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A Victory Nonetheless

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“So, you’re picking Neal Caffrey up today,” Elizabeth eyed her husband. “How do you feel about that?”

Peter sipped his coffee. “Nervous.” He glanced at her. “You do know this is the kid who sent me birthday cards? Who sent a surveillance team champagne? He’s not just a sub in need of help, he’s also an incredibly smart con artist with a questionable moral compass.”

Elizabeth wrinkled her nose and leaned down to kiss him. “You’re his moral compass now.”

“Great.” He sighed and then smiled at her. “I’ll need your help with him.”

“I know.” She smiled. “And I will. Now. I have to go look at venue for Marcy Watkins, I’ll see you at dinner.”

Peter nodded. “See you at dinner.”

***

Neal wasn’t sure what he thought of the tracking anklet, but he was sure that he didn’t like the sub-band on his wrist, it was practically mocking him. The thin band of leather was a reminder that in the end, he’d failed in his most important con. Also, he was wearing FBI sweats and no one looked good in sweats.

He’d be happy to no longer have to eat hospital food though. There was nothing good about hospital food.

“Neal?”

Neal looked up from the band. “Peter.”

“You ready to go?”

“Yeah.”

“Let’s see it then.” Peter gestured at Neal’s leg.

Neal sighed and pulled up the pant leg, showing off the tracker.

“Fantastic. Let’s go.” Peter nodded toward the door.

Neal stood up. “Can we stop for lunch?”

Peter looked the kid over. “Sure. We’ll get burgers.”

Neal was too hungry to really complain about that, and followed Peter out of the hospital.

***

Neal hadn’t been sure what to expect when he was told he’d be “housed”. He definitely hadn’t been expecting a three story mansion.

“Wow.” He raised his eyebrows. “This is—wow.”

“Yeah, I didn’t pick it,” Peter said.

Peter headed up to the front door and knocked, a maid answered.

“Peter Burke and Neal Caffrey for June Ellington,” Peter said.

“Of course, she’s expecting you.”

Neal’s eyes got wider as they headed inside the exceptionally well decorated home to a sitting room with a piano. A well-dressed, older black woman was waiting for them with coffee and a bright smile.

“Hello, Agent Burke, Neal—I’m June Ellington.” She shook each of their hands. “It’s a pleasure to meet you both.”

“Thank you for opening your home to me, June,” Neal replied. “I must admit I’m somewhat surprised.”

“Well, my Byron wasn’t the straightest of arrows and I stood by him.” She smiled. “Now, sit down and we’ll have some coffee. I believe Agent Burke has some t’s to cross.”

“Yeah we have to go over rules.” He glanced at Neal.

Neal made a face. 

They settled around the coffee table and June poured the coffee.

“This is delicious,” Neal said after taking a sip.

“Thank you.”

Peter raised his eyebrows after his own first sip. “Wow, that is good.” He took a breath. “Mrs. Ellington—”

“Please call me June.”

Peter nodded. “June, you received the packet and signed off on it, correct?”

“I did. I understand he’s on a tracking anklet, he has a two-mile radius and mandatory therapy sessions weekly.”

Neal made a face.

“And now the rules,” Peter took another drink of coffee. “Neal, I know you read them but this is the time for you to ask questions.”

“Okay.” He raised an eyebrow. “Go on then.”

“Obviously don’t break the law, is at the top of the list.”

“Obviously.” Neal sighed. “I don’t really have anything to say about that one.”

“You shouldn’t have anything to say about it,” Peter agreed. “Two, you do not lie to me or anyone else.”

“What if I have to lie to someone while helping with a case?” Neal gave Peter a look. “You know, play a part?”

“If it’s for a case, you’ll have more leeway.”

Neal hid a smile and shrugged. “I guess that’s okay.”

June smiled.

“Three, there will be no contact between you and your criminal colleagues.”

Mozzie’s not going to like that. Neal frowned. “They’re not all bad influences,” he argued. “You could argue that all of my friends are criminals, in which case you’re cutting me off from my support structure.”

Peter sighed. “Fine. You can submit them to me for approval.”

Neal made a face. “Fine.”

“Four, if you are not working on case you will be back to your apartment by eleven every night.”

“Seriously?” Neal leaned back. “I’m not a child.”

“No, but you need to show me you can play by the rules I set and then we’ll see about giving you a longer leash.” Peter gave him a sharp look. “Understand?”

Neal sighed. “Yeah.”

“Okay. Last one, you will attend your therapy sessions.”

Neal made a face. He’d done some therapy sessions at the hospital, Marta was a nice enough counselor, but he didn’t really like opening up to people. He didn’t want to talk about Adler or Kate. He didn’t want to show off the emotional scars they’d left behind. He was fine with letting them scab over on their own. He could deal with it on his own.

“Neal,” Peter prompted.

Neal blinked. “Uh—right. Of course. Therapy.” He nodded.

Peter had a feeling Neal was going to fight him about this at some point but for now he was willing to let it slide.

“All right, I think that’s everything. You get the weekend to settle in and I will pick you up on Monday for work.” Peter stood up. “It was lovely to meet you, June.” He smiled at her. “Keep an eye on our boy.”

“Of course, Agent Burke.” June escorted him out and returned to Neal, smiling gently. “Would you like to see your rooms?”

“Rooms?” Neal stood up.

“Well, it’s an apartment really.” She smiled. “Follow me.”

***

Neal wasn’t all that surprised to find Mozzie in his apartment the following day, sitting at the kitchen table drinking wine.

“Moz.”

“Neal.” Mozzie smiled. “You lucked out my friend. June is a delight.”

Neal smiled and sat down. “She’s a wonderful person.”

“And I see she upgraded your wardrobe.” Mozzie nodded in Neal’s direction, eyeing the suit he was wearing.

“Her late-husband had great taste,” Neal agreed. “You know, Peter made it a rule, I’m not supposed to associate with you without his permission.”

“And that’s going to stop you? Really?”

Neal laughed. “Yeah, you’re right about that.” He took a deep breath. “We’ll just have to be careful.”

“In the meantime, I see you’ve repaired your metaphysical armor.” Mozzie frowned. “You know, playing a role is what got you into this. You should—I don’t know—try to let yourself need things.”

“It’s not like I can just go to Peter and tell him I need a hug, Moz.”

“I think the whole concept of him being your guardian means you can do exactly that.” He gave Neal a look. “I might not like Suits, but he seems to be an honorable sort. Do you need a hug?”

Yes. Neal wanted more than a hug though, he wanted to be held, reassured. “I’m fine, Moz.”

“Liar. Come on, we can settle on the couch.” Mozzie stood up. “And I’m not taking no for an answer.”

“You aren’t a Dom, Moz.”

“Maybe not, but you need touch, so move it.”

Neal sighed, but was unwilling to argue, following Mozzie to the couch and letting his friend settle him. It wasn’t quite as effective as it would have been with a Dom, but Mozzie was right, he needed human contact. Neal sighed. Maybe Mozzie’s right about Peter to. Neal did know that Peter was a good man, a good Dom and husband. He probably could ask for comfort he just—he couldn’t help remembering Adler.

Everything had been good in the beginning. Vincent had been kind. It hadn’t lasted. He could still remember what Adler had said to him the last time he’d gone to him looking for comfort.

Don’t be so needy.

Don’t be such a child.

Handle it yourself.

It only got worse. By the time Adler left the country, the only time Neal could remember the man touching him was when he hit him. Will Peter use a belt too? Neal had no reference beyond Adler’s behavior. He’d been too young to see his parents interact as a Dom and sub before his father died, and Aunt Ellen had never known Neal was a sub. He’d buried it down deep, recognizing it as a weakness the neighborhood bullies could exploit and then—well then he’d run away.

He wasn’t sure how Peter would react if he found out Mozzie had stopped by but—right then, he thought it was worth it. He needed Mozzie enough to risk taking a beating.

Mozzie was the only family he had left.

***

Monday arrived. Neal put on the Devore June had first shown him, cocked a hat at a jaunty angle and tried to project as much confidence as possible. Peter picked him up right on time.

“You look like a cartoon,” he remarked.

Neal grinned, flipping his hat.

Peter rolled his eyes. “Okay, Dino, let’s go.”

“Come on, I look good and you know it.”

On the one hand, Peter was glad to see Neal smiling, confident but on the other—he knew most of it was just a front. A thin outer shell to protect his still raw inner core. The smile did look genuine though, and that was promising.

“Do we have a case?” Neal asked, following Peter out to the car.

“You ever hear of a guy who calls himself the Dutchman?”

Neal smiled. “Oh, this should be fun.”

***

Peter placed Neal at a desk, told Jones to keep an eye on him and handed over all of the current files they had on the Dutchman before heading in to talk to Hughes.

“How’s it going?” Hughes asked, nodding toward the young man currently chatting up Jones.

“He seems happy to dive into the work, although I suspect it’s mostly to distract himself.” He sighed. “We have to keep track of anything that triggers him and make sure he gets to therapy but, you know he’s a tough kid.”

Hughes nodded. “Keep him busy—and try to keep him in line. I know he’s a victim, but he’s also a world-class criminal.”

“Yeah.” Peter shook his head. “I think he enjoys being a contradiction.”

There was a knock on the door. “Hey boss, we’ve got a hit on Snow White at JFK,” Diana said. “Customs is holding a book dealer named Tony Field for us.”

Peter nodded. “Okay. Grab Caffrey.”

Diana smirked. “Will do.”

***

Neal found himself caught up in the job easily. Bond forgery was, after all, something he was intimately familiar with. He and Mozzie spent an evening examining every inch of the forged bond they picked up from the National Archive until he found a clue.

On impulse, he took a cab to Peter’s house the next morning. Really, it was time he met Elizabeth anyway. He probably should have considered calling first.

Neal felt a bit nervous knocking at the front door of a house he’d staked out a dozen times during his run from the feds. He’d seen Elizabeth before, sent her flowers a couple times. This was different.

The petite brunette smiled when she opened the door. “Hello there,” she blinked. “You must be Neal Caffrey.”

“Elizabeth Burke, I presume.” Neal nodded. “I’m here to see Peter, obviously.” He held up a bouquet. “For you.”

“Thank you.” She smiled brighter. “They’re beautiful. Come on in, we can wait for Peter in the living room.”

Meanwhile, upstairs, Peter was shaving when his phone went off. He frowned when he recognized the phone number and sighed. “Yeah, this is Agent Burke.”

Neal and Elizabeth looked up at the sound of footsteps on the stairs, spotting Peter looking somewhat—annoyed—and still on the phone. The man sighed, “It’s okay, Caffrey is with me—yeah—yeah—I’ll see you at the office.” He hung up the phone and stalked into the living room, propping a hand on his hip.

“Hey, Peter,” Neal smiled a bit nervously.

“You’re on my couch,” Peter said. “You activated your tracker.”

“Did you really put Elizabeth under surveillance before you asked her out?” Neal raised his eyebrows.

“It was sweet, really,” Elizabeth added.

Peter made a face. “I should ground you.”

Neal decided to cut off that sort of thinking. “I know who the Dutchman is.”

“Enlighten me.”  

“Curtis Hagan.”

***

Jones stopped Peter on his way back from the warehouse Hagan was using to print the bonds. “So, you know that guy Neal bummed a cigarette from?”

“Squirrelly guy in glasses?” Peter asked.

“Yeah.” Jones nodded. “I’m pretty sure he’s a contact. He wasn’t exactly subtle. I tried running his face but—he’s off the grid. You should ask Neal about him.”

Peter nodded. “Will do. At least he’s using his contacts to help rather than hinder the investigation.”

Jones nodded.

“Keep looking though, I’d like to have some idea who the guy is.”

“Will do, boss.”

Peter sighed. He’d expected Neal to break the rules, he was just sort of hoping he wouldn’t do it quite so soon.

***

While Neal’s methodology for catching Hagan red-handed had been a bit questionable, Peter couldn’t deny it’s effectiveness. The kid had read the Warrant Law book, come up with a plan and executed it to catch their murderous bond forger.

Of course, he’d also put himself in a bit more danger than Peter liked in order to do it. After hours of paperwork, Peter headed for Neal’s desk. He’d handed him some mortgage fraud cases to look through after writing his report. It was pretty boring work, but at least it kept him busy.

“Neal.”

Neal blinked. “Hey, Peter, what’s up?”

“You’re coming over to my place for dinner tonight, remember? Elizabeth insisted.”

“Oh, right.” Neal closed the file he’d been looking at and set it aside. “Let’s go.”

Peter waited patiently for Neal to slip on his suit jacket and grab his hat. He walked him the elevator, a hand on Neal’s shoulder. He couldn’t help but notice Neal had been a bit…off, the longer the day went. His mask slipping. Peter had to wonder how long it had been since someone put Neal into subspace. Properly, that is. The kid probably needed it.

I could be in over my head here. At least when they got back to the house, Elizabeth would be there for a second opinion. He was going to need the back up.

***

They’d settled into comfortable post-dinner conversation over coffee and pie. Neal had managed to fix his mask back into place for Elizabeth, but it was starting to slip again. Elizabeth exchanged a look with Peter and then glanced at Neal.

“Neal, you look beat. Do you want to stay here tonight?” she smiled at him.

“I wouldn’t want to impose.”

“It’s no imposition.”

“It’s better if you don’t argue with her,” Peter said. “Trust me.”

Neal smiled. The dinner had given him more insight into Peter and Elizabeth’s relationship. He’d known Peter loved his wife, and he knew from the silver and gold braided chain collar with a diamond set loop and gold tags she wore that Peter had help picking it out and that as his submissive, she was precious to him.

He’d never seen Peter raise his voice to her. Never seen Peter threaten her. Never seen her flinch away or do anything that indicated she was afraid of him. She spoke her mind. He’d never thought Peter was a bad Dom but—it was more reassuring than he could express to see that Elizabeth was so confident around Peter.

“Okay, I’ll stay.”

“Great.” Elizabeth smiled. “Come on, I bet you want a shower and then we can all watch a movie.”

Neal swallowed. “Okay.” He stood up and followed her upstairs while Peter took care of the dishes.

After his shower, Neal padded downstairs in borrowed pajamas—he was trying to live with the fact that they were branded with Peter’s favorite baseball team—and Elizabeth beckoned him over to the sofa.

“How do you feel about The Name of the Rose?” Elizabeth asked.

“Umberto Eco is a favorite,” Neal replied. “And Sean Connery isn’t bad.”

“Okay.” She smiled and patted the seat next to her. “Come here.”

Neal froze, biting his lip.

“It’s okay.” She nodded encouragingly. “Cuddle with me.”

Neal took a moment before crossing the room and sinking into the seat next to her, a bit stiff until she put an arm around him. He let out a breathe he hadn’t realized he’d been holding.

“You okay?” she asked after a minute.

“Yeah.” His voice cracked. “This is good.”

Peter walked in a few minutes later with popcorn, taking the last seat on the other side of Neal and giving him a questioning look. After a few seconds, Neal nodded and Peter put an arm around him. Elizabeth started the movie and as the minutes ticked by, Neal slowly relaxed against Peter.

Peter watched the sub closely and picked up a piece of popcorn, glancing at Elizabeth. She nodded. Peter held the popcorn up to Neal’s lips. Neal blinked, and took the popcorn, crunching and swallowing before he looked at Peter.

“This okay, kid?” Peter asked.

After a moment, Neal nodded and they settled into an easy rhythm for the rest of the movie, Neal drifting gently until the movie ended. He was half-asleep by then, but he was still a bit underweight and while tall, not a great burden for Peter. The Dom managed to get Neal up the stairs and into bed, Elizabeth watching from the doorway as Peter pushed the hair from Neal’s face, tucking him in and padding back out the hall.

“He almost went down,” Elizabeth whispered. “Just from that.”

Peter nodded. “He puts on a good front but…he needs this more than he’ll ever admit.”

“Well, I know what it’s like to want to do everything on your own.” Elizabeth wrinkled her nose. “But he has you and me now. We just have to be patient, right?”

Peter smiled, leaning down to kiss her gently. “I am the luckiest man in the world, you know that?”

“I do.” She grinned.

“Brat,” he teased, giving her a light smack on the bottom before they headed off to bed.