peter could tell something was bothering his hardworking and loyal agent. “Jones, come in. Shut the door. Take a seat.”

Jones hesitated for a fraction of a second. It was Neal; he wasn’t sure he should talk in front of him but then it didn’t matter really. Neal was an extension of Peter; of course he’d be around. He sat down, shifting until he felt he was conveying comfort.

Peter peered at Jones patiently. “Something bothering you, Jones?”

But Jones just shook his head, at ease now that he was sitting. “Boss,” he spoke. “I just thought you should know that there’re rumors around.”

Peter squinted his eyes. “Rumors?”

Jones glanced at Neal and jerked his head in his direction. “About him.”

“About Neal?” Peter straightened, taking his arms off the desk. “What are they?”

But both Peter and Neal could guess what they’d be.

Jones seemed amused; he looked up at Peter, having to raise his eyebrows to do so. “They’re saying he’s Bonds.”

Jones let out a few bright, soft chuckles, but they died rather fast when Peter’s expression didn’t change to incredulous or bewildered or amused or even annoyed at the news. It stayed the same.

Jones looked at Neal who also wore a neutral expression. When Jones continued to stare at him, Neal looked at Peter.

Peter took a deep breath. “How far would you say this ‘rumor’ has spread?”

Jones looked back at Peter, eyes wide. “Wait a minute … he…?

Peter just dipped his chin hesitantly. It was enough.

Jones looked at Neal with a disbelieving expression and half-turned his head like he sort of didn’t want to know before he spoke to Neal. “You’re James Bonds?”

Neal glanced at Peter but the agent wasn’t looking his way or giving any indication of anything so he looked back at Jones. “Pleasure,” he finally said and looked down at his hands.

“You enslaved…” Jones was saying to Peter, trying to backtrack. “When—how did you enslave B….?”

“Neal Caffrey,” Peter filled in.

“Caffrey,” Jones repeated, still feeling rather ambushed. “How did you enslave Caffrey?”

Peter shook his head. “I didn’t.”

“You found him then and he was already … so you just decided to?” Jones fumbled trying to wrap his mind around—okay, because, whoa, suddenly James Bonds was in the room.

“He was already enslaved when I found him, yes.” And Peter cast yet another curious glance at Neal, and then he continued. “But I only found out who he was this last weekend.”

“You mean…?” Jones grunted.

“It’s a complete coincidence,” Peter admitted.

“Gave you a shock?” Jones pleaded.

“Hell of one, yes.” Peter smirked.

“Good.” Jones rubbed a hand over his head. “Because you seem fine now!”

Peter was smiling and Neal realized that the agent found it funny when it wasn’t him going through the shock.

Jones glanced at Neal, then Peter and then back at Neal again.

“I just can’t believe that you’re …” Jones trailed off when Neal looked up.

“And you’ve done a test?” Jones asked Peter. “He’s definitely Bonds?”

Peter started to nod, but then Neal brought up something from on the chair he was sitting on and plopped it onto the table in front of him.

“Just five dollars,” he sighed. Peter and Jones stared at the black, leather wallet. Neal continued talking, taking delight in still being able to take someone by surprise, looking at Jones. “Not worth the whipping Peter will probably give me later for taking his wallet. But it’s proof enough for you, right?”

And Peter smiled. He shouldn’t have, but it just seemed… nice. Neal had allowed him to a see a glimmer of James Bonds. Neal had picked his pocket—the cheek! So now he was torn. He stood up, pushing the chair with his knees, snatched his wallet back and then cleared his throat.

“Not a word,” he said to Jones who couldn’t quite work out whether he wanted to laugh or run. He nodded.

“Not a word,” Jones agreed. “I have to—Diana is waiting on … Diana, does she know?”

Peter gave a curt nod.

“Oh,” Jones grumbled. “She knew? She seems to….” Jones rubbed his forehead. “Yeah,” he said finally, heading to the door.

“Meeting in ten,” Peter called. Then after Jones shut the door behind him giving a wave of acknowledgment through the glass as he went, Peter looked at Neal. “Only five dollars, huh? What were you planning on buying?”

“It was a toss-up between a new outfit for me and a new one for you. Depends on which outfit hurts me more; these clothes or that suit. I’m still weighing it up,” Neal answered without missing a beat.

“There’s only so much of that I’ll take from you, Neal,” Peter warned. But Neal could tell Peter hadn’t minded much. He was only worried about Neal’s ease at stealing his stuff; that was a potential resource he could use to flee again.


Though Peter kept Neal close it seemed like Peter spent the whole day unaware of his presence. Neal may as well have been a potted plant. Peter was in and out of the conference room all day. He hadn’t even left his office for lunch, preferring to order a few sandwiches from the first probie that offered to go on a lunch run.

Neal had poked his sandwich. It was cruel. But he couldn’t complain because Peter and his poorly educated palate had seemed to be enjoying the same sub-standard sandwich with gusto.

It was now early evening. Neal was watching from Peter’s office as Peter moved around the bullpen, checking files, chasing up people he’d left tasks with, using his mobile phone every fifteen or so minutes, fending off questions about the rumors (Peter was maintaining his fifth amendment rights for now—which only convinced the agents that the rumors had some validity), calling across the room to any agents who couldn’t stop long enough not to shout their piece back.

Then as the din died down, and the crowd of agents in the bullpen dwindled, Peter was forced to slow down until the day’s progress came to a standstill; there were only so many people out there able to help agents track down leads in their respective jobs after five o’clock came and went after all.

But now Peter was making his way up to his office where Neal had been waiting patiently—bored—for most of the day.

Something about Peter’s calm demeanor made Neal straighten in the chair with unease. He knew Peter should have been frustrated, maybe stubbornly chasing leads to nowhere still or muttering aloud the numbers he might still be able to call or even pulling out the files again and going over the same notes with the same frustrating conclusions.

Instead, Peter came in calmly. He had a purpose. He walked to this desk and sat down, neatly stowing the paperwork into their respective file jackets before resting his elbows on his now clear desk.

“It’s just you and me now, Neal,” Peter said smoothly. “We can stay here, or if you think it’ll be easier, we could go use an interrogation room.”

Neal looked at Peter carefully. But Peter had said it plainly. There was nothing to work out.

Peter nodded. “Neal, we need to talk.”

Neal shifted, considering his options. But Peter saw the direction his thoughts were moving.

“No,” Peter stated. “We’re talking. Here or the other room is your only choice, Neal.”

Neal wanted to keep Peter guessing as much as he could if Peter was going to do this. So he moved forward and stood. “Okay, the other room then.”

Peter paused, caught by surprise. He’s expected whining, refusal, or reluctance, and then eventual obedience … but here.

“Fine,” Peter said, recovering fast. “Want me to cuff you and read your rights too?” He was being completely sarcastic, of course.

“Don’t have rights,” Neal spoke, shrugging. If it had to be said, then he was going to be the one to say it before Peter got the chance. Judging by Peter’s irritated frown as he moved out of the office, he’d succeeded in catching the agent off-guard again.

Chapter Text

Neal wasn’t sure what to do with himself. On the one hand, he should sink into the chair and wait. But inside he wanted to make something of it. To only slide in the chair when Peter sat, to smile and flirt and make suggestive comments which, if Neal really thought about it, was the last thing he wanted to do, but that’s…

That’s how he’d always been and that’s how he’d always imagined he’d be when his—when Agent Peter Burke found a way to hold him long enough to get him into an interrogation room.


Neal looked sharply at Peter. Peter was standing next to him. Judging by the similar look of conflict in Peter’s eyes, Neal thought Peter was possibly going through the same confusing thoughts, but obviously from a different viewpoint. It was possibly harder for Peter in a way.

Flirting with the truth was a game for Neal. It wasn’t for Peter. It didn’t come naturally to him. So of course it wouldn’t help that he was going to attempt to interrogate a man he’d been lusting after, all the while chasing him and then there was the added sting that he’d unknowingly purchased and bedded that same man. So, Neal knew it was hard for Peter.

But what about him? It was hard for him too of course. He thrived on being able to separate his worlds; to lie and con and charm and mislead.

And now? Neal looked around the room. It had been bad enough that he’d had to fight daily to ignore his intense familiarity with the agent who was fucking him with abandon. Now? Now the agent knew who he was and as much as neither of them liked the ‘happy’ coincidence, they couldn’t deny that the worlds were fusing.

Here he was in an interrogation room about to be interrogated for his actions as Bonds. Interrogated by his owner. And then there was the expectation that he’d answer to Peter, anything he wanted to hear; no games, no tricks, no flirts, and no fun. Because he was Peter’s slave and it was against the rules. Neal had nothing with which to arm himself.

Not that the rules would stop him.

In the smaller, plainer, colder and harder room, Neal settled on the chair as if it were cushioned to cover his inner conflict and waited for Peter to do the same.

When Peter had sat on the chair opposite, placing some files on the table before him, he realized Neal intended to control the proceedings. So he wrested the control back by speaking before Neal could think for too long.


“Neal Caffrey,” Neal supplied.

He may as well get straight to the point, Peter decided. “Are you James Bonds?”

Neal shook his head, making Peter shift half in surprise, half in eager anticipation, and half in dread.

“I’ve never gone by that name,” Neal said, matter-of-fact.

It occurred to Peter then—something he hadn’t considered before—that Neal might fight him on this thing.

“We have a bond in our possession with a fingerprint on it,” Peter stated, skipping over the battle he wanted to have with Neal over whether he was Bonds. He wondered if pulling out the big guns this soon was wise, but he plowed ahead. “It matches yours.”

“I think the slave center could easily have mixed up my prints,” Neal said apologetically.

“The slave center mixed your prints,” Peter repeated, frowning, his tone tinged with a disbelieving mockery. “With the real Bonds’?”

“It could have,” Neal alleged, nodding, a slight smirk playing in his lips. It was hardly his best play but Neal didn’t care; anything to annoy Peter. “Or it could have been planted.”

“But it wasn’t,” Peter corrected.

“You don’t know that,” Neal said, his light voice grating on Peter.

“It’s your print,” Peter stated with finality, setting papers aside. In a flash, Neal recognized one of them; it was the bond he’d done.

“It’s your bond,” Peter continued forcefully. “So, that means you’re also suspected in twenty-eight other felonies and misdemeanors.”

“Only twenty-eight?” Neal asked, with interest. “Hmm, and here I thought you were only a step behind.”

“Want to catch me up?” Peter asked distractedly.

When Neal only smirked in response, Peter continued shuffling the papers, moving a select few over to the other pile.

“Anyway, that’s just the stuff with circumstantial evidence at best,” Peter explained. “My personal file which contains my unofficial notes is a lot fatter, Neal.”

“I’m sure it is,” Neal agreed. “Does it contain love letters? Poems? Maybe you went the other way? Frustrated rants? Paperwork with lots of pen stab marks?” Neal secretly didn’t love what he was saying; he knew it was so far from the truth that it was ridiculous. Peter was nothing if not professional. But he had to push Peter’s buttons; it was instinctive, not to mention fun.

“Neal,” Peter deadpanned, seemingly un-bothered, despite Neal’s poking.

“Yes, Peter?” Neal asked, looking over the file, trying vaguely to read it upside-down.

“Really?” Peter asked with a lazy tone. “You’re going to….” But he trailed off. Neither of their hearts were in this.

Neal just gazed back right into Peter’s eyes. Neal was just calm…. Peter wanted to be angry but he was honestly too resigned at this stage. He kind of already knew Neal might make it difficult, and had it really been Bonds and only Bonds he was interrogating he might not have considered letting it go, but it was Neal; he had the rest of Neal’s life to get his answers. There was no satisfying arrest coming up, no trial to worry about, no justice to uphold, so what did it matter? Besides, he had a feeling that most of what he wanted to know about Neal would only come after he learned how Neal had been enslaved.

Peter opened his mouth as he stared down at the paperwork. Then he sat back. “I’ll just cut to the chase. Neal, are you going to tell me anything?”

And Neal wasn’t rubbing it in or saying it just because it seemed like he’d won. He was being honest. Peter could tell.

“No,” Neal said simply.

Peter picked up the pen to occupy his fingers and twisted the lid off. “Why not?”

Neal looked up, doing his best to ignore the clicking of Peter’s pen. On the surface, the reason why was simple. Because he didn’t want to.

But Peter went on. “I mean, there’s nothing to gain from keeping it to yourself. Confess; it makes you look good and you get to boast. I know you like showing off, so boasting shouldn’t be too much of a stretch for you.”

When Neal’s fixed expression didn’t waver, Peter tried again. “It’s not like you have anything to lose; they can only charge you if you’re freed.”

“So.” Neal shrugged. “Why do you want me to confess to a bunch of things that I didn’t do then?”

Peter answered with a hint of irritation, “It would be nice be able to close these cases.”


“Let’s talk about Kate,” Peter suggested casually. Neal’s mouth tensed, but he gave no other sign of stress.

“While you were busy being enslaved—however that happened—where was she?” Peter tapped the table, the perfect picture of nonchalance. “What was Kate doing?”

When Neal didn’t answer Peter took to gazing around the room as though the view was worth at least noting. “Why is Kate running from you, Neal?”

Neal just gazed back. If he knew the answer to any of those questions (which he didn’t) he wasn’t going to tell Peter. Besides … Kate wasn’t running from him….

Peter looked back at Neal and smiled fondly. “You know, you have a perfect control over your tells. I’m impressed,” Peter complimented. “But you do have a big one.”

Neal mentally checked himself. His expression, his body and his breathing hadn’t changed since he’d fallen silent.

“I can tell that you hate what I’m saying right now,” Peter stated. “Because you haven’t teased me. You’ve gone quiet, Neal. Silence is golden?”

Neal’s jaw tensed, but he said nothing. Peter wasn’t one to dwell so he moved on.

“I want to help you move past this Kate thing,” Peter said, deliberately acting insensitive. “But I can’t do that because you won’t tell me the name that Anthony gave you—presumably because you have something you don’t want me to know connected to that name. Is that secret really worth hiding? Is it really worth not moving past the Kate thing?”

Neal felt resentment pooling in his stomach even while he kept his face carefully blank. But he couldn’t stop from answering Peter. “‘Kate thing’?” Neal repeated. “Kate … thing? Peter … Kate is like my Elizabeth.”

Peter nodded, satisfied. He had the answer he was looking for from the rise he’d given Neal. He leaned forward. “You’re not looking for her to move on from her. You intend to be with her. Damn reality? It doesn’t matter that things have changed—that you have other roles now?”

Neal stared at Peter. “She’s … my … Elizabeth,” he enunciated slowly and clearly.

Peter paused at that. Though Neal had said it before, he hadn’t paid any attention, but it was hard to ignore it now, what with Neal’s slow and deliberate reiteration.

Peter would punch anyone who told him he had to say goodbye to Elizabeth so that he could focus on his job—even if the job was the one he had; staying on at the Bureau was not worth losing Elizabeth, and he would punch that much harder if it happened while Elizabeth was missing.

Peter sat back and turned his head to stare at the wall.

Neal watched him. But Peter seemed to be just as gifted at hiding his thoughts.

When time began to stretch, Peter let out his breath, deflating his role. He stood up, pushing the chair back and picked up the files, pinching them in one hand while he extended his other towards Neal.

Neal looked at Peter’s hand. Neal wasn’t sure what it was. It didn’t look like an offer of truce or peace. Maybe he was over-thinking things, Neal extended his own hand and Peter met him halfway, gripping his forearm, and then Peter hauled Neal up onto his feet.

“Let’s just go home.” Peter suggested, calmly. “Your friend will come find you when he’s got something, right?”

Neal stopped for a microsecond as Peter let go and turned to the door. It was … not an apology, not quite, but Peter had ceased trying to push his buttons when he had drawn the parallel between Kate and Elizabeth. Neal realized Peter had actually listened. That’s what the offered hand had been about.

Peter had understood Neal’s point.

Chapter Text

In the wake of the—Neal couldn’t call it an interrogation to be fair—so in the wake of the ‘talk’ they’d had, Neal was in the mood to stay quiet. Unfortunately the casual questioning had opened up the floodgates to all the questions that had been bound to surface ever since Peter found out he’d had Bonds right in his own backyard.

They were in the car, wending their way through a light, early-evening traffic, with Neal in the passenger seat, trapped as he had been all day, in Peter’s presence. Peter was taking advantage by asking extremely random and casual questions.

Neal had kept the answers to himself, but Peter didn’t seem to have a problem with Neal’s silence. It was almost like a one-sided conversation except that even Neal knew Peter was gauging his reactions; drawing conclusions, making guesses based on his body language and while Neal was a master when it came to only showing what he wanted and hiding everything else, not only did Peter seem to pick up on even the slightest sign like Neal shifting his line of sight further to the left, but Neal additionally didn’t seem to be trying hard to hide much. He was staying verbally quiet but despite this, Neal seemed be relaxing his control; not worrying about his tells as much as he might otherwise have done, so when Peter would mention something off-handed that Neal knew was plain rubbish he might let out a little amused exhale and turn his gaze up and out the window in exasperation. That told Peter that the story was at the very least embellished and possibly, complete fiction.
Peter noticed other tells and mentally engraved them in his mind; Neal’s jaw tensed when Peter was right. Neal tapped his finger when he was bored. Neal smiled when Peter was close but not quite close enough. Neal stilled when Peter was on the verge of a truth. And Neal nodded vaguely when Peter was wrong.

At the back of his mind, Peter knew his attitude towards Neal had changed. It had been minute so far but he couldn’t help watching everything Neal did as if through a magnifying glass, noting the slightest quirks, and just generally enjoying having the real thing; the physical embodiment of the ghost he’d been chasing for years just there for him to get to know. It didn’t matter if he’d already seen Neal exit a car; this time he was watching Bonds get out of the car. Peter also watched when Neal walked, when Neal took the excess of his paperwork, when Neal entered the house after him, and when Neal greeted the enthusiastic dog.

Bonds was real and very much a flawed human being. The only flaw Peter had ever known Bonds had had before was his blind and undying love for Kate who Peter realized, despite having interrogated her, was also a mystery. Peter hadn’t cared about her past, hadn’t wanted to know what kind of person she was or what her goals in life were; just whether or not she knew where Neal had been. But now that Neal was here and was still hooked on her to the point of risking all to find her, Peter wanted to know everything about Kate; he wanted to record all the information, no matter how insignificant, about the harpy that had stolen his slave’s attention.

Suddenly, he didn’t like Kate. She became a mortal enemy.
Peter swallowed, knowing he was being petty and vindictive, but Kate had Neal’s unwavering loyalty and where was she? Was she fighting the Burkes for him? No. She was nowhere to be seen, and while Peter had been blind to Neal’s real whereabouts, he doubted that as Neal’s girlfriend Kate didn’t know where he was or what had happened to him. Neal seemed to think she didn’t know, but Peter couldn’t see how that was possible.


Even at the interrogation he hadn’t liked Kate, so Peter didn’t think he was being completely irrational. There was just something about her that irritated him. And the feeling had been mutual. Kate hadn’t liked him much either, but that wasn’t unusual.

“You don’t seem to have a … anything against me,” Peter suddenly mumbled to Neal, falling out of his thoughts.

Neal looked up from where he was kneeling, patting Satchmo. He stood. “What do you mean?”

“I mean.” Peter peered at Neal, armoring himself even as he explained. “I’m the guy who’s been chasing you for years, looking to lock you up … criminals; they generally hate feds for that.”

Neal scanned Peter, and then looked away. “Yeah …” he agreed quietly. “But look, Peter, you—it’s just a job. I’m not going to hate a guy doing his job.”

“Come on, Neal,” Peter replied. “Even you have to admit it was more personal than that.”

“You mean the enjoyment you got from your job of hunting me down?” Neal asked. “Or the way you went after me? Like with Kate?

“What about Kate?” Peter said a little too quickly.

Neal smiled at nothing. “About four months ago you set up a trap to get me … using Kate as bait; that was a bit below the belt, Peter.”

Peter cleared his throat, awkwardly.

“I would’ve gone after her too,” Neal admitted. “And you would’ve had me, except I was already enslaved for two months by then.

Peter removed his coat as something to do and looked towards the stairs. He wanted to ask again, but he knew Neal would only pretend he hadn’t said anything. He would just have to believe that he’d find out how Neal lost his freedom when he was ready.

“I almost met you in that first year that you chased me,” Neal revealed, seemingly bemused. “Outside a bank I’d just—allegedly—dropped my bond at. I heard your voice and M—my friend just instantly recognized that you were an agent by your voice alone. I turned around and there you were. I wanted to go over to you and say hi. Maybe give you the only thing I had on me as a memento.”

“What was that?” Peter asked softly.

“A lollipop,” Neal muttered, moving into the living room, following Satchmo. Peter followed Neal, and they watched as the dog disappeared into the kitchen.

Then Neal looked back at Peter. “A green one. The bank teller had just given it to me.”

Peter moved over to the couch, sitting down on it and pulled out his phone, which had dug into his hip. He fiddled with it. “So why didn’t you end up saying hi to me then?”

“I came so close. My friend had gone and so had that woman you were talking to, so I started walking over, but then you turned around and spoke to this guy—a slave. I don’t know. I just lost my momentum or regained my senses or something. I just walked past you and kept going.”

“I remember that day.” Peter nodded, distracted by the memory. “He was a bureau slave; an expert in bond forgery. I’d brought him along to identify any forgeries the bank might have had. As it happens; he found one. That was the day we got our first description; the bank teller remembered you. It was better than nothing. You’d managed to keep your face turned from the cameras.”


Peter came out of the memory and looked at Neal who was still reminiscing. He looked him over and was hit by a sudden despair for Neal. And bewilderment. Where in his life had everything gone wrong? The idea that Neal had ended up here with them—thank god—and before that had ended up a criminal; it made Peter’s gut clench. How—what …?

And why did Neal’s fate suddenly bother Peter?

Last week—when he wasn’t Bonds, when he was just another supposedly naive slave—Neal was lucky to be with him and Elizabeth. Very fortunate indeed that he’d fallen into this household, where he’d be safe and taken care of, where he had a couple hell-bent on making him happy with his lot in life. And now? Peter wanted to go back in time and fix whatever had happened. But why?

Peter looked at Neal again. That answer was in front of him; he may never have met Neal in person before last week, but he did know the man. He knew, whether through his own experiences or second-hand, the things that made Neal tick, the things that made him happy, and the things that he lived for. So Peter felt he had seen Neal happy before; every time he saw one of Neal’s cons go off successfully, every time he saw the result of a theft, and every time he saw a note or clue or greeting left behind by Neal, Peter had felt the energy of the conman who was long gone; felt his exhilaration and jubilance.

Looking at Neal now, Peter couldn’t see anything but a defeated man. Peter missed Bonds. Even if it was right, it just wasn’t worth having the real thing—whether behind bars or as a personal slave—if it meant that the man Peter secretly admired and liked was gone from the world.

Peter almost dropped his phone when it rang in his hands, buzzing, sending vibrations shooting up his fingers. He glanced at Neal hoping the slave hadn’t seen him fumble the phone and brought it up to his ear to answer it.

“Burke,” Peter barked in an attempt to regain face.

But Neal hadn’t noticed anything. He turned from where he was standing and spied the dog pacing across the mat just before the back door. He shot Peter a look but the agent was distracted so Neal headed into the dining room to open the door leading to backyard. He stayed deliberately in Peter’s field of vision knowing it would take some time before Peter would be comfortable enough to let Neal wander, unseen, about the house again.

As he shut the door on Satchmo’s exit, Neal moved slowly back towards the living room, wondering what Peter would make him do tonight. It was the day after they’d caught and brought him back home. If Peter had been serious about making it up to El, then chances were tonight would be about that. And it wasn’t just the escape he owed Elizabeth for, but two other things; ruining her birthday, and, if Peter remembered it, for making El uncomfortable on Monday night after it became apparent that he’d had an issue with her having sex with him.

The idea that the Burkes might refrain from using him until his health was tested offered little reassurance; there was more than one way to skin a cat. So Neal forced himself to be candid; he had to face the prospect that in all likelihood, tonight he’d have to get down on his knees—possibly literally—to satisfy Elizabeth and convince her that he was there for her to use and that he’d be as companionable and compliant … and happy … as she wanted.

It made Neal sick.


Peter hung up and called Neal over. “That was El,” he announced. “Come on—bedroom.”

Neal froze. Not this soon. Elizabeth wasn’t even home yet. Or did Peter possibly want to do something with him before she arrived home, or maybe Peter wanted to get him ready.
Maybe there would be enough time to talk it out first? Just so he would be at least a little prepared. Peter was bound to know what she liked. Neal’s vision began to swim. He blinked furiously to clear his eyes.

When Peter reached the foyer, Neal forced himself to move. Once he reached the stairs, he reminded himself to breathe. Having been deprived of air, his first inhale was audible enough for Peter to glance back at him as he ascended, but it wasn’t until Peter reached the bedroom and turned that he was able to look Neal over properly.


Neal could hear the mild concern in Peter’s voice. He focused on calming his chest then he looked up and assumed a casual stance feeling as his expression forcibly relaxed—hopefully enough. But Peter only frowned.

Damn, Neal remembered then, Peter had been watching him more closely lately; Peter could probably tell that he was emotionally wrecked at the moment, despite his best efforts. Although, admittedly his best efforts were lacking somewhat right now; not surprising the way he was feeling.

“Neal,” Peter spoke deeply, trying to shake off his own concern. “What’s wrong?”

Neal raised his eyebrows, shook his head and shrugged. “I’m fine, Peter.”

But Peter was far from fooled. He thought back. What had happened to change Neal’s mood from a simple discontent to terror in the last five minutes?

Peter looked around hoping the answer was a visual one, but he could see nothing that would shake Neal. Even the figurine of Kate had been tucked away.

He’d brought Neal to the bedroom. But that couldn’t be it. Rather than think on it, Peter decided to air his thoughts. He had no time to stay anyway. He’d work it out properly when he returned.

“Neal,” Peter spoke cautiously. “That was Elizabeth on the phone. I have to go pick her up. When I get back we’ll talk about why you’re stressed.”

“I’m not—” Neal tried.

“No buts,” Peter interrupted, putting up a hand. “I’m not taking you with me to pick up El. That’s why we came up here; to get the chain and mitts.” Peter watched Neal carefully as he said this and was satisfied to see Neal’s eyes change from tense to surprised. Peter waited until Neal’s stance relaxed and his face cleared. Neal may not have been aware of it, but the fear that had been in Neal was blindingly obvious to Peter and now it was disappearing. So Peter filed that sliver of fact away in his mind to crack open when he returned.

“Okay?” Peter nodded, patting Neal’s back reassuringly. “Just let me get the stuff, and we’ll set you up downstairs.”

Neal shrugged. “I’m fine, Peter. Is Elizabeth okay?”

Peter was rummaging in a box he’d pulled out from beneath the bed. As he found the items he was looking for he straightened. “She’s fine,” he answered, distracted. “I just thought I’d save her a cab fare home. Where’s my—ah!”

Peter moved around the bed, making a beeline for the bedside drawers where a small metal key lay.

Peter drove Neal back downstairs like an impatient cattle dog. Neal moved aside, out of Peter’s path at the base of the stairs and Peter swept past him.

“So, listen,” Peter spoke as he looked in the corners of the living room. “I’m thinking about treating El to dinner on the way home. So you’ll be alone for awhile.”


Neal watched as Peter moved along the wall, frowning.

“The thing is,” Peter continued. “It’s last minute, so you’ll have to eat after we get back, there’s no time now; El’s waiting.” Peter paused, glancing at Neal. “Bathroom?”

Neal just shook his head. His pulse had returned to almost normal and now he only had the relatively minor problem of dealing with boredom with Peter’s imminent absence.

“Damn it,” Peter growled. “There’s nothing here to attach the chain to.”

Neal rolled his eyes. “Peter, you don’t need the chain.”

Peter shot Neal a world-weary look of reproach. He wasn't even going to dignify Neal's words with a rebuttal.

Neal scoffed. “I meant that if you set the tracker to the house, I’d have trouble leaving without sending you an alert.”

“Got an alert last time,” Peter informed him. “Five minutes too late.”

“That was for cutting it,” Neal answered softly. “This one would be for leaving.”

Peter didn’t know why he was bothering to argue. It could go on all night, but he continued anyway. “And what’s to stop you from cutting it again?”

“Can’t use scissors without my hands,” Neal said in a bored tone, indicating the mitts. “Can I?”

Peter was drawn up short by the obvious remark. Neal had a point. He’d over-thought the situation.

“I’d be lucky to even get the doorknob to turn,” Neal grumbled to himself.

Peter walked over to Neal and stopped a yard in front of him. “What about your friend?”

Neal looked up, uncomfortably, understanding Peter’s point immediately.

Peter continued in the face of Neal’s unease. “What’s to stop him from coming by and taking you again?”

“Taking me?” Neal repeated, incredulous at the choice of words.

“That’s what he did last time,” Peter pointed out. He shrugged. “I know you can think for yourself, Neal. But the fact remains; you’re my slave, not a freeperson; your friend stole you from me.”

Neal shook his head. “I left on my own. If I just happened to meet up with him afterwards—”

“Then he should have returned the ‘lost’ property. When he didn’t, it became theft. Don’t argue with me on semantics, Neal,” Peter warned him simply. “I’m a federal agent; you won’t win.”

When Neal only stared at the floor Peter spoke up again, satisfied. “Let’s get back to the topic. What’s to stop your friend from coming by and snipping off that tracker for you himself?”

Neal shook his head at a loss, still reeling from Peter having accused Moz of theft—a felony at that—all because he’d left. Then he looked up and spoke quietly. “Peter … my friend can pick locks too. So whether you put the chain on or not is going to make no difference. You still have to take that same risk.”

Peter looked away and huffed, before pursing his lips.

Neal shifted, getting tired of standing. “Besides, I’ve been with you twenty-four seven, Peter; there have been no chances to contact him, and I told him to go after Kate. He won’t be around.”

Peter didn’t reply. He looked at his watch and finally dropped the chain onto the couch. “Fine, mitts only. Go get a drink first though.”

Neal looked at Peter.

“Go,” Peter commanded. “I don’t know when you last drank. My fault; had you at the FBI all day. I need to do better. …Neal!”

Neal was flummoxed. So instead of insisting he was fine, which he had to admit might have been his first lie, he headed into the kitchen without argument and slowly poured himself a glass of water.

Chapter Text

After checking the house, letting Satchmo out and back in, making sure the kitchen, bathroom and bedroom doors were open, Peter left the house, doing his best to ignore his fear that when he returned he would find Neal gone; because surely some mere mitts of all things wouldn’t hold Neal. And Neal had demonstrated that he had no qualms about taking advantage of Peter’s absence. But things had changed; Neal knew that Peter knew who he was. His advantage was gone.
And anyway, surely Neal would realize now wasn’t the best time, that too many things were up in the air and changing. Better to wait until some resemblance of normalcy settled over the household, to wait until the situation with Kate simplified, to wait out the changes in the Burkes’ attitude towards Neal….

Even though things were changing, Peter thought they might be changing for the better. Peter felt he had improved a hundred-fold since the Sunday he’d brought Neal home for the first time.
He couldn’t remember stressing or worrying quite so much at first, which Peter figured was the sign of a new owner; one that didn’t watch out for the slave and ensure he was cared for was a naïve one.
Just about everything valuable that a person could possibly own needed some kind of care. A car needed oil and water. A pet needed love and feeding. A gun needed cleaning and maintenance.
Neal was no different. Peter knew that now. He wasn’t quite sure what Neal needed but he would find out, with or without help. But for now, Peter couldn’t help wanting to fix the smaller things. As eating and drinking didn’t seem to be Neal’s priority, making sure he did went a long way to reassure Peter that Neal would be fine.

Peter pulled up some time later, next to the curb where Elizabeth jumped in with a smile, leaning across the middle to kiss Peter hello.

She then glanced back but finding only vacant seats, she looked back at Peter. “Where’s Neal?”

“At home,” Peter replied, waiting for El to buckle up. When she did, he pulled out into the traffic. “Thought we’d go for dinner and talk for a bit?”

“You left him alone?” Elizabeth exclaimed, alarmed. “Peter?”

Peter shook his head. “It’s fine; he can’t cut the tracker.”

“He can’t cut the tracker? ‘He’ being the same guy who you’ve told me has escaped everyone who has ever tried to keep him trapped for longer than two seconds—yourself included?” Elizabeth checked anxiously.

Peter put a reassuring hand on her knee. “If he runs, El, then we’ll just find him again, okay? But we can’t live like that, just assuming he’ll run every moment.”

Elizabeth turned, settling back against the car seat, giving the empty seat another desperate glance as she went. She let out a long helpless exhale. “You’re right,” she admitted, not reassured.

“Which restaurant would you like to dine at tonight?” Peter asked, doing his best to lighten the atmosphere.”

Elizabeth reluctantly ran through the list of establishments in her head that both she and Peter would find enjoyable, but… “How about we just get take-out, hon, and eat in the car. It’s comfortable enough and we won’t have to worry about being overheard.”

It didn't surprise Peter that Elizabeth wanted to talk. He felt the need as well. But Peter knew they should go some place that could provide a relief as needed or their talk could get too intense. Being in a crowded restaurant would have given them leave to use other people as distractions. “Compromise,” he proposed. “We could go to the drive-in movies?”

Elizabeth looked at Peter, clearly tired, and offered a content smile at the idea.



It was about an hour into the movie and they’d both finished eating, each left with only a soda to occupy their hands.

“Dr. Lehman called me today,” Elizabeth announced softly.

Peter looked at El in surprise. “He did?”

“Yeah,” Elizabeth replied. “Apparently he likes to check in with his clients every second Monday just to see how they’re doing.”

“What did you tell him?” Peter asked carefully.

“Not much,” Elizabeth admitted, taking a sip. “I couldn’t bring myself to tell him that Neal had run. It’s too big over the phone, you know?”

Peter nodded. “So, you wouldn’t have told him about the whole James Bonds thing either?”

“No,” El shook her head, staring vacantly at the giant screen several cars ahead. “Basically, he just asked if we’d taught Neal the tasks on our list yet and whether we’d started the blindfold exercise yet.”

Peter winced. “I should teach Neal how to mow.”

El nodded. “And we should give the blindfold another go.”

“Yeah?” Peter spoke, unsure. “I mean, are we sure it’ll help…anymore?”

“No, we’re not, hon,” El said softly. “But there’s no harm in trying, and anyway, it might take some of the stress out of Neal. Remember when he relaxed with you?”

“That’s true,” Peter admitted, recalling when he’d gotten Neal to sit by him on the floor and Neal had settled to the point of almost falling asleep. “So, that’s all Dr. Lehman wanted? Just to check in?”

“Nice of him wasn’t it?” El said, nodding. “Although, I felt like my geography teacher was calling me at home to see if I’d done my homework yet. And there was a client in the room. I think she found my nervous tone a turn-off.”

“I can get him to call my mobile instead if—” Peter offered, wincing in sympathy.

“No, it’s fine.” El smiled, patting Peter’s hand. “I liked hearing from him; it’s nice to know we’ve got someone to turn to if we need the help.”

“Yeah,” Peter agreed, turning over his palm to old El’s hand. “It is good, and I think we may need that help.”

“I’m glad you agree,” El murmured. “I asked Dr. Lehman if we might be able to talk to him about some things. He said he was free Thursday night. But, honey, I’m sorry; I’ve got something that night. I just figured we kind of needed a professional opinion and that was the earliest—”

“No,” Peter spoke warmly. “It’s good. I want to go.”

Peter and Elizabeth each felt a tiny weight lift off them and spent some time, relaxing, watching the show with a vague sense of ease. Then seemingly at the same time, they turned to look at each other again.

Elizabeth spoke first. “I booked Neal an appointment on Wednesday to see a slave physician who’ll run those tests as well as check him over. I figured you could get the insurance sorted by then…?”

“Yeah?” Peter nodded. “Sounds good. Thanks El.”

Peter changed the subject again. He smiled as he spoke. “You know, with the insurance … we can probably insure Neal for five times the value we paid for him. Because of who he is—his skill set, his knowledge. His value has quadrupled. And the irony is; the very thing that devalued him when we bought him will actually raise his worth now.”

“His escaping, you mean?” El frowned, still absorbing Peter’s light-hearted revelation.

Peter nodded. “He isn’t just a slave who inconvenienced people by not staying put; he’s a highly successful white-collar criminal whose specialties include forgery, theft, fraud, and evasion.”

After a minute, El cocked her head and tapped Peter’s hand. “You know, if you think about it, I don’t think you could have found a more compatible slave. He’s perfect for you, Peter.”

Peter snorted at El’s use of the word ‘perfect’. It reminded him of that morning when Neal had escaped. Peter had been thinking the very same thing and that was before he’d even found out who Neal was.



There were a thousand ways Neal could leave this house. But like he’d said to Peter, he couldn’t remove the tracker with his hands ensconced by mitts. As leaving, even temporarily, would gain him nothing, Neal put the idea out of mind for the night.

He inspected the mitts. It would be nice to know he could get them off in a pinch if he ever needed to.
But they were secured by a lock on each wrist.
Neal hadn’t practiced picking things without using his hands, but there had to be ways. He stood and scanned the room, but no particular inspiration struck.

He cursed the house. It was a modernly built, perfectly furnished and immaculately decorated home. If only he could find something with a nail sticking out. Or a very narrow, sharp hook, like a coat rack that small and wiry enough. He just needed something thin, hard, long enough, and fixed in place that he could bring the locks down on.

He should have anticipated this by making something…

But what was the point? It took a fair amount of time just picking a lock with fully functioning fine-motor. So, of course, relying on an immovable pick wouldn’t help much, time-wise. There was no such thing as ‘in a pinch’. Peter wouldn’t be far away, not anymore. Except at times like now. But he couldn’t predict the Burkes’ movements and moods. Peter might not do this again. This might be his only chance, but it was a bad timing sort of chance.

He didn’t even know where Mozzie was. He couldn’t contact Mozzie. Even if he got another phone; he had no new number. He just had to wait.

Neal hated that; putting his choices, his life and his independence in other people’s hands. He was fast getting tired of it.


On the road back home, Peter was subdued.

He had enjoyed the dinner with Elizabeth; it had been nice and getting some of the talk out of the way, plotting out his schedule with El for the week, had allowed him to de-stress a little, but now something he’d been avoiding ever since he’d gotten Neal back after his escape was haunting him. He’d deliberately not thought about it, but with no buffer of more urgent issues protecting him, he couldn’t avoid it any longer.

Elizabeth went on ahead of him after he’d parked the car, curbside, opposite their house. Elizabeth hadn’t seen Neal all day, having slept in and she was anxious to make sure his return hadn’t been a dream.
Peter procrastinated; he fiddled with the car keys, took his time exiting the Taurus, checked over the tires, and glanced at his roof, before having to accept the inevitable. He’d have to go in the house now…. Oh, but geez…

His conscious was nagging him to talk to Neal.

To talk about something that he shouldn’t have to talk about, ever, with his slave of all people. He considered going to Dr. Lehman, but as good as the doctor was, there was only one person who had the answers to the questions swimming in Peter’s head.

He slowly made his way into the front door and was grateful to spend a few minutes on his knee, patting Satchmo who seemed to be excited in telling him all about his evening with Neal. Ah, if only dogs could talk. The tales they would tell. Maybe he should get some cameras put in so that he’d know what Neal did when he was alone.

He looked up and stood, giving Satchmo a last pat and a murmur. “Good boy.”

El was standing in front of Neal, talking quietly with him. Neal was standing, arms by his side, looking down at her, concentrating on being careful not to portray the wrong thing. He listened and made himself stay still, as El swept his hair back from his forehead and smiled.

Then it was over, and Neal felt as Elizabeth moved away. He stayed in place waiting, just in case she called him to follow her or came back. But she didn’t, so he eased his defenses, but then he felt his skin prickle and he looked up to the side. Peter was standing nearby, watching him.

Neal suddenly felt he’d rather have El cuddling him, asking him about how his day was, and just generally looking at him with a gaze that belied her nervous, yet firm love of him. Of him, not for him. Like she loved Satchmo. He was a possession.

Peter’s quiet, vacant observatory expression was unnerving.

Suddenly he spoke, staying where he was, leaning against the divider between the living room and the foyer; he spoke softly. “Why didn’t you have sex with the slave girl? You paid for her…”

Neal was startled. That had been ages ago. And Peter had already asked that, and he had assumed Peter had forgotten all about that. And hadn’t the Burkes decided to go with believing he had indeed had sex with her?

It felt to Neal like he stood frozen for ages before he was able to swallow, lubricating his throat. He thought Peter would have moved on, asked another question, or threatened him and even perhaps walked off by now but Peter had just stayed in place, just waiting.

Neal wondered if he should answer obtusely, just make some stupid or offhand comment, and cause Peter to think Lily was some friend or conspirator, because if he told Peter the truth, Peter would no doubt just assume that he was even more self-entitled than he’d realized. Because slaves—particularly companion slaves shouldn’t feel the desire to avoid sex; it was in their job description. If they tried to avoid it, then they thought they were something more than they were.

But screw it. He cleared his throat awkwardly. “Contrary to popular misconception, Peter, most slaves don’t like being used for sex.” Inwardly, Neal ignored his own doubts. From what he'd seen, most slaves had actually been fine. No, they were too quiet, calm ... brainwashed. Or pretending.

Peter shifted his gaze for a second before fixing it, once again, on Neal. “The girl…?”

“I was giving Lily a night off, Peter,” Neal explained. “And keeping the hotel happy with her.”

Peter felt a little relieved. Lily. It was Lily. She was the one who was unable to fulfill her duty.
It was easy to accept the idea that a slave like Lily wouldn’t like her obligations because all slaves were different; some adapted better than others so it was easy to assume Lily was just one of those kinds that weren't quite right.

But Peter’s relief was fleeting.

He didn’t like where his thoughts was going. He wanted so badly to say the words in his head. ‘And you? Are you ‘most slaves’?’ But he feared the answer. If Bonds actually—if Neal voiced….

Neal was watching Peter closely. He could see conflict in Peter’s face.

Peter thought over the times he and El had used Neal. He thought about Neal’s protests. But they weren’t protests against the sex itself.

The first time, Neal had been nervous; it had been his first time, both with another man and as a slave. He hadn’t known what to expect or do. So, that was understandable … even normal.

The second time had been with El. From what El and Neal had told him, Neal had had a hard time because El reminded him of Kate. Nothing to do with the sex itself.

The third time, it’d been him again, but alone; without El. He’d been aroused from work. Neal had been distracted but he’d participated, had even helped Peter out of his clothes. With hindsight, Peter figured Neal had been distracted because Peter had just told him about the Bureau pulling Kate in.

The fourth time; Neal had protested, but it had been because he was tired. And the blindfold had been a new thing. And it had been late and they’d had a big day, plus looking back, Peter realized Neal would have had the escape, the next day, on his mind too.

So Neal wasn’t one of those slaves that were discontented with providing sex; he’d just been affected by other things at the time.

Peter shifted, about to take a step away from the wall. But then he paused.

Just suppose Neal hadn’t liked it? What if Neal had hated it? Actually hated it? Not just a fleeting, distracted discontentment but actually, solidly despised it?

It was an awful thought. Peter forced himself to go on with his thoughts before he returned to reality; he needed to think this thing through. So, just supposing Neal hated providing sex…

Could he and El continue using Neal?

Peter looked up at Neal who was watching him patiently.

Peter realized that if Neal had been miserable with the sex, he probably wouldn’t be able to do it. It didn’t matter if it was irrational to cater to a slave’s happiness, especially with a reason as ludicrous as a sex slave not wanting to provide the sex.

He’d have to change Neal’s role or something. He liked Neal—and Bonds—too much to ignore an issue like that. He and El both just wanted him safe, with them. It didn’t matter all that much if he never had sex with Neal again; his and El’s sex life was fine—both of them were satisfied with it.

Of course they should try to fix Neal’s problem first. Neal’s eyes stared into his own. They were intense, perceptive … intelligent.

He would bring his thoughts up with Dr. Lehman, Peter decided.

Feeling on top of his concerns at the moment, Peter felt he could face asking it now; the question he’d been avoiding all long.

Peter stepped forward. He stopped in front of Neal. Neal stared at Peter’s torso, waiting, knowing what Peter was thinking. Then Peter took a breath.


“I hate it,” Neal said quietly.

Chapter Text

Peter felt confused. He turned his head, his neck cramping as he did so, and saw a shadow in his peripherals. He followed it with his eyes. It was Elizabeth. She was standing silently in the dining room, staying close to the wall. She met Peter’s gaze. He could see the same conflict in her face, but it was overshadowed by sadness.
There was another difference, and with some careful study, Peter realized, unlike him, Elizabeth wasn’t shocked. She’d already known, he realized. Perhaps she hadn’t agreed as wholly with him as he’d thought when they’d discussed Neal’s discomfort during sex with her.

Peter tore his eyes from hers and back onto Neal who hadn’t moved. Peter couldn’t say anything. It was odd, to think the least, that a slave could hate his very definition. For slaves, that kind of usage usually meant they were proving effective, useful, wonderful, and… it meant the owners were happy with them and … liked them. It was an intimate thing. It was why companion slaves were often matched for life with their owners. It was why companion slaves felt that much more secure when they found good owners as opposed to other chattel slaves who could be sold and leased for skills, for investments, and for labor anytime at the convenience of the owner.

Peter sighed. Elizabeth and Neal were waiting. He looked down and took a hold on Neal’s arm, bringing it up, retrieving a key from his pocket. He methodically unlocked the mitts one by one, before mumbling to Neal.

“Go get something to eat.”

Neal didn’t have high hopes despite his honesty. So, rather than hesitate, and consider if Peter really understood what he’d meant and whether or not he should emphasize his point, Neal just turned, heading for the kitchen.

Elizabeth came forward immediately after Neal disappeared through the swinging door and enveloped Peter in a hug.

“Honey,” she murmured, recognizing how gutted Peter felt.

Peter just shook his head. He didn’t want to. He pulled away, giving Elizabeth a kiss on her crown as he went.

“I’m fine,” he assured her. “I’ll talk to Dr. Lehman. Until then…”

“Peter,” Elizabeth murmured, trying to convey her empathy, that he wasn’t—that he… but she was at a loss herself.

“Until then, we’ll get Neal checked up. We’ll go to work. I’ll get the insurance,” Peter said, ticking off the organized, ironed out to-do-list. “It’s all good. We’ll work this out, El.”



Despite Peter’s heavy thoughts, he wasn’t so out of it that he forgot that Neal was still an escape risk, so Neal sat in the dining room, on the side of the table that gave Peter a perfect view of him from where he sat on the couch, watching the television. Neal picked through his food slowly, haunted by his own low mood. Elizabeth, feeling helpless towards both men, had gone upstairs to organize herself for a busy event the next day.

When the late night news finished its sports updates, Peter realized Neal was only moving his food around on the plate, lost in thought. Peter called out gruffly.

“Neal, if you’re finished, clean up and then join me.”

Neal looked up, jolted from his thoughts. He let the fork fall. Despite Peter’s words, Neal knew Peter hadn’t meant ‘if’. As far as Peter was concerned, he was finished. So Neal stood, trying not to drag his feet, picking up his plate, tucking the chair in as he went.

When Neal emerged, having cleaned the kitchen, Peter shifted, sitting up and switched off the television. After placing the remote on the coffee table, Peter nodded to the floor in front of the couch. “Kneel down, Neal.”

Neal came around the corner of the small table and dropped to his knees, before looking up at Peter.

Peter looked at him, still thinking. Then he spoke. “We’re going to see Dr. Lehman, the slave consultant, on Thursday. If you’ll remember, he gave us an exercise. One that we didn’t complete. He said you needed to wear a blindfold for a minimum of forty-eight hours. I have to take you to work and I won’t make you wear a blindfold out. So, when we’re at home, from now until we see the Doc, you’ll wear it and you won’t take it off. Understood?”

Neal dipped his head neutrally.

“Good,” Peter replied, feeling hot under the collar for a reason he couldn’t identify. “Go get it. It’s in my small drawers. Don’t disturb El. You’ve got one minute.”

Neal rose carefully, and made his way to the stairs. He paused at the base, and then ascended, trying to loosen his limbs and calm his nerves.


Back downstairs, Neal stayed still as Peter knotted the fabric at the back of his head.

“Good?” Peter queried, moving Neal’s shoulders until he turned, still kneeling, so that Peter could check the front.

Neal nodded. The blindfold was comfortable enough.

Peter wished Neal would use his voice. At least then, his submissiveness might resemble the banter they had shared a couple of times, but Neal’s mood seemed to ebb and flow in that regard. At the moment, much like Peter was himself; Neal was caught in a somber mood with little reason to do more than nod at Peter’s words.

“Now,” Peter spoke, guiding Neal absently until Neal sat with his back against the couch Peter was sitting on. “Tomorrow, you’re coming to work with me like you did today. On Wednesday there’s an appointment for you to see a physician. I’ll probably take you. Then on Thursday, we’ll be seeing Dr. Lehman. Any questions?”

Neal shook his head.

“Neal,” Peter berated softly. “You don’t know if I’m looking at you. Use your voice. I’ll ask again; any questions, Neal?”

“No thank you, Peter,” Neal replied, despondent. Neal did have some vague questions, but none he cared enough to ask. Like why Peter was still taking him to see a physician if he believed he hadn’t had sex with Lily.

“Okay, then,” Peter said, trying to keep the indignation out of his tone. “We’ll go to bed in an hour. The kitchen is all clean?”

“Yes, Peter,” Neal answered dutifully.

“Okay then,” Peter said as he sighed, picking up the remote off the table. “Then you’re going to sit there. Sleep if you like.”

Then Peter switched on the television and flipped through the channels. There wasn’t much on, so he left the channel on the first sports program he could find; Netball. Not his ideal sport, but Peter was too distracted to watch much anyway. He kept the television on mute, wondering how long it would be before Neal began to fidget.

But aside from shifting to cross his legs to alleviate the weight on his knees, Neal did nothing to suggest he’d been overcome with boredom. He sat as he’d been instructed, patiently as if he had something to gain by doing so. Peter wished he’d move or something just so he’d have an excuse to speak and maybe hear Neal talk back. He could tell Neal hadn’t fallen asleep because he was sitting independently. Peter guessed Neal was in deep thought about something important enough to keep the boredom away.

Peter was tempted to cut the night short thirty minutes later, but stubbornness made him want to wait out the remainder of the hour. Surely, Neal, the enigmatic, energetic, always-on-the move conman couldn’t sit still for an entire hour.

Another thirty minutes later, Peter couldn’t keep the admiration out of his voice. “How did you manage to stay still that whole time?”

Neal shrugged.

“Use your voice, Neal,” Peter reminded him. “And don’t give me that.”

“Sorry, Peter,” Neal deadpanned. “I’ve had practice … there have been times when waiting patiently has been part of the alleged job.”

Peter chewed his lip. He felt like he’d trod on the wrong end of the rake. He realized that accidentally walking into Neal’s past was going surprise him a few more times.

“…0kay,” Peter hastily accepted. “Bedtime.”

The usual unease that flared at the mention of anything to do with the master bedroom had been replaced with a vague morbid curiosity. Neal wanted to know if Peter had listened to him. Neal knew from his days of being Peter’s quarry that the man (with his wife) was a compassionate agent. Maybe Peter had listened? But Peter seemed to have no problems bossing him around currently. Perhaps Peter would look past his hate of being used for sex and just set his sights on making him like it or attune to it. It was the logical thing to do.

They headed upstairs, Neal following the sound of Peter’s footfalls on the steps in front of him. Peter wasn’t guiding him, and Neal couldn’t work out if that was a good or bad thing.

Peter was going to get ready; change, brush his teeth, use the toilet, but to do all that without looking over his shoulder wondering what Neal was doing; Peter decided to sit Neal down in the hall outside the bathroom.

It was when he heard the sounds of the tap water running that Neal suddenly lifted his chin and took stock of his circumstance.

It was old; the control Peter had, the submissive air he was utilizing; it was familiar… but he was kneeling outside a bathroom, waiting while his owner urinated. He was blindfolded and completely in the dark about whether or not his duties were over for the night. Duties which included co-operating while his body was used by a man he had known when he’d been free.

Something broke.

Neal pulled the blindfold off, stood, blinking quickly, and peered carelessly into the bathroom. Peter was distracted, about to apply shaving cream to his cheeks. Neal turned away and headed for the stairs, throwing the loop of the blindfold onto the staircase railing as he went.

Downstairs, Neal greeted Satchmo with an uncaring murmur. “Go lie down, boy. You can’t come.”

Then without pause, Neal opened the front door and passed through it, out into the bracing night air. He breathed deeply, and then stepped forward, shutting the door behind him as he went, ignoring the warning of the anklet around his leg.


Peter picked up the razor, after rinsing off his hands. Then he glanced in the corner of the mirror. He couldn’t see Neal from that angle, he knew, but he kept looking there anyway. Peter paused. He cocked his head and then spun. He moved. The hall was empty.

Peter cursed, turning back to the sink to rinse off his face as quickly as he could. Neal…?!

He raced out of the bathroom, pausing only long enough to check the master bedroom. It was when he spotted the blindfold on the railing that his phone rang.

Peter sighed, before answering it. “Yes?”

Peter shook his head, frowning. “He hasn’t cut it? …Where is he now? …No need, I know where that is. Call me if he moves.”



He and El had agreed Neal wouldn’t do this. He recalled her reassuring words. ‘Neal won’t run with you around’ had been the gist. But he had. Peter had turned his back, and Neal, with firm orders and scarcely yards away, had taken off like there was no tomorrow. Or rather… like there was a tomorrow to avoid.

When Peter reached the park and spotted Neal in the dim shine of the moonlight, sitting on the park bench, seemingly calm, just waiting … Peter realized that this was another, entirely different monster. This wasn’t about Neal running. Peter wasn’t sure what it was. But he needed to find out.


As he passed onto the park grounds and came closer to the silhouette of the man that was his, Peter he couldn’t help it as his cold analytical thoughts gave way to highly personal anger.
He tried to tell himself that things were complicated and he tried to remind himself that Neal was James Bonds, but the thought was no longer sobering.
Peter realized he had accepted it; he knew James Bonds was part and parcel of Neal, and he had taken it on board that he owned Bonds as much as he did Bonds’ real identity.

No … Peter thought this had more to do with Neal being unable to give himself over into his control wholly and completely. Neal was the one who hadn’t accepted that Peter owned him, even as Bonds.

And Peter’s patience was dwindling.


Neal didn’t need the sight of Peter’s shadow stretching across the moonlit grass to know he was no longer alone. In fact, thirty seconds more and Peter would have been late by Neal’s reckoning.

Neal wasn’t sure what he was doing. Nothing in particular. Just going for a walk to clear his head… No. To clear the air of submissiveness that was stifling him. He had just needed to throw off the restraints, even if just for five minutes.

Things were different now though. It had suddenly occurred to Neal that he’d been playing the part of a submissive with no reason behind it other than it being his role. It had snuck up on him. He’d almost—no, he had fallen for it. The complacent acceptance of Peter’s ownership had consumed him whole and for what?
Before, Neal had been doing it to keep his identity a secret with the ultimate goal of finding Kate. But Peter had known about Kate since yesterday and who he was since then too, so why was he still …

Had he even still been ‘acting’?

A little over a week with the Burkes… That was all it had taken. Neal had fallen for it.

The trouble was, Neal wasn’t sure if knowing that, if stopping now, if having done what he’d just done … would be enough. Even now, Neal was telling himself that it was a temporary respite. That Peter would probably punish him and…

And Neal was fine with that.

He knew he should feel horrified but he just didn’t.

He still didn’t want to remain the Burkes’ slave of course. But he also didn’t feel the demanding urge to fight Peter anymore.

But he wasn’t a naturally submissive slave either. That much, Neal was certain of. And screw whatever kind of situation he was in with the Burkes; Kate came first. When the time came for him to fly with—or to—his missing girlfriend, the Burkes’ ownership wouldn’t even register on the list of things to consider.

So he’d compromised. He’d run; left the house and rebelled by dumping the blindfold, but had stopped a few streets away … still weighed down by the anklet.
He was prepared to return. But it wouldn’t be the same, he told himself resolutely. If Peter and El still wanted him, it was high time they met the real Neal Caffrey; the man behind the name of James Bonds.

Chapter Text

Neal met Peter’s eyes as the agent passed the table he was leaning against and came to a stop in front of him. He resigned himself to Peter’s wrath when Peter crossed his arms, clearly unimpressed.

Neal waited for Peter’s questions to come; chief amongst them would be ‘why?’, probably shoved in between rants and lectures. But Peter just stared down at him.

Eventually it occurred to Neal that Peter wasn’t even prepared to grace him with questions. He expected an explanation or platitude of some sort, or maybe a confession, or defense. But Peter wasn’t going to ask for it. They would just stay in place until Neal caved. In the meantime, Peter was not going to let up on the piercing death-glare.

But what explanation could he offer?

Neal had to admit that the mere notion that he had to give an explanation in the first place wasn’t exactly conducive to his resolution to be himself; Neal Caffrey did not … explain.
He never had to hang around long enough for it to be a requisite. And anyway, explanations were spun by desperate people who didn’t know the art of the con.

Neal inhaled, picked a tone, shifted to convey a nonchalant air and opened his mouth.…


Peter had suddenly realized he didn’t want to hear it. It wouldn’t be what he wanted anyway. And even if Neal were about to reveal the truth and anything else Peter wanted to know, Peter still wasn’t interested.

He had enough. This thing would be resolved. Tonight.

Neal had snapped his mouth shut. Mostly because it was convenient. Wielding words around Peter without lying was a tiring, insurmountable task. If Peter wanted him to shut up …fine.

“Get up,” Peter demanded, then without waiting, he seized Neal’s upper arm and turned about, walking back the way he’d come, ignoring the indignant protest from behind him.

The route back to the house from the park was a familiar one now, so Neal didn’t pay attention, opting instead for anticipating the hiding Peter would give him back at the house.

It suddenly occurred to Neal that he might have killed off whatever smidgen of sympathy Peter might have had for him. Peter might very well disregard his earlier considerations regarding his slave’s aversion to sex with them. Neal sighed, inwardly cursing his bad sense of timing. He just had to rebel the same night Peter had taken a chance and listened to his woes…?!
Neal’s chest constricted, painfully, as he considered the possibility that Peter might even use him that night as a form of punishment and ‘course correction’.

So, the last thing Neal was expecting as they approached the house was for Peter to open the Taurus door and ruthlessly shove him in. Neal sat, perched on the seat, frozen in surprise, staring as Peter made his way around the car to the driver door.

After Peter had entered the car, Neal considered the doors, wondering if they’d ever open again. The sound they’d made as they were slammed shut, suggested not. Surely the metal was too warped to work now.

Neal concentrated on being as silent as possible. Another impulse that didn’t come naturally to him, but he also wasn’t stupid or suicidal. He concentrated on Peter’s driving. They were a few miles along in their trip before Neal thought he knew where they were going.

He almost said it but managed to only just hold back the confused statement. Even as it was, Peter had heard Neal’s quick gulp of air as he swallowed his words. Peter gave a sidelong glare before turning back to his driving.

Neal huddled as close to the door as possible and began running through his mind the various possibilities that would warrant Peter bringing him to the Bureau.



Aside from a few grunts of explanation on the phone when it had rung to tell Peter that Neal was on the move, Peter stayed angrily quiet and dared Neal with his body language and cold glares of reproach to just try and make a peep himself.

It was hard to believe the Bureau didn’t close at some point. Neal knew some Agents spent most of their life in the case files, solving one case after another. He suspected if it weren’t for El, Peter would be one of them, but even these workaholics had to sleep sometime. So Neal guessed it was his position within the White Collar crime unit that allowed Peter easy after-hours access to the building.
They went in via the underground parking lot. Peter had made a point of making Neal turn his back when he entered the key code that would grant them access to the elevator. No doubt he thought Neal could cause a fair amount of trouble if he ever cared to enter the Bureau unasked.

They didn’t go to the twenty-first floor.

They stepped off the elevator on the sixth floor. Neal trailed behind Peter looking around the semi-gloom. There were still lights for the sake of the late night workers but the majority of the rooms that lined the halls were dark, foreboding and quiet. Neal couldn’t help but feel like a raccoon in alien territory. He reckoned he must have looked like one when they passed an Agent along a corridor, but, aside from a polite chin nod to Peter, the Agent merely moved on.

“In here,” Peter said shortly, standing aside, showing Neal the way into a room that was larger than the rest.

Neal walked in, more curious than nervous. The curiosity gave way to confusion as he took in the room. It was similar to the room he’d been left in at Dr. Lehman’s office; a gym, but with more equipment; weights, treadmills, bench presses, a rack of dumbbells, exercise bikes, and cross trainers scattered one end of the room, divided from the rest of the large expansive space by a string of punching bags. The other end of the room was mostly clear; lined with mats, maybe for wrestling matches, or just for the more simple forms of exercise such as push-ups. It ended with a door leading elsewhere, labeled with ‘showers’.

Neal finished his cursory sweep and looked back towards the door he’d come in. He couldn’t help wanting to know where Peter’s mind was at. What was he up to? Why were they here?
Peter still looked pretty angry. Neal figured the answers would come soon enough without the risk of furthering Peter’s ire, so he watched as Peter swept past him, heading for a closet on the wall opposite, just beyond the punching bags.

Neal sucked in a breath of nervous surprise when Peter pulled out and flung to the ground, two pairs of shin guards. Two pairs of hand protectors (similar to gloves, not as padded and only layered on the back of the hands), four knee-pads, two belly pads, and a couple of groin guards soon followed suit forming a neat little pile of stuff Neal never thought he’d ever need.

“Peter,” Neal whispered uncertainly.

“Put the gear on,” Peter grunted simply. “I’m not looking to hurt you. But better safe than sorry.”



Neal had thought Peter’s simple statement would provide some answers but they only brought up more questions. How can one order a slave to dress in this much protective gear and still claim they didn’t intend to harm them?
The only part that stopped Neal from dismissing Peter’s words completely was the fact that Peter had set out his own collection of protective gear. If Peter had any intention of physically punishing him, surely he wouldn’t need to protect his own body too?

Without waiting for Neal to follow his order, Peter moved a few yards away with his assortment of protective gear and stripped down to his undershirt. Neal watched frozen in place as Peter strapped on the belly pad. It was a good thing to have if one expected to be punched in the stomach.

Why did Peter expect to be punched in the stomach?

“It’s your neck if you don’t put the stuff on,” Peter growled. “Either way, we start in five minutes.”

Neal slowly took his eyes off Peter. He felt shell-shocked, and the sight of the alien pads and protectors did nothing to help alleviate his ever-mounting stress.

Neal swallowed and tried to brace himself. Come on, he thought, you’ve worn stuff like this for fencing, even it’s only for precautions sake.

The gear was easy enough to apply. They were easier to put on than a slave collar anyway (despite the horrid smell of prior use), speaking of which, Neal felt ridiculously trussed as he rose up off the ground having put on the last of the gear; the shin guards that had been on the bottom of the pile. As he stood he shook out his legs. His leg hair was itching, trapped by the cotton of the guards. He figured it would be least of his concerns before long and at that sobering thought, Neal looked back to Peter who was now setting his wallet, phone and watch down on to smooth padding of the bench-press.

Peter scanned him critically. “What’s with the shin pad?”

Neal looked down and shrugged, uncomfortable in the face of Peter’s attention. The pad was swollen at the ankle and looked like it hadn’t been properly applied. “It wouldn’t fit under the tracker.”

“Take it off,” Peter ordered, heading for the closet.

Neal stared at Peter’s back. “…I can’t,” he said pointedly.

“I didn’t mean the tracker, Genius,” Peter snapped. “The shin pad—take it off.”

Neal glowered but sat on the nearest piece of equipment and slipped his thumbs beneath the padded cotton before peeling the pad down and off. It would be a nightmare to take off when sweaty.

Peter returned having found a roll of semi-worn hand wrap. Neal frowned at the wrap.

Peter knelt and shifted the tracker up as high as he could move it before telling Neal to hold it there. Even with the extra space, Peter had a hard time trying to fit the wrap beneath the bottom of the tracker and over Neal’s ankle and lower calf.

Peter looked up once he was satisfied that the tracker sat comfortably over the protective wrap, and caught Neal’s conflicted look.

“The tracker will bruise your skin and bone, otherwise,” Peter pointed out. Then he scowled. “I’m just making sure what’s mine doesn’t get damaged. Put the pad back on. You’ve got thirty seconds.”



Neal stood up seventy seconds later. “What’s this about, Peter?”

Peter glanced at him. “Your collar needs to come off.”

Neal fingered the D-ring. If Peter somehow hit him in the throat, the tiny bit of metal would be agony. He turned the band, preparing to undo the clasp but Peter approached him, scowling. “I’ll get it,” he mumbled, irritated, and flicked Neal’s fingers away before starting in on the clasp himself. “Do me a favor and don’t ever touch this. Consider it private property.”

“Sure, Peter,” Neal murmured, unimpressed. Whatever. “Peter, what’s this about?” he asked again. “You using me a punching bag? Venting your frustration on the focus of your rage?”

“I didn’t bring you here to beat you up.” Peter said shortly, as he dropped the collar next to his own items. “See that door?”

Neal looked to where Peter had dipped his head. It was the door that lead presumably to the locker room as well as the showers. Neal looked back at Peter bracing himself.

Peter moved over to the clear matted area, inserting himself between Neal and the door, and shrugged. “The idea is… you’ve got to try and get through that door … before I neutralize you ten times. If you fail, you will stop fighting me. You will accept your place, you will do what I tell you and there will be no more flights of fancy.”

Neal hung his head in disbelief. He put the back of his padded hands on his hips and looked up with exasperation.

Peter looked to the string of punching bags. “Stay behind the bags and I won’t go after you. You can plan, you can strategize, or just rest. Come out from there and I’ll take you down. Once you’re down, it will count as a win after ten seconds of neutralization.”

“Wrestling rules?” Neal asked, a bemused smile playing on his lips. He turned, staying in behind the nearest bag and sat down on a bench press. “I think I’ll sit this one out. No offense, Peter, but I don’t care if I don’t go through the door.”

“No?” Peter said softly. “I suppose you need motivation?”

Neal rolled his eyes.

“How about this,” Peter spoke sounding dangerous. “You get through that door … I’ll set you free.”

Neal tensed. His head shot up and a cold sweat broke out. He shivered. Within seconds his breathing was labored and he was hot despite the freezing cold that enveloped his bones. He stood as best as he could. Had he heard that right?

The men spent minutes which seemed like eternity just staring at each other, reading the tension and shock in the air. It was tempting to challenge Peter’s words, to get him to clarify, promise, elaborate or repeat himself, to talk of freedom papers and of the actual slavery papers being torn up.

But Peter’s word was gold. Neal trusted it implicitly.



Neal fought to get his breathing under control and worked his legs into submission. He let out a breath, testing his nerves. Then he spoke.

“You’ve got a considerable advantage over me, Peter,” Neal said breathlessly, as he scanned Peter’s broad shoulders, toned muscles and easy, assertive stance that screamed ‘Fed’.

Peter tilted his head and arched a brow. “I have to get you to the ground ten times and you only have to get past me once … that seems even to me.”

Neal looked away and swallowed, not quite over the shock.

Peter continued idly. “Besides … getting through the door, evading me—you’ve got the skills for that. Catching you… that’s my area of expertise. It’s even.”

“You never caught me … not before my enslavement,” Neal mumbled even as he told himself that that was hardly the most important thing at the moment to be dwelling on. Peter had just presented a heck of an ultimatum; he’d dangled Neal’s freedom in the doorway before standing in front of it.

Peter was the only thing standing in Neal’s way.

But that was nothing new. Suddenly, Neal realized that was the point. That’s what it was all about. Peter had always been the only thing standing in his way. This was just a much faster and more direct way of finding out who would eventually triumph, all while using the skills sets they were best at.

“I’m not doing this,” Neal said, eying the exit to his left. “This is stupid.”

He couldn’t risk Peter winning. He couldn’t. Not if it meant he would have to let go. Of his freedom. Of Kate.

“Fine.” Peter shrugged. “You can forfeit, we can go back to the way it is and do things the hard way. Or we can finish it now.”

Finish it now? Neal looked up, scanned the doorway to the showers behind Peter, and coveted it longingly. He only had to get out once. Then it would be all over. He would be free. He could find Kate and they could find a place to live and settle down and all of this would be a distant memory.

“I’ll even hold off arresting you and give you a day’s head start,” Peter told Neal. “If you win.”

Well, that was generous, though to be honest, Neal hadn’t even thought about it. What if Peter caught him again? He’d be thrown into prison and not much will have changed. He’d be apart from Kate then too. Still….

“Come on, Neal,” Peter goaded impatiently. “You’re the one who started this. Don’t tell me you weren’t challenging me by walking out; disobeying me … I’m just giving you what you want.”

“You’re willing to take the risk of losing me?” Neal checked.

Peter was silent for a moment then he nodded. “Neal, it can’t go on like this. I have no use for someone who is going to act out of place. So, yes. If you’re going to win this thing … I’d rather cut my losses. But Neal, if you lose.…” Peter shook his head. “I’m serious; be careful, be real careful. If you decide to do this … you have to accept my conditions. If you lose, then you’ll be mine, one-hundred percent. Do you understand?”

Neal sighed. Peter had emphasized the percentage. Neal took a nervous breath. He thought of the prospect of a life, as in eternity, with the Burkes. He looked down. He understood it alright. “I get it.”

But now he had to make a decision...

Should he take his chance to possibly seize freedom? It was right there, available, possibly only this once. He might not ever get another shot at freedom.

Or should he go with the ambiguity of the future? The future in which he would still have the nice, safe knowledge that he hadn’t promised himself—mind, body and soul—to Peter?

Chapter Text

“Neal.” It was Peter Neal realized with some confusion. He was too occupied by the conflicting emotions.
Neal didn’t really care to hear what else Peter had to say but he hummed all the same.

Peter was speaking softly now. “This isn’t a bad thing. Whoever wins tonight was always going to win—we’d just be accelerating the process.”

Yeah, he’d already thought of that and besides Neal didn’t care for reasoning.

Peter seemed to realize this. He changed tack, although Peter wondered even as he did so why he was trying to convince Neal in the first place.  He should just demand an answer and be done with it or else dictate it. Peter was already being generous; no other slave owner that he knew of had ever offered freedom as a possibility and he already owned Neal so it wasn’t like he owed Neal any options, risks or favors.

His telling Neal that if he lost, he would have to knuckle down and really behave himself wasn’t an irrational demand; Neal was already supposed to be doing that.
So Neal needed a little extra reinforcement and perhaps in a way that might be considered unconventional, but that was okay, because in the long run they would be better for it. There would be no more confusion, no more fights, and no more unhappiness. He hoped.

“If you want to get to Kate so badly—if it’s true love,” Peter murmured, hesitantly. “Then you have to believe you’ll win, right?”

Neal frowned, and pursed his lips, hating Peter and his below-the-belt remark. The truth was … Peter was right. Damn the consequences, he had to at least try.

It was obvious really, Neal lamented. He never could ignore an opportunity to seize the chance here and now as opposed to hoping another, better chance might come up later.

If he won … he’d be free. Free! Even the downside wasn’t a bad thing; if Peter caught him and he went to prison, he could always escape from there if needed, or if he served out his time, he could always pay back his debt so he wouldn’t be re-enslaved and even if he couldn’t, surely no other owner would be as difficult to get around as Peter.

Thinking of which … Neal knew Peter was firm in his belief that he would defeat his slave, probably easily, and a niggling doubt in the back of Neal’s mind agreed with Peter’s confidence.

Neal decided to deliberately ignore the risks and realities of losing. Losing wasn’t really different to what Peter expected of him now anyway; he would just be a little more tightly bound to his fate.

Okay, so that was understating things, but what it came right down to was that doing this stupid evasion challenge granted him the possibility of freedom! And freedom meant being with Kate.

How could he turn that down?


The thing was, Neal realized suddenly, he had no idea how he was supposed to do this. Even with Peter standing off to the side of the door more than eight yards away, distracted with texting to his wife on the phone, explaining their whereabouts, Neal could see no way past Peter.

Peter looked up after pressing the send button.

“Thanks for the reminder,” Peter said stiffly. “Didn’t even occur to me.”

Neal spared a moment to snap at himself internally once again for telling Peter that unless he left El a message on her phone then she would inevitably worry once she woke and found them missing. Thinking it over some more once the words were loose from his mouth—too late to take back—Neal realized Elizabeth’s panicked hunt for the two of them may have been a perfect opportunity to slip by a distracted Peter. In his defense, he’d been uncomfortable beneath Peter’s patient scrutiny and had just said the first thing that crossed his mind in the hope Peter would be distracted long enough to give him room to think.

“One more thing,” Peter announced sternly. “There are ten rounds. So, I’ll give you ten hours.”

Neal glanced at the loudly-ticking gym clock on the wall. Perfect for timing, Neal thought, as Peter’s wrestling rule came back to him; ten seconds on the ground and he’d have lost a round.
It was approaching eleven at night now; he had until nearly nine the next morning to get through the door.


For a second Neal was considering the idea of simply waiting out time for Peter to fall to sleep in the early hours of morning from both weariness and boredom, but… Peter was used to stakeouts—something Neal knew from personal experience.

In his own dubious past, Neal had learned that he was fine with staying fully alert and able through the night, but he was usually hit with a wave of fatigue around seven to seven-thirty.

“Nine ante meridiem,” Neal murmured, coming up beside one of the middle punching bags.

Peter frowned. “Is that Latin?” He asked, incredulous.

Neal nodded vaguely. He didn’t mean to do it, but every now and then, when he was thinking heavily or otherwise having to entertain himself, he sometimes slipped into using obscure and technical jargon or another language even, often accompanied by useless facts. He’d done the same to Diana just yesterday.

“Nine a.m.?” Peter clarified.

Neal didn’t answer. He was making the mental note to use the last of his tactics at six, when he was sure Peter would be at his weakest. Certainly Peter seemed groggier at that time than any other in the mornings he’d spent with the Burkes thus far.

Now he just needed to come up with the tactics.

Every one of the ten rounds seemed precious to Neal, especially with the odds that seemed to favor Peter, but Neal considered spending the first; he needed to test Peter, find out what kind of tactics the agent would adopt to block his path and drive him to the ground. He needed to know for a myriad of reasons but the main was for his own physical protection. He couldn’t afford to have Peter take him by surprise and use a physical method of control that he’d never suffered. If he went the wrong way, say if Peter swept his feet out from beneath him, he could easily end up with a broken jaw. Going easy in the first round would lend him caution and allow him to react in time to protect himself.
It would also hopefully set Peter up with a false sense of control. Overconfidence on Peter’s part was a weapon Neal would use in an instant. But Peter wasn’t the type of guy to delude himself or anyone else. He would probably stay grounded. The stakes were high for him too.

“No going for the throat or the head,” Peter stated sagely, to Neal’s relief. “Here take this, put it back.”

Neal caught the toss of Peter’s phone with ease and glancing at it briefly, wondering if Peter used a password to protect it from naughty slave usage, he placed it down next to the other items Peter had dropped off earlier.

When Neal looked back at Peter, Peter dipped his head. “When you’re ready,” he said simply. He looked at the clock and took note of the time. Then Peter turned, heading for the door, until he was close enough to lean against the frame with his back, before folding his arms.

Maybe Peter wasn’t over-confident, Neal admitted. But he was definitely at ease with the challenge.


Peter fought internally not to jiggle his foot, or rearrange his arms or run his hands through his hair. He knew Neal would pick up on his tells and know he was nervous. Offering up such a big, risky reward for Neal to win had just about taken ten years off Peter’s life.
But it had been the only thing Peter could think of that would corner Neal into accepting a challenge which he would—according to Peter’s hopeful plan—lose and thus have to accept his place and finally embrace his duty to Peter and his wife.

It had been something Dr. Lehman had said that had sparked the idea. It wasn’t enough that Neal knew him and thus respected him to a point; Peter had to—what was the term the doctor had used? ‘Prove superiority’. He had to prove superiority over Neal.

If he could do it in a way that made Neal promise himself entirely to Peter, then all the better; Peter had a perfectly reasonable (bemused) suspicion that Neal would honor his own promise above honoring the letter of the law. It wasn’t enough that according to everything legal Peter owned Neal. Neal had his heart set on something else, so for him, this thing had been nothing but a temporary—admittedly difficult to dislodge—affliction.

Peter was glad his earlier rage seemed to have dissipated, it was the fact that he’d done something practical in searching out a solution to his problem that did it, he thought. Elizabeth and Diana might even be proud. Usually he might just demand the same old good behavior from Neal, and then clap the guy in chains, but he hadn’t this time. This time, he’d kept his anger in check. Obviously, it would also help to have a clear, calm head for such a pivotal event.

Neal was never a worthy prey for nothing. Even now, Peter could hear the whirring of the mechanisms in Neal’s brain. Peter would need every ounce of concentration not to miss something; some sign of what Neal was up to or some diversionary tactic Neal would no doubt have the ability to implement right beneath his nose.

Peter kind of wished Neal would make a move soon. Because then his adrenaline and training would kick in, and then the sight of Neal standing there, looking around the room with a faraway expression, beneath a dark mop of locks, wouldn’t be so damn attractive.
Peter inwardly slapped himself; this was the last place and the least perfect time to get carried away. Besides, he didn’t want to open that particular Pandora’s box just yet. He still wasn’t sure what to do. It didn’t matter how perfect he had it with Elizabeth—and he did love what they shared—he was still fraught with a sexual desire for Neal.
But … well, maybe after tonight, if he won, things would be different and Neal, left with only the Burkes as possible companions for the rest of his life, might be more open to pleasing them. But those were ideas and issues for another time.

Save it for Dr. Lehman, Peter told himself trying to be practical.

Peter blinked, the only sign he could allow to slip past his blank demeanor, and was relieved when his conflicted thoughts began to melt away.

Neal seemed to be going through a similar process though probably having thought on practical ideas or plans—not sex; he was raking his hair and moving his gaze with more aim.

Seemingly ready, Neal lifted his head and met Peter’s eyes. They shared a moment. Peter thought he saw a mutually recognized agreement; no matter what happened tonight, the other would honor their loss.

Then the moment was gone. Peter tensed and moved off from the frame stepping into the center of the doorway but a few yards in front. Neal was between two of the hanging bags taking a deep breath.


Neal took a look around, but drawing inspiration from his surrounds was proving harder than usual. He was encircled by things that represented the very thing that Peter had a little more of than he; strength.

Stepping out from between the punching bags was easier to do with nothing holding him back except for a temporary grant of sanctuary. It couldn’t protect him all night anyway; may as well get started with testing Peter’s tendencies and defenses.

Several feet out from the line of punching bags, Neal hesitated, trying to see some minuscule twitch of Peter’s muscles in an effort to discern what he was most likely to do while inwardly convincing himself not to go crazy and charge.

Another step forward and still Peter hadn’t reacted. Neal decided to count it as a blessing that Peter hadn’t already advanced on him and knocked him easily into submission. The longer it took for Peter to win this round, the longer Neal had to poke and prod and see what happened. Cause and effect: a very useful and telling way of gathering information.

Perhaps impatiently, Peter spread his arms. “Making the hour count, Neal?”

Neal grimaced, he understood Peter’s frustration; the guy was a man of action, of here and now, of do the job, the paperwork and then have a beer.
This lingering and waiting and hovering on the edges would read like hesitance or inexperience.

Neal spent the following minutes slipping forward, edging one way one minute and then the other the next in an attempt to force Peter to wait for him to get closer to see what he was going to do. Finally, less than three paces away Neal could no longer expect to be able to advance idly and remain untouched.

Peter’s eyes were narrowed and his muscles poised; he was a spring waiting to be released.
Give him a false start, Neal nagged himself. But then another voice scoffed; Peter would be expecting a feint.

Without consulting himself, he jogged in a quick arc around the Agent, and then jumped to the side to avoid Peter’s automatic swipe. He spun and there it was; the door. Clear. Neal braced his legs even as he dove for the door, when suddenly his shirt was pulled up fast, Peter’s nails scraping his backbone as the folds of his white fabric were pulled taut. Neal twisted to pull free. Peter’s hold slipped but then Neal, as he darted, spinning around to head for the door, was blocked by his own arm. He had just enough time to look down and find Peter’s vice grip on his wrist. He hadn’t even noticed; too busy focusing on Peter’s messy hold on his shirt.

Neal wasn’t entirely sure how it happened but judging by fact that he was on his knees, with his other arm wrenched in a lock behind him, Neal figured Peter had turned him, pulled his arm up and then dug down.
Peter moved Neal’s wrist up slightly and Neal’s muscles strained in protest. He leaned forward, lowering to ground to alleviate the pressure, knowing as he did so that Peter was driving him there deliberately.

Angled awkwardly and helplessly on his hip, Neal winced as Peter tightened the twist of his arm to ensure Neal stayed on the ground while he got down on one knee. Neal let out a breath of relief as Peter shifted his hold on Neal to his back, between the shoulder blades, and eased up on the pressure on his arm.

Neal wanted to slip out, to roll onto his back and push out; make Peter back off; the ten seconds were not up yet! He shifted and tried to twist off his hipbone, but Peter pressed down and bent Neal’s captured arm over his own spine before shifting it up into an acute angle in warning. The agony flashed up through his arm. It was fleeting but it had hurt. Neal settled and tried not to be too grateful when Peter let up some of the pressure.

Then Peter was off him and Neal was beside him on the floor, panting, trying to ignore the echo of the ten seconds he had heard tick by, cruelly snatching his first chance of ten away, bit by methodical bit.

“That’s one,” Peter murmured, still kneeling. When Neal did nothing but tuck his sore arm beneath his chest, Peter rubbed his back in a circular motion, expending some sympathy.


Chapter Text


He just had to keep his arms and legs away from Peter and he’d be fine.

It was just about half an hour since he’d lost the first round. Neal was sitting with his back against the far wall, all the way opposite of the door he coveted. Peter was pacing in front of it. He would appear out from behind one of the punching bags into Neal’s line of vision and then disappear behind the other one—back and forth—resulting in Neal getting a clear view of the door only to be interrupted by the sight of the distant, ever-prowling obstacle.

Neal rubbed his arm again but most of the ache had dulled. He reckoned this was best he was going to feel for the rest of the night.

Neal pushed off from the floor and took a moment once he’d stood to tell himself he’d been insane for accepting this challenge. Then he started forward.


As it turns out, trying to keep his limbs out of reach of a surprisingly smooth agent was a full-time task and left Neal with no room to concentrate on basics like not letting his foe back him into a corner.

Against the wall, Neal seized the only avenue available to him. Peter pressed in closer, relying on his bulk and broad arms to trap Neal, planning to seize Neal's wrists, but then Neal dropped, sliding his back against the wall and ducked out, shoving himself past Peter’s hip.

Neal was out, but he was also at a disadvantage. Peter adapted easily and came down on him, straddling him from behind, trapping Neal’s arms on the ground and putting his weight on Neal’s back. Neal wriggled, managing to roll onto his back while wrenching his arms free, before pushing away, using his hands on Peter’s knees as leverage.

The thing Neal hated most, he thought, was the fact that while he felt like he was changing his expression every few seconds showing his effort and exertion, Peter had that same focussed face.

It was hovering over him again, and despite his struggles, Peter managed to push him over onto his front, and then both of Neal’s arms were behind his back folded at the elbows, his wrists pinned to his spine. Neal struggled but all he had to show for it ten seconds later was a stitch at the base of his ribcage and having moved an inch or so out from beneath Peter. It wasn’t enough and it stung twice as much as it had last time when Peter spoke softly.

“Two.” Peter looked away. There was nothing to be cocky about. Neal still had eight more chances. And he was proving to be quite the struggle to pin—mind, Peter suspected as time went on, Neal would prove to be increasingly more of a challenge to ground.


More than an hour later, Neal had lost the third round. Ducking and weaving as much as he had to avoid Peter as well as keep his options open had tired him out fast. It was when Peter suddenly bored of trying to avoid hurting Neal too badly and swiped out with an arm block to Neal’s chest as he rounded too close to Peter and he went down onto his back, having been thrown off his feet in surprise, that Neal had to berate himself; he should have remembered that Peter was holding back. He’d fallen for one of his own tactics.  He'd underestimated Peter.

Neal tried to push Peter’s hand away to get out of the unmoving palm hold Peter had on his chest, but when Peter gripped his right hand and looked into his eyes intently, pushing slightly on his ribs. Neal realized Peter had him and was able to fight to keep him there. In spite of this Neal vainly continued attempting to pull away with what little strength he had left in the remaining ten seconds. If he didn’t try each and every time, Neal knew he’d always resent it.  It didn’t matter if he knew Peter had him beaten.

“Three,” Peter mumbled as he helped Neal to his feet then watched closely as Neal headed away towards the bench press beyond the border to rest.


Even though he was gaining back energy by sitting long enough that his breathing could settle, his chest could stop its heaving, and his blood had time to cool off, Neal didn’t feel like he was resting. He was too anxious. Peter had already snatched three rounds from him, seemingly with ease.

Neal realized simply using avoidance techniques weren’t working. He’d have to start countering Peter’s moves. He’d have to start pushing back. Neal had his own muscles and though they seemed redundant next to Peter’s Fed figure, Neal knew to use them might give him the edge he needed. But it wouldn’t take long for the agent to make an adjustment to match Neal’s new tactics, so he’d only have that useful element for so long; he’d have to make it count for the fourth round. He needed to get through that door.

Forty-five slow minutes later, Neal chuckled inwardly at the insanity of how he intended to start the next round.

Peter wasn’t expecting it despite having kept a very wary eye on Neal, making sure he wasn’t trying a surprise approach. He’d taken his eyes off Neal barely five seconds earlier and Neal had seized his chance, obviously crossing the floor in seconds, because next thing Peter knew, he was on his back on the ground with Neal clambering up to his feet and over him. Peter seized Neal’s legs before he could rise fully and wrenched down.  With a firm push off Neal’s chest, he threw Neal back to the floor in front him, neatly reinserting himself as an obstacle between Neal and the door in one easy thrust. Neal gasped in annoyed shock, and then jumped to his feet ignoring the stark throbbing of his lower back from the impact.

Peter followed suit, ignoring the ache in his bones from having been tackled without warning. Neal went for him again, aiming to knock Peter back before he’d properly grounded himself, but Peter’s reflexes kicked in and with an upper and lower block, he easily averted Neal’s attack. The lower block morphed into a grab and twist. Suddenly Neal was standing his back to Peter, with both his arms in Peter’s hold, one arm bent into submission. Using a practiced move, Peter took Neal down.

Neal grunted in frustration and twisted, pushing Peter off him. Both of them were surprised when it worked. Neal dove for the door, over to the left of Peter but then Peter reached out, grabbing Neal’s shoulder with one hand and his hip with the other before bringing him, with great force, down onto the mats. Neal lay, winded and in shock as Peter shifted over him and bore with all his strength down on a crafty slave who was not going to get up again. The clocked ticked ten ominous times.

“Four,” Peter growled, satisfied, then he moved off Neal and placed himself squarely with crossed arms in front of the door. He would not get surprised by another tackle again tonight.

Neal lay in place for a few seconds more until he moved up onto his knees, and then fell into a quietly-manic laugh.

Peter watched bewildered as Neal’s shoulders hunched as he teetered from the laugh into a desperate chuckle.

“That was kind of fun,” Neal admitted, breathless as he finally ascended the rest of the way to stand. Then Neal backed away, towards the bags, smiling as he went. “You do a mean throw-down, Peter.”

Out of Peter’s earshot, Neal turned his back on the agent and glowered, growling a little huff. So close.


Only ten minutes later, the fifth round started, surprising both men in the form of a phone call.

The phone was in Neal’s sanctuary where Peter had told him to put it. In that instant, Peter wanted to stamp on his own foot. Neal would definitely use this to his advantage.

Neal was still his. “Answer it,” Peter ordered.

Neal was only too happy to oblige. He took up the phone, shocked by the fluorescent numbers that conveyed the time; two forty-six a.m., and put it to his ear, pushing the button in one flourished move.

“Agent Peter Burke’s phone,” Neal answered with a grin. “His slave Neal Caffrey speaking.”

“Neal?” She sounded confused and maybe a bit anxious.

“Who is it?” Peter called impatiently.

Neal turned his back enjoying the ability to draw out Peter’s frustration.

“Yes,” Neal spoke to the phone. “Can I help you?” Though he knew who it was, Neal was happy to dally if it meant Peter would lose his cool and thus his head.

“Is Peter there?” Ooh, she sounded indignant, maybe a bit angry. Neal grimaced.

“Yes, he is,” Neal replied smiling as he turned back around only to find Peter standing, glaring at him with his arms crossed.

“Well, I need to talk to him,” she insisted firmly. “Now.” Uh oh, Neal thought gleefully, it sounded like Peter was in trouble.

“Of course,” Neal agreed pleasantly. “Just a moment.”

“Who is it?” Peter asked again, daring Neal to defy him a second time.

“It’s Elizabeth,” Neal stage whispered with his hand over the transmitter of the phone. “She wants to talk to you. She doesn’t sound happy, Peter.”

Peter rolled his eyes. “Just give it here.”

Neal prepared to throw the phone, swinging it a few times and then tossed it three paces away from where Peter was standing and Neal stepped out after it expecting Peter to at least move for the phone that held his wife’s exasperated voice and thus allow him to waltz right out the door.

But Peter had stayed in place, with his eyes on Neal, displaying a dull expression as if to say ‘really?’ He even ignored it when the phone crashed and broke into two pieces.

Neal stopped short, not altogether that surprised, and gestured at the phone. “You were supposed to catch that.”
Neal looked at the phone and sighed. Peter followed his gaze then looked back at Neal calmly.

Neal rolled his eyes. “Now it’s broken.”

Peter shrugged. “Plenty more phones where that one came from,” he replied easily. “Besides, you’re more expensive to replace than a phone.”

“You’d replace me?” Neal asked curious.

“No,” Peter answered, adjusting his stance. "And that brings us to the third reason why I didn’t lunge for the phone like a stupid ape; you’re irreplaceable.”

“What about your wife?” Neal asked skating over Peter’s comment. “She wasn’t happy with you to begin with … and now—”

“She’ll understand,” Peter interrupted evenly.


“Let’s make this round interesting,” Neal proposed, changing the subject after a few minutes bored silence with neither man moving from their respective places.

Peter grunted to Neal to go on.

“Take me down without twisting my arms and I’ll buy you a new phone,” Neal suggested for a two-fold reason. Maybe Peter, when trying for this goal, would forget his main aim of blocking the door, plus—win or lose—Neal could escape a round without getting his poor arms twisted off for once.

“Fine,” Peter responded indifferently.

Peter’s succinct reply gave Neal pause. Peter didn’t seem bothered by having to find another means to bring him down.

“Fine,” Neal said, forcing satisfaction into his tone. He flashed a toothy grin, hoping Peter wouldn’t look too closely to see the worry in his eyes. They were in the fifth round now. He had to win now, or being in the second half of the challenge would make his uneasy tension double in strength and he’d be sporting a headache before long.

When Neal advanced and ducked back as Peter calculatingly took his first step towards him, Neal realized he was being distracted by his own tactic. He’d let himself wonder what Peter would do instead to bring him to the ground and had forgotten about the door.



Neal breathed heavily, shifting a few paces each time Peter moved his way, keeping half an eye on Peter’s movement. He couldn’t understand how, with such ridiculously high stakes, he could let himself get carried away.

Peter feinted to the right with narrowed eyes, knocking Neal automatically to the left. Neal’s legs jolted into action as his eyes registered a temporarily clear path to the door; adrenaline seemed to slow the world down until it was just him and the door.

But then Peter, anticipating the dash, did a double step-lunge crossing yards in microseconds, inserted his lower calf between Neal’s rapidly advancing steps and bent his knee, pushing down on Neal’s leg, forcing his legs to cave from beneath him.
Neal, on the ground, rolled and started back up again despite his shock, but then Peter stepped over, one foot between Neal’s legs, and tucked his toes in even as Neal was scrambling to stand, and then in what felt like a bone-breaking move, Peter dropped his weight on Neal’s legs, twisting his own under Neal’s, until Peter was kneeling with his remaining leg wedged in Neal’s, holding them in place. Neal, lying on his side, hissed in agony, just barely holding back a loud whimper of pain.
Neal had enough strength and determination to prop himself up on his elbow but couldn’t shift his stuck-fast legs from the powerful, painful vice of Peter’s leg. Even looking at what Peter was doing didn’t help him. He breathed shallowly, wondering if he could forfeit the round just so Peter would disengage.
He spent ten seconds hissing as he tried to feel a way to escape Peter if just to slink back to the sanctuary and curl into a ball for a few hours.

“Five,” Peter announced before mercifully letting his leg bend, falling free of the weird Chinese puzzle he’d managed to create.


It hurt Neal just to pull his legs back into what he thought was the right position. He tentatively checked that they weren’t broken by shifting them up and wriggling his toes. Then Peter’s shadow fell over him again and Neal watched wide-eyed, overwhelmed and fast-tiring of the challenge, as Peter took up a kneeling position opposite of Neal before taking a hold of one of Neal’s legs and beginning gently, to knead the muscle. It seemed to help; the blood was flowing again which was good because, though it had only been ten to fifteen seconds, his legs felt like they’d been pulled off and put back on, on the wrong sides.

“Quantico teaches moves like that?” Neal stuttered disbelievingly.

Peter, concentrating on massaging the back of Neal’s calf, shook his head. Neal waited for Peter to elaborate but the Agent never did.

“Brothers then?” Neal joked weakly, pulling the leg Peter had just finished rubbing to give it a protective check-over.

But Peter just looked up, revealing nothing. “Sorry if I hurt you.”

“I suppose I asked for it,” Neal mumbled. He should have learned by now; challenging Peter was never a good idea. “What model was that phone?”

“Don’t worry about it,” Peter said wearily as he stood. Neal frowned, confused; Peter was on the fast-track to winning this thing—had just won a mini-contest—and was proving to be a mighty foe with hidden (agonizing) talents. Shouldn’t Peter be riding a high of ... satisfaction? ...glee? 

“I don’t get it,” Neal said plainly. “Shouldn’t you be happy? You’re getting—” what you want. I’m losing.

Peter seemed to know this wasn’t about the phone. “I never wanted to do it like this, Neal. There’s no honor in breaking a man.”

Neal fell silent.  Is that what this was?  Peter thought he was breaking him?

Peter held out a hand and smirked lightly. “Besides, you’d be buying the phone with …?”

Neal nodded, letting out a weak scoff, recognizing the jest. “Money that’s supposed to be yours anyway,” Neal finished, taking up the proffered hand and rising to his feet, wincing as he put his tender muscles to work.

“Right,” Peter mumbled as he concentrated on taking most of Neal’s weight.

“Hey, possession is nine-tenths of the law,” Neal defended, steadying himself with Peter’s arm while pushing away, holding himself up as his legs adjusted.

Then both men stilled as the implications of the supposedly innocent words hit them. Neal cleared his throat, letting go of Peter and backing away before turning to limp back to his end of the room to settle down for some recuperation.



Neal didn’t want to get up. But he had to. It was already an hour since his last attempt. It was now just after four a.m. He was running out of time because after seven he couldn’t expect to be able to operate properly. He would fail anything he tried then, no doubt about it and he still had five rounds to go—which seemed to be an insurmountable amount now. He was already growing weary and, with a bruised tailbone, tortured shoulder muscles, an aching back, and a pair of completely annihilated legs, he couldn’t expect himself to last much longer.

He looked up at Peter. Peter looked like his usual self; a bear of a man just waiting for his next chance to go fishing. For a second, Neal pictured himself as that silly salmon that kept trying to get upstream only to go leaping into the waiting maw of the giant, opportunistic and patient bear.



Peter hoped he wasn’t showing it, but he was tired. Peter reckoned Neal’s tackle alone had cost him half his energy. When he moved, his back throbbed in protest, but then Peter would look at the slave sitting weary on the ground, his back to the wall over to the side, staring at nothing and Peter knew he was the better off of the two.
Hopefully Neal would find it in himself to start up the sixth round soon. Peter could feel the tendrils of sleep creeping in and if he didn’t have a reason to get the adrenaline pumping again, he might find his mind being switched off for micro-sleeps before the dozing took over. He couldn’t have that, obviously.

He shifted and started pacing, trying to do it easily as if he was a bored man with pent-up energy rather than as a tired, old, almost washed-up agent desperate to get the blood flowing.

Neal rose to his feet, thinking about how wonderful a cane sounded right about now; or better yet, a spa with Kate sitting in it opposite him.
Neal chuckled and then, as he spotted the door, the chuckles died, caught in his throat. He was so close, and yet, so far away. The door may as well have had Cerberus, the three-headed guard dog of Hades sitting in front of it.

Then Neal paused. He probably would have had better luck with Cerberus.


“Come on, Neal,” Peter said above him.

“You didn’t say it,” Neal mumbled, sitting up with a sigh.

“Yeah, and I’m not going to say it,” Peter said, still standing over him. “What is it with you? You think I want to win just coz my slave went through the motions?” The last thing Peter needed was a Neal who thought he’d let him win.

“I didn’t just go through the motions!” Neal snapped, irritated.

Peter scoffed. “Fine. Six!” He announced poisonously. “Now, how do you feel?”

Neal scowled standing and stalking to the sanctuary. The truth was, he felt … lousy.

Then he suddenly felt enraged. Furious at the injustice of it all, incensed at Peter’s goading, angry at his losing the round so easily and most of all, infuriated with himself!

Neal turned and stared at the doorway, looking straight through Peter who braced his muscles instinctively. Then Neal took a long-legged stalking step toward the door. He’d be damned if he’d make this easy for Peter.



With his eye tearing up, Peter blinked rapidly even as he adopted a bear-hugging stance over a far-from prone, struggling figure beneath him. Peter fought the hardest he thought he’d ever done to stay on top. He ducked his face into his arms for a second time to protect himself from Neal’s blind rage and shifted his weight, straining to keep the guy from throwing him off.

“Damn it, Neal,” he finally shouted. “It’s been ten!”

Neal didn’t settle. He growled and finally pushed an unresisting Peter off, scrambling to his feet and breathing heavily, fixed in place, scowling.

Peter looked up, resting his hands on his knees. He dipped his chin; he was satisfied with that attempt. “Six,” he whispered.

A flash of something crossed Neal’s face. “That was seven.”

“It was six,” Peter corrected firmly.

Aside from a heavy breathing as both men recovered from the round that was more like a wrestling match towards the end, there was a silence until Neal spoke again a few minutes later.

“I gave you a black eye,” he said softly. Neal couldn’t believe he’d done that. Not only did he not practice violence as a rule … but as much as he didn’t respect his own role as a slave, he did respect Peter’s place as an owner … and you just did not punch owners.

Peter shrugged, running a tentative finger along the edge of where he could feel the bruise blossoming into a deep, dark red already.

“It was an accident,” Peter allowed. “I’m sure you weren’t aiming for my face.”

Neal wasn’t sure whether he had been or not. In the heat of the moment, in trying to do everything he could to throw Peter off, he’d lost track of what he was trying to do.

“I should get some cream,” Neal said quietly, wondering what had come over him even as the anger that pooled his belly was still dissipating. Still, despite the uncharacteristic ire; he was glad it had enveloped him. He felt a renewed sense of aim; that the battle was yet still worth fighting. He’d just about given up sixty minutes ago when—

“It’s been an hour?!” Neal said, shocked, reading the giant ticking clock face on the wall.

Peter nodded as he made his way to his feet beside Neal. “Took me a good part of forty-five minutes to get you down—you didn’t notice?”

Neal shook his head. “Felt like thirty minutes since the fifth match.”

“You must have been having some fun,” Peter grunted, moving uneasily towards the locker-room door.

Fun and blowing off steam was all well and good, but Neal realized he hadn’t thought about strategy once during that last hour. Not good enough, he lectured himself. Now, aside from gaining a renewed sense of purpose, Neal had wasted an hour and was left with just one ideal hour in which to win one of the four remaining rounds. Worst came to worst, Neal would just have to battle on through his predicted wave of fatigue.



Maybe it was the rush the last round had afforded him, but Neal was raring to go again, and so, being short on time and wanting to capitalize on the energy flowing in his veins, and perhaps take Peter by surprise, Neal started the seventh round almost straight away.

Peter was definitely taken by surprise, but having learned at Quantico to recover almost instantaneously, Peter managed to only just keep Neal from the door. And when he did a palmer strike to Neal’s chest and sent him stumbling back, Peter took a risk and followed, moving further away from the door than he had all night, prepared to pin Neal.

Neal managed to push him off three times and was nearly at the door again when Peter leaped on him, on the brink of desperation and wrapped his arms around Neal, interlacing his knuckles, and pulled him back, keeping Neal trapped. Struggling to push each other in directions the other didn’t want to go in, crossing the floor in every direction and tripping over each other’s feet, they eventually fell to the floor, Neal’s back to Peter and Peter’s back to the floor. It was a difficult place from which to ‘pin’ someone but not impossible. Neal writhed and bucked on top of him but Peter just held on while concentrating on the ticking coming from the wall to his right.

Neal must have been counting too, because when the tenth second ticked over, Neal stopped struggling. He didn’t try to get out of Peter’s bear hug and instead just lay there, breathing, holding Peter’s unmoving wrists. Eventually his head dropped back onto Peter’s chest. And Peter was too tired to move, too tense to release his own hands, and so he lay there too.

Eventually Peter let his arms fall free, releasing Neal and Neal, following the prompt, rolled over to his side next to Peter. They both wanted to lie there and fall asleep, bone tired from the strain of adrenaline rushes every hour, landing on uncomfortable bony body parts, and taking hits, when they should have been at home in bed.

But they also wanted to win.

So Peter rolled onto his front and pushed himself up to his feet. “Seven,” he said as he cracked his knuckles and massaged the back of his neck.

Neal rolled onto his back and sighed. Then he pulled forward and up onto his feet using momentum to swing himself upright. He nodded absently to Peter and headed to the other side of the room. He needed to think. Three more rounds to go.

The eighth round was surprising short. Peter, lacking the smooth finesse he had used to bring Neal down in elaborate ways at the beginning, simply slammed into Neal the moment he came within reach, knocking him to the ground and fell on top of him.

Neal gasped in shock and spent the ten seconds, trying to move his legs from where they were pinned together by Peter’s own legs on either side of him. He couldn’t even shift Peter’s palms from where he was holding Neal down, pressing his weight into Neal’s shoulders. Having two arms free hadn’t even helped. Despite his weariness, Peter just wasn’t easy to shift.

Neal, breathing quick, choppy breaths of mild panic, as he struggled to pull Peter’s wrist away again, almost didn’t hear it when Peter announced faintly that the eighth round had concluded.

When Peter didn’t release him Neal nudged his arm. “Peter?”

Peter blinked blearily at him and frowned. “Hmm, sorry,” he mumbled.

Neal looked at the clock as he sat up after Peter got up off him. It was five forty-eight a.m. Peter was getting seriously tired like Neal had predicted. But then so was he.

Staying up all night before, he’d never really had to spend the night struggling against a bigger, stronger, just-as-desperate opponent. Nor had he had just about every body part that wasn’t protected (and some that were) screaming in agony, growing harder to ignore as the bruises, aches and pains aged and layered. So it made sense that the wave of fatigue had struck him earlier than anticipated.



It was after six thirty that Neal finally forced himself to move again. He had taken to pinching himself to stay awake and as far as he could tell, Peter was relying entirely on the pacing.

A few agents had walked in now, heading to the locker room to retrieve something, fortunately most only needing something they’d left behind at some stage. There had however been one agent who had spent twenty minutes watching them curiously as he used the cross-trainer. He’d left just minutes ago fortunately, so now they were alone again and Neal had a funny desire to take advantage of the privacy. He thought there was something demented about Peter’s challenge now and he couldn’t help preferring it if no-one found out about it.

Neal rose stiffly, knowing that this attempt would most likely be his worst thus far, but he and Peter remained on the same playing field they’d been on all night; Peter was just as exhausted as he was.

He managed to dart away from Peter’s grasp a few times and was just starting to get into it when Peter bolted towards him in a burst of speed and Neal backed up fast, surprised, before regaining strategic sense and ducked to the right, but Peter dropped to his left and swept out a leg, tripping him. Using the momentum of the swing, Peter spun his leg over to his left and pushed off the ground, shooting over to Neal and seizing his arms before he could clamber back upright. Neal pulled away but Peter just held on, kneeling, with the remaining knee stretched out behind him. Neal frowned and pulled with his all his strength, but Peter held fast. So then Neal pushed, and twisted his wrists. One of his hands slipped free, but then Peter put out a palm onto Neal’s chest and pushed him back, slamming him down onto to the mats.

Neal sighed, then rolled, shrugging Peter away but Peter followed, and leaned down on Neal’s waist. Neal tried to push up, but the lack of energy forced him to give in on the eighth second.

“Ni—nine,” Peter announced, struggling not to yawn.

Neal stayed on the ground, ignoring it as Peter’s presence disappeared. He only had one more chance. But as much as he knew he’d hate it later, Neal couldn’t help not caring so long as he got to sleep.

It was only the thought of Kate as her face flashed into his mind that made Neal get up and head back over to the nearest hanging punching bag, prepared to think on how he was going to use his last opportunity to win his freedom or else rue it forever.


Chapter Text

After some time, Neal and Peter were on their feet, looking at each other, reading in the other’s eyes the importance of the last round. Neal knew by this stage that he was experiencing the last few minutes of … whatever the hell he was about to give up. Not freedom exactly, just … Neal let out a deep mournful breath. He couldn’t even define it, but it was so important, and he was about to lose it….

Neal took a last breath, giving it up, and was about to step forward when the door to the room opened.

Both he and Peter looked there to see two very familiar and irate women.

“Elizabeth,” Peter stammered, taken by surprise, knowing he was in the doghouse judging by Elizabeth’s unimpressed face.

“Peter,” she replied curtly. Then she gave a minuscule shake of the head. “We’ll have to talk at home. Diana has been trying to contact you.”

Peter looked at the broken phone and cursed inwardly. He grimaced apologetically. “Diana?”

Diana fortunately wasn’t the sort who wasted time expressing grudges when there was work to be done. “We found Hagan,” she revealed.

Peter lost his penitent expression. He looked questioningly at Diana and she held up a slip of paper.

Keeping a wary eye on Neal, Peter riskily crossed the few yards to the door and took the paper. He read it quickly, and then, wearily, he looked at Neal. “What is it with criminals and warehouses?”

Neal shrugged weakly. “What is it with agents and acronyms?” He shot back.

Peter looked at the paper again. “When did the intel come in?” He asked Diana.

“About an hour ago,” Diana answered. “Boss, we need to move on this.”

Peter nodded, and then he looked at Neal. “We’re going to have to post-phone this, Neal.”

Neal stared at Peter. “Post-phone?”

That word sounded like a godsend to Neal. Delaying the inevitable (the horrid, horrid, bleak future of blind obedience) or else holding out a very small hope that he’d win the very last round sometime after he’d rested and recovered—no, Neal had no problem with that.

Neal shrugged. “I suppose,” he said indifferently.

Elizabeth gave the men a quick look over and sighed, shaking her head. She could see how much pain they were in, how tired they were, and she wanted to take them home and nurse them back to health before knocking their heads together to get some answers, but Diana had told her about the urgency of going after Hagan. She would have to wait. She gave Peter a look that conveyed her thoughts.

“Good luck, honey,” she said, trying to keep her voice free of resentment. “Be careful. I’ll see you boys later.”

Peter tried not to feel anxious about the insinuation of strife ahead at Elizabeth’s last words. She’d see them later….

He nodded and ducked to give El a quick kiss and a brief one-armed hug. He realized even as she walked away that he deserved her ire. It hadn’t even occurred to him to consult Elizabeth before offering to free something they both owned. Actually, Peter cringed, Elizabeth didn’t even know about that yet.

Peter avoided what he thought was Diana’s scathing gaze. Instead he switched on his work mode and forced himself to ignore his intense fatigue.

“Diana,” Peter spoke, as he picked up his things and pocketed them. “You’re going to have to take point. I might make mistakes.”

It was a formality at this stage; Peter was merely giving her his permission to override him if she didn’t think he had his head on straight, which was entirely possible due his severe lack of sleep.

“Nice shiner,” Diana announced to Peter before turning to lead the way out the door. “And you both look ridiculous.”

Peter and Neal looked themselves over having forgotten about all the protection they were wearing.

“We’ll take it off in the van,” Peter mumbled, holding a hand out, gesturing for Neal to go first.


When Peter and Diana each took a van door and swung it open, Neal, standing between them, received a first class look in the van before they each stepped inside.

Neal hesitantly followed, feeling the disgust forming on his face, betraying the thoughts inside. He didn’t like the van. Then the smell didn’t go away. He did not like the van.

He tried to make the best of it, but being someone who was expected to stay out of the way, Neal wasn’t afforded much room to get comfortable. He hunkered down next to Peter and caught the random odds and ends Peter threw towards him to hold temporarily for him while he sloughed off the gym gear. Then Peter started trading with him; he’d pass Neal the groin guard and ask for the wallet, then came the the shin pads for the gun and holster (which Neal handed to Peter dutifully but with an aggrieved expression), and the belly pad for the bullet-proof vest.

Peter was just inserting the earpiece of the radio in his ear when Neal frowned at the items in his lap.

“Doesn’t the shirt go under the vest?”

“I’m not wearing office shirts and jackets to a take-down, Neal—testing, testing.”

“You’re coming through loud and clear, boss,” Diana informed. “Oh geez, you guys stink.”

Peter smirked. He wasn’t surprised, his plain white under-shirt had been drenched with sweat multiple times through the night, and even if perfect Neal Caffrey didn’t give off an nauseating smell of his own, he’d certainly been smothered by Peter enough times to have taken on his owner’s odor.

Neal sighed unhappily, sufficiently insulted.

The van started up and Neal lost a number of items from on his lap. He winced apologetically before sending a questioning glance towards the front of the van.

“It’ll be Jones,” Peter said, before checking with Diana. She nodded in confirmation.

“The SWAT team is in place,” Diana said loudly over the sounds of the engine. “They went out fifteen minutes ago.”

“You were waiting for me?” Peter asked, feeling guilty.

“Yes and no,” Diana shouted back. “We’re also waiting on a warrant. It should be ready when we arrive.”


The warrant wasn’t there when they arrived.

Peter and Diana were reduced to waiting outside the van trying to fend off questions from three S.W.A.T. team leaders. Jones was keeping up the telecommunications in the back of the van while trying to chase down the warrant. Neal was outside now, having freed himself from the gym gear after the agents had parked somewhere a few warehouses down from the one they were targeting. He was standing just by the door when Jones suddenly stuck his head out, lowering his headphones.

“Agent Burke!” He called. “They said the warrant will be fifteen minutes.”

“That’s not going to work,” said Diana, who had just hung up. “Just received a call; Hagan is moving out in five. We need to get in there now.”

“Can’t you just go now and worry about the questions later?” Neal asked.

Peter turned to face him. “No,” he said pointedly. “We need to have a warrant here in our hands before we ever take a step in that warehouse.”

“That seems a bit neurotic,” Neal observed.

“It’s called not being hypocritical, Neal,” Peter said, finding that talking to Neal was keeping his frustration at bay. “How can we arrest others for breaking the law if we don’t follow the rules ourselves?”

Neal personally felt that they needed to stop being so constrained, but the last thing he wanted was to get into an argument knowing that Peter—with oh-so-righteous logic—would most likely win, even if Neal never agreed with his points. And besides, Neal felt like he should be celebrating; it was never a bad thing to see these guys slowed down by their own rules but … it irked Neal this time, because it wasn’t him they were after. It was a lowlife murderer called Hagan.
Also … it should only ever be him who duped and beat Peter … especially if Peter should happen to have him at his disposal. No—not at Peter’s disposal. Ugly choice of words. Within Peter’s arsenal. Not much better.

Neal glanced around, frowning at his thoughts which had suddenly turned dangerous, but Peter had turned back to join the hubbub of agents talking over one another trying to get the facts straight. Neal checked inside the van, but Jones was back to monitoring a number of screens while pushing buttons, presumably fielding communications. Neal backed up and moved around the open van-door, knowing it wouldn’t be long before Peter noticed his absence.


“Nick,” the approaching man said disdainfully, as if tasting the name and finding it not at all to his taste.

“Halden, Nick Halden,” Neal added helpfully, eying the man through the partition. It was Hagan alright. Now he just needed to delay the guy. Come on, Peter.

“Who are you?” Hagan demanded.

“Up and coming journalist,” Neal threw out, circling the desk and making a big show of grinning at the quality of the wood and the items upon the surface which told him Hagan was an egotist. “Nice.”

Hagan looked him over making no effort to hide his disbelief. “You don’t look like a journalist to me.”

“What can I say,” Neal spoke flippantly, thinking about the luck of being without a collar. “Seeking the truth out pays little these days. I’ve been hearing some conflicting reports about you, Mr. Hagan.”

“Reports?” Hagan muttered, glancing at a man over his shoulder. “Go get keys.” Then he turned back to Neal. “What reports?”

Neal ignored it as the man ran off to the right somewhere to get keys for the locked, see-through door to the clear-walled room Neal had barricaded himself in. He had little time to spare. He may end up having to talk his way out of this.

“Some people are saying you’re up to no good.” Neal tutted. “Not something you’d normally hear about a supposedly good little art restorer like you.”

“Oh?” Hagan murmured as he stepped forward.

“Yeah,” Neal answered, shrugging. “Now I had a couple of informants, but after one of them mysteriously wound up dead, the others weren’t so keen to talk. Wanted more money … but as you so astutely noticed, I don’t have any to spare. So, I thought if there must be something to what they’re saying—and one’s dead, so obviously, yes—then maybe I should come find out for myself, don’t you think?”

“I see,” Hagan agreed facetiously, nodding. “I don’t suppose you have the names of these informants?”

“Well,” Neal said chuckling. “They might still come in handy … but I’d be willing to … compromise.”

There, now he Hagan’s attention for a little longer at least. Hopefully he wouldn’t have to hold out for much longer—for Peter, that is—not for the keys.

“No.” Hagan stepped forward again with narrowed eyes. He extended a finger. “No, you’re not ‘Nick’. I know who you are. I recognize you. I knew you were familiar.”

Neal lost what little mirth he’d been faking. He shook his head slowly. “I think you’ve got me mistaken for someone else.”

“No,” Hagan said as a smile slowly formed. Then the man indicated Neal’s clothes. “The getup threw me off for a second there, but you’re Neal Caffrey. I asked you to work for me several years ago. You turned me down.”

Neal’s mouth thinned but he gave no other indication of whether Hagan was right or wrong.

Hagan tilted his chin. “So, Neal Caffrey … what the hell are you doing here?”


Chapter Text

It was when Jones stuck his head out to say Hagan’s ride was here that Peter noticed someone missing. He spun several times but there was no sign of him.

“Damn it—Diana, Jones—where’s Neal?” Peter demanded quickly even as he jumped into the van rummaging for something.

“Um,” Jones looked around helplessly. “Don’t know, Boss.”

“He’s gone in,” Peter guessed before Diana had a chance to answer. He hoped Neal hadn’t been stupid enough to run, anyway. He growled in frustration, and then he remembered that his phone was broken. “Jones, your phone?”

Jones fumbled in his pocket to pull out his mobile which Peter snatched and opened. He put the phone to his ear after dialing and spoke almost immediately with urgency that Jones knew meant Peter was not only in a hurry, but worried.

“Yeah,” Peter spoke over the person’s monotone status greeting on the phone. “Yeah, I need a location on tracking anklet nine-three-zero-five-alpha. Now!”

Twenty seconds later, Peter tossed the phone back to Jones, and jumped out of the van speaking as he went.

“Let’s go, we don’t need a warrant. Neal’s in the warehous—the stupid son-of-a-bitch—he’s an escaped slave,” Peter explained quickly. “Let’s go!”

Peter didn’t wait. He stalked towards the warehouse with Diana and one of the three swat teams on his heels, with Jones’ reassuring orders being barked into the coms and echoing in his ear.

“All teams go.  All teams go; proceed into the warehouse!”


At least this time Peter came with back-up, Neal thought as he watched as the warehouse was overrun with swat guys pouring in, securing the place with their big guns. It was kind of an awesome sight, one he’d never seen before and one that hopefully he would never be on the receiving end of because even from behind the safety of the inch-thick lexan, Neal was more than just a little nervous.

But then there was Peter and Neal immediately relaxed. Peter must have done this sort of thing just about every other week, because he was striding in with the smug confidence of a cat that was currently unsupervised on a fish farm. He even had a little speech for the bad guys complete with a self-satisfied smile. It all disappeared and was replaced with relief as his eyes met Neal’s, but then the smile was back; a proud one.

Neal opened the door for him, and wiped his brow before backing up and leaning wearily against the desk.

Peter came in and … he wanted to curse Neal. To shake him and make him promise never to do that again, but he also wanted to ruffle his hair and pull him into a hug to make sure he was whole, and then to convey his appreciation, and his incredible relief.

“God, Neal.”

Peter came up beside him, swung an arm around Neal and pulled him in close. Being utterly exhausted and absolutely done with day, despite, or rather, because of its early hour, Neal just dropped his head on Peter’s shoulder.


Diana had finally used her temporarily granted power to override Peter and send them home. Even as it was, it hadn’t been until Peter was in his office staring blankly at some form he couldn’t quite work out the use for with Neal staring at Peter from his tentative perch on the chair across the room trying not to fall into a doze.

“Go home,” Diana told Peter firmly. “I’ve got a cab waiting for you downstairs—the Cabbie’s been paid to take you straight home. I’ve called Elizabeth, she’s expecting you. I’ve spoken to Hughes. He says good job on getting Hagan and to listen to me.”

Peter, not having quite digested everything Diana said, smiled. He knew he had a fantastic team. Jones was fantastic and Diana was fantastic. He chuckled, appreciating them.

Diana was unimpressed. “Boss, you are extremely tired. Put down the pen.”

It took awhile, but Diana managed to get Peter and his companion in the cab and out of her harried hair before finally being able to join Jones for the paperwork marathon that was involved in cleaning up the paper trails of a case.

From what Diana had told her of her two boys, Elizabeth held no expectations of being able to do anything with them other than guide them to the bed before they fell down from exhaustion, but Peter having spotted Elizabeth standing in the door as he emerged from the cab seemed to sober up. He picked Neal up out of the cab and with a hold on his arm, guided him up the house. Then he let Neal stand on his own two feet on the porch and approached Elizabeth with an apology on his lips.

Elizabeth, however, shook her head. “Peter, we’ll talk later.”

“Elizabeth, I’m sorry,” Peter insisted as he buried his face in her shoulder, embracing her.

Elizabeth sighed and patted her husband’s head. “Peter, you’re tired. Chances are you won’t even remember apologizing. Take Neal up to bed and catch up on your sleep.” El pried herself away from Peter and peered into his face. “Then we’ll talk later.”

“Okay, hon,” Peter agreed, trying to embrace El again. But she wouldn’t have it; she stepped aside, and prodded Peter onwards while beckoning Neal in.

Still clothed in his now-dried shirt and slacks, Peter paused only long enough to kick off his shoes before shifting the bed-covers aside and getting into the nice, warm, soft, cozy, gentle bed, and then he pulled an unresisting Neal in after him.

Peter rolled over to face Neal and ran a finger down the side of his face, moving the hair aside so he could see Neal properly.

“Neal?” Peter murmured.

“Hmm?” Neal responded with his eyes closed.

“Don’t ever do that again,” Peter said firmly before pulling Neal into his arms, unable to help the fresh wave of fears at what he could have found upon entering the warehouse.

“But,” Neal answered softly, his voice muffled as he lay with his head close to Peter’s chest. “You got Hagan didn’t you?”

Peter sighed as he trailed his fingers in Neal’s hair, not able to get over the fact that he had Neal safe, at home, and in bed. “You’re more important to me than arresting some bad guy. You stay with me, by my side. That’s where I want you. Not in some murderer’s den. I don’t want you getting hurt.”

Neal wriggled, uncomfortable with Peter’s concerned words and rolled over, putting his back to Peter. Peter let him, but then he wrapped an arm around Neal’s waist and pulled him back until Neal was up against him again. Peter just lay there, content, feeling it as Neal’s breathing deepened. Then Peter closed his eyes, comforted by the smell of Neal’s hair, and fell into a deep, exhausted sleep.


Neither Peter nor the slave he was spooning even woke when Elizabeth came in, pulled the covers off them, and set about checking up on the few injuries she could inspect.
Neal had some dark bruises running up his legs, a few bruise rings on his arms, one particularly nasty one at the base of his spine, and a few imprint shadows on his back and chest, which El suspected was the heel of Peter’s palm, but Neal fortunately appeared to be otherwise fine.
She rubbed some bruise cream in on the worst of them before turning her attention to her husband who had a nice big black eye darkening in a ring. She dabbed on a bit of cream, unconcerned when Peter opened his eyes long enough to blink blearily at her once before falling back into the slumber at her gentle murmurs. Peter for the most part looked fine too, but she guessed their bones would be aching for a good long while.
She should invest in a pair of earplugs, she thought. They’d be complaining before long. Then she tucked them up again, before shooing Satchmo out and shutting the door on her sleeping boys.

With Peter most likely knocked out for the day, Elizabeth decided to take advantage of the time she had taken off from work to organize the insurance for Neal which obviously Peter wouldn’t get a chance to do. That ought to keep her occupied for a few hours. She shook her head, knowing it was going to be a long day for her, having to wait until evening for answers. What had Peter been playing at? What was the cryptic text message; ‘Gone 2 bureau w. N 2 solve pblems, b back in morning, ilu, call me’ meant to mean?

Elizabeth sent Satchmo outside before heading to the phone, seizing the phone book as she went. What was it with men settling differences by fighting? Was that what they’d been doing? Dueling? Really? Neal?! From the looks of things, that had been exactly what they were doing. But El couldn’t picture Neal participating, let alone giving her husband a black eye.
Peter must have threatened him. Elizabeth’s irritations came back. What happened to talking things over? Or at least having the decency to tell your wife that you were planning on beating up the slave you both owned? He must have known that she’d have something to say about his plans. She felt frustrated. Peter never went behind her back like this.

Don’t jump to conclusions, El thought as she opened the phone book. There’s probably a perfectly rational explanation.

“You told him you would set him free!”

El was standing over him now. Peter looked away guiltily, lowering the ice-pack he’d had over his eye. It was a bit late for the ice, but El had insisted.

Peter had woken up to find the day had turned to night. When he had seen Neal still fast asleep, Peter had only just held back from waking him and had instead set out to find El. He needed the privacy to tell her everything. And now he’d given her the recount and they were still trying to see eye to eye.

“He was never going to win,” Peter tried to reassure her from where he was sitting on the living room couch.

El forced herself to take a step back. She sighed, turned and paced a few times before sitting down opposite Peter.

“The Peter I know and married isn’t that arrogant,” El denied calmly, leaning forward. “You knew there was a good chance we’d lose him and it never occurred to you to ask me first?”

“I had to do something,” Peter tried to explain. “When I saw him at the park....  El, he was openly defying me. It would only have gotten worse. I had to do something to force him to never consider it again. It had to be his choice, though.”

“Far be it from me to discourage you from giving Neal a little consideration, but since when does anything have to involve a slave’s choice?” Elizabeth asked softly.

Peter sighed. “Neal’s smart, El. The only way he’d settle here is if he cornered himself. I know it sounds stupid but—”

“It doesn’t sound stupid,” El interrupted. “It sounds messed up, but not stupid. …So what now? You told Neal you guys had to post-phone it? Does that mean you’re not finished? Are you going to finish?”

“Maybe tomorrow night,” Peter supposed. Then he hurriedly continued, “If it’s alright with you, hon.”


Neal woke up alone. And he wasn’t locked to the bed. Peter and El couldn’t be far, Neal surmised.
He sat up stiffly, peering at Peter’s bedside clock. It was approaching seven. He looked out the window ignoring the ache in his back as he shifted. It was dark outside. He’d slept through the whole day.

He felt so much better now that he’d slept, though with the sleep had come several bad things; pronounced pain in the form of aching bones, stretched muscles, healing bruises and—worst of all—clarity.

Peter had won.

Not officially, but Neal had never cared about the bells and whistles of rules. If he wanted to get technical about it he could still draw the same conclusion; not only had Peter consistently beat him on every single round, but he’d even grounded him, not nine, but ten times. Peter just hadn’t counted one of those times.

Neal let out a breath that he thought was pretty calm considering how he felt inside. He moved up out of the bed and headed over to the window. Even if he ignored everything he felt now; an empty dread that came with knowing he’d lost something vital, he still had to face the reality that if they ever finished the challenge, Peter would win and then it really would be official.

Neal leaned forward, resting his forehead on the window. If he just hadn’t…. Oh, forget it. Neal frowned, pitying himself, wondering why fate was so determined to keep him from finding Kate.

Even so, Neal couldn’t help looking for a way out. But he was trying to look at it from another angle. Maybe instead of fighting or escaping Peter, he could find something Peter wanted more than him, or bribe him or blackmail….
Neal scoffed into the glass pane then watched as it fogged over before evaporating a few seconds later.

Peter already had everything he could possibly want. And bribe him? Bribe him with what? Money that Peter would claim belonged to him anyway? And blackmail? That just made Neal laugh.

Neal turned away from the window, prepared to look for the Burkes and ask if he could take a shower. He glanced at the bed. He should toss the sheets in the wash along with his clothes, if not for Peter's and El’s sakes then definitely for his own benefit because even if Peter had taken a hiatus from using him for sex, they clearly still expected him to sleep with them. He searched the room looking for the dreaded dog pajamas which were a better option than stripping naked during the time it took for his clothes to wash and then dry, particularly with the Burkes still in the house.


Chapter Text

Neal headed downstairs, already daydreaming about the hot steamy water washing away his aches and pains. He wondered if Peter had already done the same. Surely Peter would have had the same impulse upon awakening.

He found them in the living room. When he came around the corner on the stairs, they were already silent so Neal didn’t know if he was interrupting anything. He became uncomfortable when their gazes settled on him, but they seemed to welcome his arrival, though he wasn’t sure how he could tell; they weren’t smiling, nor did they greet him aloud. They were just watching him.
He realized Peter and Elizabeth were in a middle of some tense stand-off.

That seemed weird, especially to Neal who had, on the occasions he’d bothered to check up on his pursuer, only ever seen an almost-cheesy, happily-married couple, living the perfect suburban life with no communication, work or space problems whatsoever. Then of course he had come to live with them and it had been even more perfect than he’d thought. There weren’t even any tense discussions behind closed doors. They’d even had the audacity to behave like newlyweds with their enthusiasm, happiness and support in one another.

Neal reached the ground floor and returned the stares, waiting for one of them to speak while blandly allowing thoughts to tumble through his head. He compared the Burkes to the hammy happy-marriages he knew about on television and settled with the idea that even the Bradys with their chirpy slave Alice couldn’t have held a candle to the Burkes.

Peter finally cleared his throat and Neal ducked out of his thoughts. When Peter didn’t segue into actually talking, Neal opened his own mouth prepared to ask if Peter had used the bathroom yet, and if he had, whether he could use it, but then the doorbell rang.

Neal turned his gaze on the door where, if he looked closely, he could see the movements of a silhouette through the door’s white-lace curtain.


Peter and Elizabeth, who were both staring at the door from their respective places, were equally caught off-guard, so Neal put up a finger in reference to the door. “Do you want me to get that?”

Peter frowned, stood and headed to the door. “It’s probably Diana … or Jones.”

“Well,” Elizabeth spoke, standing too. “Maybe not. I didn’t exactly tell Yvonne why I took today off; she might think I’m sick.”

Peter was blocking Neal’s view so when Peter hesitated upon spotting the visitor after opening the door, Neal was momentarily concerned.

But then the familiar voice broke the uneasy silence and Neal couldn’t help a small smile.

“Oh my, good evening,” the warm voice rang out gently. “You must be Agent Peter Burke.”

“Uh, yes,” Peter replied hesitantly, and utterly confused. He thought he knew all the neighbors and El’s friends … at least by sight. Oh, he hoped this visitor wasn’t some distant relative anyway. That was always awkward.
Neal wanted to say something … to sweep Peter aside and act the gracious host. He just had an affinity for the lovely lady, he didn’t know why. But … Neal shook his head. He couldn’t do that. He trapped himself in place.

Fortunately Elizabeth glided up then, cracking a genuine smile. “June!” She reached the door and with an arm on Peter to reassure him, she shifted them both aside, clearing the doorway. “Oh, do come in. Peter, this is June—the lovely lady I was telling you about. We met her while shopping last Monday, you remember, honey.”

“We?” Peter mumbled, confused, trying to backtrack in his memories.

“Me and Neal,” El replied absently, concentrating on bringing June into the living room. She was genuinely delighted to see June again. “You were working, Peter.”

Peter was relieved then. He knew he was bad with people but he was grateful to find that he wasn’t that bad.

“Neal,” Peter mumbled, grabbing Neal’s arm and putting him in front of him as if he might act as a shield. “It’s June.”

Neal stepped forward, shaking off Peter’s hold. June turned as she and Elizabeth reached the living room and smiled upon spotting Neal.

And Neal grinned in response.

But neither could say anything.

It was Peter, Neal realized.

It was easier in a shop with only Elizabeth, the relaxed, caring and gentle owner who wouldn’t reprimand Neal for taking the lead in talking to a complete stranger.

And of course June wouldn’t want to step on any toes by breaking the societal constraints when it came to talking to slaves she didn’t own.

But more than that; Peter was just not an easy person to talk in front of.

Neal took a breath. Peter had pushed him forward, had even pointed her out. Peter was fine with them talking. Damn it, why did Peter have such a rigid presence? Peter didn’t mean to, but he had a natural talent for putting people off.

“June,” Neal finally greeted demurely. “It’s lovely to see you again.”

“Oh, you too, dear,” June answered before giving a gracious nod to Peter.

They might have fallen into another awkward silence if Elizabeth’s natural hosting talents didn’t come into play then. She led June to the comfortable armchair. “Would you like something to drink, June? We have tea; herbal or regular. And Neal does a wonderful black coffee. Or are you in the mood for something stronger? We have wine, champagne … beer.”

“An herbal Tea will do fine, I should think,” June accepted. “Chamomile—or Lavender if you have it.”

“Milk or sugar?” El asked, happy to be able to serve the guest.

“Neither, thank you.”

Then Neal, June and Peter were left alone. Neal reminded himself that Peter was socially inept, so he probably wouldn’t mind Neal taking point, at least while Elizabeth was elsewhere—he might even encourage it.

So, Neal sat down on the couch, making himself comfortable and then looked at Peter until Peter caught on to his easy stare and sat down next to him. Neal then turned his gaze back on the woman he wished he could speak freely with.

As it was, he could only allow himself to stick to safe—boring—topics of conversation.

“How is your shop?” Neal inquired politely.

“It’s fine, thank you dear,” June answered then she looked at Peter as if considering something.

“I had an interesting customer just today as it happens,” June proceeded lightly, transferring her attention from Peter to Neal. “Someone who knew Byron. He seemed happy to catch up with me; it was so nice talking to someone about the good old days.”

Neal shifted forward. It wasn’t that June’s words were odd … he just had a feeling that there was more to what she was saying.

“This man?” Neal started carefully. “Was he a friend?”

“Well,” June considered her answer, impressed at Neal’s deduction. “Not exactly. He was more of a … presence in my husband’s life.”

Neal narrowed his eyes. “A presence?”

June chuckled. “Of the FBI agent variety; rather like your owner here.”

Peter shifted, far more interested in the conversation now.

Neal grinned. “Was Byron, by any chance … um,” Neal glanced at Peter. “An interesting character?”

June sat back, clasping her hands in delight. “That depends, Mr. Caffrey.”

Neal tilted his chin, intrigued. “On what? And it’s Neal if you please.”

“On whether you, Neal,” June answered a cheeky glint in her eye. “Are an interesting character.”

Neal opened his mouth. How had June…? Then he relaxed and smiled wryly. “Perhaps.”

Peter looked between them frowning at all the shady talk. He wasn’t exactly lost … just … okay, he didn’t like where this was going.

June glanced surreptitiously at Peter.

Neal followed her glance. “He knows,” he assured June a little glumly.

“So,” June finally proclaimed. “You are him; Neal Caffrey, alleged conman?”

“You knew last week,” Neal confirmed, nodding, resigned to the fact that his name was bound to trigger recognition in some people. “You seemed to look at me funny.”

“If you don’t mind,” Peter interjected, suspicious. “How exactly do you know of Neal?”

June smiled. “Because my dear Byron was a convicted felon. And let’s just say … I still keep in touch with … people, and they keep me ... updated.”

“Down boy,” Neal muttered to Peter, before speaking up. “June’s husband has unfortunately passed away since.”

Peter bit back the interrogative questions Neal seemed to have sensed were coming. Instead he dipped his chin to Junes with respect. “I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Oh, that’s quite alright, dear. It was—oh, thank you,” June spoke as Elizabeth returned with the tea for June and a beer for Peter. Then as June lowered the cup and cradled it in her hands, she continued. “It was quite some time ago now.”

Peter gratefully took the beer and opened it before taking a quick drink. He cleared his throat and put the beer down as Elizabeth took a seat on the remaining armchair. “You mentioned someone … um, an FBI agent visited you today?”

June nodded as she sipped the tea. “Oh, Mrs. Burke this is wonderful.”

“Elizabeth is fine,” El said quickly, smiling as she sipped from her own cup.

June turned back to Peter. “Yes, he’s still with the Bureau, I believe, although I think he has been promoted several times over since. He always treated my Byron and me with respect despite being part of the team that eventually arrested him. You may have heard of him; he’s apparently quite esteemed at the Bureau now … an Agent Bancroft?”

“Wait,” Peter jolted forward, eyes as round as saucers. “Bancroft?!”

Neal looked sharply at Peter.  At June’s nod of confirmation Peter raked his hair with a smile, then catching Neal and Elizabeth’s curious looks, he elaborated on his astonishment. “That’s Hughes’ Boss. In other words; my boss’ boss.”

Elizabeth was perplexed now. “How did we start talking about the Bureau?”

“Oh, speaking of my shop,” June exclaimed after Peter had caught his wife up on the details. “Elizabeth, I came here to apologize to you and Neal.”

Elizabeth frowned. “Oh nonsense, June, whatever for?”

June took up a somber posture. “I promised to send you those Devore suits and, unfortunately, I never did. They’re on their way now; my driver is picking them up even as we speak.”

“June,” Elizabeth berated with a smile. “It’s fine. I’m sure you had other things more important to worry about, besides it’s not like we ordered them or paid for—.”

“June,” Neal suddenly spoke, interrupting Elizabeth. “What happened?”

It was Neal’s devastatingly quiet and tense tone that stopped Peter and Elizabeth from saying anything to Neal about interrupting his owner in the middle of talking to a valued guest.

June waved off Neal’s query. “Don’t you stress, dear. Nothing happened to me.”

“June,” Neal replied reproachfully. “I lied for a living. Maybe nothing happened to you … but something happened.”

Then Neal seemed to catch himself. He inhaled. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to—”

“It’s quite fine,” June cut over him. “It’s nice that you worry. But there’s nothing you can do to help.”

Neal lowered his head. “Of course, I’m sorry for delving … but … you know if I can….”

“I know, dear, bless you,” June answered. “But there’s nothing you can do.” Then she adopted a frustrated tone, “There’s nothing even I can do.”

Peter, Elizabeth and Neal held their silence as June gazed into her tea with a sad expression.

Then June looked up. “I received the news just as I arrived home last Monday. And … then I flew out … to join my granddaughter. She’s in hospital. There’s something wrong with her kidneys. They’re going to try treating it but … she might need a transplant in the future … if they can’t, if it doesn’t work....”

Elizabeth had tears in her eyes, and Peter looked uncomfortable. Neal was tense, wanting to do something but knowing he was completely useless. And June…. June must have felt a thousand times worse; unable to help her own vulnerable flesh and blood. Neal could picture June having sat vigil over the last week, staying strong for those around her, particularly for the girl’s parents, but internally frustrated and devastated. Her granddaughter was sick … and June couldn’t do anything about it.

“Oh, June,” Neal whispered. “I’m so sorry.”

June nodded accepting Neal’s sympathy. “Samantha; she’s only five, we can’t understand how…. I mean, she’s just a child. It’s not fair—I’m old, and she’s just—she’s just a child!”

Elizabeth reached out and June took her hand, trying not to cry. She took several deep breaths. “It just makes me angry,” she said to them. “You understand?”

They nodded quickly.

June seemed to calm down then, she looked up then back at her tea. “The doctors say even in the best case scenario … it could be years before she’s—before she’ll be well again.”

Neal moved to the floor, kneeling in front of June, and spoke firmly. “She’s got your blood running in her veins, June. She’s strong; a fighter, yes? And she’s got you by her side. She’ll be fine.”

June looked up at Neal and smiled, following his cautious prompt. “Oh, God bless you, sweetheart. Thank you.”

They settled into a sympathetic silence while June regained her equilibrium.

“So,” June spoke to Neal, attempting to change the subject several minutes later—because no-one else would dare. “Agent Burke is the agent who was chasing you, yes?”

Peter rolled his eyes and Neal hesitated knowing what was coming. “Yes,” he mumbled quietly.

“And does he take all his cases home or just the special ones?” June asked with a hint of teasing. “I don’t suppose you’d be willing to share that story?”

“Oh,” Peter answered, unamused, before Neal could say anything. “He won’t even tell us how it happened.”

“Oh,” June straightened, blinking in surprise. She realized she had been insensitive. She had assumed that Neal had ended up with the Burkes as Peter’s way of keeping him out of prison. “I apologize; I didn’t mean to intrude.” But she couldn’t help as the revelation immediately churned up questions about Neal’s situation with the Burkes. Questions that were none of her business but raised her concern anyway.


Elizabeth soothed her, but it was a discrete smile from Neal that made June stop worrying. Neal was more than capable of taking care of himself. She’d ask if she got the moment alone with him anyway. Make sure he was as fine as the brave front he’d put up suggested.

In the moment of silence that followed in which June sipped her tea and Neal returned June’s neutral gaze, Elizabeth picked up on a vibe she had sensed before but now bothered her. It wasn’t a bad vibe, just a sense that Neal shared something with June that she and Peter would never be privy to.
Thanks to her past with her husband, June knew something about the life that Neal had led, understood its lure, shared in the nature of cutting corners.
That world in which Neal had lived gave Neal the ability to keep her and Peter at arm’s length. Elizabeth didn’t like it.
She felt the desire to slip in on the couch between Neal and her husband, to wrap an arm around Neal’s back, pull him in close, peck him on the cheek, smile adoringly, and then ask June what else she’d heard about Neal—whether she’d heard the stories of the close shaves where Peter had very nearly caught Neal.

Elizabeth shook off the petty desire to stake her territory. It wasn’t in her nature. She fancied herself being a bit like June; calm, nurturing, neutral, patient and completely level-headed. Peter was possessive enough for the both of them.

Nonetheless, she was very grateful when the doorbell rang, interrupting the mounting of the tension in the air. Elizabeth, excused herself, rose to her feet, gave Peter a wave to keep him seated and moved to the door.
It hadn’t been like this in the shop. She hadn’t spoken to June much admittedly; mostly she’d just stood and listened, content to let Neal socialize, but at the moment, the two were hardly talking.

Now though, Elizabeth allowed herself to smile at the sight of the perfect ice-breaker on their doorstep; Neal’s suits had arrived.

Neal had requested being allowed to shower before dressing to satisfy Peter and Elizabeth's desires to see him 'gussied up' as Peter phrased it. He felt a bit bad for leaving June alone downstairs with the Burkes for longer than a few minutes but the excitement at getting out of the white two-piece he wore drowned out any niggling concerns. As it was, he shouldn’t have worried; June could take care of herself.

He tucked his tie into his jacket, closed up the buttons, and straightened the fabric before looking himself over in the mirror, smiling with ecstasy; it fitted him perfectly. He might have to look more closely later, but he was sure with Elizabeth’s supplies, he could easily cinch up the pants cuffs if he needed to, although, keeping a little extra length would help keep the tracker hidden. Right now though, it looked … liberating. He didn’t look like a slave at all. It was inspiring.

The best thing though, was seeing Peter’s face as he descended those stairs. ‘Flabbergasted’ would have been putting it lightly.

At that moment, with Peter staring at him, completely stunned, it seemed like it was just them.  Neal felt very self-consious, standing as Peter's eyes traveled all over him.  He wished he could say something to break Peter's scrutiny.

Fortunately, Neal became distantly aware of a couple of female voices coming from the dining room; June and Elizabeth discussing something to do with her event planning business.

Neal grinned and tucked his hands in his pockets, waiting for Peter to say something, while wishing the women would come in. Peter just continued to stare, wide-eyed, at him in his outfit.

If Peter wasn’t attracted to Neal before, he was now. He finally ripped his gaze off Neal and wiped his forehead, thinking about the trouble he was in, before turning to the women. “El!”

As expected, the women came into the living room and audibly gasped in admiration. Neal effected a neat bow towards them, before straightening, grateful that Peter's attention was now broken.

“He looks really dashing, Peter, don’t you think?” Elizabeth murmured beside him, eyes sparkling in delight.

Peter cleared his throat. “Sure.” Then he nodded at El’s glance. “Really good.”

“We’re going to have to really show him off,” El decided playfully.

Neal looked to June who gave her silent approval. He nodded. “Thank you, June.”


“I think I have some canapés; samples from a catering company trying to get hired for the Monancio meet,” Elizabeth announced. “June, would you be interested in trying a few?”

“I would love to,” June replied amiably.

When Elizabeth disappeared into the kitchen, Peter blushed; Neal could see the red tinge creeping up his neck. Peter mumbled something about giving his wife a hand and beat a hasty retreat.

Neal turned to June and gave a look as if to suggest the whole thing was unorthodox. June gave Neal a reassuring smile.

“Neal, dear,” June started in a soft careful voice, now that they were alone. “I couldn’t help but notice those bruises…”

Neal opened his mouth, not entirely surprised by June’s concern but humbled all the same; it was nice to have someone care enough to ask.

“You should see the other guy,” Neal said softly, smiling slightly, then shook his head. “It’s not what it looks like.”

“Agent Burke has a black eye,” June noted shrewdly.

Neal couldn’t help reacting; he twitched and chewed his lip. “Hmm.”

“You gave …” June cleared her throat politely after correctly interpreting Neal’s response. “You gave an FBI agent that owns you a black eye?”

Neal could tell that, naturally, June—anyone who might have heard something so ridiculous—would pay a great deal of money to know what had motivated a slave to mar his owner’s face like that. It certainly was a rarity; the kind of story one might tell at an awkward family gathering to break the ice and prompt discussion.

Neal gave a small nod. “It’s complicated?” he suggested helplessly.

June considered Neal’s words, compared it to his expression and spent a few seconds silently contemplating private thoughts. Then she stepped forward, withdrawing something from her purse; a white piece of paper.

“This is my address, Neal,” she explained quietly. “You’re welcome anytime.”

Neal took the piece of paper, his heart hammering at the insinuation; June would help him if he ever asked for it.

“June,” Neal whispered breathlessly, he held out the paper, too overwhelmed by the offer. “This is—”

“Just in case,” June said firmly, putting a hand over Neal’s, pushing it back slightly.

Neal was silent, close to losing his façade at the kindness. He forced his feelings back and grinned. “Thanks, June.”

“And Neal,” June added. “I have access to lawyers; if you want to them to review your slavery papers—”

June had to pause because Neal was shaking his head. He took her hand and squeezed. “Thank you, really. I do appreciate it, and I would even take you up on your offer if I thought it would make a difference.”


“It was all legal,” Neal admitted reluctantly.

June couldn’t see how Neal could possibly have been legally enslaved. But if Neal said he had been, then he probably had been which meant June had to accept it and leave the issue alone if not for legal reasons then for the ethical reasons. It would be rude and dishonorable otherwise.
Still, if Neal ever needed her help, she would help him, she vowed. Her offer may have been presumptuous—slaves were slave—and Neal might have been happy and fortunate, his role a safe one, but June didn’t think so.
She could see the love the Burkes had for Neal and the familiarity Neal had for them, but there was an upheaval in this house. June was certain of that. Still, all she could do was offer Neal an option. Perhaps she could also offer Elizabeth a sympathetic ear.
She berated herself mildly; it felt like she was crossing a line, but no, she was only standing before it, giving others the option to ask for help. Unconventional, sure, but there was nothing wrong with that.


June was about to ask if the suit needed to be altered when she and Neal were startled by a series of loud metallic bangs coming from the kitchen, followed by grunts and startled shouts from the Burkes, just barely drowning out the sound of … gushing water? Then a silence fell … until Neal heard the dreaded telltale sound of trickling water. He moved over to where he could see the kitchen door and his heart skipped a beat.

June came up beside Neal and looked to where he was staring, pale and resigned. There was water flowing from the kitchen beneath the door. They heard a loud splashing and a string of curses from an irate male voice.

Neal and June stood side by side, frozen, staring in torrid fascination as the water slowly lapped its way out of the kitchen, seeping into anything that absorbed liquid; the hem of Elizabeth’s pants that were waiting to be ironed, Satchmo’s leash which hung on the back of the chair, the felt protectors on the base of the chair legs. The water spread faster, amidst silence save for the sounds of water sloshing in the kitchen, down into the cracks of the floorboards, along the base of the walls, faster as the flow deepened.

“Great,” Neal whispered, dejected.

June knew then, this … this leakage was somehow, some way, Neal’s fault.

June put a reassuring hand on Neal’s arm. “Neal … should I leave?” She was leaving the choice entirely in his hands. If he needed her there for whatever reason, then she’d stay.

Neal looked at her with haunted eyes, and wondered at the back of his mind how June knew he was in trouble. It didn’t matter; if he was right then he had a storm coming his way and the last thing he wanted was to have June around when the lightning struck. “Perhapps.”  She was entitled to do whatever she wanted.

“You have my contact details,” June said simply.

Neal could only nod once, then he turned back to look at the kitchen door he knew would be thrown aside any second. He heard the door shut behind June and inwardly cursed his rudeness.

But it couldn’t be helped.


Neal had moved to the door absently after it shut. He couldn't think beyond cursing his own luck and stupidity.  He blinked, realizing he was at the front door, his hand on the knob.  He was still standing there when Peter finally came out of the kitchen.

Peter’s clothes were drenched and his hair matted and dripping. Neal cringed at the sobering sight. Another place, another day, and Neal might have laughed. But Peter looked set to kill. His aggression doubled when he saw Neal over by the door. Neal hastily took his hold off the knob and nodded uncomfortably to Peter trying to convey his acknowledgment that Peter was mad.
When Peter’s jaw twitched indicating his gritting it, Neal stepped to the living room and carefully edged around the coffee table until he was standing on the other side, knowing Peter would register that that he had put an object between himself and any potential escape and be at least somewhat pacified. Neal very deliberately kept his mouth clamped shut.

“Where’s June?” Peter asked stiffly, avoiding Neal for the moment, satisfied with Neal’s distance from the door.

Neal took a deep breath. “She’s gone.”

Peter turned his head stiffly, silently consulting his wife. Elizabeth had emerged from the kitchen after Peter and was chewing her top lip. She didn’t look angry but she wasn’t about to defend Neal. She wasn’t as wet as Peter; Neal guessed Peter had been the one to stop the flow of water, having to get down in the pouring water itself to shut off the gushing leak from one of the intact pipes.
Elizabeth took the cue and swept past Peter and Neal, giving Neal an inscrutable look like she wondered why Neal kept provoking Peter and headed to the door, opening it and passing out into the night intending to see off June if she could catch her before she departed.

“Care to explain?” Peter grunted angrily once the door was shut behind his wife.

It was the diversion Neal had set up under the kitchen sink for his escape in case the harum scarum wasn’t enough; it must have gone off accidentally instead of waiting for a signal from the remote switch that Neal had since thrown away after the successful absconding.

But Neal felt that telling Peter all that would only make him angrier. Besides he had a good idea that Peter had already guessed as much and wasn’t actually in the mood to listen; the agent was seething.

When it became apparent that Neal wasn’t about to explain in detail the meaning of the spontaneously bursting kitchen sink pipes, Peter took a few steps toward Neal who stayed standing carefully, quietly in place.
Neal could hear the heavy nasal breathing as Peter kept his lips pressed shut for a moment, trying to get his brain under control so that he could be practical. Then Peter spoke into Neal’s ear using an eerily low and calm tone, while turning his glare onto the side of Neal’s head.
“You’re going to get out of those clothes, clean up the water, and then get your ass down to the basement.” Peter took a breath, trying to hold back from describing in gory detail what he might do to Neal otherwise. Instead he uttered one more word that was barely audible. “Understand?”

Neal nodded hastily even as he edged away to the stairs, keeping his wide, wary gaze on Peter whose jaw seemed to have locked in place again from the sheer willpower it took to hold back his rage.


Chapter Text

Neal put the last wet towel in the bucket and rose to his feet with a gritted groan ; he wished the mop would have been enough because now his back was even worse than it had been this morning.
He turned to find Peter standing in the doorway shooting daggers with crossed arms. Neal stilled. The floor was a dry as it was going to get and there was nothing he could do with burst pipes; Elizabeth—after bidding June goodbye—had already called the plumber.

“Go,” Peter growled, apparently accepting Neal’s second task to be complete.

Neal cautiously turned away, taking the bucket with him and slipped through the door that led to the basement. Just inside, with the door closed on him, he put the heavy bucket down on the top step and descended a few more steps watching the crack beneath the door.
He would have to put the towels in the washing machine later. He watched, his heart hammering, as Peter’s shadow moved close to the door and then he heard the sound of metal wrenching against metal as a key was turned in the lock.

Neal went down a few more steps and tried to calm down as he watched the shadow move away.  Peter was never going to forgive him for this. Not easily. Not anytime soon.
He turned around to move the rest of the way down and paused on the ground floor. He groaned, thinking about the hole he kept digging for himself. The hits just kept on coming.
The basement light was on so Neal looked around. Despite his satisfying sleep earlier, Neal was ready to crash again. He wouldn’t even care if he had to settle for the thin mattress he’d already had to lie on once.

At least this time, he wasn’t chained. He wasn’t locked-up at all really; Peter knew he could pick the lock upstairs, probably in his sleep, but Peter locking him in had been a symbolic release of steam. Neal was all for Peter letting off steam in ways that didn’t involve an agent cutting off his slave’s oxygen supply.

As he moved into the center of the room, he frowned and groaned; of course, the floor was coated by a thin layer of water, having over-flowed from the kitchen. He needed more towels, but there was no way he was going to ask for more. He looked around the room for some rags or blankets; anything that would do the trick.

Unfortunately, aside from a few thin strips of rags made for packing breakable things in storage, Neal could only find the mattress.

Except for … Neal looked down. The stupid dog pajama button-up top was horrendous on him. And anyway, he was sweating again, so it was going to get wet regardless. Neal shrugged out of it not bothering with the buttons. Because it was too big, having been Peter’s, it slipped over his head effortlessly and Neal threw it to the ground, watching as the water slowly climbed the folds of the fabric, soaking into the crevices, drenching it inch by inch.

At least he’d been able to wear a classic Devore outfit that framed his figure perfectly for a full glorious fifteen minutes.


Instead of retreating to a world of sleep, Neal was standing, leaning with his bare shoulder on the cold brick wall, his arms crossed, looking up out through the vents at the night-time sky. It was deep and black except for a gray shimmer off to the side which told Neal that there was a moon out there somewhere, doing what stars in New York could not; glowing iridescent, regardless, and unfailingly upon the murky world below.

He listened, distracted as the muffled voices from upstairs floated below. Elizabeth was reassuring Peter again. Her voice sounded sharper this time though.  Neal straightened off the wall and shifted over the floor, straining to hear. They must have moved; wherever they were now as opposed to the space they’d inhabited the last three hours Peter had spent pacing—tracing the steps of an agitated unappeasable panther—Neal could now hear and understand bits of their conversation.

As the conversation formed, shaping itself into something Neal could understand, Neal wished they hadn’t moved at all; he felt sick, infuriated, and helpless, but he stayed standing, transfixed, listening….


Peter leaned on the back of the chair staring at the untouched beer Elizabeth had pulled out, hoping to calm Peter down. “If it was anyone else, El,” Peter was saying forcefully. “They would have gone back by now. It’s too much to have to deal with. We shouldn’t have to.... He’s given us too much crap.”

“Well,” El tried to respond diplomatically. “Sure, he’s been a bit of a handful, but it’s a difficult time—a transition. We’re all trying to adjust.”

“Neal’s not trying to adjust!” Peter snapped. “El. Hon. Come on. So far, he’s managed to endanger you; a guy—a perfect stranger propositioned you, trying to buy him off you—”

“That wasn’t Neal’s fault!” Elizabeth replied firmly.

“How do you know?” Peter demanded moving off the chair. “For all we know, that asshole was an associate of Bonds, someone who knew who he was, wanting to free him or use him or kill him. He’s undoubtedly got enemies, El, and we don’t even know how he came to us. Someone enslaved him!”

“Honey,” Elizabeth spoke, exasperated. “We’re not doing this. We can’t. It’s paranoid. We can’t assume.... Let’s just focus on the things we do know are Neal’s fault. We resolve those issues and maybe we can work this out, but don’t go making up stories.”

“Fine, fine,” Peter agreed angrily, picking up his beer, taking a sip, then resumed his emphatic gestures; his beer recruited as a pointer. “Fine, he upset you with the sex. And he doesn’t like sex. Doesn’t like sex?! How is that—El, sex, for god’s sake. We’re not torturing him … it’s just ridiculous. What is … maybe he’s just too hung up on our connected past.  Like he doesn't want to submit to his nemesis? No—you, you had sex with him too. I don’t know. Maybe he’s … he said he didn’t like it—is he what … what’s the word? The thing where people physically don’t like sex? No, no, Bonds, I’m forgetting Neal is Bonds and I know Bonds has had sex. It’s probably Kate. Just wants to be monogamous for the—where is that woman anyway?!”

“Honey,” Elizabeth murmured, knowing Peter had more to come and her words would merely serve as an anchor every few minutes when Peter took a breath.

“And he escaped,” Peter announced, seemingly ready to move on to the next issue. He didn’t want to discuss the harlot. “Escaped. Flagrantly!”

“Yes, hon,” Elizabeth agreed. “But we got him back. Remember, he saved our lives, returned to us to do it. He chose us over freedom.”

Peter snorted. He knew what Bonds was like, didn’t want to be anywhere near anything that might dirty his conscience. He grimaced. That was one, admittedly, good thing about Neal.


“He had us seeing a consultant in the first week,” Peter growled. “Made us feel like incompetent slave owners. I bet he’s been pulling our strings the whole time, El.”

“Come on, Peter,” Elizabeth protested. “You have to admit you overreacted with the drug thing, that wasn’t about Neal; that was about us. We clearly needed advice.”

“The drug thing!” Peter slapped his beer back on the table. “The drugs. Neal brought those drugs out of the cabinet, El. He was going to drug you!”

“But he didn’t,” El defended. “He gave me a wonderful night instead, Peter.” She expected Peter to dismiss her words with a wave, to explain that that was beside the point but he had an expression that showed his deep, intense thought.

“No, he didn’t,” he finally mumbled distracted, his voice low. “But … he was thinking about it. But why? El, was he … was he planning on escaping that night? Why did he change his mind? Or was it—oh, damn it. It was the sex. He was trying to avoid it. El … I don’t understand. Sex is sex. What’s the big deal?”

Elizabeth opened her mouth at a loss. “Hon—I … I don’t know. I reminded him of Kate, remember?”

“It goes deeper than that,” Peter refuted. Peter was silent for a while. Finally, “It’s the control.”


“Control,” Peter repeated. “It’s not about the sex itself. It’s not about… The drug thing, the escape, walking out last night, even returning to us, saving our lives, it was all about Neal’s need to control.”

Elizabeth pondered Peter’s guess. It made sense.

Peter shrugged and continued. “Sex is just … Neal wouldn’t care about that. If it was a tool that allowed him to get what he wanted, he’d use it happily—he did use it happily, damn it, El.” Peter thumped the table. “He was all over me when he was asking me about Kate. Neal doesn’t care—can’t care—about sex any more than I do. Everyone knows companion slaves have sex. It’s like me and math, Diana and guns—”

“Maybe we should ask Neal why,” Elizabeth interrupted. “Give him a chance to explain. You’re probably wrong, Peter. Or maybe you’re right and it is about control. Either way, you need to sit down, watch some TV, drink your beer and calm down.”

Peter wasn’t so far gone that he couldn’t look at El and listen to her guidance. He let out a breath and nodded, taking up his beer again, accepting her suggestion.


Half an hour later, Elizabeth sat down next to Peter, leaned forward and muted the television with the remote before rubbing Peter’s thigh. “Honey.”

Peter looked away from the screen he hadn’t been paying attention to and hummed.

“Do you remember when you said ‘if it had been anybody else …’?” Elizabeth prompted gently.

“They would have gone back,” Peter finished. “Yeah.”

“Did you mean that?”


“So, it’s because he’s James Bonds that we still have him with us?” Elizabeth asked before chewing her lip.


Elizabeth blinked in surprise. She squeezed Peter’s knee. “What do you mean ‘no’?”

Peter shifted, and took El’s hand in his own, caressing it. “I know he’s caused us a lot of trouble, but … I don’t know, maybe we were having trouble because it was right. We definitely wouldn’t have kept anybody else after a drugging attempt, but we wanted him El, because Neal is … Neal. Just for us. You know.”

Elizabeth smiled. “Yeah, I think I do. It felt right.”

“Exactly.” Peter sighed.

“You’ve calmed down,” Elizabeth pointed out.

Peter nodded. “You think we should go down there and talk to him.” It was a statement.

“I don’t know,” Elizabeth answered. “Honestly, I don’t think there is anything we can say.”

“I can think of plenty to say,” Peter muttered darkly. “We can discuss his punishment for one thing.”


Neal had stopped eavesdropping when the theme of the ‘conversation’ didn’t sound like it was going to change any time soon. He took his time instead to explore the room, looking for anything that could serve as a pick for the mitt locks, while keeping a vague ear out for any change to Peter’s rant upstairs.
It sounded as if the agent was venting for every little mishap.
Neal figured Peter was procrastinating; picking at the smaller stuff, things that weren’t even his fault to avoid talking about the things that were.
Neal realized it was because Peter was at his wits end. He honestly couldn’t keep giving Neal time to ‘adjust’. Neal swallowed at those thoughts, pausing in his search.
The Burkes had been pretty patient and lenient with him so far. He grimaced, knowing that most likely he had about used up all the patience they were willing to expend on him.

He was trying to figure out whether pulling one of the spokes from the dusty bike wheel would help when he heard the basement door open up behind him. Neal rose from his squatting position and turned, watching as two pairs of legs descended the stairs.

Perhaps seeing Neal’s bruises triggered Peter’s memory because he suddenly turned back to Elizabeth. “I forgot about insurance.”

Elizabeth patted his shoulder. “I took care of it.”

Peter hesitated. “But the evaluation—”

“I got Agent Hughes’ help,” El reassured him. Then she looked at Neal who was looking around the basement with a bored expression.


Neal was actually taking in the knowledge that was yet more paperwork out there that tied him even further into this identity. If he ever wanted to start fresh, he would have quite the paper-trail to cover.

Half way down the stairs, Peter stopped and leaned on the railing looking down. His eyes roved from an unabashedly half-naked Neal to the semi-wet ground on which Neal had thrown his pajama top.

Peter shook his head then stared straight into Neal’s eyes. “I’m not replacing that.”

Neal couldn’t even muster up a disappointed air. What did he care?
Then again, he figured he’d regret it when it became colder. But surely the Burkes wouldn’t let him freeze. Neal exhaled softly at that thought. He realized he had relied too much on their kindness. He was an idiot.

“You ruined our kitchen,” Peter announced.

Neal inhaled. Straight to the point. The uncomfortable point.

“You’ve got thirty seconds to defend yourself,” Peter offered.

How kind, Neal thought sarcastically. But honestly, he could tell by the disinterest in Peter’s eyes that nothing he said would make any difference.

Neal came forward where the poor light of the basement illuminated Peter’s face a little more. He wanted to explain how the whole thing was a mistake, should never have gone off; was only an emergency thing, but even he knew that was a baseless defense. He said the only thing he thought Peter would be willing to hear. “I can pay for the damages.”

Peter considered that. “Okay,” he accepted. “But that doesn’t change anything.”

Neal wasn’t going to argue with that, especially as Peter hadn’t been an asshole and pointed out that Neal’s fortune was actually theirs.

Neal watched as Peter exchanged a last look with Elizabeth as if checking that she hadn’t changed her mind. She gave an imperceptible nod. Then Peter descended the stairs while Elizabeth stayed at the top.

Neal watched unobtrusively, but secretly wary, as Peter came towards him, stepping over various odds and ends, brushing aside a few web strands before stopping in front of Neal. He was close now; Neal could reach Peter without stretching.

“Take note of how far apart we are, Neal,” Peter said, crossing his arms as he relaxed his stance.

Neal took an unnecessary look down, trying to unravel Peter’s intentions to give himself some idea of how to throw up his defenses.

Neal shrugged. “A yard.”

Peter looked down. “That’s two yards,” he corrected.

Neal frowned. “No, it’s not.”

“Neal, math is my thing,” Peter informed condescendingly. “It’s two.”

“Yeah, sure you know your times tables,” Neal answered spitefully, even as he screamed inwardly wondering why he was arguing. “But this isn’t mathematical, it’s spatial. And I happen to be in the profession that relies on the alleged ability to case places. Trust me when I say that is one yard.”

"Former profession." Peter glared, his neck flushing, overheated. “A yard is this—”


Peter, in the middle of extending his arms to demonstrate the distance of a yard, looked at Elizabeth.

Elizabeth turned around, exasperated and ascended the stairs.

The two men watched, shamed, as the last of her legs disappeared from view. It was when the door shut behind her that Peter lowered his arms.

“Whatever the distance,” Peter muttered. “Take note of it. Don’t go further away from me than this distance. That’s the first part of your punishment. No personal space.”

Neal fought to keep his face blank. Did Peter think what he had before was personal space?! He focused on Peter’s words instead. “And the second half?”

“We’re not done with the first half yet,” Peter said casually. He put up a hand for silence and continued even though Neal hadn’t so much as opened his mouth to protest. “Once we’re finished down here, there will be no more talking.”

Neal didn’t bother keeping his face straight this time. He rolled his eyes but didn’t protest, not verbally. Peter took that as a cue to continue.

“And You cannot use the furniture,” Peter waited half a beat. “That excludes the bed. Any questions so far?”

Neal hated having to ask. When had he ever had to ask for anything in the past? This wasn’t natural. Neal swallowed his discomfort. “What about the suits June brought by?  Can I still use them?”

“Not at the moment,” Peter said softly, apparently having expected the question. “I’ll reconsider later. Neal, the clothes aren’t part of the punishment, okay. I just don’t want you wearing them right now.”

Neal guessed that had something to do with his appearance, how un-slave-like he looked and the fact that Peter wasn’t quite ready for that yet.
“It’s because I looked more like James Bonds than you expected, right?” he asked softly.

Peter inhaled slowly, using his breathing to stall for time. “Maybe,” he admitted.

Neal couldn’t believe he was about to say this but he was tired of feeling scruffy. “Peter, last time I wore it … I didn’t have your collar on.”

Peter looked down to Neal’s neck and was surprised that he hadn’t noticed Neal’s bare flesh. “Where—?”

“You never put it back on after you got Hagan,” Neal reminded him. “Peter, if I wore that, would it help? Would you let me wear the suits then?”

Peter peered carefully at Neal. “Maybe. I’ll think about it. Let’s get back to your punishment. Where is your collar by the way?”

“Upstairs,” Neal answered, seeing no point in pretending otherwise. “With the suit jacket and shirt that you took off last night.”

Peter nodded. “Okay, so you stay within arm’s length, stay quiet, and keep off the furniture. That’s the first half. The second half is about adjusting your attitude as to who’s got the control here.”

Neal frowned. It sounded as if Peter had actually given some thought about this. He was sure that wasn’t a good thing.

"I’m listening,” Neal said quietly when Peter just continued to stare at him, no doubt absorbing his reaction.

“If you deviate from the rules in any way, I’ll make sure you can’t do it a second time,” Peter explained, his head cocked as he scrutinized Neal.

Neal swallowed, wondering exactly what Peter had in mind. He looked up and felt uncomfortable as Peter’s eyes met and grabbed his.

“So, for example,” Peter murmured. “If you move too far away, I’ll leash you. If you talk, I’ll gag you. If you take either the leash or the gag off, I’ll cuff you. If you pick the cuffs, I’ll mitt you … you see where I’m going here, Neal?”

Neal shook his head, looking away, downwards, but then he sighed. “Yes.”

Peter extended a hand and crooked his finger before pointing lazily up indicating that Neal should make eye contact. When Neal did so with resignation, Peter finished his thoughts. “You need to realize, that anything you do, you only do it … because we let you. You have no control beyond what we give you. Got it?”

Neal gave a stiff nod. “Can I—damn it. Can I just ask one thing?”

Peter re-crossed his arms. “Go ahead.”

“Is this a punishment for the flooding of the kitchen or for everything?”

Peter cocked his head. “You were eavesdropping,” he surmised.

“You were shouting,” Neal replied simply.

Peter had to give Neal that much; it was true. So he considered Neal’s question. “It’s partly a punishment for the flooding, and partly a disciplining; a course correction.”

Neal hated it. But it was like Peter had said. He had no say in this. And that was the part that Peter didn’t seem to understand. It wasn’t that Neal didn’t understand that he had no control; it was the he didn’t accept it. It didn’t matter what Peter did to him, he’d never stop trying to find ways to steal the control back. But then Peter spoke again.

“There’s one more part to this, and this is very important, Neal,” Peter said gently. “Anything you want or need. You only need to ask for it. I don’t care if it’s stupid, or selfish … ask. You may get it. That doesn’t include things like food. You’ll get what you need regardless of whether you think you need or want it. Other things… if you ask, you have a better chance of getting what you want than if you try to get it in another way.”

Ah. This was the part where Neal’s need to steal back control in any way possible was undermined by Peter’s reasoning that if he just asked for … gah. The whole thing was—superb. Neal could see why slavery and Stockholm syndrome worked so well. Why fight and thieve and trick when you could simply ask?

The asking gave them the control though.


Chapter Text

Within half an hour Neal was on a leash.

It had been harder than he’d expected to remember to stay within a few paces of Peter. He was still trying to work out if the leash was a good thing or not. On the one hand, it meant he didn’t have to think about where he was or constantly watch Peter’s movements, but on the downside, a leash was always a bad thing. The collar that was back in place was bad enough, but the leash was plain degrading. They were in the home at least, in private, unlike when he’d gone to Bureau leashed.

His thoughts on the topic were a waste of energy anyway, because, like Peter had so plainly pointed out, he didn’t have a say on the matter.
At least he’d found it easy enough to stay quiet, he wasn’t sure he could suffer the indignity of a gag. And avoiding the furniture was fine too even if it was tempting to test Peter on how he was supposed to resolve the rule of keeping him near while keeping him tethered away from furniture if, say, Peter decided to sit down.
But Neal had, by this stage, fortunately learned that testing Peter would get him nowhere, except worse off.
And of course, he wasn’t going to do something as petty and defiant as unhooking the leash even if it was insulting to his professional pride that Peter didn’t even dignify the act with a lock. Unhooking the leash would get him nowhere; just back on it but with restrained hands to match.

Peter had looped the end of the leash on his belt loop at his side so he didn’t need to pay attention to whether Neal was following or not. Every now and there was a tug as the line was pulled taut but the experience had, thus far, been less annoying that Peter had prepared for.

He did have to make some adjustments like turning the right way before sitting though. And Neal wasn’t the only one who thought the whole thing was uncomfortable, but Peter was at least consoled by the thought that all this was for a good reason.  And his anger had been appeased since.

Neal was left standing now, awkwardly close to the couch to maintain some slack, while looking down at Peter who sighed in place before rummaging for the remote. Neal spied the device in between the couch cushions and gestured silently towards it.

“Ta, Neal,” Peter replied, grinning. The two men had found it all too easy to communicate to one another without Neal ever saying a word, much to their surprise. Peter had even translated a few times for Elizabeth’s benefit.

Peter turned on the television but couldn’t concentrate because of the hovering shadow. He glanced up, muting the sport show. “You going to sit?”

Neal gave a frown and glanced at the couch before crossing his arms.

“There’s always the floor,” Peter pointed out.

Neal looked away, squaring his shoulders.

“You say that now,” Peter muttered, looking back to the score on the television before upping the volume. “But, you’ll get tired and soon that floor won’t look so beneath you.”

Neal looked back at Peter and arched an eyebrow at him.

“Ah, but you’re forgetting something,” Peter answered smugly. “It is beneath me.”

Neal rolled his eyes.


His team was losing. Peter took another sip of his beer and glanced at Neal who was idly tracing patterns in the condensation of his glass of ice water. Neal was still standing, opting to watch the meandering road and pedestrian traffic through the window behind the couch. Peter almost snorted. It was late; he doubted very much that anything was happening outside. Peter watched Neal anyway.  He wouldn’t begrudge the guy of his eccentricities. He was probably thinking though. Thinking wasn’t good. It wasn’t in his job description. Not that Peter could stop it, he knew it was impossible. Well. Improbable. The trouble was Neal just didn’t seem to know how to relax.

“Neal,” Peter called smoothly, putting his beer on the coffee table before looking up at Neal with a grin.

Neal looked at Peter suspiciously.

“Come on,” Peter motioned for the glass and Neal handed it over, frowning.

“Don’t be so uptight,” Peter soothed, as he placed the glass onto the table next to his beer before edging off the couch and taking a hold on Neal’s arm. Neal tensed and pulled back enough to nudge Peter. Peter ignored the question.

Peter hummed and tilted his head. “Come here.” Then Peter lowered himself to the floor and sat, leaning against the couch before pulling Neal down. Neal frowned even more as he descended to his knees next to Peter.

Entangled in Neal’s squirmy arms, Peter managed to guide him into a sitting position between Peter’s ‘V’ shaped legs. Neal protested by shifting forward but Peter uttered a warning ‘Neal’.

Neal stilled.

“Just relax,” Peter said, knowing he sounded irritated. It shouldn’t be this hard to make his Neal let go of the tension. “Shh, sit back.” Peter wrapped his arms around Neal’s shoulders and moved back forcing Neal to lean with him. “Let go.”

Neal turned his head and peered at Peter with one eye.

Peter nodded, unable to help smiling. “I know. I know it goes against your nature, I know you don’t like it, but for gods sake, Neal, I just want you to trust me, lay back and let me help you settle.”

But Neal with his back to Peter and sitting squarely between Peter’s legs, tensely aware of every part of Peter’s posture behind him, felt Peter’s arousal. Neal pushed his upper back against Peter, using the leverage to shift out away from Peter’s hardening erection.

But Peter wasn’t trying to go anywhere with it; he’d been aroused by the sight of Neal standing half naked, gazing absently, and with a leash trailing down his chest for most of the night. This wasn’t about that.

“Damn it, Neal.” Peter shifted one arm to Neal’s torso to keep him from sliding down any further. “Stay put. This isn’t about sex; I can endure one hard-on. Calm down.”

Peter tucked a leg up under Neal’s thighs, pulling his butt back in, and effectively cradling Neal. Neal forced himself to stop trying to pull away. He concentrated on breathing. He heard Peter encourage him.

“That’s it. Just breathe and relax,” Peter muttered, easing back with him.

If Neal thought Peter would have answered him, he would have risked the gag to ask Peter what the hell this was about. But he didn’t think Peter would be in an obliging mood so he’d just have to wait and see.

“Neal,” Peter said in his ear softly. “This is exactly what it seems. We’re sitting on the floor, and you are going to let me pamper you.”


For a few minutes, Neal just half-laid, half sat in Peter’s arms waiting for Peter to make a move, until he realized that because he was still tense, his muscles coiled, quivering slightly, waiting, wondering what Peter had in store for him, Peter wasn't going to make a move.   Peter was waiting out his tension.

He couldn’t keep it up as the awkward position he was in was draining his energy. His abdominal muscles were the first ones he released and those were enough to make him slump bringing the majority of his weight down on Peter’s chest and reclining abdomen. When Peter facilitated his shift, and helped him straighten, Neal let his shoulder’s drop and felt as his spine followed.

He was lying on Peter. He could feel Peter breathing beneath him. He heard Peter’s faint hushes. Peter’s chest moved beneath him as the muscles in his arms shifted, and then Peter’s hands were on his arms, laying them comfortably out in front of him. Peter seemed to be talking but Neal couldn’t hear the words even with Peter’s mouth next to his ear.

Then Neal had to wriggle, because Peter was trailing probing fingers down his side, searching out his ribs, following the natural curve of his body. Neal arched away from the touch into Peter’s opposite arm. But Peter’s touch wasn’t intrusive; it was just gentle, patient, and methodical.
As Peter paused in a few places, giving a rub in a few sore spots, Neal realized Peter was searching out the aches and pains, the bruises and even the knots on the little of his back that was exposed.
Slightly ticklish and plenty apprehensive about Peter’s probing, Neal found himself continuing to move away from the touch until he was leaning with his front fully into Peter’s motionless arm.
He realized then that he had played right into Peter’s aim; Peter was now inspecting his bare back, taking a firm thumb and gentle knuckles to the knots in his muscles, tracing the nubs of his spine, and massaging his skin. It felt … okay. Unwittingly, Neal began to fall into the miasma of the sensations, lulled into relaxation.

And he was so tense, so full of knots that Peter never ran out of spots on his back that he could set about ‘fixing’. Neal, with his head comfortably on Peter’s shoulder, lost track of time and he guessed he may have even closed his eyes once or twice.
At one point, he opened his eyes to find himself being gently jostled onto Peter’s other arm so Peter could start over again on his other side. Peter’s ministrations were so … perfect that Neal felt drugged, like he’d been massaged into a stupor.

The next time he became aware of himself, he was lying with his back to Peter’s chest again. Peter was watching the television, idly trailing the fingers of his right hand over Neal’s chest and stomach, following whatever pattern must be there; around his belly button, up over the abs, in a winding, climbing pattern until he reached Neal’s ribs and followed the ridges, sensually, up and over until he was circling one of the nipples, before extending all the fingers and palming Neal’s chest with a rub or two, then finally letting his hand trail down to Neal’s abdomen to start another pattern.

Peter must have known he was awake again, had probably noticed his breathing change, because he spoke softly. “That feels good, doesn’t it? Neal … me and El; we’re willing to give as much we get.”

Neal tensed and Peter paused in his idle tickling to pull Neal in, to prevent him from moving. “Neal,” he cautioned. “Think about it. You need to work out if it’s the sex you don’t like, or the lack of control. Because this … I know you like this. This feels good. And sex can be the same. …But if it’s about the control … then we need to know. Because we need to work this out.”

Even if Neal were allowed to talk, he wouldn’t have been able to. He didn't know what to say. He let his head fall back on Peter’s shoulder and Peter returned to exploring his skin while watching the sport.


What did Peter mean?

Neal watched as Peter dropped his jeans before crawling into bed next to him. Elizabeth was already asleep on Neal’s other side so Peter whispered an habitual good night before getting comfortable and burying his free hand into Neal’s flank.

It sounded as if Peter thought his aversion to being used for sex was really a cover for his need for independence, to control his own life. Neal wasn’t aware there had been a difference, but he could see how Peter might think so. He didn’t have to look far back into his past to find that he’d had a similar world view. And really. If he thought about it in that context, Neal could even grudgingly agree with Peter.
Sex, Neal could get over. Having no say and no gain from participating in said sex was the bigger issue.

But the idea that he loathed not having any control was not a foreign idea, Neal had already known that and he’d made the assumption that Peter would automatically understand that to be part and parcel of why Neal had problems.

Even more astonishing was the concept that even though Peter had not initially realized this, he’d continued to contemplate the issue until he actually had come to that realization.

Neal felt oddly comforted by that, even as he lay there while Peter lulled himself to sleep by rubbing his thumb in short strokes across his skin. It meant that Peter had actually listened to his grievance.

Peter was in a very touchy-feely mode tonight. Neal figured that was partly because he’d slept during the day after exhausting himself which resulted in an odd body-clock mix up between feeling worn out but not sleepy. But Neal also had suspicions that the reason behind Peter’s affection ran even deeper.

Was the agent trying to get him accustomed to external touching? Neal had to admit he’d already begun to adjust; the feel of Peter’s fingers was starting to feel welcome, soothing and familiar. Maybe Peter had decided to restart small and get Neal used to his space being invaded.

Neal was considering letting him. If he allowed the man to condition him, to get him used to his advances, his touches, then surely if someday he said ‘no’ it’d make Peter pause. And he might need that hesitation, that moment’s relief to get to where he needed to be.

Besides, it had felt nice. Neal comforted himself with the amusing notion that he’d somehow been the one training Peter and not the other way around. It wasn’t that absurd. After all, Neal had caused—whether inadvertently or not—a lifetime’s worth of trouble for the Burkes and they were the ones changing their methods, their ideas, and their attitudes to try and make it work with Neal. He really was lucky.


Chapter Text

To Neal’s chagrin, the next day, Peter wasn’t done punishing him. But apparently he did get to start over.

It was when Neal was absent-mindedly following Peter through the bullpen that a sobering thought came to him. There was really only one difference between being leash-less—which he currently was—and being led: submission, and forced submission. And Neal couldn’t decide which one was worse.

On an objective level, Neal couldn’t help admiring Peter’s tactics; he’d have asked Peter for tips had he ever found himself being a slave-owner. Peter was a natural.

But then on a personal level, Neal found himself thinking heatedly, every few hours, that this kind of treatment was horrendously inappropriate.  If he was honest, it was especially galling, because he was a freeperson.  Except, a second later, he'd grit his teeth, because he wasn't.
Neal was aware of how self-entitled and hypocritical his thoughts were, but it wasn’t hard to think that way having actually been born free and raised free; his free-thoughts were habitual and subconscious even after six months of being reminded that those days were behind him, and it was extremely difficult to remind himself of reality without thinking automatically that it was all contrivance. It had to be contrived because he, even now, couldn’t believe it was possible for him to be trapped. There had to be a thousand ways out, he just couldn’t see them right now.

But then the bitterness would flood in with the taunting truth where there was once frustration, because he’d allowed this to happen for a good reason, but it wasn’t going the way he intended. And he couldn’t exactly go to the NSA—National Slavery Admin—and ask for a release from his enslavement and that he’d work out another way to get what he wanted, thank you very much. It had all been very clear; the fateful paperwork, provided by a certain third party, had been filled in and signed and had been legally binding.

Of course, he’d barely batted an eye at that at the time, because he made a living out of ignoring legality. But he’d let things get too complicated—doubly so by being forced to use his real name—and now he was having doubts as to whether he’d been in his right mind going into all this. Moz hadn’t thought so.

Diana came in first thing in the morning to give Peter an update; Hagan had tried for a deal and had ended up giving them what they wanted for very little mercy. She and Jones had finished most of the paperwork, which she placed on Peter’s desk, and all that remained was the final report Peter would have to write up.

Diana was turning to leave when she paused. “And there’s also a guy from insurance coming to see you in about an hour. I think he wants to discuss some things in regard to Neal.”

Peter looked startled but accepted Diana’s words with a nod.

Alone, Peter swiveled in his chair, turning to look at Neal who stood behind him, trying not to lean back against the window-sill in an effort to relieve his back aches and pains which had since flared back with vengeance.

“Do you know what that’s about?” Peter asked, dubious.

Neal shrugged, wincing as his muscles shifted, and shook his head slightly. He was surprised that Peter had asked at all. Even if it was customary for slaves to know matters regarding themselves, which it wasn’t, Neal had repeatedly shown ignorance in those issues. Just hadn’t studied. Should have, but instead he had underestimated the whole ‘gig’. It had looked straight-forward. Besides, when would he have had the time? It had been a time-sensitive situation.


Peter turned back around, picking up his pen, all set to get the report done, and Neal changed the subject, thinking instead on the clipped, tense tone Diana had used, partly to distract himself from his complaining body. He wondered if she was still tense after their altercation from on Monday but he didn’t think Diana was the type to hold on to issues like that, especially not in the workplace. Besides, yesterday she had been fine. No, there was something else bothering her today.

It was the first time he felt frustrated. He knew Peter was unlikely to have noticed the subtle change in Diana’s mood but he wanted to say something if just to see if Peter knew more than he let on.

This was the first time Neal found himself actually needing his voice if he didn’t count the impulses to demand answers from Peter when he’d been taken into the Agent’s hold the night before.

All of sudden it was harder not to say something. He bit his lip in frustration and bit back a hiss at the pain. He pressed his lips thin and turned to look out the window.

Neal smiled when he heard Peter’s sharp intake of breath; he wasn’t the only one with hidden aches and pains.

Through-out the morning, Neal continued to watch Diana, privately absorbing her tells. She was definitely distracted; she was quieter and seemed less interested in her work even if her ethic was unchanged.

Neal ached to turn on the charm, to be there in what he knew would the right place at the right time, waiting with that perfect sympathetic glance, the mild cock of the head, followed by the slight raise of the chin; the perfect non-invasive acknowledgment. Then he’d wait, unobtrusive, until she headed to the kitchen where he’d then follow, sighing as he entered, showing a need for caffeine. Then they’d lean against the bench sharing polite smiles while the coffee machine powered up. Or maybe the coffee would be ready-made and they’d use the cups to occupy their hands and mouths in the silence and then, just as she might consider heading out, he would make a delicate move.  An offhand comment. Then with the lure cast, he’d reel her in with the slight frowns and the small nods as he listened to what it was that was bothering her. Then he’d know.

He could do all this. He could do so much more. And he could feel the energy bubbling away, his need to go out there and be all that he was; to do what he’d been doing for years. It came naturally to him and to have to stop himself—to have to clench his teeth and ignore the instincts—it actually hurt; he got chest pangs.

Neal turned from the window—his favorite source of distraction—and looked at the man he way as well be physically bound to. Peter was oblivious.

In an uncharacteristic flash of frustration, Neal felt like storming off. But he knew that would get him nothing but more trouble. And he had more patience than that.


The man from insurance came in late. He was middle aged, short, with thinning mouse-hair, a slight bulge to his stomach, and he looked like he wanted to sit down with a good beer and maybe put in a bet on some horse-race. Instead he settled on the chair in front of Peter’s desk, putting down the arm-full of paperwork he’d brought with him. He didn’t even bother glancing at Neal. Seen one, seen them all. And the slave wasn’t doing anything eye-catching anyway; just standing silently behind his owner.

The man spent a few minutes spreading the papers, breathing sporadically, and then muttering while rummaging through his pockets for a wayward pen. Peter, pressing his lips closed, held out a spare pen and gave a tight-lipped smile. El hadn’t told him much of the insurance details.

“Right,” the man muttered as he made a few messy scrawls on a few sheets of paper before placing the pen down. He leaned forward, peering, clearly losing his sharp sight, looking over a few more details. “Right, right, right… Agent Burke?”

Peter dipped his chin. “Mr…?”


“Like the--?”

“Like the explorer,” the man replied, grinning widely. “Yes. But no relation. So, Mr—Agent Burke, do you know why I’m here?”

“My slave somehow forged his insurance papers?” Peter ventured impatiently, and then he put up a hand and shook his head. “It’s—don’t worry about it … it’s nothing. No, I don’t know why you’re here.”

Mr. Amundsen didn’t look like he knew what to say, so he looked down at the paperwork and nodded, narrowing his eyes. “The slave you have…. Agent Burke, as a rule, we don’t insure slaves who are tagged with a history of escaping.”

Peter’s mouth formed a tiny ‘o’. Of course, he should have realized, but then he frowned, because there was a paradox there; they’d insured Neal for more because of his worth as—

“Yes.” The man nodded. “He is worth more as an work asset because of his escape artistry, but even so, we were prepared to reject your application, but then we received a call from...”

Mr. Amundsen checked his notes. “ Agent Hughes?”

Peter gave a confirming nod.

“And … well, in short, he ‘convinced’ us to make an exception.” Amundsen looked strained. Then he shrugged. “So, I’m here because the company wants to do all they can to help you make sure your slave does not escape for a third time.”

Peter cocked his head, making a mental note to thank Hughes. “Not that I want him running off, but what do you mean specifically ‘a third time’?”

Neal kept his face expressionless. He had no interest in cluing the insurance man to fact that the third escape had come and gone. Instead he continued contemplating the concept of being ignored; a sensation he had not experienced often from before six months ago. There might have been that one time when he was four and he was at that birthday party.

Now he was being ignored again and not deliberately, it was like he was a smudge on the wall. Neal wasn’t sure what to make of it. He supposed being ignored had to be better that being scoped like some prize bull.

“Well,” the man started apologetically. “We couldn’t give you insurance without making it a condition that—presuming he is successfully retrieved—a third escape would render the insurance papers null and void….”

In the contemplative silence that followed, Amundsen opened his mouth to elaborate. “Look, Agent Burke; your slave is worth a lot, more than we’d like to insure for an escape risk. So, to keep both parties happy, I’m here to offer some pre-emptive assistance. My company has proposed the arrangement of some training programs to re-indoctrinate your slave. We’d like to curb—no, suspend his escape instincts. It’s cheaper for us to foot the bill for the program, you see, than to pay out the insurance. Consider it a government perk.”

Peter, staring at the man, slowly smiled like one would when recognizing a prank. “The program wouldn’t work anyway, but if there had been a chance, it was obliterated the moment you laid it out in front of him.”

The man looked taken by surprise. He frowned and looked set to argue. Peter waited but Mr. Amundsen appeared to have gone speechless.

“Look,” Peter spoke, too sore for any drama. “I appreciate you coming down here, but no thanks.”

The man sighed. “Okay, ix-nay on the training, then. But, the second thing I came for was to tell you that the tracker you are utilizing on him through the Marshal Service is something the company has offered to cover.”

Peter stilled. The tracker attached to his slave was actually something Peter wanted other people to stay far, far away from. The Marshals alone made him uneasy. “That’s generous, but actually I called in favors to get that.”

“Oh,” Mr. Amundsen accepted vaguely, putting a few papers back into the messy pile in front of him. “Well, if that ever changes, let us know.”

“Will do,” Peter replied, taking Amundsen’s hand to shake. “Thanks for coming by. Do you need a hand with that?”

Mr. Amundsen shook off Peter’s offer with an unbothered wave of a hand and a half-smile. “It’s fine, I keep meaning to replace the file jackets; they’re falling apart. Here’s my card, Agent, thank you for your time. And good luck.”

Peter watched, unsure, as the man gathered up his paperwork and headed for the door, stopping to pick up a sheaf of papers as they floated free of his clutches.

Once the door was closed, Peter cocked an eyebrow at Neal. “Look at that. You’ve actually got insurance companies offering to pay bills. Is there anyone who doesn’t trip head over heels in a mad rush to give you money?”

Peter turned away, missing the ghost smile that formed on Neal’s face. Even if Peter had twisted the truth, Neal couldn’t help feeling a spark of pride in his ability because in all seriousness, the answer was no.


Peter put off lunch. He figured it would be more constructive to get as much work done as possible, and then get something to eat about an hour before they were due for their appointment with the slave physician. But he did go to the break room long enough to get some snack foods in case Neal was feeling hungry.

“El would have said something if you weren’t allowed to eat before the appointment, right?” Peter asked, distracted as he returned to his desk. “I don’t remember her saying anything. She didn’t, did she?”

Neal shook his head and accepted the packet of cheese and crackers Peter slid to him, if only to have something to read for ten seconds. He—completely out of his mind with boredom—read the content ingredients list twice, mentally translating each long, complicated word into its layman version. Why not just call sodium chloride ‘salt’?

Peter had a stack of files and he was going through them, scanning each quickly. Neal watched him, wondering if Peter was a speed-reader but as the Agent sighed and made a face like he was dissatisfied Neal realized Peter was being picky. Of course, as each new case came in, they’d have to pass Peter’s desk first and then once he’d picked the coolest/hardest/most intriguing case for himself he would distribute the rest to the agents in the bullpen.

Then, about four files down, Peter seemed to hit one that absorbed his attention. For a while Neal was content to take in the sight of the agent frowning as he read, occasionally twisting his mouth as implications occurred to him. But then Neal’s curiosity grew in intensity and so he shifted forward, still within Peter’s invisible radius, casting a shadow on the file Peter was hunched over.

Peter looked up automatically and almost returned his gaze to the file when he spotted the source of the shadow. Neal frowned slightly; it was becoming too easy for Peter to ignore him. But Neal must have been expressing his interest in his face because Peter looked back up and leaned back flipping the highlighter he’d been fiddling with on top of the file.

Peter considered him, face turned slightly like he thought Neal might be trying something … naughty.
“You want to help?” Peter asked, pausing between the questions. “Like you did with Hagan?”

Neal wouldn’t quite put it that way. He was just curious. He grimaced slightly.

The agent looked back down at the file. Peter was sure he could solve it himself, but Neal was showing signs of wanting to integrate himself into his owner’s life. He could almost hear the Doctor’s voice. ‘This is a good development, Agent Burke. Encourage him. Give him a way to put that high I.Q. of his to work that will complement his role and suit you.'

Peter sighed though. Working on a case with a smart criminal for a slave was all well and good, but he knew it was impractical to try with the guy was being limited in his ability. He couldn’t guess Neal’s thoughts for something that complex. And having Neal stand over his shoulder to read the notes—worsening his back-ache—would only annoy Peter himself.

He sighed again then made his decision, making himself feel better with a Dr. Lehman-esque thought to go with it. ‘Give him a reward for his interest; it will serve as an incentive for future co-operation.'

“Have a seat, Neal,” Peter offered, sliding the file across the desk to the guest chair. “Tell me what you think.”


Neal watched Peter, waiting for the Agent to remember his own rules. But then Peter’s eyes moved onto Neal and he reinforced his words with a tilt of the head towards the chair and Neal realized Peter had lifted his punishment. Whether permanently or temporarily would remain to be seen. Neal wondered if he could ask Peter to be more specific when doling out punishment in the future, but then … Peter probably liked the power and freedom to hold such a punishment over his head until it suited him.

Neal moved cautiously, still wary of crossing out of the invisible perimeter. When Peter didn’t object or change his mind Neal pulled the chair out and perched on the edge.

It felt both pleasurable and painful to sit. Half of him was sighing with the indulgence of taking his weight off his feet after a long day of standing and the other half couldn’t relax enough to enjoy it on a conscious level. Plus his spine ached as if given permission to complain.

Though Peter appeared to have lifted the ban on speaking as well, Neal didn’t try to talk at first. He merely moved to open the file, taking a quick note of the front which was too ineligible to read anyway, then he looked through the various differing hand-written notes, comparing them to the typed up reports.

It was a basic case, really. Money had gone missing. He wondered what about it had caught Peter’s interest.

“Someone’s siphoning it,” Neal said quietly, some minutes later, coughing a little when the words came out hoarse. He didn’t bother checking Peter’s expression. Neal knew he was still catching up; Peter would no doubt have worked this out already.

“Right,” Peter confirmed patiently.

“It’s always an inside man,” Neal thought aloud, his voice sounding clearer. Peter would know this too.

“Usually,” Peter agreed. It was not impossible for someone to siphon commodities remotely, but it was easier to con your way in and do it undisturbed and unhurried from the inside. Siphoning as opposed to blatant theft required the crime to be committed amidst ignorance for a lengthy period of time in order for the reward to outweigh the risk.

“But the security on this…” Neal murmured as he looked up “…is pretty tight—an access card and code for two maybe three people to access limits the suspects.”

“Two people.” Peter stated. Then he continued lightly. “It can’t be someone who palmed a card? Or forged one?”

Neal shook his head, contemplating the documents. “The cards are designed to become invalid in less time it takes to hack into or copy them; that’s one of the security company’s selling points. Anyone who palmed the original card would have to know the code that is reset every day and get in and out in an hour which is the maximum time one of those cards can go unnoticed. Not ideal for someone who wants to come back to siphon on an ongoing basis.”

“Hmm,” Peter acknowledged, and Neal had a sinking feeling that Peter had merely asked the question to learn the breadth of his knowledge. But Peter just moved on. “So then it would have to be one of the authorized card holders.”

“Yeah,” Neal agreed hesitantly. “Vera Knowles, the sister who—” Neal looked up, pausing.

“Lives on the other side of the world…” Peter continued. “…with several water-tight alibis. Or the company manager; Daniel Knowles who, incidentally, would be a perfect suspect because he was being investigated for tax fraud, except that—”

“He’s dead,” Neal finished, disconcerted. And that was why the case had caught Peter’s attention.

Peter nodded, taking a deep breath as he shifted. “He was the primary suspect until his heart attack. The investigation slowed; they thought it would be closed since the alleged thief was dead, but the siphons continued as of last week.”

“So the dead man was cleared,” Neal said distracted as he continued to read. “How come the case came to you?”

Peter raised his chin. Neal had come to the interesting part. “Because,” he said slowly. “The last investigators came up with a third suspect. And unfortunately they don’t have the authority that an FBI agent does to hold this suspect in custody. They’re hoping the siphons continue while the suspect is in custody so they can clear him and move on.”

Neal frowned. Since when did any law enforcers work actively to clear a suspect? He realized Peter hadn’t told him everything. Neal talked as he scanned the next page looking for the details that would bring the case into a sharp relief. “The Bureau can usually only hold a suspect for twenty-four hours—that’s not much of a wind—Oh.”

Neal looked up, weary, having found what he’d been looking for. “The third suspect is Knowles’ slave.”

Peter twisted his mouth not quite sure if Neal’s posture had tensed or if his tone held bitterness. “Yep.”

Neal closed the file. “Seems simple enough.” He had no doubt that rules were different for slaves; like a piece of DNA or weapon connected to a case, slaves could probably be held indefinitely in connection to a case. The Bureau would be able to hold Knowles’ slave on the rule. If he was guilty; he was being dealt with by being locked up and if he was innocent, the real thief would—might strike again thereby clearing the slave of any guilt.

“He seems to be the perfect inside man. The Knowles’ trusted him. Vera still insists he would never betray them. I reckon there could be more to him than they realize,” Peter spoke, obviously from personal experience. Then Peter mused, curious, “But what does a slave do with money?”

Neal let out a breath. He shouldn’t say it. Peter was expecting it. They were both thinking it.

“Escape,” Neal stated, matter-of-fact. He gazed, dauntless, back into Peter’s contemplative brown eyes.


Chapter Text

Neal was waiting in Peter’s office. Peter had stepped out mumbling something about the restroom. Neal, having missed Peter’s words, took it for granted that Peter had warned him to stay put with an implied threat.
Alone, and not wanting to contemplate where Moz would be about now, he was taking advantage of the quiet to observe Diana through the clear wall of Peter’s office. She was on the phone at the moment, down at her desk in the bullpen. Neal wasn’t particularly worried about her personally even though he could tell with an increasing number of clues that something was wrong.
He was simply using the agent as a convenient distraction of course; something to occupy his mind within the hours Peter spent working.
But to be completely honest, he did like and respect her at least a little. She intrigued him. He could tell in her manner towards him that she wouldn’t be one to fall for his charms if he ever used them and yet, she’d seen something in him that wasn’t all bad or inferior. So, even if there was little or nothing in it for him to gain, Neal still felt an ache to know. But then, he was like that with everyone. He may have been a conman and one that worked to take advantage of people’s trust in him for sport, but he couldn’t abide true heart-ache, no matter whose it was.

So then … he wanted to help Diana? Neal looked away from the agent and straightened in his seat, wishing he could fiddle with something so he could think, but he didn’t want to bother with the risk of touching anything of Peter’s.

Neal absently shook his head. Even assuming he wanted to actually help an FBI agent with business that definitely wasn’t his, it wasn’t like he could definitely help. High opinions of oneself. They were only useful when you wanted to con someone into believing you were somebody worth listening to.

Neal unconsciously pulled on the white cotton pants he was wearing and swallowed against the pressure on his neck. He definitely didn’t look like somebody worth listening to.

Movement caught Neal’s eye and he abandoned his thoughts with little regret only to find more worry to replace the old; Peter was storming back, clearly irate. Neal couldn’t help checking himself. He stood for good measure. Better to be safe than sorry. He tried to work out who the agent was angry at. Judging by Peter’s distracted glances back and a few glares sent towards agents that were still craning to get a good look at Peter’s office, where he stood, Neal didn’t think the anger was directed at him. Neal met the eyes of a few agents before they hastily caught on to the return of the owner of the fascinating distraction they’d been ogling.

Neal had become used to it and though it was Wednesday—two days past the time the office had learned Neal’s secret identity—the obvious attention he and Peter garnered was still uncomfortable.

Neal kept quiet as Peter threw open his office door and stalked in, loosening his necktie as he zeroed in on his case files before whipping them up into his arms. Then Peter turned, cast an unintentional glare at Neal and growled.

“We're going.”


It was in the car that Neal wondered if maybe he could say something. He was Peter’s companion and so long as he wasn’t the one who had triggered Peter’s foul mood, surely he was immune to Peter’s ire.

“Peter?” He ventured. “What’s wrong?”

To Neal’s relief, Peter let out a tense breath and visibly made an effort to calm down. “It’s all fine,” he said tersely, giving Neal’s knee a quick pat of reassurance as he moved the car out of the garage. “Just some jerks in the restroom.”

Neal was curious. But he left the topic alone. To his surprise, Peter brought it up again on his own fifteen minutes later, after turning off the engine, having parked the car. Neal wasn’t sure how far from the medical offices they were; he couldn’t see any for a slave, freeperson or otherwise. He figured Peter intended to walk a few streets and pick up something to eat along the way.

“Couple of agents in the toilets made some … jokes about having you, James Bonds, in bed,” Peter said as he sighed, leaning back in his chair, stuffing his keys in his pocket. “I may have taken offense and overreacted.”

Neal bit back an off-hand comment. He didn’t know what the ‘joke’ had been, but it had been bad enough for Peter to lose it. It was best he didn’t shrug it off. But bad jokes, with him as target, were just another in a long line of ugly aspects of a life in slavery. The crude agents had probably been expecting Peter to joke right back.


Peter had been reminding him all week of his appointment with a slave physician that would, as it had been said quite plainly, involve STD tests. So when he and Peter turned onto the street on which the clearly marked Slave Medical Center stood, Neal stopped short in surprise, not in shock, but surprise that he hadn’t once given any thought for the appointment.
Logic pushed its way in, leaving Neal with the sense that he’d been ignoring the inevitable. Why stress about something he had no control over? But he couldn’t put aside his nerves any longer.

It was ironic, because as it happened, this was not Neal’s first time getting tested for STDs, so he really felt he was stressing over nothing, but then the doubts and niggling torments would surface. Neal had never….

It was hard to acknowledge, even in his mind. Neal swallowed, noting absently with gratitude that Peter had stopped and seemed to be checking his phone for texts and was, perhaps unwarily, letting Neal slow the pace a little.

He’d never ‘slept’ with another man before.

He’d have to expect more tests or different tests or invasive questions … or something equally uncomfortable. Neal tried to be clinical. To think without feeling.

The doctor would probably ask about anal sex and oral sex. Then there would be urine samples, and if that wasn’t enough to satisfy the guy, there would be swabs involved. Lots of them. In more than one awkward place.

Neal gritted his teeth as he shifted his inadequately thin pants. And he was a slave this time too….


The Slave Medical Center took up a fair part of the block, at least one corner, and had more than a few entrances. Having never been there before, Peter led Neal in through a random entrance, throwing the wrappers from their lunches into the first bin they passed.

Neal’s concerns about the appointment doubled as they made their slow way up the hall, looking along its walls with a doubtful air; the walls were dull and dirty, unpainted, and plain, made with long-faded drywall. The floor, Neal noticed with horror, was stained as if every kind of liquid under the sun had been spilled upon the surface over the years, including some worrying red and yellow stains.

Peter wasn’t impressed either. He extended an arm, drawing Neal in closer, and urged him on at a faster pace. He could only hope they’d come in the wrong entrance.

They reached the double doors that stood at the end of the hall and Peter pulled one open. Neal, who passed through first, couldn’t help pausing at the sight of what was inside. He felt as Peter stopped next to him after nudging him aside. Neal looked at Peter, shaken, wanting to know what Peter was going to do.

Peter took in the room, his gaze hardening the more he noticed of each person who was inside. He pushed down the nausea that threatened to rise. It was a waiting room; one that was nothing like the room in which he and El had waited with Neal to see Dr. Lehman. Peter felt like he’d walked into a third-world country. Along three walls of the rectangular room was a bench. Spotted here and there in no particular order were various people. Some were unconscious; slumped in a heap on the bench, or even on the floor before it. Some of the people were staring blankly at Peter and Neal. As Peter met their gazes, they averted theirs. One boy was deathly pale with sunken eyes, and seemed to be having trouble breathing. Another occupant, an older woman, was shaking, holding herself, and muttering. A young woman was stemming the flow of blood on the leg of a girl a few years younger. And a man sat, disinterested, gazing at the blood-stained, dirty towel that he’d wrapped his hand in.

Peter decided to talk to the woman who sat nearest. She was meeting their gazes defiantly. Peter was about to try and get some answers when he noticed more; something he internally chastised himself for not realizing sooner; nearly every single person in there was a slave. The defiant woman was secured by a leashed wrist to a latch on the bench. Peter wondered if it was because she was not in her right mind, or if she was escape-prone. Or perhaps it was simply because the owner wished it. There were identical latches spaced every few feet all along the benches. A few others were also leashed, but not all. It didn’t really matter; none of them looked like they wanted to go anywhere.

Peter was frowning now though, ignoring Neal’s tense breathing next to him. There were few owners in the room. Six. One was on the phone, pacing in front of an ashen-faced man who was wincing as he shifted his clearly-broken arm. Two owners sat on either side of a twenty-something unconscious woman. Peter frowned at the sight of an owner reading a magazine while a slave used her upper arm as a clutch amidst the pain she was suffering. The remaining two were sitting by their own companions, but that left some twenty or so slaves without owners.

Clearly these slaves were severely sick or injured. And alone.


Peter glanced at Neal, who, he noticed, looked pale and worn. Then Neal was looking somewhere else with apprehension. Peter followed his attention and they watched as a nurse entered the room and checked a tag—an adornment which hung around every slave’s neck. She ignored the impatient calls of a few brazen owners complaining that they had been waiting too long.

Then the nurse noticed Peter. She approached, curiosity mixed with a hard exterior; it was obvious at a glance that Neal didn’t need to be there. “Sir?”

“Uh,” Peter mumbled, caught unprepared. He glanced at the nurse’s I.D.; Rachel Lane. “We’ve got an appointment.”

Nurse Lane’s face flashed with understanding. She took on a brisk countenance. “This is the emergency department; you’ll want to enter from the south entrance next time. For now, just go through that door, and then follow the hall until you get to the end then turn left.”

“This is the emergency department?” Peter asked as he swept a glance around. “Why does it look like a dump?”

“We don’t have the funds to fix it up,” the nurse replied candidly as she made a note on the clipboard she’d carried in with her.

“Then you’re overpaying the doctors,” Peter muttered.

The nurse didn’t react outwardly. “Emergencies are not things some owners are prepared to pay for, sir. The government gives us little funding and yet they make it the law to treat badly injured or suddenly ill slaves. Most slaves are seized when the owner refuses to pay the bills, but the resale of the slave rarely covers the costs. And that’s if they survive. The emergency ward Doctors aren’t paid enough to stay long, sir, and the majority of the remaining staff are volunteers.”

Peter took in her words with disapproval. “Owners don’t pay up?”

Nurse Lane looked up. “Fortunately most slaves are insured for treatment, so we’re not that bad off. Unfortunately, they’re rarely insured for the amount that an operation costs and, surprised by these unexpected bills, some owners opt to cut their losses and let us seize the slave…. Everyone is just trying to get by, sir. Sometimes people find it simpler and more convenient to file for insurance to replace the slave. Those are the ones that don’t come back for them.”

Peter scowled. “That’s insurance fraud; the companies won’t pay to replace them unless—”

Nurse Lane nodded then spoke over him, “Sir, that may be true, but unless owners come forward, we have no way of knowing who owns a slave when they’re brought in anonymously. Owners then claim insurance based on miscellaneous loss.”

Peter gave scoff and turned to Neal. “You know who owns you?”

Neal cast Peter a nervous glance and nodded.

Peter gestured to Neal pointedly.

The nurse glanced at Neal then returned Peter’s gaze. “Yes and if you say he’s lying…?”

Peter opened a mouth to answer but he knew as well as the nurse did that a freeperson’s word would always be taken over a slave’s even if it was obvious that the slave was telling the truth.

“Besides, you wouldn’t believe how many slaves just stay quiet. You’ll be late for the appointment,” the nurse reminded them crisply. “Through the door, down the end, turn left.”

“The insurance companies would have records; slave details—!”

“Sir,” Nurse Lane spoke, losing patience. “I don’t know. It’s not perfect, okay. Bureaucracy and money: those matters never stay simple.”

The nurse seemed to realize Peter’s disgust. “Don’t judge the SMC by one ward, sir. The place you’re taking your slave is better because owners are paying customers there, like yourself, you see. Amenities, service, aesthetics, it will be more to your liking.”

Peter returned the nurse’s impatient look with a disbelieving one of his own. She thought he was concerned with the image because it wasn’t to his taste as a wealthy and entitled owner … because it wasn’t artfully decorated, or furnished with aristocratic owners in mind … because she thought that Neal was his primped and fluffed up poodle that he wanted only the best, most privileged treatment for?

“Through the door to the end, and then left,” the nurse finally said as she turned on her heel to lead one of the slaves through a red door to another room.


As Nurse Lane had promised, the GP (General Practitioner) offices were much more tasteful. Every potted plant in the corner, every framed piece of art hanging on the wall, every swirl-patterned chair, and every complimentary beverage on offer only made the two men feel sick.

Peter looked at Neal expecting to see a sign of anger or disgust on behalf of the other slaves, or of some sort of accusation in his eyes, like Neal would be expecting him to feel awful and guilty on behalf of all lousy owners everywhere. He was sufficiently surprised then when he found only confusion ... or was that guilt?

“Neal?” Peter whispered. Though there were others in the room, it was large and there was plenty of space between each lot of chairs; they were unlikely to be heard.

Neal sent a startled glance his way and shook his head. He was fine. Mostly. Then he took a breath. “I identify more as a freeperson, Peter,” he admitted, answering Peter’s silent question. “What we saw back there; it shocked me as much as you.”

Peter felt indignation fight its way to the surface, but now was not the moment to set Neal straight. Besides Neal hadn’t been denying his class, just saying that he thought and felt the way a freeperson would, which, to be fair, was hardly unexpected. So Peter forced the bubbles of discontent down and grunted in agreement instead.

“It’s the way of the world,” Peter tried to rationalize. “Nothing’s free, nothing’s fair; that’s life.”

“So you’re saying we ignore it and move on?” Neal asked uneasily.

“What else can we do?” Peter said harshly. Then he amended. “What else can I do? Me and El, we’re not rich. We take proper care of you; we’ve done our bit.”

Neal smiled bitterly then; a sort of wry, hopeless smile. “Here’s the thing though, Peter … I can take care of myself. Don’t take this the wrong way but I don’t need you and Elizabeth.”

Peter didn’t respond at first. Then finally he remembered that while Neal was capable, smart, and talented and everything else that a person needed to be to succeed in life, Neal hadn’t taken care of himself. Not properly.

“If that’s true …” Peter stated simply, “… then why did you have a one-way ticket to prison coming your way?”

Neal scowled.

Peter continued mercilessly, “Feeding yourself and gaining money are only parts of taking care of yourself. You couldn’t live without committing crimes; I’d say something is wrong with the way you do things.”

Peter felt satisfied when the five minutes that followed were silent. Soon though the images of the slaves in the emergency waiting room came back to him and he couldn’t help burning with frustration. There really was nothing he could do; the SMC was operating legally. He should be relieved they were operating at all.

“They shouldn’t be alone,” he couldn’t help grounding out.

“There are two kinds of slave owners,” Neal murmured quietly, looking around for eavesdroppers. “Your kind: suburban, honest, hardworking, and willing to see something more in their slave, those ones will be there when a slave needs them. But they’re rare. Most can’t afford to purchase a slave or they have no use for them. Then there’re the bureaucrats and the rich for whom a slave is an asset for their convenience, to further their standing, or for labor. As you can imagine, a businessman won’t rush to hospital to see something that has since stopped being useful.”

“Why are you telling me this?” Peter demanded with a hint of threat. He’d never liked the bureaucratic types and now he had another reason not to. He tried ignoring the feeling that he might be one of them. The Bureau slave he’d used years ago in chasing Neal was just one of many he’d utilized over the years. Not that there was anything wrong with that part, no, it was the fact that Peter had no idea where they were now, and that he had never thought to find out. Did that mean he didn’t care either?

Neal looked apologetic. “I’m saying it makes sense that they’d be alone.”


Dr. Haas was every bit the professional doctor, with a clipped bedside manner. He was hardly interested in Peter’s name, never mind Neal’s. Peter had thought he might compare him to Dr. Lehman and within a minute he’d realized there were going to be no similarities, which meant he was in the dark as to what to expect.

“Have him sit down,” the doctor commanded, and Peter refocused his thoughts, turning to Neal who was watching the doctor with a suspicious manner.

Neal turned toward the door and moved to pocket his hands, pretending he hadn’t heard the doctor’s instruction, but finding only the barren, white fabric, Neal let his hands fall. It was a nervous habit that had Peter standing, dumbfounded, for a minute before cursing himself. He’d never thought to ask if Neal had a problem with seeing a doctor.

He maneuvered Neal a few steps away from the door to where a couple of small black armchairs were placed and hunched his shoulders, doing his best to create the impression of privacy.

“Neal, are you phobic?”

Neal sent Peter a reproachful look and gritted his jaw. “I’ll be fine.”

Not what Peter had asked, but it would have to do. Dr. Haas had cleared his throat impatiently from behind him.

“I’m not going anywhere,” Peter promised Neal. “Just sit. He’ll do his thing and we can go.”

Neal was torn between not wanting Peter there and letting him know that, and just biting his tongue, because even though he’d had doctor appointments before, they’d never been on the doctor’s terms; they’d come to him through trusted connections and he’d always used another name. It had also been awhile… Not since before he’d met Moz.

He stayed quiet, not because he’d made up his mind and felt reassured with Peter around—absurd—but because even if he’d requested it, Peter would be unlikely to leave.

The chair at the center of the room was designed with a doctor’s convenience in mind. Neal wasn’t comfortable. But he doubted he would have been comfortable even in a chair that was fit for a king. He kept his chin level and his eyes focused. He ignored the dangling restraints on the arm and leg rests that were waiting to be used if necessary.

“Name, age and weight?” The Doctor asked as he sat on his stool and picked up a clipboard.

Peter rummaged in his shirt pocket and drew out a folded piece of paper. “This is a photocopy of Neal’s details from the Slave Center where I got him …” Peter explained as he unfolded it and passed it to the doctor who peered at it. “… though some of the details may be inaccurate.

Peter shot a glance at Neal who returned it without revealing a thought. From this alone, Peter doubted he knew Neal’s true age.

“Okay,” the doctor spoke as he pushed Neal’s new medical file away, and straightened to his full height after standing. “I’ll check his ears, eyes and throat first.”

But the doctor looked at Neal speculatively then scanned Peter in silence for a moment. Then he spoke derisively. “Should I be restraining your slave?”

Peter looked surprised. “No,” he said carefully, praying privately that Neal wouldn’t do more than stiffen in his chair. “Why?”

“Seems to be a violent type,” Dr. Haas sniffed.

Peter became perplexed. “I’m sorry?” But then Peter gave Neal a quick look-over and realized what the doctor meant as he took in the sight of Neal’s telltale bruises.

“You both have bruises,” Dr. Haas pointed out. “He obviously rebelled at some point. Sir, I’m a doctor. Do you really think you can hide the truth of your slave’s nature? I suppose though, if you intend to resell him in ‘good condition’, I can be convinced to leave out a few things in his assessment history seeing as you’re an FBI agent.”

Peter’s face darkened at the doctor’s words and Neal could see Peter’s hands fisting.

“I tried to escape,” Neal said softly. Damage control came naturally to him. “I was with some criminals when Peter found me and took me back. The criminals tried putting up a fight.”

Peter looked at Neal, his anger forgotten. He was mentally going over Neal’s words; not one lie. The agent in him wanted to take Neal to the nearest criminal profiler and let them have at him. He didn’t think he’d ever met someone so natural at honest duplicity!

But Peter backtracked. He looked back at the doctor. “I hope you’re not insinuating that you’d overlook slavery abuse just because I work for the Agency!”

The doctor glared at Peter. “Of course not. Your slave rebelled. And if anyone knows how much force to use on another then surely an Agent would. I would imagine if bruises were needed to curtail a slave’s bad behavior, then it cannot be helped.”

Peter lowered his voice, broadening his shoulders as he took a step forward. “I would like another doctor.”

Peter was almost mentally walking the doctor through his thoughts throughout the following minute; he seemed to be able to predict the doctor’s protests and shook his head or arched his eyebrows where it was appropriate to cut him off.

“Okay,” Dr. Haas finally said dismissively, after the futile moment spent considering how to appease the agent. “I’ll see if Dr. Andersen is available.”


The moment the door had clicked shut behind the doctor, Neal had abandoned the chair with distaste. He had glanced at Peter but the agent hadn’t blamed Neal for rising.

It was twenty minutes before the door opened again. When it did, a lively, fresh-faced, short pepper-haired, young man entered. He slammed the door behind him, and stopped before Peter, causing his white coat to whirl about his legs.

He took in the sight of the two men before grinning.

Peter looked him over, dubious. “Dr. Andersen, I presume?” he murmured doubtfully.

“Dr. Ryan Andersen,” Dr. Andersen nodded, holding out a hand. “I have a copy of my M.D. right here if you’d like to see it.”

He did look too young. But Peter shook the offered hand. “It’s fine. Peter Burke.”

“My pleasure,” the young doc enthused before turning to Neal.

Neal was just as bemused by the doctor’s age as Peter had been and was scanning him critically. But the young man earned Neal’s respect in a move that surprised both he and Peter.

He’d stepped towards Neal and offered his hand in turn.

Neal shook it cautiously but firmly. “Neal Caffrey,” he said, bobbing his chin.

“Dr. Haas told me, briefly, what happened,” Dr. Andersen said casually, addressing them both as he stepped away. “Sorry; he can be a bit abrasive.”

Peter cleared his throat gruffly but the doc didn’t seem to notice. He was rifling in the file Dr. Haas had left behind.

Then Dr. Andersen looked Neal up and down. “Twenty-nine?”

Neal arched an eyebrow.

The doc snorted.

Peter braced himself. “Ah, Dr. Andersen—”

“Ryan is fine, call me Ryan,” the doc said pleasantly. “It’s okay, I can see he’s younger than that and while it’s important to have the proper age for some health reasons, it’s not important today. So. How far did old Haas get?”

“Not far,” Peter answered bluntly.

Ryan wasn’t easily put off. He nodded.  “Okay, first things first.” Ryan dropped the clipboard back onto the bench and looked at Peter. “Could I have your permission to address Mr. Caffrey directly throughout the examination?”

“Okay,” Peter replied uneasily, a little caught off-guard by the odd request. Most professionals dealt directly with the owner; it was old tradition.

“Then let’s get started.” Ryan looked at Neal. “Do you want to sit?”

“No, thank you,” Neal replied forcefully, shaking his head and casting an uncomfortable glare at the restraints.

Ryan gestured to the seat behind Peter, by the wall. “You can sit too, if you like. Neal, I’m going to need to check your ears, eyes and throat to begin with. Any preferences?”

To say Ryan made what would have otherwise have been a hellish ordeal almost bearable would have been an understatement for Neal. He regained at least a partial sense of control because the young doc was willing to work to put him at ease, and also by simply talking to him as though Peter was far, far away. The topics weren’t even limited to medical ones. Ryan was happy to talk about anything and that was an advantage when dealing with someone who was decidedly private. Neal compromised by sticking to subjects Peter already knew, and ones that were highly unlikely to lead back too Kate or his enslavement. When Neal quieted whether by choice or because Ryan was swabbing his mouth for saliva samples, Ryan was able to fill in the silence with stories of his life; usually funny or ludicrous type adventures.


It was towards the end after Ryan had managed to convince Neal to submit to surrendering the samples he needed to check for STDs (two saliva swabs, six blood samples, and two urethral swabs), that Neal broke his own rule.

“Why are you like this?” he asked softly, perched on the edge of the hated chair. Only perched, mind.

Ryan gave him a wide-eyed glance as he looked up from his paperwork before softening his features. He clicked the button on the pen, and then spun it casually. “You mean courteous to a slave?”

“Hmm,” Neal hummed, ignoring Peter’s sudden interest from over on the chair by the wall.

Ryan smiled. “I went through a lot of years study to get my doctorate, Neal. Through most of them, the teachers used models, rubber dummies, and interactive graphics, but in our last two years of study we used live ‘patients’. While we never cut them up fortunately, they did endure needles, a lack of privacy, and oh, just general poking and prodding.”

Neal gritted his jaw, and looked down.

Ryan nodded. “Two years is a long time. I got to know a few of them. They were distant, curt, and tired. Then I noticed that when I talked to them like I would a freeperson patient, they o