Peter Burke was not happy. Sure, he’d finally arrested James Bonds AKA Neal Caffrey, but then he got a call from the FBI holding center that there was something wrong with Mr. Caffrey. The agent who called hadn’t explained the problem. Given the nature of Peter’s relationship with the alleged-forger, Peter could imagine a good dozen scenarios that would qualify as there being something wrong with Mr. Caffrey.
When he arrived at the prison, there was some kind of a commotion going on.
He flashed his badge at the desk. “Agent Peter Burke, I got a call about Neal Caffrey.”
“Yes.” The young woman at the desk nodded. “Uh—right. I…” The phone rang and she startled before picking it up. She answered with mostly, Yes, No and Right away. She put the phone down and looked at Peter. “Sir, you just need to turn your firearm in and then you can meet with the Dynamic Support representative.”
“Why is there someone from DSR here?” He frowned, detaching his holster and signing the form she presented him with.
“It’s better if they explain.” She frowned. “I’ll buzz you in.”
“Okay.” He blinked and headed in through the door that opened with the buzzer. A tall woman wearing the pale blue uniform polo of DSR was waiting in the hall, a file in hand. A finely tooled leather collar rested at the hollow of her throat, golden tags glinting from the loop.
She smiled. “I’m Laura Byrnes, I’m here to represent Mr. Caffrey’s best interests.”
“I’m a bit confused here, Ms. Byrnes,” Peter admitted. “What exactly is going on?”
“Apparently when they went to check on Mr. Caffrey this morning they found him in a state of distress.”
“What kind of distress?”
“He suffered a severe Drop.”
“Neal Caffrey is a registered Dom, Ms. Byrnes.”
“That may be so, Agent Burke, but the center did some testing and—that young man might be a Switch, but he is not a Dom. He’s responded well to Respidol and some touch therapy. After an initial evaluation and a medical exam, it’s become pretty clear that Mr. Caffrey was—” she took a breath. “That Mr. Caffrey has been abused by whomever his Dominant partner was. He’s touch-starved, malnourished and very anxious. Bloodwork and hair samples were tested for drugs and we found traces of Drop inducers as well as sedatives and stimulants. I’m surprised, honestly, that he has been able to present a Dominant front at all.”
“He’s a very good actor.” Peter swallowed. “I—what exactly are you telling me, Ms. Byrnes? Are we looking at a case of coercion?”
“We both know that the law is pretty clear on this. If a Dom was behind his criminal activities…”
“He’s an accessory at best. I know.” Peter rubbed his hand over his face. “Okay. We’ll look into that.”
“Good. Then I’ve got one last thing for us to take care of.”
“Well, apparently there was a paperwork irregularity and you are still listed as the custodial agent for Mr. Caffrey.”
Peter sighed. “I see.”
“So I need you to sign off on a few things. We’re going to transfer him to the Dynamic Support wing at Memorial West.” She handed over the file. “You’ll have to be a part of the escort.”
“Of course.” He flipped through the file. “This doesn’t look good.” He sighed. “Okay, can I see him?”
“Of course, follow me.”
Peter closed the file and followed Ms. Byrnes down the hall and into the center’s medical wing. Caffrey was in a bed at the end of the ward with another DSR rep at his side—and unBonded sub by the band on his wrist. The kid looked thin, Peter realized. He’d thought that at the arrest, but brushed it aside as a sign Caffrey had been on the run. His dark curls were stuck to his forehead with sweat and Peter found himself with an almost irrational urge to sweep them back. His Dominant instincts were practically shouting at him. Protect.
“Agent Burke,” Neal flashed a smile. “Wow, did not expect to see you here.”
“So,” Peter started, “you lied about your Dynamic.” He raised his eyebrows. “You didn’t think that could be a safety issue?”
Neal shrugged. “Never really thought about it.”
After everything Ms. Byrnes had told him, and his brief glimpse of the file, it still took Peter a minute to peel back the external posturing that Neal presented and see what Ms. Byrnes saw. He remembered when Neal shook his hand at the storage facility, how his hand had trembled a touch, how his eyes had gone wide when he saw Kate. The genuine sound of his thanks.
There was more to it. Caffrey’s cons had gotten bolder and bolder in those last months—desperate. He’d been seeking Kate Moreau with reckless abandon. The look on Neal’s face when he saw Kate was—practically worshipful. Luckily, Peter knew exactly where to find Ms. Moreau.
Now, he could see past the fragile smile fixed on Neal’s face. He could see how he held himself now, rigid with the pretense of being relaxed.
Why did he Drop out of the blue though? Peter sighed. “You want to tell me what happened before you Dropped?”
Neal shrugged. “I just don’t like enclosed spaces.”
“Are you really going to lie to my face?” Peter asked. “You forget I know how you stole those Faberge pieces in Berlin.” He raised his eyebrows.
Much to Peter’s surprise, the kid actually flinched. He hadn’t even put his Dom voice on for the question. Peter glanced at the DSR reps and then back at Neal, who was blinking away tears.
“Hey, hey, I’m not mad at you,” Peter said hurriedly. “Okay? I’m just worried. I want to know what happened to you.”
Neal swallowed, glancing up at Peter, all pretense of control shattered. “I-I got a visitor yesterday.”
“Who?” Peter kept his tone as neutral as possible.
Neal shook his head, lips pressed into a tight line.
“It’s okay, Neal. You can tell me. I won’t be mad.”
The other DSR rep squeezed Neal’s hand gently, reassuring him. “It’s okay. You’re safe here.”
“V-Vincent Adler.” Neal looked down at his lap. “He didn’t use that name though.”
Vincent Adler. Peter knew the name. A stock-broker whose Ponzi scheme cost his clients millions of dollars before he vanished into thin air.
“Why did he come here to see you?” Peter continued.
“I don’t know.” Neal shook his head. “He hates me. He said I screwed everything up.” He swallowed. “Couldn’t even stay out of prison. Fucked up everything.”
“No, no,” Peter shook his head. “No, you did good, kid. Telling us.” He took a minute, uncertain, before placing his hand gently on Neal’s shoulder, flattered a bit that the kid didn’t flinch from the touch. “I’m proud of you for telling me, Neal.”
Watching those bright blue eyes widen in surprise nearly broke Peter’s heart.
“Yeah, you’re a good boy.” Peter moved his hand, squeezing the back Neal’s neck gently. “I’m going to find Mr. Adler, all right?”
“Don’t worry about Adler anymore, I’ll handle him.”
Peter sighed. There were a lot of things that could have happened when he walked into the detention center today, but this? This wasn’t even in the ballpark of what he’d considered.
He had to call Hughes—and Elizabeth.
Neal George Caffrey had never really considered himself the typical submissive. He’d run away from home at sixteen and registered as a Dom with no one the wiser. He’d always thought of it as his greatest con. His ability to pass had never been an issue. He’d started out simply enough, partnering up with Mozzie for bond fraud had seemed like the best option at the time.
And then Mozzie put him in the path of Vincent Adler.
It wasn’t Mozzie’s fault. He’d been under the same assumption everyone else was, that Neal was a Dom. He couldn’t have known that Alder would see right through Neal’s posturing. Couldn’t know that the Dom would leverage Neal’s defining father issues and deep-seated need for attention and praise against him. Couldn’t know that Adler would use Neal’s attachment to Kate against him.
And in the end, no one could have anticipated how Adler leaving, hiding Kate away, and abandoning Neal, would affect him.
Not even Neal. He felt—useless. Worthless. If there was one thing Adler was good at, it was twisting a person’s own desires against them and Adler had used Kate against Neal. Demanding more and more from him, toying with him, promising him he’d give Kate back only to tear her away again after a brief glimpse or a few words on a phone call and through it all Neal had thought they were both Adler’s victims.
Until Kate sat across from him in the visitation room and smiled at him.
“What?” he asked, begging for repetition.
“I said, we’re done.” Her smile was cruel. “You’re so pathetic. All you had to do was get what he wanted and you failed.” She shook her head. “I knew I should have told him to use Keller in the first place.”
“You don’t mean that.” You can’t mean that. “I love you.”
“I never loved you.” She stood up. “If you know what’s good for you, you’ll keep your mouth shut about Adler, before you lose everything else.”
She made to leave, Neal stood up, smacking his fist against the glass. “No, Kate! Please!”
“Someone want to tell me why you let Kate Moreau see him?” Peter asked, trying to rein in his temper. Neal Dropped again, no surprise there after Moreau’s visit.
“She was on his list of approved visitors,” the officer said, somewhat desperate.
“Well from now on the only people on that list are myself and Mr. Caffrey’s lawyer unless prior permission is given—by me, are we clear?”
Peter was pretty sure Neal wasn’t supposed to get visitors period, but he wasn’t going to argue about that now, he was just there to escort the kid to the Dynamic Support wing at Memorial West. Regardless of that issue, he went ahead and called Jones to have Kate Moreau picked up. He needed to know exactly what she’d said to Neal.
Neal was pretty sure he was at his limit for dealing with emotions for—well, the next ten years if he had anything to say about it. At least he was in a hospital rather than a holding cell now, which was infinitely easier to break out of. He was feeling better, the headache was gone and he was left with only mildly jumpy, which was easy enough to hide.
In theory, he wasn’t so sure about practice as he spilled his cup of water over the tray of questionable hospital food when Mozzie slipped into the room dressed in scrubs and a doctor’s white coat.
“Mozzie,” Neal snapped. “What the hell.”
“Sorry, mon frère, you’re kind of jumpy.”
“You’re one to talk,” Neal replied. “What are you doing here?”
“I came to see if you were all right, obviously.” Mozzie shook his head. “Neal, why didn’t you tell me you were a sub? I mean, I never would have considered going after Adler if I’d known.” He frowned, stepping up to the side of the bed. “I mean, that guy has a reputation, if you know what I mean.”
“Yeah, I do.” Neal swallowed.
Mozzie’s frown deepened and he took Neal’s hand gently. “I know I’m not—not exactly the person to talk to about any of this. I can’t really understand what you’re going through and I can’t support you the way a Dom could.” Mozzie was resolutely Neutral for every Dynamic test he’d ever received.
“It’s okay, Moz. You—there’s nothing you could have done. I was obsessed with Kate and you tried to tell me to stop and I couldn’t and it wasn’t…it wasn’t just about Kate.” Neal sighed. “Adler had me pretty twisted up. If he snapped his fingers, I’d come running.” He shook his head.
“Oh, kid.” Mozzie pulled Neal into a hug. “It’s okay. I mean, I don’t normally approve of the government but…the DSR has good people. You have to get help, you know that, right?”
Neal nodded, trying to pretend he wasn’t crying. “I don’t know what’s going to happen to me, Moz. Agent Burke asked me a bunch of questions about Adler and Kate and…I don’t know why exactly.”
Mozzie pulled back, giving his friend a Seriously? expression. “Neal, if Adler used his Dynamic to push you into doing things you can’t be held accountable for those crimes. Sure, they can get you on bond fraud—maybe, but the bonds you sold that they caught you for were while you with Adler. You could get out of going to prison.”
Neal’s eyes narrowed. “Are you serious?”
“I am. So you answer their questions and give them what they want. You might have flown too close to the sun this time, Icarus, but we might be able to keep you out of a cage at least.”
Not going to prison would be good. Neal thought. Really good.
“In the meantime, be good. Okay?”
Neal nodded. “I’ll do my best.”
“Good.” Mozzie paused on his way to the door. “And on a side note, I might not be a Dom, I might not have that protective instinct, but I’ll tell you now—If I get my hands on Adler before the suits do—they’ll never find him.”
Neal blinked, taken slightly aback by his friend’s tone. “Really?”
“He hurt you, bad, and I let it happen.” Mozzie shook his head. “I won’t let that happen again.”
Neal exhaled sharply. “Thank you Mozzie.”
Mozzie nodded and slipped out of the room.
Neal’s next visitor was a counselor—Marta—accompanied by Agent Burke and Agent Jones, the latter of which waited out in the hall.
“Hello, Neal,” Marta smiled. “How are you feeling today?”
“Feel a lot better if I knew what was happening.”
Peter nodded. “I can understand that.” He stopped at the end of the bed. “We picked up Kate Moreau and she started talking. She told us that she and Adler were working together to coerce you.” Peter frowned. “With her testimony and a truly incriminating string of phone calls and emails in addition to the employment records we have for your Nick Halden alias; we have a direct timeline of Adler’s influence.”
“Okay.” Neal frowned. “That doesn’t exactly clear me of—my alleged bond forgery.”
“No, but we both know that your Dynamic makes this different.” Peter took a breath. “The DOJ is willing to cut you a deal. Four years of supervision and community service—working for the white collar division to help catch your....peers.”
“I feel like there’s an addendum in there somewhere.”
“You would be right.”
Marta took over the conversation there. “You would be required to have a Dominant guardian, Neal. The DOJ and the FBI have been in conference with the DSR and we’ve all come to the conclusion that the best person to fill that role is Agent Burke.”
Neal blinked. “Really?”
Marta nodded. “He’s going to be your supervisor within the FBI as it is, and he tested well within your range for compatibility.” She smiled gently. “And you do already know him. That usually helps.”
Neal nodded somewhat absently before looking at Peter. “What does your wife think about this?”
“Elizabeth is supportive,” Peter replied. “This is a purely platonic arrangement, and she knows that. I think she’s even looking forward to having another submissive to keep me on my toes.” He smiled. “You do keep me on my toes.”
Neal managed a smile.
Seeing the smile made Peter feel a bit better about where Neal was mentally. “You aren’t going to get a better deal, kid,” Peter said. “Of course, the supervision comes with a tracking anklet, but you get a whole two mile radius, which is a lot for Manhattan.”
“And the DSR has found someone for you to stay with,” Marta said. “She’s a widowed submissive, does a lot of volunteer work with us and when she heard about you she volunteered to house you.”
Neal was—overwhelmed. He was also pretty sure Peter was right. He wasn’t going to get a better deal. If he didn’t take it, he’d probably end up in prison for four years and prison for a submissive, as much as submissive rights had advanced and there were protections in place, wasn’t a pretty picture.
He didn’t want to end up there. There was really only one thing to say.
“Where do I sign?”