They were sitting in the meeting room when Peter handed out the new case files. Before Neal could even open up the file, Peter put a hand on Neal’s, stopping him from reading. Neal’s reading level was too fast, and Peter had something to say first. You know, before he could give Neal the chance to freak out.
“Neal, you and I are going to be going undercover on this one, and it’s a slightly odd one.”
Neal perked up, looking both intrigued and wary, as if nervous of what ‘odd’ could mean. “Odd? Do I have to dress up like a clown?”
Peter sat at the head of the table, Neal to his right with Jones and Diana to his left. He had a raised eyebrow. “A clown?”
Neal shrugged. “Clowns are odd, and if you make me dress up like one, I’ll safeword.”
“We don’t give you a safeword, Neal.”
“Then I’ll run away screaming, I’m not dressing up like a clown.”
Peter sighed, pulling his hand back and motioning for Neal to read the folder. “No one’s going to make you dress up like a clown, it’s fine. Just… I just want you to keep an open mind about this one.”
Neal narrowed his eyes at Peter and went down to the file, eyes scanning through it in half the time anyone else would take, before glancing back up at Peter. “Uh… so this guy, Silvio…”
“Silvio Lankis, yes.”
“Silvio Lankis, is suspected for supplying raw uncut diamonds-”
“-stolen diamonds, blood diamonds, from Africa.”
“Right yes, stolen blood diamonds from Africa, on the black market to move them, and I guess no one’s been able to get a hold of him?”
Peter nodded, gently pushing another file over to him with a picture of Silvio and a young woman, holding his hand while wearing a little sundress. “As far as we can tell, he himself is a recluse, though his girlfriend comes and goes as she pleases. She lives with him, but the only time we see him out is when they leave for a weekly get together with a local scene group.”
Neal looked at the file with a twisted up mouth, nose scrunching up in a pout. Peter thought it was rather fitting for the situation. “I thought Diana and Jones handled all scene cons?”
He looked over at Diana and Jones, who looked way too amused. “I’m a good Domme, Caffrey, and Jones knows how to follow orders, but I’m not a mommy, and Jones isn’t a little.”
Neal scowled at them. “Since when am I a little? Peter is a dad, yeah we all know that, but I’m perfectly adult.”
Jones pulled up the file so he could hide his grin behind it, and Diana gave him a placating look. For once, Peter didn’t even argue at being called a dad, it worked in this situation. “Will it help to know El will be coming with us?”
Neal gave Peter a funny look. “You never want to bring El on a con, why would you bring El on a con?”
Peter looked bland. “Because you listen to El way more than you listen to me. I need you attentive on this one. You’re not here to play the cop in this one, this will be a group of people who are all innocent, not a criminal group, we’re only after one man here and as far as we know he’s kept them clean of anything he does. You’re… well, you’re here to look cute and sell it for us. We need to get close enough to make friends with him. No one’s gotten close enough.”
Neal looked away from Peter, eyes fixed on the corner of the table for a minute before rolling back to Peter. “So, for once, you just want me to shut up and look pretty? Seriously?”
Peter sighed. “God, it’s a good thing I never even thought about asking El, that would have gone terribly, you know, other than the fact that she couldn’t play a sub to save her life. Are you saying you don’t want to get paid to act like a little kid and be a brat? I would have thought that would be right up your alley.”
Neal scoffed. “Excuse you, I will be the epitome of a dignified five year old.”
Neal sputtered. “Why three?”
“I don’t trust you to act any older than four, you can be a three year old. Maybe.”
Peter could have sworn Neal was trying for a record for pouting, and couldn’t decide if he was already getting into character or not. “Oh come on, it’ll be fun. You get to play with the other littles while me and El making boring small talk.”
Neal sighed. “Ugh, fine, but I’ll have you know, I’ll be such a brat.”
“I know you will, and when you’re a brat, there will be a time out corner waiting for you. You know my favorite part of all this?”
“No, I’m not sure it’s possible to humiliate you. I’m just happy you’re not going to be allowed to wear a suit for this.”
That, got a heavy groan from the other man. This was going to be fun.
Since of course, this group was going to be run by a bunch of rich people who could afford privacy, it was going to be a closed off group.
Which meant they still needed to get an invitation.
Neal had an alias under the name of Daniel Skaven, a rich New Yorker with daddy issues so deep it made even Neal himself look like he was probably best friends with his own father. This id was a prime candidate for both ageplay, and getting into a crowd of rich people with specific tastes.
“What exactly did you use this alias for last?”
Neal pulled back from where he was making a profile on a kink community website. It was harder than it looked, but it seemed okay for now. He stared Peter down for a minute, contemplating if he really wanted to incriminate himself, before realizing that it might be a little helpful at least.
“I used the alias to get into a gala one night, ended up… sidetracked, by the son of a very prominent air force general at the time. He was… well connected.”
Peter smirked at him. “Is that what we’re calling it now days?”
“We’re in the middle of work right now, Peter, what do you want me to say? That he had a hardon the size of a of a pole in his pants-”
“Woah there, how about we not say that, I’m fairly sure my office walls won’t keep that one in if the right person is outside my door.”
Peter went around to the other side of the desk and sat in the chair there, looking serious all of a sudden. “Neal, I need you to be honest with me, are you okay with being called Danny? I don’t want to pull up any bad memories.”
Neal shrugged. “I was called Danny for my entire childhood, it’s not exactly traumatic. Besides, I’m more likely to respond to that than some other names I can think of. This is a really good alias, I don’t have any enemies on this one, and since I spent the majority of my time under it -which was only about six months- dating some air force general’s son, it actually has a better reputation than most of them.”
Peter nodded thoughtfully. “Alright… anything I should know about Daniel?”
Neal’s eyes narrowed a little. “Why do you look so amused?”
Peter snorted. “I can’t believe you spend six months lying to a guy just because you wanted to date him. What if it had turned out serious? Would you have told him?”
“Eh, I didn’t have to, he already had me figured out. Believe it or not, I was once a terrible liar. Well, compared to now, anyways. Listen, Andy was the kind of guy that catches you breaking into his parents house to steal a five hundred year old statue and offers you half his joint instead of calling the cops. He didn’t really care, he was a bored nineteen year old, and so was I.”
Peter took a moment to process that. “Okay… now I want to know who you tried to rob and instead they offered you half a joint? That was way too specific not to have happened to you.”
Neal looked around the office for a moment before pushing a file over to the other side of the desk where Peter was obviously waiting for some sort of answer. “Okay, Danny Skaven, age twenty nine, same as me, allergic to bird feathers, mostly because I’m actually allergic to eggplant, but I’d previously told the hostess that I loved vegetable lasagna and the main course looked amazing but I didn’t know I was allergic to eggplant at the time so I ate the lasagna and my throat started itching and I was breaking out in hives and I told them I was allergic to bird feathers because the woman next to me was wearing peacock feathers like an idiot, who even does that? And Andy had to drive me to the hospital and so that was that.”
Peter stared at the man with his lips slightly parted, looking a little shocked. “That story was wild from start to finish. You’re allergic to eggplant?”
Neal nodded. “Gives me hives, makes my throat close up, terrible.”
“And you’d never tried it until you were nineteen?”
Neal’s eyes narrowed as he looked at Peter from around the computer screen, wondering what sort of ‘vital information’ a random tidbit from his childhood would give Peter, but Peter was like a dog with a bone when he thought he might learn something new about Neal, it was sort of weird. “Well, I assume my mother knew? I mean, if they found out when I was a baby, it makes sense that she never would have given it to me, and it’s not all that common of an ingredient in households that prefer meat?”
Peter could argue that, but honestly, he hadn’t had to deal with it either as a child, the fact that he had to as an adult was because of El liking it.
Peter trailed off, looking to the side for another minute while Neal went back to whatever he was writing on the computer with a sour look on his face. Finally, after a long stretch of silence Neal snapped, looking at him with a look of pure frustration.
“I didn’t say anything.”
“No, you didn’t, so say what you want to and stop making that annoying clicking noise.”
Peter’s teeth clacked shut as he looked away with an embarrassed look on his face, not having realized what he was doing. Honestly, Neal was normally the annoying one of them, making clicking noises and the like when he was left without anything to do. Maybe it was the guilt. Yeah, that would make sense, Neal was always guilty of something.
Of course, it could be boredom too. “Neal, you know you don’t have to do this if you don’t want to.”
Neal’s eyes rolled over to him and he gave a little frown. “Peter, why do you think I should be upset at this? I’m a con man, a method actor, and going undercover is my job, the fact that this is a scene cover doesn’t make much difference. Unless, of course, you think I should be disgusted because you’re disgusted?”
Peter looked horrified. “I’m not disgusted, there’s nothing wrong with ageplay or the people who do it.”
“Then why do you look like you’re expecting me to throw a fit? You said it yourself, I act childish, this is probably right up my alley.”
Peter stared at him for a few seconds before cringing. “Neal, have you ever tried anything like-”
“Like ageplay, no. Like BDSM? Not an answer I want to give you in particular. Does it really matter though? I’m not a professor but I had a whole class believing it last month.”
Peter made a so-so gesture with his hand, reaching over to grab his coffee. He looked like he might say something again, and Neal would never get this done, so he turned in the desk, looking Peter straight in the eyes.
“Peter, you’d think this was the first time I called a boyfriend daddy before, and honestly, it isn’t, I think I have this handled.”
Peter choked on his coffee as Neal went back to the computer, taking a minute to recover. “Um, I think I’m gonna go… somewhere else. Shouldn’t bother you while you’re actually working for once.”
Neal waved him off with a little hum. “Have fun with that.”
Neal moped as he followed El through the department store in the mall. Peter was still in the aisle finishing up a phone call with Hughes, and Neal’s scowl got a little deeper the longer it went on. Peter needs to get over here and stop his crazy wife.
“Neal, look at this, it’s got a cupcake on it! We are definitely getting you this.” She held up a black zip up hoodie with a cupcake in the middle of the back with the words ‘sweetest there is’ below it, before tossing it in the cart with a grin. She was having way too much fun right now.
Peter hung up the phone and finally came over to join the two of them. Neal was still scowling at the sweater. Why can’t he just wear his suits? He likes his suits.
The clothes racks were put close enough together that him and Neal were almost pressed side by side there. Peter put a hand on Neal’s elbow as he leaned in to look at the pile in the cart. It wasn’t much yet but Neal was already wildly offended at the idea of wearing blue skinny jeans, but he didn’t argue, since he knew it sell the cover better if he at least looked like a little.
“No need for shirts, El, Diana said she got express ordering for adult sized onesies and little shirts off a site.”
Neal made the most offended noise. “I don’t need onesies !”
Peter just grinned at him. “Don’t worry, you can wear pants on top, then it’ll just look like a tee shirt.”
“Then why not just give me a tee shirt?”
“These are cuter. Diana said there was a company where you could design your own and she got you one that says ‘cutest con’ and I approve of that.”
Neal scowled even harder at him. “I think you’re having way too much fun with this.”
Peter gave him an innocent look. “Who me?”
The three of them eventually made their way to the underwear section, and Neal frowned. “Why would I need Spider-man underpants? No one’s going to see what underwear I have on.”
“But they’re cute.”
Neal looked between Peter and El for a moment before falling back on his heels with a sigh. “You know what? I give up. It’s not my money, get whatever you want. Not like it effects me for more than a few days anyways.”
Peter and El just grinned at each other. “That’s the spirit!”
No matter how much Neal wanted to go home and sulk about this whole ageplay thing, he was weak to El’s cooking -and Peter’s if he was making a pot roast- and found himself in their house, glaring at the pile of shopping bags on the living room floor while he curled up on the couch with Satchmo standing in front of him on the floor so Neal could pet him. He was blessedly full of chicken and half asleep as he continued to stare down the bags like they were out to get him.
Neal yawned, giving a leisurely stretch. He had stolen a pair of Peter’s sweatpants and a tee shirt because he refused to lay down in his suits, but Peter had just given him a little eyeroll and moved on without comment. It was delightful to get away with things.
Neal vaguely wondered what else he could get away with. It’s not like he’s doing anything illegal with El and Peter most of the time. Mostly he’s just being a pest and invading their lives. Which is his favorite hobby sometimes.
He pressed a kiss to Satchmo’s muzzle and pulled his feet up when El came to sit at the end of the couch with him. She tugged his feet into her lap and pulled out a book. Boring. But he was sort of getting cuddles out of it, so he couldn’t complain.
Neal considered just falling asleep right here. No one had mentioned sending him home yet, and he’s rather interested in the idea of not standing anytime soon, and he’s so comfortable right now he could just go right to bed on their couch.
Peter started setting stuff on the coffee table behind Satchmo, quiet, but obvious enough to draw Neal’s attention away from the dog. El looked up from her book with a little frown. Her voice was just barely scolding. “Peter, he was almost asleep.”
Oh. So they were expecting him to stay the night. If their relationship was anything other than what it was, Neal would almost say they were wooing him. They might be, in a way, but it wasn’t for romantic reasons. He wasn’t fully sure what it might be yet, but he thinks they might be projecting something here.
Peter just grinned at her, but his voice was gentle when he spoke to Neal. “Neal, come here, I want to play a little game before it’s time to go to bed.”
Neal wanted to be annoyed at being spoken to like he was a child, but gave up before he even gave it half a thought. Peter was going to have to be a hell of a lot more infantilizing to him when they needed to go to playgroup. This wasn’t even all that bad in comparison to the baby talk he was probably going to subject Neal to.
Neal sat up with a tired little sigh, making Satchmo huff when Neal stopped petting him. Satchmo has been enjoying that.
He slid off the couch with a huff of his own, feeling lucid and ready to go to bed. He glared a little at Peter for the intrusion. El was right, he’d nearly been asleep. Peter just grinned at him, like a dog with a bone, always ready to annoy him. Admittedly, Neal was the morning annoyance, and Peter tended to be the late night annoyance, but it was still, very rude.
He looked to the coffee table to see what Peter had put down, and raised an eyebrow. “I haven’t used crayons since I was ten.”
Peter frowned at him. “That is a genuinely sad statement coming from you, of all people.”
Neal looked at Peter, confused. “Why would that be sad?”
“Because I cannot, for the life of me, imagine you ever turning down the chance to make art, even depending on what subpar tools are available to you.”
Neal grabbed the box of 64 crayola crayons and pulled them over. Peter had already opened them, so all he had to do was flip the lid. “Mom never cared all that much, but by the time I was ten I could already fit an entire pack of pastels in my pocket without arousing so much as suspicion about it. I stopped asking for supplies at that point.”
Peter gave a little sigh, leaning forward so he could rest his chin in the palm of his hand while he watched Neal flip open a brand new sketchbook with more delight than he had the crayons. “Your childhood sounds like my worst nightmare.”
Neal gave a prim little sniff, looking vaguely upset. “Mozzie’s childhood was worse.”
Peter sighed again, looking more than vaguely upset at that. “You both give me anxiety.”
El was smiling, but that gentle smile that said she was thinking about better stuff to keep her mind off Neal and Mozzie’s terrible upbringings. That smile has shown up more than once. “I think they’re both delightful. We should keep them.”
Neal sat up at that, looking delighted. “Oh yes, you should keep up. Imagine having to explain to your family what relation the small man in Hawaiian shirts has to you. Just imagine explaining that to your parents.”
Peter gave up on sighing and just buried his face in his hands. “Oh lord, I’m already trying to figure out how I should explain you to any family members who ask.”
Neal frowned, confused. “Why… would they ask? I haven’t met any of your families?”
El was outright grinning at Peter from behind Neal’s head while Peter tried not to look panicked. “Well, you know, I talk about my work sometimes, and you’re just… always there…”
Neal gave his own delighted grin at that, sitting up straighter. “So, you’re saying, you talk about me? That’s nice, Peter.”
Peter frowned for a moment, before shaking his head a little. “Okay, fine, back to your very important assignment now, draw something. Something that doesn’t look like an adult would draw it.”
Neal looked between Peter and the crayons for a minute, a pout forming on his features. “Why?”
El put her book down and joined them all on the floor. Satchmo moved so he could lay his head in Neal’s lap while still demanding pets from her. “I know you’re a good method actor, Neal, but you’re still an adult. You need to see the difference between thinking like an adult, and like a child.”
Neal pouted harder, looking upset as he pulled out a red crayon. “Can’t I just… play with a toy? I’m sure dressing like a little kid will be good enough, won’t it?”
El shook her head. “Absolutely not. A sub who’s comfortable enough in his headspace to go to a playgroup is likely going to be settled enough to have a little personality as well. What was your favorite toy when you were little?”
Neal thought about that for a moment, face slowly going red as he considered that. He mumbled out, “blocks. The soft ones. Aunt Ellen would knit them.”
El wanted to wrap him up in a hug, but there was a dog in her way, so she settled for wrapping a hand around the back of his.
“We can get a set of those, that might help with the mood. You should try playing and attempting to stay in a younger mindset before the playgroup on Saturday.”
Neal’s nose got all scrunched up at that, before smoothing our again. “I’m sure I could do this without… practicing. It’s not that hard to act like a kid, is it?”
Peter gently ran his thumb over Neal’s other hand, this one settled on the table next to the sketchbook. Neal looked startled, but didn’t move the hand any. Peter suddenly realized he was going to have to work on that too. He couldn’t look like he never touched his own sub if Neal gave that deer in headlights look every time. “You’ve been nearly parenting yourself your whole life, Neal. I wouldn’t be surprised if you found this a harder con than you’ve ever done.”
Neal frowned. “I thought I did a terrible job at raising myself?”
Peter nodded. “Yeah, any kid would. Mozzie has his own issues too. You both did the best you could.”
Neal looked up with an amused glint in his eye. “Oh, so now you want to adopt Mozzie too?”
It was Peter’s turn to scrunch up his nose. “No, if I thought he would be okay with that, maybe. But you, on the other hand…”
Neal frowned, hands twitching where they were held by El and Peter. “And you think I’d be okay with that? With being… babied…” he trailed off, looking far away, confused.
El cocked her head to the side, tugging Neal’s hand up so she could press a little kiss to it. “Would you, sweetie? You don’t have to pretend about these things to us. If you said you wanted to learn what it’s like to be a kid with proper attentive parents, we would understand perfectly.”
Neal’s hands twitched again and he finally pulled them away. He put the red crayon back and pulled out a blue one. “Why did you have to specify what a kid would draw? What’s the difference even? Usually the only difference is the level of skill.”
Peter frowned. “You know that’s not true. Adults draw from a completely different point of view from a child.” He wasn’t happy about the subject change, but didn’t otherwise comment. El looked a little more bothered by it, but willing to accept it.
Neal pulled the sketch pad into his lap, blocking both their view from it, before getting to work with a look of complete concentration on his face.
Peter just looked over to El with a little shrug. They could revisit the conversation later. It could take quite a while for Neal and Peter and El to make friends with Silvio and his girlfriend, they would have some time before Neal could pretend he doesn’t have a clue what ageplay is at all.
They would just have to see how Neal reacted to his situations.
Neal got up early the next morning with Peter and El. Him and Peter needed to stop by his apartment so Neal could change clothes, but El was making breakfast before they left. It was nice out today, and El was humming while she made pancakes, and Neal was sitting at the counter while he looked at the fridge.
El had hung up the picture he’d made the night before. Stuck it to the fridge with a magnet like their kid had done it or something. Not even Neal’s mom would do that as a kid. Aunt Ellen sometimes did it, and Neal’s chest ached a little while he thought of that, but here it was. On the fridge. Like it was something to be proud of.
It wasn’t a bad picture. It was El and Peter’s house, with El and Peter out front, and Satchmo. Peter had said it was missing someone, but he hadn’t said who. Neal had been too tired to ask.
And now it was on the fridge.
Peter came into the room with a smile, giving El a kiss on the cheek before sitting next to Neal at the counter, still tying his tie. Neal looked over at Peter, but didn’t know what to say. He felt wrong. Like something was different, but he couldn’t figure out what.
Peter smiled at him like absolutely nothing was wrong at all, and Neal just frowned at him, finally turning away when El slid two plates across the counter in front of them.
He just sighed and went to compliment El on her cooking, because Peter was weird.
Sometimes, when they didn’t have an active case, or if they had a long term case like this, it was mainly a waiting game until they could finish up and move onto the next high profile case.
That meant a lot of paperwork in between.
Normally, after an awkward morning like today, Neal would have turned down Peter’s offer to go out to lunch, but right now he’ll do just about anything to get out of the office.
Neal still felt awkward and a little unsure of himself right now though. “So… do we even have an invitation to this exclusive playgroup? I assume we would, right?”
Peter nodded. “Yeah, Hughes said if we didn’t already have an invitation for an alias of mine, we would have longer to plan before starting. For once, it’s me with the connections.”
Neal side eyed him. “Yes. Your… connections, to a white collar BDSM group. That’s… completely normal.”
Peter shrugged. “You have an alias that has daddy issues, I have an alias that wants to dress up an adult man in onesie and baby talk him. I’d almost say it was fate.”
Neal cringed as they walked past a confused security guard, giving a little wave before they stepped out into the street. “Hmm, I call that weird.”
Peter watched him carefully as they walked. “Not everything weird is bad.”
Neal looked at him fast. “I didn’t say it was bad. Do you think I think it’s bad?”
Peter shrugged. “See, I’m not actually sure what you think right now, which is confusing. You only clam up when I try to ask you about your past.”
Neal shrugged. “My past is a stupid string of bad boyfriend decisions… and a few worse girlfriends.”
Peter nodded sagely. “Yes, you’re lucky, you got both Mommy and Daddy issues.”
Neal glared at him. “Yes, and I’m sure that makes me a prime candidate for dressing up like a toddler and playing with a teddy bear, right?”
“Ahh, is that what has you upset? You know, people with perfectly normal childhoods end up in that sort of relationship too. Nature over nurture, that sort of thing.”
Neal stopped in place, giving him an incredulous look. “Oh, so you think I’m just naturally a perfect candidate for being childish.”
Peter stopped too, giving him a less than amused look. “No. I think you have an issue with being treated like a child outside of a con that you’re trying not to let on about, and it’s making you defensive and will lead to you acting stilted and wrong when the actual con goes down.”
Neal thought that over for a moment. His right hand did that weird twitch it was doing last night, and Peter reached out for his left hand while Neal thought that over. Neal didn’t pull his hand back, but he gave Peter a funny look. Peter just ran his thumb over Neal’s knuckles, watching Neal’s shoulder’s slump in place. Neal gave a little sigh as he watched their clasped hands. “Oh. Well, I was fine with it until you and El got all excited over shopping.”
Peter nodded. “I could tell. You don’t normally get upset with teasing. It made me wonder if you would be okay with this. I’m still not sure.”
Neal stepped up closer to Peter’s space, looking vulnerable and a little lost. Peter wanted to wrap him up in a hug, but he didn’t know how Neal would handle that in public. He just threaded their fingers together until Neal’s hand was firmly in his own. Neal relaxed a little. “It felt like… last night it felt like you and El were trying to make it real. I don’t understand why you would want that.”
Peter just gave a little shrug. “The reasons why people do stuff tend to be-“
“Don’t, Peter, don’t give me some weird psychoanalysis about why people do BDSM, give me a reason why you and El looked so damn delighted to get the chance to treat me like a baby.”
Peter smiled at him. “Well, why else would someone want to? Because they think it’s cute. Because they believe in the power of corrective re-parenting. Because I think it’s healthier than possibly ending up with a crush on you and getting you sent back to jail because I have a type and you fit it.”
Neal gave a little half laugh, so close to putting his head on Peter’s shoulder at this point, almost completely in his space. “That is terrible reasoning, Peter. Is this sexual?”
Peter openly cringed. “God no. I… no. That sort of thing isn’t for me and El.”
“You’ve talked about this? I’m not about to ruin your marriage if I say yes?”
Peter laughed with a little shake of his head. “Of course not. I think El would be offended if she wasn’t allowed in on this.”
Neal nodded, honestly thankful. He couldn’t seem to pick his head up from where he was staring at the ground between them. If this was a cheesy romance movie Peter would pull his chin up for him, but again, this isn’t that cheesy movie, and they’re adult men in public who are already getting angry looks for blocking part of the sidewalk, and if anyone from the office saw them, Neal would be back in jail so fast his head would spin.
“I still think this is weird.”
Peter shrugged. “Weird isn’t bad.”
“Weird isn’t bad.” Neal parroted back at him, sounding unsure. It was almost cute.
“Come on, lunch, and then you can give it some thought. Remember, Neal, you don’t ever have to do anything you’re uncomfortable with, with me and El.”
Neal gave another sigh, finally pulling away with a roll of his eyes. “I feel so much better, thank you.”
Peter slung an arm over his shoulder, and Neal didn’t flinch once, letting it stay there. Peter counted that as a win for now.