Authorís Note: This story fills the bingo square for Ďlying downí in the ĎHoliday Bingo Challengeí over at the LJ group Ďspanking_worldí. Itís also filling the following prompt from Dino76:
White Collar, Peter/Neal
Neal's grumpy around Christmas because Peter won't allow him to go to a Christmas Gathering at some Museum outside his radius. Maybe he's been cheeky and reckless lately and Peter decided that he doesn't deserve to go to a party ;) You could either have Neal disobey or annoy Peter until he snaps :) your choice.
Disclaimer: I donít own any of these characters, and Iím not making any money from this story.
Warning: Non-consensual spanking of an adult.
Authorís 2nd Note: This story takes place during Season 1 in between Episode 7 ĎFree Fallí which aired in early December and Episode 8 ĎHard Sellí which aired in mid-January. I know it wasnít supposed to be Christmas time during the show, but I stuck it in there anyway. During ĎFree Fallí both Peter and Neal meet Agent Fowler, and both suspect that heís the FBI guy who has Kate. But at the end of the episode, Fowler lets Neal know that heís really in town to investigate Peter, leaving Neal with some doubts about his partner, and about Fowler.

. . .
. . .
You Really Let Me Down

Neal sat at his kitchen table sipping a glass of Bordeaux and contemplating the week in front of him. Three hours ago as he was leaving the office, Peter told him that they both had the next week off. Christmas was next Friday, exactly a week away, and Peter had requested that whole week off before heíd even started working with Neal six months ago. Since Neal was Peterís C.I., that meant Neal had the week off as well.

Normally Neal would love a week in New York at Christmas, but being restricted to his two-mile radius put a serious crimp on any plans he might have had. He probably could have had a decent week anyway if not for the fact that Kate was still missing, and he was certain that she was scared and in danger. He still fully believed that Agent Fowler had something to do with Kateís reluctance to contact him, and after his last meeting with Fowler, Neal couldnít help wondering if Peter knew more than he was letting on. Then the conversation heíd had with Peter a few hours ago made it clear the older man still didnít trust him, and frankly that hurt.

As theyíd gotten in the elevator, Neal had said, "All week? Why didnít you say something earlier?"

"And give you time to come up with some hair brained scheme to find Kate or catch Fowler without the Bureau?" Peter asked with a knowing smile. "I donít think so. As it is, youíll be expected to show up for the office Christmas party on Monday night, and for the Christmas party El is throwing at our house on Wednesday night. And June is expecting you for dinner on Christmas Day."

"Youíve planned out my whole week?" Neal asked. He was still too shocked to show his anger, but it was simmering just under the surface.

"Having too much time on your hands always leads you into trouble," Peter said as the elevator doors opened. "Iíll see you Monday at four oíclock back here for the party."

Neal nodded stiffly, and headed in the opposite direction before he said something he might regret. The whole planned out week was more than a little insulting. Neal had truly thought that he and Peter had turned a corner a few weeks ago. Fowler had set him up for stealing and forging a pink diamond, and Peter had assumed he was guilty even after Neal told him again and again that he was innocent. After Neal had finally been proven innocent, he thought Peter might have grown to trust him a little bit more, but he should have known better. Especially since Peter didnít even apologize for his hurtful comment that kept replaying in Nealís head. "You really let me down, Neal."

Neal finished his wine, and glared at the Christmas tree June had insisted on putting in Nealís living area. It wasnít as big as the one downstairs in Juneís living room, but it was still quite large. It wasnít that Neal hated Christmas, in fact it was one of his favorite holidays. Several of his best cons had been pulled during Christmas. Businesses were often closed, which made them perfect targets. People tended to carry a lot more cash during Christmas, which had made pick pocketing much more lucrative in his younger years.

But now that he was working with the FBI, he didnít have the luxury of planning a con, which left him with that free time that Peter assumed would be bad for him. In some ways Peter was right on the nose, and in other ways he was completely wrong. Having free time during Christmas didnít make Neal more likely to pull a con; it left him vulnerable to thoughts of the past. Some of his childhood memories of Christmas were happy, but most of them werenít, and the excessively happy memories of his time with Kate at Christmas were now bittersweet because she wasnít with him. All those bad thoughts did make him more likely to pull a con, if only to focus his thoughts on other things.

Pouring another glass, Neal turned his back on the tree, and went to stare out his window at the beautiful view of New York. His cell phone rang, and he dug it out of his pocket. He didnít recognize the number, and answered cautiously.



"Kate," he said after hearing her voice. "Where are you? Is Fowler the one who has something on you? Is he the reason you canítÖ"

"Neal!" she spoke loudly to cut him off. "Thereís a Christmas party this Wednesday at The Museum of Modern Art. Iíll be in the womenís restroom on the lobby floor at exactly nine oíclock. We need to talk."

"Iíll be there," he said, promising himself that heíd find a way, even if that museum was well outside his radius. The line went dead. He stuck the phone back in his pocket, sipped his wine, and reiterated to himself. "Iíll be there."

# # #

Neal spent the next two days stewing about it. Heíd discussed his options with Mozzie, and neither one of them saw a way to get to the museum on Wednesday night without Peter knowing about it. But then Neal wasnít sure Mozzie was giving the problem one hundred percent of his brain power, since Mozzie wasnít a fan of Kateís and didnít trust her motives for wanting Neal to meet with her. But just because Peter needed to know where Neal was, that didnít mean that Peter needed to know why.

On Monday night Neal showed up for the office party right on time, and even came bearing gifts for his co-workers, and their spouses. He brought something especially nice for Elizabeth, hoping to get on her good side, before asking Peter anything. When Peter and Elizabeth arrived, Neal saw the older man scowl as he walked towards him.

"Neal, didnít you read the memo about the party? It clearly said no gifts."

Neal shrugged, gave Peter his most charming smile. "I must not have read that one. Does that mean you donít want these tickets to see the Yankees?" He held up the tickets in front of Peterís face so he could see the seat numbers beside the bow.

Peter stared at the tickets for a few seconds. "Those are really good seats."

Neal stuck the tickets in Peterís suit pocket, and patted them. "Merry Christmas."

Glaring at his C.I., Peter said, "What do you want, Caffery?"

"Iím just trying to spread the Christmas cheer, Neal said, trying to look innocent."

"If I find out that youíre up to somethingÖ"

Elizabeth put a comforting hand on her husbandís arm. "Peter, itís a Christmas party."

He glanced at his wife, and gave in to the look she was giving him. "Youíre right, hun. It is a Christmas party." He patted Nealís shoulder and said, "Thanks for the gift, but next time read all your memos."

Grinning, Neal held out a small velvet box to Elizabeth. "Merry Christmas."

Smiling, Elizabeth took the box, and opened it. She gasped when she saw the emerald earrings inside.

"I thought theyíd bring out the green in your eyes," Neal said.

"Theyíre beautiful," Elizabeth said, and then pushed the box back towards Neal. "But theyíre much too expensive, Neal."

Neal shook his head, took her free hand in one of his, and gently pushed the box back towards her with his other hand. "Since I started working with Peter, youíve been kind to me, youíve trusted me, and youíve gone out on a limb for me more than once when no one else would. Iíd really like you to have these."

Elizabeth looked to Peter, who had an impressive scowl.

Knowing he needed to play the sympathy card to get Elizabeth to agree, Neal added, "I donít have any family here to share the holidays with, so I appreciate being invited to your Christmas party this Wednesday."

Turning back to Neal, Elizabeth gently squeezed his hand, and said, "Youíre always welcome in our home, Neal."

Peter huffed, but they both ignored him.

"Thank you, Elizabeth," Neal said sincerely.

She looked at the earrings again, and smiled. "They would look nice with my new black dress."

Neal grinned. "They would."

"Alright, Neal, Iíll keep them. Thank you for the lovely gift."

"Youíre welcome."

They were interrupted by Hughesí wife coming over to talk to Elizabeth. Once the women were engaged in a talk about food, Peter pulled Neal aside and said, "What are you up to?"

"Up to?" Neal asked innocently.

"With the tickets and the earrings."

"I just like Christmas. Thatís it."

Peter grunted in response, clearly not believing that. "I chased you for years, Neal. The only reason you like Christmas is because people are easier to con this time of year."

"Wow, I didnít know you were such a Scrooge, Peter."

Before Peter had a chance to reply, Jones was there introducing his date to them.

Throughout the course of the party, Neal carefully brought up the subject of modern art during several conversations, hoping that someone would mention the Christmas party at the museum. As luck would have it, Hughesí wife overheard Neal and Jones discussing a recent modern art heist that theyíd worked on together, and joined in the discussion.

"Where did the heist take place? she asked. It wasnít at the Museum of Modern Art, was it?"

"No," Jones assured her. "This was at a locally owned art gallery in upper Manhattan."

"Why do you ask?" Neal said, hoping luck was with him.

"Thereís going to be a Christmas party at the museum this Wednesday. I was thinking about going, but Reese isnít particularly a fan of modern art. Iím not sure Iíd feel safe going by myself if the museum had recently been broken into."

Trying not to grin like the Cheshire Cat, Neal feigned polite interest, and said, "Whatís being displayed during the Christmas party?"

She talked about different artists, and Neal gushed about their work. Ten minutes later, when she was done telling him about it, he said, "I would love to escort you to the party, Mrs. Hughes. Itís always more fun to view art with a fellow aficionado."

"That would be wonderful," she said.

Grinning, Neal said, "Iíll just need to clear it with Peter. The museum is technically outside my radius, but I canít imagine heíd refuse."

"I can," Jones muttered, taking a sip of his wine.

Ignoring the other manís pessimistic attitude, Neal excused himself to go find Peter. He found the older man talking to Lauren and Elizabeth, and went to join them. When there was a lull in their conversation, Neal asked, "What time does your Christmas party start on Wednesday?"

"Four oíclock," Elizabeth said.

"Is there anything youíd like me to bring?"

"Just yourself," she answered with a smile.

"Great. Iíll be there." Turning his focus to Peter, Neal added, "That same night thereís a Christmas party at the Museum of Modern Art. I was just talking to Mrs. Hughes about it. Itís from eight to ten and sheís looking for someone to accompany her. I thought it would be nice to take her since the Director doesnít want to go."

"Thatís outside your radius," Peter said.

Neal nodded. "Thatís why Iím telling you about it. I was hoping you could call the Marshallís office and okay it for that night."

"I donít think so, Neal. Youíre already coming over to my house that night, and thatís technically outside of your radius as well."

"But Iím trying to do something nice for Mrs. Hughes," Neal protested.

"Excuse us for a moment," Peter said to the women as he grabbed Nealís upper arm and pulled him to an empty corner of the room. "Is this what the gifts were about earlier?"

"I donít know what youíre talking about."

Peter rolled his eyes. "Why do you really want to go, Neal?"

"Itís a Christmas party displaying modern art. Why wouldnít I want to go, Peter?"

"I donít think you need that kind of temptation in front of you. Especially if Iím not there."

"Temptation?" Neal scoffed. "You do realize Iíve gone to thousands of museums without stealing anything, right? I love art. I appreciate art. And I enjoy admiring art with someone else who loves it as much as I do."

Peter looked him in the eyes for a few seconds, and then shook his head. "I donít buy it. Tell me whatís really going on, and maybe Iíll agree to let you go."

"Iím offended by your lack of trust," Neal said mildly, trying not to let the truth behind those words show. "Just three weeks ago Fowler set me up, and you believed him even though I told you I hadnít done it."

Peter sighed. "Not this again. Have you conveniently forgotten that I helped clear your name?"

"Of course not, but it would have been nice to hear that you believed me from the start."

Before Peter had a chance to reply, Elizabeth interrupted. "Come on, you two. Stop bickering like an old married couple, and come join the party."

"Sorry, hun," Peter said.

"Sorry, Elizabeth," Neal echoed, and followed them to join in other conversations. He was quite disappointed that Peter hadnít agreed to let him go to the party, but Peter wasnít his only option. He would bide his time, enjoy what was left of the party, and wait for Wednesday. Before he left, he made sure to talk to Mrs. Hughes once more to solidify their plans.

# # #

On Wednesday after lunch, Neal called the Bureau, talked to Jones for a few seconds, and then asked to speak to the Director.

"What can I do for you Neal?" Reese asked.

"Hello, Director. I was hoping you could give your wife my cell phone number for the party at museum tonight."

"My wife doesnít carry a cell phone. But she told me she was going to meet you just inside the lobby doors right at 8 p.m."

"Oh, well thatís fine. I was just thinking she should have it for emergencies. Have you already call the Marshallís office to clear it for me?" There was a moment of silence on the line. "Director?" Neal asked.

"I didnít realize I was supposed to call. Why hasnít Peter called?"

"During the office party Elizabeth made a comment about Peter never leaving work at the office where it belongs, so he told me he was going to ask you to call."

Reese made an understanding grunt at that, as if he and his wife had had similar conversations.

Neal grinned and added, "Did you want me to call Peter and have himÖ"

"No need," Reese interrupted, "Iíll give the Marshallís office a call right now."

"Great, thank you. Iím really looking forward to hearing what your wife thinks of the OíKeefe inspired display."

"And Iím looking forward to relaxing at home instead of staring at art, so thank you."

"Anytime, Director."

Neal hung up and congratulated himself on a job well done. Now he just had to remember to keep his enthusiasm in check for the party at Peterís house. If he went in grinning, the older man would know something was up, and if he went in pouting, Peter might do something drastic like change his mind and call the Marshallís office himself.

# # #

Promptly at 4 p.m., Neal showed up on Peterís doorstep, along with a couple of other people including Lauren. Elizabeth opened the door, and greeted them all as they came in. Neal was last, and he handed her a bottle of wine as he walked in.

"You shouldnít have," she said with a grin, "but you do have spectacular taste in wine."

He grinned, too. "My pleasure. I was right; those earrings do bring out the green in your eyes."

She chuckled and shut the door behind them. Then she linked her arm in his, and leaned in to whisper in his ear. "Peter said the same thing, but donít tell him I told you, because he still says it was an inappropriate gift."

Smirking with delight, Neal whispered back, "It will be our little secret."

"Speaking of gifts, thereís something for you under the tree."

"There is?" Neal asked, truly surprised, looking towards their Christmas tree. Heíd seen it a couple of times over the past two weeks, and none of the gifts under it were new, which meant it had been there all along.

"We were hoping you could come over for dinner tomorrow night and open it," Elizabeth said.

"ButÖ tomorrow is Christmas Eve."

She smiled and patted his arm. "Exactly. Be here at six."

She went to mingle with others, and Neal found himself walking closer to the tree. Now that he was actually looking at the gifts, he clearly saw the one with his name on it, and berated himself for not noticing it before. He also noticed that the only other gifts were for Peter and Elizabeth. There werenít any for Jones, Lauren, or any other people from work. A tiny sliver of guilt settled in Nealís chest. Theyíd bought him something weeks ago, and unlike him, they didnít have an ulterior motive when theyíd bought it. Frowning, he put his hands in his pockets, and tried to convince himself that he would have gotten them gifts anyway, even if he hadnít made plans to see Kate.

A hand clapping down on his shoulder surprised him, and he turned to see Peter giving him a raised eyebrow. "I hope youíre not planning to spend the whole evening sulking."

"Sulking?" Neal asked, quickly realizing why Peter would think he was. "Iím not sulking," he said with a forced smile.

"Glad to hear it." He patted the younger manís shoulder and let his hand drop. "Come meet our neighbors."

Neal followed him over, and easily pushed his guilt into the background. Tonight he would finally be able to see Kate, and once they had a chance to talk, everything was going to be fine. He spent the next three and a half hours enjoying the food, the wine, the company, and the atmosphere of the Burkeís home.

The party was still in full swing at seven thirty when he needed to leave, which worked out just fine for him. He waited until both Peter and Elizabeth were busy in conversations, and then discreetly asked Jones to let them know heíd gone home for the night. After slipping out the front door without being noticed, Neal congratulated himself on another job well done, and made his way down the street to hail a cab.

He met Mrs. Hughes promptly at eight oíclock, and they spent the next hour together enjoying the art. At five minutes to nine, he excused himself to go to the restroom, and made his way to the womenís restroom on the lobby floor. He stood by the door for a few moments until someone came out.

The tall blond woman gasped and put a hand on her chest when she saw him standing right outside the door.

He gave her a charming smile and said, "Iím looking for my wife. Was there anyone else in the restroom with you?"

The blond woman visibly relaxed, and gave him a smile. "No, Iím sorry. I was alone."

"Okay, thank you." Neal said, and moved out of the way so she could leave. He stood beside the door, took out his phone, and pretended to call someone while waiting for her to go down the hall and around the corner. Once the hall was empty, he went into the womenís restroom to do a quick search of his own. When he found it vacant, he went back out, and stationed himself by the door to see who was going in and out.

Five minutes later when Kate hadnít shown up, Neal started to worry, and ten minutes after that he started to panic. He called the last number that sheíd called him from, but no one answered. He stuck his head in the restroom and called Kateís name, even though there were no windows or other exits in the room.

"Damn it," he muttered, and dialed Mozzieís number.

"Hello?" Mozzie answered.

"Something happened, Mozz. Sheís not here."

After a short pause, Mozzie said, "Did she leave anything for you? A clue of some kind?"

"Hold on," Neal muttered, as he went back into the womenís restroom, and searched for something Kate might have left him, like a note or a key. The pristine room was devoid of anything resembling a clue as to Kateís whereabouts.

"Nothing," Neal told Mozzie.

Gently Mozzie said, "Maybe that was her plan all along."

"What?" Neal shook his head and went back to the hall. "Why would that be her plan?"

"To make you even more worried and frantic than before, so that the next time she asks you to meet her, youíll do whatever it takes, including clipping your anklet and going on the run."

Glaring at the floor, Neal said, "Or maybe her plan was to meet me, and someone forced her not to come."

Mozzie sighed. "Do you want me to ask around again? See if sheís surfaced anywhere recently?"

Feeling suddenly defeated, Neal nodded and said quietly, "Yeah, Mozz. Thanks."

"Go home. Get some sleep. Iíll call you tomorrow."

Neal hung up, stood by the bathroom door another five minutes, and then went back to find Mrs. Hughes. Along the way, he grabbed a glass of the complimentary champagne, downed it, and got another once he found her. Half an hour later, he had four drinks under his belt, and he was finding it more and more difficult to remain charming and focus on the artwork.

When he picked up his fifth drink, Mrs. Hughes put a hand on his arm and said, "Neal, dear. Is something wrong?"

"Iím sorry," he slurred. "Iím not being very good company tonight."

He went to take another drink, but she gently took the glass out of his hands. "I think youíve had enough." He knew that was true and didnít protest as she set the full glass down. He didnít put up any resistance when she linked her arm with his, and headed them towards the elevators. "Itís time to call it a night. Give me your phone please."

"My phone?" He put a hand over the breast pocket of his suit jacket, covering the phone underneath. "Why?"

The stepped into the elevator, and once they were alone with the doors shut, she said, "Iím going to call Agent Burke and have him come pick you up."

The alcohol in his stomach started to churn. He tried to plaster a smile on his face and said, "Thereís really no need for that Mrs. Hughes. I havenít had that much to drink. Iím perfectly capable of taking a cab ride home."

The doors slid open, and they stepped out on the lobby floor. As they walked towards the front of the museum, she said, "Neal, dear, Iíve only met you a few times, and you seem like a very nice boy, but Iíve been the wife of an FBI agent for over forty years, and I can spot a con from miles away. For a con artist, youíre very sweet, and Iím certain that working with Agent Burke has been, and will continue to be good for you, but please donít insult my intelligence by thinking youíve pulled the wool over my eyes."

Neal paled and shook his head no, but she kept talking. "Something obviously happened when you went to the restroom. You were gone for twenty minutes, and when you came back, you were clearly unhappy. I donít believe you were trying to steal anything, but you were trying to pull something, and it went wrong. Now you can give me your phone, and let me call Agent Burke to come pick you up, or Iíll have the security guards detain you, and use their phones to call. Which one do you think will make your handler less angry?"

Wishing he hadnít had so much to drink, Neal desperately tried to think of something to get himself out of this situation, but nothing was coming to mind. He gave her some puppy dog eyes and said, "Please donít call Peter. HeÖ He didnít exactly approve this outing." Instead of garnering him sympathy, his comment had the opposite effect. He watched as her features become stern and grimaced.

"Well then I guess youíre going to have quite a bit of explaining to do, arenít you?" She held out her hand and added, "Give me your phone."

Reluctantly, he handed it over. Keeping their arms linked, she walked to a little bench near the front doors, and sat down, which forced him to sit as well or break the link. Once they were seated, she found Peterís number in Nealís phone, and dialed.

Neal tried to keep his nerves in check while he listened to Mrs. Hughesí end of the short conversation. After sheíd succinctly explained the situation, she listened for a few moments, agreed with whatever Peter had said, and then hung up. She handed the phone back to him, and patted his hand in comfort. "Heíll be here in about half an hour. Letís get you some water to drink before he arrives."

Neal groaned, but dutifully drank the water she got him, and waited for his demise.

# # #

Half an hour later Neal felt worse, not better. Every time he closed his eyes it felt as if the room were tilting, but he was so very tired that all he wanted to do was close his eyes. Thankfully Mrs. Hughes didnít try to talk to him, other than the occasional directive to drink more water. He wasnít watching the lobby doors for Peterís arrival, but he knew the instant the older man was there. He could feel the disappointment aimed at him. Hanging his head, he waited for the usual, ĎDamn it, Neal!í followed by finger pointing, lecturing, and possibly yelling. Instead Peter ignored him entirely.

"Iím so sorry about all of this Mrs. Hughes," Peter said.

Mrs. Hughes took Peterís offered hand and stood. "Nonsense, Agent Burke, thereís nothing for you to apologize for." She turned to Neal and added, "You on the other hand owe me an evening out at the gallery of my choosing where you donít ditch me for twenty minutes or get drunk. Is that clear young man?"

Neal stood, and swayed on his feet as he nodded in agreement. "Absolutely, Mrs. Hughes. Iím very sorry I wasnít good company this evening. It will never happen again." He felt Peterís hand on his upper arm, helping him to remain upright.

"See that it doesnít." She gave him a curt nod, and then turned to Peter. "If thatís all, Iím going to go enjoy the last few minutes of the party."

"Actually, there is one thing," Peter said, looking somewhat embarrassed. "I was wondering if it was at all possible to keep this little episode of Nealís strictly between us." Before letting her answer, he tried to defend what he was asking her to do. "I know Neal made some bad decisions, but until I find out what he was actually up to, Iíd like to keep this under wraps."

Surprised, Neal simply stared at Peter with a slightly open mouth.

Mrs. Hughes smiled and put a hand on Peterís arm. "I wasnít planning to tell anyone Agent Burke. I can tell that Neal has a good heart, and I can also tell that youíre going to show him the error of his ways. Thatís good enough for me."

"Thank you," Peter said sincerely, and then muttered, "Come on Neal. Time to go home."

Neal went where Peter led him without complaint, and before he knew it he was in Peterís warm car headed towards Juneís house. The motion of the car really didnít help his stomach, and he leaned the side of his face against the cold glass to help calm it. He was grateful that Peter made the drive in silence, while he focused on trying not to vomit.

# # #

Once they made it to Juneís house, Nealís stomach had calmed somewhat. He considered protesting when Peter put a hand on his arm to help him out of the car, into the house, and up the steps, but he still wasnít all that steady on his feet, and he doubted Peter would pay attention to his protests anyway.

Peter didnít let go once they were in Nealís apartment. After shutting the door behind them, Peter took him to his bed, and helped him to sit on the edge. Once Neal was seated, Peter finally let go of his arm. Neal looked up to see Peter looming over him with his hands on his hips, and a very displeased expression on his face.

"Alright Neal, letís have it. I want the whole story from start to finish, and I want it now. No lies, no omissions, just an honest confession."

Glaring at his lap, Neal decided he didnít have the energy to lie about it anyway. "Friday after work, Kate called. She asked me to meet her at the museum tonight at nine oíclock."

Peter sighed. "Of course she did," he muttered. "And?"

"She wasnít there. No note, no call, no nothing."

"Damn it, Neal! Why do you insist on hiding these things from me? If youíd told me about her call, we could have worked together to get answers. But instead you lied to me, you tried to bribe me with gifts, you went behind my back to get what you wanted, and you manipulated your friends and co-workers. I hate to say it, but youÖ"

"Let me guess," Neal interrupted, raising his voice. "I really let you down. Well guess what Peter, you let me down, too!"

Peterís eyebrows shot up in shock. "I let you down?!" he asked incredulously.

"Yes! Why should I tell you when Kate calls? You didnít even believe me when I told you I was innocent! And then when I was proven innocent, you didnít apologize for saying I let you down! Then you planned out my whole week this week, because you still donít trust me!"

Peter shook his head. "I have good reason not to trust you! Take tonight for example!"

"Well if youíd shown me even a little bit of trust, I wouldnít have gone behind your back!"

Peter put his hands on his hips, took a step back, and took a few deep breaths, obviously trying to control his temper. After a few seconds of silence, he said, "Clearly this isnít the best time to talk. Youíve been drinking, and Iím tired. Weíre both likely to say things we regret, so weíre going to put this conversation on hold until tomorrow."

"Fine by me," Neal muttered.

"Go to bed, Neal. And donít leave this loft until I come pick you up for dinner tomorrow."

"What?" Neal asked, not quite believing what heíd heard.

"You heard me. After tonightís fiasco, Iím curtailing your shenanigans for the next two weeks. Your radius is now officially restricted to this loft unless youíre with me."

Pissed, Neal stood up and shouted, "Iím not a child, Peter! You canít ground me and send me to bed!"

Peterís lips pressed into a thin line, and he took a step towards Neal.

Instantly realizing heíd apparently pushed Peter over the edge, Neal panicked. He sat back down, and tried to roll across the bed away from the older man. He felt Peterís hand press down on the middle of his back to hold him in place when he was mid roll. Before he even thought about struggling, Peter had both of his arms behind his back, and both of his wrists were being firmly held in the older manís grip. Without warning a loud slap landed on the center of his ass.

Gasping, Neal turned his head to look back at his partner. Peter had one knee on the bed beside Nealís hip, his left hand was gripping Nealís wrists, and his right hand landed another loud slap.

"Peter!" Neal protested.

"You have been asking for this since Friday," Peter growled as he continued to whack Nealís backside. "I have had it with your childish antics."

Unable to believe this was actually happening, Neal shook his head and yelled, "Peter, stop! You canít do this to me!"

"Oh really?" Peter asked as he spanked. "Thatís funny, because I told you that you couldnít go to the museum tonight, but you went right ahead and did it anyway. You didnít listen to me, so I see no reason why I should listen to you."

"Thatís not the same," Neal whined and tried to roll to the side to get his butt out of the line of fire.

Peter kept swatting and put some extra pressure on the younger manís back to hold him still. "Youíre right, itís not the same, because Iím legally responsible for you, but you have no authority over me. Itís my job to look out for you, and to keep you on the straight and narrow. Itís a job I take very seriously, and I canít do my job when you behave like a spoiled teenager."

"I didnít act like a teenager!" Neal yelled with anger and frustration. He had no idea how many times Peter had smacked him, but his entire butt stung and he didnít think his pride would ever recover. He tried to jerk his wrists out of Peterís hand, but the older man simply tightened his grip.

"Settle down." Peter stopped spanking for a moment. "Youíre not going anywhere until we get a few things straight."

Groaning, Neal closed his eyes, and buried his face in the mattress.

"You hid the fact that Kate called you, and then you tried to sneak out to meet her in private. That sure sounds to me like a teenager trying to hide a girlfriend from disapproving parents. And when I told you that you couldnít go, you went to Hughes behind my back to get the answer you did want. That sure sounds like a teenager trying to manipulate his parents to get his way."

"Youíre not my parent, youíre my jailer!"

Grunting in disapproval, Peter lifted his hand and gave Neal six harsh swats.

"Ow!" Neal complained.

"Youíre right, Iím not your parent, but I sure feel like I am half the time. What I am is your boss, your mentor, your partner, and your friend."

"This doesnít feel very friendly to me," Neal groused.

Peter lectured and gave Neal a hard smack at the end of each sentence to emphasize his points. "The alternative is going back to jail, Neal! You went outside your radius without authorization. You had contact with a known criminal and kept it from me. You went to a museum without supervision. Any one of those things could put you back in prison, and you know it! So stop acting like Iím the bad guy here, Iím trying to keep you out of jail."

"Ow! Okay! I get it! Youíre trying to keep me out of jail!"

"Damn straight Iím trying to keep you out of jail. I know Iíve told you this before, Neal, but apparently it hasnít sunk in yet. I like you. I enjoy working with you, and I have a lot of respect for your expertise when it comes to art. Letting you rot in jail is not only a waste of your talents, but itís also just not good for you as a person. So it really pisses me offÖ" he landed a swat to emphasize his irritation, "Öwhen you subvert my plans to keep you out of trouble."

The anger Neal had been feeling started to melt away with that little speech from Peter. Deep down, heíd always known that Peter had a fondness from him, even when the older man was trying to catch him. And if he was being truly honest with himself, knowing that Peter liked him made him more likely to push his limits, because Peter would go out of his way to keep him out of jail.

Peter continued after a short pause, "I didnít just invite you to my party tonight to keep you out of trouble, I invited you because Elizabeth and I genuinely like spending time with you when youíre not behaving like a moody teen, or a slick con man."

"Iím sorry," Neal said softly but sincerely.

"Well thatís a start," Peter said. "What are you sorry for?"

"For all of it."

"Youíre not getting off that easy. I want specifics. Give me a full list, and I might decide to let you up."

Neal cringed at the thought of listing his offences, but if there was any chance of getting out of this position, he was going to take it. "Iím sorry I didnít tell you as soon as Kate called. Iím sorry I tried to bribe you with expensive gifts. Iím sorry I manipulated Hughes into giving me clearance for the museum after youíd said no. Iím sorry I went to meet Kate in secret. And Iím sorry I got drunk once I realized that sheÖ" He had to take a deep breath to control his emotions before finishing that sentence. "Öthat she wasnít going to show."

"For what itís worth, Iím sorry she wasnít there," Peter said sincerely. "I know how much you want to see her." He let go of Nealís wrists and added, "And I accept your apologies."

Neal pulled his hands in front of him, and pushed himself up off the bed.

Once the younger man was standing, Peter put a hand on his shoulder, and tried to pull him in for a hug, but Neal leaned away, and took a step back.

"What are you doing?" Neal asked.

"Hugging you." Peter forcibly pulled him into a tight hug.

"Why?" Neal had to admit that the hug felt nice after all the rough handling, but he wasnít about to admit it.

"Werenít you listening earlier? Because I like you, and I want you to know that I still care about you, even when Iím frustrated with you."

Neal tentatively hugged Peter back.

"Besides," Peter added, "El would have my head if she found out I didnít hug you after."

Scowling, Neal muttered, "Elizabethís going to have your head as soon as she finds out that you hit me."

"I didnít hit you, I spanked you, and who do you think put that idea in my head?"

"What?" Neal asked, pulling back to look Peter in the eyes.

Peter let go of the younger man and gave him a nod. "Thatís right. She was less than happy when I got that call from Mrs. Hughes tonight. I believe her exact words were ĎNeal is officially on the naughty list. He doesnít deserve a gift; he deserves a spanking.í"

Neal glared at Peter. "So you took her off handed comment and decided to make it a reality?"

"Well I wasnít planning on it when I brought you home, but your attitude once we got here made me reconsider. Especially when you said I couldnít ground you. Which I can, and I am. You are restricted to this loft for two weeks. The only time you get to come out is when youíre with me. Got it?"

Frowning, Neal reluctantly agreed. "Yeah, I got it."

"Good. Iíll be here tomorrow around three oíclock to pick you up for dinner."

"Dinner?" Neal asked. "Are you sure Elizabeth still wants me to come over tomorrow?"

"Of course she does. Just be prepared to apologize. Sincerely."

"Absolutely. I would have anyway."

"Alright then." Peter clapped Neal on the shoulder once, and headed for the door. "Get some sleep, and Iíll see you tomorrow."

"Night, Peter."

The older man stopped at the door and said, "And Neal?"


"Iím sorry I said youíd let me down when you were accused of forging that diamond. You didnít let me down, and I should have had a little more faith when you said you were innocent. Trust goes both ways, and Iíll put a little more effort into trusting you, if you promise to do the same."

Feeling inexplicably close to tears, Neal nodded. "I promise Iíll try."

Peter smiled, gave Neal a curt nod, and left for the night.

Once Neal had shut and locked the door behind his partner, he went to the bed, flopped down on his stomach, and tried to rub out the residual sting. The sooner the physical reminder of the horrible, unmentionable, humiliating event was gone, the sooner he could pretend it had never happened. He fell asleep wondering what had kept Kate from showing up, and hoping it was nothing sinister.

The End

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