Author’s Note: This story was co-written by Ficwriterjet and Cat2000 aka BlackFox12. It was written for the ‘Lonely Prompt Challenge’ over on the LiveJournal Group ‘spanking_world’ for the following prompt from ‘cookielaura’:
White Collar, Peter/neal, Five times Peter swats Neal and one time Neal swats Peter (Adult Neal and Peter preferred :))
Disclaimer: We don’t own any of these characters, and we’re not making any money from this story.
Warning: Non-consensual swatting of an adult. We don’t advocate this behavior in real life, only in fiction.
Peter stood in the hallway of the restaurant between the kitchen and the bathroom, and tried to be unobtrusive about listening in on the conversation taking place in the kitchen.
His team had been working to track down a money-laundering mogul for weeks now. The nefarious Mr. Tran owned a chain of six restaurants in the New York area, and Peter was certain that Mr. Tran laundered money for several criminals, but as of yet, they’d been unable to prove it.
That morning, Neal had suggested that they simply go have lunch at one of Mr. Tran’s restaurants to see what was going on in an unofficial capacity. Since they had to eat lunch anyway, Peter had agreed, but wasn’t hopeful that anything would come of it. To their surprise, Mr. Tran himself had walked through the front door as soon as they’d ordered.
They watched him go back to the kitchen, and Peter had excused himself to ‘go to the bathroom’ in the hopes of overhearing Mr. Tran in the kitchen. Neal had whispered something about back up, and Peter had shook his head as he walked to the hallway.
Peter couldn’t believe his luck. Not only could he hear Mr. Tran talking to his bookkeeper, he could see them through the little window in the kitchen door. The bookkeeper was showing Mr. Tran some numbers an a big ledger book, and talking specifically about where to hide more money.
In the recesses of his brain Peter knew he should call for backup now that he’d seen criminal activity on the premises, but he also knew he’d never get this opportunity again. If he could catch the bookkeeper with the ledger, the case would practically be closed before it even started, and Mr. Tran would be going away for a long time.
Making a snap decision, Peter pulled out his gun, and stepped through the kitchen doors. “F.B.I. freeze,” he said while pointing his gun at Mr. Tran.
In a blur of activity, four of the kitchen staff pulled out their own guns, and aimed them towards Peter. He automatically started moving before the guns went off, jumping backward through the swinging kitchen door. He rolled once, and then was on his feet running towards Neal and the front door.
“Run!” he shouted, only to see that Neal was already on his feet. They ran out the doors together along with several other customers, to the sound of gunfire.
To Peter’s shock, as soon as they were outside, he saw Diana and Jones running towards them with their guns out.
“What are you guys doing here?” Peter asked.
“Neal called. We were having lunch down the block,” Diana said.
Feeling proud of Neal and ashamed of himself at the same time was distracting, so Peter pushed those emotions down and focused on the case. He told Diana and Jones what he’d seen, and within seconds, they had a plan of attack with more back up on the way.
An hour later, Mr. Tran and his bookkeeper were in custody, Peter was in Hughes’ office being lectured for his breach of protocol, and Neal was at his desk eating disgusting vending machine food for lunch.
What had happened at the restaurant hadn’t taken away any of Neal’s appetite. He was a little bit disappointed not to get the lunch, but it wasn’t the first time he’d ended up in the line of fire. Wouldn’t be the last time, either, he was sure. That wasn’t what was bothering him.
Neal had a fairly good idea what would have happened to him if he’d pulled a similar stunt. Of course, the first time it had happened, he’d had no idea what was coming.
# # #
Nine months ago:
Peter couldn’t take the kid’s whining anymore. From the moment Neal had gotten in the surveillance van an hour ago, he’d started to complain. According to Neal the van smelled bad, there wasn’t enough room to stretch his legs, the tiny screen of the video feed gave him a headache, and the audio feed wasn’t understandable. He’d made about twenty excuses to leave the van since they’d arrived, and Peter was sick and tired of saying no. He would have just sent Neal back to the office if he could have, but Neal was the only one who’d actually seen the counterfeiters that they were after, so he was the only one who actually needed to stay in the van. Not only so he could I.D. them for the team, but also so that the bad guys didn’t see Neal.
When Neal complained that they didn’t even know if the counterfeiters lived in this apartment complex, Peter abruptly stood. “I’m going to make a coffee run.” He turned to Jones and said, “Can I get you something?”
“Yeah. I could do with a coffee, thanks,” Jones replied.
“Hey, I could do that!” Neal was quick to offer to take the coffee run. Anything to get him out of the hot, stuffy van. He didn’t really think Peter would go for it, but it was worth a try, even if all he succeeded in doing was getting under the other man’s skin.
The muscles in Peter’s shoulders tensed, and he counted to five in his head before he turned and said, “No. Stay.” He simply didn’t have the patience to explain why again, and turned to Jones. “No one leaves.”
He stepped out, took a deep breath of fresh air, and started walking around the block to check on Diana who was covering the back exit.
Neal rolled his eyes and muttered under his breath, “Yeah, guess I didn’t want a coffee.”
“What was that?” Jones asked.
“Nothing.” Neal sat for about maybe ten seconds before he got up. “I’m going to go talk to some people,” he declared, beginning to climb out of the van.
“Hey, he said to stay put,” Jones said.
“I’ll only be a minute. We’re not going anywhere stuck here in the van. I’ll be back before he even knows I’m gone.” Not giving Jones a chance to protest further, Neal got out and headed to the building.
While Peter was still talking to Diana, his cell phone rang. He opened it and scowled. “Jones?”
“Neal’s out of the van and headed towards the apartments.”
“Damn it!” Peter muttered, and started walking briskly back around the building. “I’ll handle it,” he added before hanging up on Jones. “Can’t stay in the van for five minutes after I’m gone,” he muttered to himself as he rounded the building.
Then he saw Neal chatting up some nice elderly woman who was walking her yippy little terrier in front of the apartments, and his blood boiled.
He walked right up to them, grabbed Neal’s upper arm, and gave the woman a kind smile, “Excuse us ma’am, I need to have a word with my friend.”
Neal managed not to wince and instead smiled at the woman. “It was a good talk,” he said, trying to look like he wasn’t about to be dragged away like a disobedient kid.
“It was lovely to meet you, young man,” she said with smile.
Peter nodded at the woman and started walking back to the van, pulling Neal along with him. As soon as they were behind the van, Peter growled, “What did I say right before I left?”
Neal shrugged. “We weren’t getting anywhere with the surveillance. It was too hot and stuffy to be waiting around when it wasn’t necessary.”
Reacting without thinking it through, Peter turned Neal to the side, and swatted his backside hard.
Neal jumped and then his hands flew back to the injured spot. “What was that?” he demanded; more out of a sense of outrage than ignorance. He knew what Peter had just done. Obviously.
Instantly feeling guilty for losing his temper, Peter sighed and looked away from Neal’s angry expression. But when he turned his head, he saw Jones staring at him with shock from the van. His internal voice told him to ‘man up’ and take responsibility for what he’d just done. Neal had been obnoxious all morning, and the swat was more than deserved in Peter’s opinion, even if the bureau wouldn’t condone his actions.
He turned back to Neal, pointed a finger in his C.I.’s face and said, “That was for getting out of the van after I repeatedly told you not to. Unless you’d like another, you’re going to get in the van, quit complaining, and start focusing on doing your job.”
Neal’s mouth dropped open and he stared at Peter. He thought about arguing, just on the principle, but he wasn’t entirely sure that the other man wouldn’t follow though on his threat. He didn’t plan to push his luck right now and with an angrily muttered, “Fine,” he climbed back into the van.
Surprised at how well that had worked, Peter gave Jones a curt nod and said, “I’ll be back in just a few minutes with coffee. I expect you both to still be in the van when I get back.” Without waiting for a reply, he turned and walked away, thinking long and hard about what he’d done, and how Neal had reacted. Maybe he’d finally found a way to make the kid listen.
Neal sat back in his seat with a pout to rival a petulant toddler. He couldn’t believe Peter had just swatted him. But even more than that, he couldn’t believe a single swat to the backside had got him to sit back in the van without further argument. His face was hot and he refused to look at Jones. He would much prefer to pretend it had never happened.
# # #
Shaking his head, Neal stood up and walked to the door. “I’m going to get coffee. Anyone else want some?” He waited for the response, but carefully avoided looking up at Peter’s office. He was still figuring out how he felt about what had happened that day.
As soon as he had the orders, Neal left the office. He couldn’t stop his mind turning to the second time Peter had swatted him, not quite as unexpected as the first, but embarrassing enough.
# # #
Eight and a half months ago:
Two weeks after the van incident, Peter was still congratulating himself, because even though Neal seemed to want to pretend the swat had never happened, it had, and Neal had been generally better behaved since. He complained less, he seemed more focused when they were working a case, and he hadn’t disobeyed a direct order since.
Then they got a tip that someone had been selling forgeries through one of the small local art galleries. Neal had known the man who owned the gallery for several years, and he’d always disliked him. When Peter had mentioned the name Theodore Montgomery, Neal had gone on for several minutes about how pretentious, pompous, and condescending the man was. Neal was sure that Theodore was guilty before they’d even gone to see him.
As Peter parked in front of the gallery, he turned to Neal and said, “We’re just going in to ask him some questions, we’re not accusing him of anything. We’re going to want his cooperation, so don’t antagonize him.”
Neal rolled his eyes. “I know how to do this, Peter,” he responded. Of course, he couldn’t promise he wouldn’t respond to the other man, but his reply was a statement of fact more than anything else.
Peter raised one eyebrow, giving Neal a look of warning before getting out of the car, and heading towards the gallery. Once Peter flashed his badge to the front lobby employee who was greeting patrons, the woman quickly went to get her boss. Within minutes, Peter and Neal were shown to Theodore’s office in the back.
Peter held out his hand to shake, “Mr. Montgomery, I’m Agent Burke with the F.B.I., and I believe you’ve met my partner, Neal McCaffery.”
Theodore shook Peter’s hand and then looked down his nose at Neal. “Partner? I didn’t realize the F.B.I. had started hiring known criminals.”
Neal made himself smile, though it was the last thing he felt like doing, and it didn’t quite reach his eyes. “We need to ask you some questions.”
Dismissing Neal’s comment, Theodore focused back on Peter and said, “What is this regarding?”
“We have a lead that someone is selling forgeries from this gallery,” Peter said.
“That’s preposterous!” Theodore yelled, and then glared at Neal. “Where did this lead come from if I might ask.”
“It was anonymous,” Peter said.
“How convenient,” Theodore muttered, still glaring at Neal.
Neal tried not to be drawn into it. He really did. But he wasn’t going to stand by and keep his mouth shut when the other man was trying to get a rise out of him. “I wouldn’t call in an anonymous tip,” he muttered, not quite under his breath.
Peter cleared his throat, hoping Neal would get the hint, and then said, “Mr. Montgomery, I’m sure you’d like to get this matter cleared up as soon as possible, so that you can go about the rest of your day. Your cooperation in answering some questions will go a long way towards making that happen.”
“What would you like to know Agent Burke?”
Peter started in on his list of questions, jotting down notes as Theodore gave his answers. Soon he had some general information about the gallery, how they received the artwork they displayed, and a basic idea of what their shipping schedule was like.
“How many employees do you have?” Peter asked.
“And how many of them have access to the building after hours?”
Theodore paused, pulled out an antique pocket watch, and made a show of looking at the time. “I’m very busy Agent Burke, how much longer is this going to take?”
Sighing, Theodore put the watch back in his vest pocket, and said, “I’ll give you five.”
“How many of your employees have access to the building after hours?” Peter repeated.
“We’ll need their names, addresses, and contact information.”
Theodore shook his head. “You’ll need a warrant if you want that information, and besides,” one side of his lip went up in a sneer as he turned to look at Neal, “I wouldn’t want any of my employees to go home and find their valuables missing.”
The other man was riling him up. Neal knew he was trying to get a rise out of him. And it was tempting to rise to it and Peter’s warnings be damned. But Neal was already planning a way of getting back at the man. He’d catalogued more than a few small trinkets on his way in. The smile he gave Theodore was bland. He wouldn’t make his move until they were about to leave.
Finding himself more and more angry with the way Theodore was treating Neal, Peter snapped his notebook closed and said, “If that’s what you want, Mr. Montgomery, we’ll come back with a warrant.” He turned to give his partner a small smile of approval for not rising to the bait, and said, “Let’s go.”
Peter turned to leave, but Theodore said, “Wait!” He walked around his desk so that he was standing next to them. “I mean… there’s no need to take things that far Agent Burke. I’ll talk to my employees, and I’ll get you their information before the end of the day.”
Peter was still planning on getting that warrant, but there was no reason to top the guy off. Instead he pulled a business card out of his suit jacket, and handed it to the man. “Excellent. Send the information to my secure email.” He tapped the email address on the card, and then turned to Neal again. “Come on.”
Theodore stepping round the desk was the perfect opportunity. Neal’s eyes had landed on a gold-engraved fountain pen in prominent place, and while Peter was handing over his business card, Neal turned to face the two men and reached behind him to grab the pen, secreting it in his pocket.
Peter walked out to the lobby with Neal at his side, and spoke quietly so that only Neal could hear him. “You were right. That guy was a real piece of work.” He shook his head, and walked through the lobby doors, holding it open for Neal to pass through as well. “I almost hope he turns out to be guilty, just so I can see that smug look wiped off his face when I slap the cuffs on him.”
“You might not be sure he’s guilty, but I guarantee he is.” Neal stepped outside the gallery. “You just need the proof now.” He smiled and walked to the car, his body angled so there was no tell-tale bulge of the pen.
Peter smiled as well, and said, “If he’s guilty I’m sure there will be proof.” His smile faded as he watched Neal walking to the car. Something didn’t look right, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it, and kept talking, “He’s too full of himself to believe he could ever get caught.” That got him thinking, and instead of pushing the button to unlock the car, he starred at Neal for a couple of seconds. Neal was also well known to be full of himself, but he was never condescending, and he actually had impressive skills to back up his egotistical nature. Theodore had been baiting Neal the whole time, and under normal circumstances, Neal wouldn’t be smiling right now.
“Neal,” Peter said seriously, “What did you do?”
Knowing full well that Peter definitely wouldn’t approve of what he’d taken, even if it was just a fountain pen, Neal looked injured. “I didn’t do anything, Peter. Why would you think that?”
Peter had seen that expression before, and knew without a doubt that Neal was hiding something. He crossed his arms and said, “Damn it, Neal, we’re working a case. If this guy ends up walking because of your shenanigans, how are you going to feel? Fess up now, before there’s no going back.”
Neal thought about pushing more. He really did. But Peter was right and he heaved a great, put-upon sigh. “It was just a pen. He’s likely got a dozen more stashed away. Won’t even miss it.”
Peter held his hand out. “Let’s see it.”
With another loud, put-upon sigh, Neal took the pen out of his pocket and dropped it into Peter’s hand.
When Peter saw the fancy and clearly expensive pen, his eyebrows went up in surprise. Theodore would definitely notice that this was missing. He shook his head. Just that morning he’d been congratulating himself on Neal’s recent behavior, and now this. He gave Neal an appraising glance, and wondered if some consistency with consequences would help to permanently curb this type of behavior in the future.
Nodding to himself, he stuck the pen in the breast pocket of Neal’s suit jacket, grabbed the younger man’s upper arm, turned him to the side, and gave him two hard swats as he growled out the words, “Give it. Back.”
Neal would have been lying if he’d tried to claim the swats came as a surprise. The foresight didn’t stop him from jumping at the swats, though he managed to avoid yelping. “He’s an asshole!” he snapped back.
“Yes he is,” Peter agreed, and then pointed to the gallery. “Now you can either give it back yourself, or if you’d like to continue behaving like a petulant five-five-year old, I’ll take you in there, give it back for you, and make apologies on your behalf. Which is it going to be?”
Rolling his eyes, Neal stalked back to the gallery, resisting the urge to stamp his foot. He already felt enough like a child, thank you very much. Maybe he’d get lucky and could return it to the man’s assistant, rather than have to interact with Theodore again.
Peter shook his head as he watched his partner stomp off. Clearly the swats hadn’t had the same affect as before. This time instead of seeing surprise, worry, and embarrassment, in Neal, his partner had simply appeared annoyed and angry. But he had agreed to give the pen back, so maybe that was some progress. Two weeks ago after the van incident, they hadn’t discussed the swat, but now Peter thought that was a mistake. They needed to talk about it, and if there was a next time, Peter needed to explain himself before just smacking the kid.
After coming to a decision, he unlocked the car and waited for Neal go get back.
Neal returned to the car in only a slightly better mood than he’d left it, only mollified because he’d managed to charm on of Theodore’s assistants into returning the pen instead of having to interact with the man himself. Of course, the very action had still made him feel like a child.
Instead of turning the car on, Peter shifted in his seat so he could face Neal and said, “Thank you for giving it back, I know that was difficult. While you were gone, it occurred to me that I should probably tell you something.”
Peter scowled and looked out the windshield. “I’m not great with discussing emotions, just ask El, but I want you to know that I didn’t resort to swatting you just now and a couple of weeks ago because I was angry. Well I mean, I was angry, but that in itself wouldn’t make me swat you. I did it because I care about you and what happens to you in the future. I’m trying to help you, so that you never end up in prison again.” He forced himself to make eye contact again and added, “Because I like having you as a partner, especially when you’re not breaking the rules.”
As much as he really wanted to stay angry with Peter, the other man’s reasonable tone and explanation penetrated Neal’s mind enough that he could listen without resentment. Still, he had to ask, “Why swatting?”
“Honestly, it’s because I feel like I’m out of other options. I’ve yelled, I’ve restricted your radius, I’ve put you on desk duty, and I’ve talked until I’m blue in the face. Even prison didn’t reform you. So I thought maybe a physical correction would get through to you since nothing else has. And swatting specifically because you’re practically family, and El would have my head if I ever decked you.”
Neal sighed and looked out the window. “I really don’t like it.” He thought about that. “I guess that’s kind of the point, though.”
“Yep.” Peter turned the car on, and pulled into traffic. “So keep that in mind when you’re planning on doing something you know I’m not going to approve of, and maybe you’ll decide it’s not worth it.”
# # #
As he returned to the office and passed out the coffees, Neal remembered that, as embarrassing as returning the pen had been, at least they’d ended up finding the proof they needed to put Theodore away. He didn’t have to worry about the other man and could gloat privately over having one-upped him.
Returning to his desk, Neal lost his smile as he thought about the next time he’d got swatted… and how, even if he’d done something he knew Peter would disapprove of, he’d been expecting to be swatted and actually hadn’t been as annoyed and angry as the second time.
# # #
Six months ago:
Peter and El were having a nice dinner together on a Friday night when Peter’s work phone buzzed.
“Sorry,” he muttered as he opened the phone and looked at it. He scowled at the display and muttered, “Damn it, Neal.”
“Uh oh,” Elizabeth muttered. “What did he do now?”
“He’s outside of his radius.” Peter stood and tossed his napkin on the table. “Sorry hun,” he said as he kissed the top of his wife’s head. “I’ve got to go get him.”
She gently squeezed his arm and said, “Don’t get too worked up before hearing his side of things. He may have a perfectly reasonable explanation for being outside his radius.”
Smiling at his sweet wife, Peter said, “I promise I’ll hear him out before taking him to task.”
Half an hour later, Peter was parked in front of an art gallery. The little blip on his cell phone said that Neal was inside, even though it was several blocks outside of his radius. Peter shook his head, and went inside to find his C.I.
Neal knew he shouldn’t have come to the gallery alone, but Mozzie had tipped him off about the owner taking on and selling the paintings of a struggling artist for huge amounts of money at an extortionate profit. While it wasn’t strictly illegal, Neal could appreciate the amount of work that had gone into the paintings. And standing in the gallery, looking at them now, he found himself feeling empathy for a fellow artist who couldn’t get the recognition they deserved.
Peter spotted the back of Neal’s head, and just watched him for a few seconds. The kid was just standing there looking at paintings. His lips pressed into a thin line of irritation, and he had to remind himself that since their little talk, Neal had been pretty darn well behaved, and a month and a half was a record for him. He took a deep breath, told himself to be calm, and went to stand next to Neal.
“What are you doing outside your radius?” Peter asked quietly while keeping his eyes on the painting Neal was staring at.
“What do you think of the paintings?” Neal asked, almost out of the blue, turning to the other man. “Would you pay the price the gallery owner’s asking for that one?” He indicated the painting he was standing in front of.
Playing along, Peter took a few moments to really look at the art and the price. “Even if I had that kind of money, I wouldn’t pay that much for it, but I do think it’s good. You know I’m not much of an art connoisseur, but I like this one. It’s something I could look at again and again and not get tired of it. Why do you ask?”
“The artist… the one who put in all the time and effort… they’re not going to even get a quarter of that amount,” Neal said, unable to quite hold back the frustration in his tone. He didn’t even really know the artist, only the name, so he wasn’t sure why it bothered him so much.
Peter looked over at Neal and said, “That happens in the art world. You know it happens. It sucks, and it’s unfair, but it’s not illegal. So I’m not sure why I had to cut my dinner with El short to come find you. Is something else going on here that I’m missing?”
“I didn’t ask you to come find me,” Neal replied, without any heat. “You know I wouldn’t run. You’d only catch me again.” His eyes shifted back to the painting. He wasn’t sure how to explain. Didn’t know if Peter would understand. He tried anyway. “Mozzie knows him. The guy’s on the old straight and narrow. At least for now.” He’d read more into what his old friend didn’t say. That the artist was in danger of going down the same path Neal had done. Maybe things hadn’t worked out perfectly, but they’d worked out for him. That didn’t mean they would fall into place for someone in the same boat. Someone looking for a better life.
Peter looked at Neal’s profile, and noticed the way he was looking at the painting, and realized why they were here, even if Neal didn’t. “You want to help him, because you see a little bit of yourself in him.” Instead of letting Neal comment, Peter pressed on, “That’s fine. In fact, I’m all for it. I’ll help you and Mozzie figure out a legal way to help this guy. But…” He held a finger up and pointed it at Neal’s nose. “…what I’m not okay with is you going outside your radius, and then trying to sweep that under the rug by telling me that I should know you wouldn't run."
Neal frowned, looking fully at Peter. “You think I would run?” It was easier, perhaps, to divert the conversation to that, rather than discuss the real reason he was here.
“Given the right circumstances? Hell yes you’d run.” Trying to soften the blow of that reality, Peter added, “But I’d like to think you’d regret it a week or two later, and maybe even miss working with me and the team.”
He put a hand on Neal’s shoulder, and gave it a gentle squeeze as he pointed towards the entrance to the gallery. “The bathrooms are near the front of the gallery. You can walk there on your own, or I can drag you in there, but either way you’re getting swatted for going outside your radius, because you know better.”
Neal didn’t try to argue; either with the assessment of his character, or with the consequences. He did pout, even though, if he was honest, he’d known it was coming. Letting his shoulders slump, he began to walk towards the gallery entrance without protest. At least he’d been given the choice.
Peter followed him all the way to the men’s room. Once they were inside, Peter did a quick search of the stalls to make sure they were alone. Then he walked up to Neal took the younger man’s arm in his left hand, and gave him a hard swat. “All you had to do was call me.” He laid down another hard smack. “We could have come here together.” He swatted yet again to emphasize his displeasure. “And then you wouldn’t be getting this.” Raising his arm higher, Peter put some extra oomph in the last swat.
Neal jumped, but managed to avoid making any sound apart from on the last swat, where he couldn’t hold back a yelp. “I’m sorry.” He paused, surprised by the words; even more surprised by the fact he meant them. Peter hadn’t mentioned it, maybe hadn’t even thought it, but Neal realized he’d showed distrust. Having been on the other end of that, having Peter distrust him, meant he knew what it was like from the other end.
Hearing the sincere apology gave Peter hope that his methods were working. He moved his hand up to grasp Neal’s shoulder instead of his upper arm, and said, “I appreciate the apology.” He let his hand drop and asked, “Why didn’t you call me instead of heading out here on your own? Did you think I’d say no?”
Neal took a deep breath, some of the tension bleeding out of him when Peter grasped his shoulder. “I wasn’t sure you’d understand,” he replied. “And besides, you were out at a meal. I didn’t even have a plan, other than to see if the artist was as good as Mozzie said.”
Nodding in understanding, Peter said, “Anytime you’re thinking about going outside your radius, you’d better think of this moment, and come up with a plan before you act. Preferably a plan that involves calling me. Got it?”
“Yeah.” Neal’s shoulders slumped and he sighed. “I got it. Believe me, I don’t want a repeat of this.” Even if he wasn’t angry with Peter for choosing to do this, that didn’t mean he planned on doing something to get himself swatted again.
Pleased to hear it, Peter smiled. “Good. How about we talk about ways to help this new artist while I drive you home?”
Neal nodded. “Yeah… okay.” He straightened, checking his face in the mirror to make sure he didn’t show any effects of what had just happened.
Soon they were in Peter’s car, headed towards June’s house, and talking about the artist.
# # #
Peter had returned to his office, but didn’t seem inclined to apologize or explain away his actions; at least as far as Neal could tell. He finished up his food and was just draining his coffee when Jones stopped him. He glanced at the other man.
“Hey. Just wanted to tell you that you did the right thing today.” Jones nodded to him.
“Yeah, well, I learned my lesson about calling for back up,” Neal said ruefully, without mentioning just how he’d learned that.
# # #
Four months ago:
Peter and Neal had been called to investigate a small jewelry store heist. The night before someone had broken in, and cleaned them out. It definitely looked like a professional job. The thief or thieves had disabled the alarm and the security cameras before breaking in, and they’d been able to crack the safe in the back before the police had arrived.
As they were driving to the site, Peter couldn’t help but notice Neal’s lack of chatter, his constant fidgeting, and his morose expression. He would have thought the kid had done it himself, except Neal had been eating dinner at Peter’s house when the robbery was taking place.
He parked in front of the jewelry store and turned to his partner before getting out of the car. “What’s with you today?”
“Nothing.” Neal didn’t make eye contact with Peter. He knew he was acting suspiciously and made something of an effort to act more normal. “Are we going in?”
Peter’s gut told him that something was off still, but decided to let it go for now. “Yep, let’s go have a look.”
The two got out and looked around the crime scene. One of the uniformed officers told them everything they’d discovered so far, which wasn’t much. In fact there was no actual evidence left at the scene, so their only lead was the sophistication of the job itself. Peter told Diana to start calling all the local pawnshops to be on the look out for the items that had been taken.
Peter turned to Neal and said, “I’ll need you to make a list of all the people who could fence this stuff, so we can keep an eye on them for the next couple of days, and give it to Jones so he can coordinate that.”
Neal had been wandering around the shop, picking up various items that had been left behind without wearing any gloves. He glanced up when Peter addressed him, putting down a fairly cheap ring. “Yeah. I’ll do that.” He could provide a long list that would require a lot of time spent watching them.
“Why the hell aren’t you wearing gloves?” Peter growled, as he grabbed Neal’s upper arm and pulled him away from the display. He grabbed a pair of latex gloves from one of the boxes the officers had brought in and slapped them into Neal’s hand. “Put them on, and stop screwing around. This is a serious case.”
“Sorry. Forgot.” Neal gave a rather half-hearted smile and quickly tried to change the subject. “I’ll get started on that list.”
Peter scrutinized his partner, and then said, “How many people do you know who could have pulled this job off? Other than yourself, of course.”
“More than you’d think,” Neal answered. “Give me a few minutes and I’ll have them written down.” And it wouldn’t even be lying. There were plenty of people who could pull it off; just very few who were local.
Peter still thought Neal was being squirrelly about something. He pulled his notepad and pen out of his breast pocket, and handed them over to Neal. “Start writing,” he said, and stood beside him, watching the younger man’s every move.
Neal wrote down the first name and then paused, glancing up at Peter. “Planning to watch me rather than look for clues?”
“Yep.” Peter crossed his arms, and kept watching. If his suspicions were right, and Neal was hiding something, Peter would know it soon enough, because the kid never did well with intense scrutiny.
Neal frowned, “I can’t think with you staring at me.”
“Why not? Do you have something to hide?” Peter asked.
“Of course not,” Neal shot back, just a bit too quickly. “I just need to concentrate.”
Peter pursed his lips and shook his head. “I don’t buy it, Neal. Finish up both of those lists quickly, and then you and I are going to go talk. June’s house is just a few blocks away. We’ll go there, and you can tell me what’s really going on, because you’ve been off all morning.”
Neal sighed, but finished the lists and handed them over to Peter. He didn’t want to betray his new friend, at the same time, he really wasn’t very good at hiding things from the other man.
Peter handed the lists off to Jones with instructions on what to do with them, and then told Neal to follow him to the car. It was a short and awkwardly silent ride to June’s house. Luckily for everyone, the older woman was out shopping, so they weren’t interrupted on their way to Neal’s loft.
“All right, spill,” Peter said while firmly closing the door to Neal’s living space.
Neal shook his head. “I promised I wouldn’t.” Which was an awkward situation. He was having to choose between Peter and his new friend; and didn’t want to let either of them down.
That took Peter by surprise. He could tell Neal was conflicted, and tried not to get angry. “Promised who?” he asked without raising his voice. “Is this about the jewelry?”
Neal sighed and resisted the urge to start fighting. He did shift his body slightly to one side, flushing as he realized he was trying to move out of swatting range. “I made a promise.” He cleared his throat. “I don’t want to get him in worse trouble.”
“I get wanting to protect someone, Neal, but promising to hide illegal activities isn’t okay with me. Tell me what’s going on, and I’ll do my best to help.”
Neal’s shoulders slumped. He thought about refusing to answer, but he had a pretty good idea of what Peter’s response to that would be. “Daryl owes a lot of money to loan sharks. This was how they demanded he pay them back.”
Peter’s brow furrowed in confusion. Neal’s statement had brought up more questions than it had answered. “Daryl your artiest friend? I thought he was fine now. We got that gallery owner put away for back taxes, and hooked Daryl up with a legitimate gallery owner so he could sell his paintings.”
Neal nodded. “He’d had to borrow from loan sharks. They came after him for repayment of the debt. I didn’t take part in the theft…” His voice trailed off. Peter would hear what he hadn’t said. That he’d told Daryl what to do.
Narrowing his eyes, Peter said, “So let me get this straight. Daryl had to borrow money before we got him a legitimate gig, and he hasn’t made enough money yet to pay the loan sharks back, so they strong armed him into robbing the jewelry store?” Peter saw Neal nod, but didn’t give him the chance to speak, because the more pieces that went together in his head, the angrier he got. “Daryl delivered pizzas for a living, Neal! He wouldn’t know the first thing about breaking into a jewelry store! I guess it’s lucky for him that his good buddy, Neal, used to think stealing was an art form.”
“I was trying to buy him time…” Neal took a deep breath, knowing that the other man wouldn’t accept that. “I’d have got the pieces back. As soon as the debt was cleared.”
“By stealing them back from a loan shark?!” Peter shook his head, advanced on Neal, grabbed him by the upper arm and gave him a harsh swat.
Neal jumped, hissing out a breath, but didn’t try to pull his arm away. “He didn’t have a lot of other options,” he protested.
“He had plenty of other options, and so did you,” Peter countered. “Option number one would have been calling me.” He landed another solid swat, and then continued to swat with each word he emphasized. “Helping Daryl plan the robbery was not one of your options! And hiding information from me is never an option!”
The swats stung and Neal couldn’t hold back a whimper. “I figured what you didn’t know wouldn’t cause you problems,” he responded, his voice shaky as he struggled to hold back emotion.
Peter let go of Neal’s arm, gripped his shoulder, and turned him so they were face to face. “Well, you figured wrong. When you have problems, I have problems, because we’re partners. I’m responsible for you, and not just professionally anymore. So when you have a problem, and you’re thinking about doing something not quite legal, you call me. Do you understand?”
Neal looked into his eyes before he nodded. “Yeah. I understand. You want to be in the loop.” He hesitated, wondering if it would be more accurate to say Peter needed to be in the loop.
“I don’t just want to be in the loop, I expect you to keep me in the loop, because we don’t hide things from each other. And if you don’t keep me in the loop you can expect a sore rear end.”
Having made his point, Peter let go of Neal’s shoulders and said, “Now we need to work on cleaning up this mess. Give Daryl a call and have him come over.”
Neal didn’t argue or hesitate. He began to call Daryl.
By the end of the day, Daryl had made a plea deal with Peter’s team. He helped put away the loan shark that currently had the jewels, and Daryl got off with a year of community service.
# # #
Neal had finished his food and coffee a while ago, and had watched as everyone bar Jones and Peter had left. And he was still struggling to decide what to do. Frowning, his mind turned to the last time he’d been swatted… an occasion similar to this one, in fact.
# # #
One month ago:
For the past week Peter had been buddying up to a wealthy car collector named James who allegedly sold stolen cars on the side. After several days of playing golf together at the country club the man belonged to, Peter had been invited to the man’s estate to see his collection.
Neal, who didn’t know nearly as much about cars as Peter did, had been relegated to the surveillance van along with Jones. They were parked just outside the estate listening in on the conversation through the wire Peter was wearing under his shirt. If Peter saw illegal activities, or if the suspect threatened him, he was supposed to use the phrase, ‘that’s a beauty’ to call for backup.
Peter had to admit to being impressed by James’ collection. They were half way through the tour, and Peter was admiring an Aston Martin when the display-room door opened. The man’s assistant walked through holding a gun in one hand and a computer tablet in the other. The assistant glared at Peter, aimed the gun at him and walked towards James showing him the tablet.
Trying to keep a superior expression on his face, Peter said, “That’s a beauty. I have a Glock 19 at home, but the 21 is alright.”
“Shit,” Jones muttered, as Peter’s voice came out clearly. He grabbed his own gun and quickly clambered out of the van. “Stay here,” he directed Neal.
Neal had also heard the words and knew what it meant. And he thought about staying in the van. He really did. But what if Peter got shot? The thought of that happening made him go cold inside. He knew it was stupid. Knew that Peter and Jones were both trained agents and if either one of them were there, he’d be ordered to stay in the van.
But emotion trumped logic and it wasn’t more than a few moments before Neal was also climbing out of the van.
Trying to stall the criminals so that Jones had time to reach him, Peter said, “What exactly is the problem here, James?”
James held the tablet up and showed Peter a picture of himself on the sidewalk taking a cuffed criminal to a car, and wearing his FBI badge and jacket. “It looks like the problem is you.” He looked back at the tablet to read the words under the picture, “Peter Burke of the FBI, not Peter Kinsley of Rochester.”
Peter shrugged, and as casually as possible took a couple of steps towards the front of the car so he could duck down if things got messy. “I don’t see the problem. So what if I do work for the FBI? That has nothing to do with my love of cars. Unless you’re doing something illegal that I don’t know about, there shouldn’t be an issue.”
Before James could reply, Jones burst through the door holding his gun, and shouting, “FBI, freeze.”
Peter ducked behind the car while gunfire was exchanged.
Neal heard the sound of the gunfire, but instead of turning around and going back to the van, or even staying where he was, he did neither of those things and instead headed through the door. Towards the gunfire. But also towards his partner.
Peter peeked up over the hood of the car and saw Jones rush to station himself behind the first object he could find, which happened to be a large metal standing toolbox with drawers full of tools. Jones kept firing at James and his assistant, who were both edging backwards, towards the door to the main part of the house.
Keeping himself squatted down, Peter moved around the car to the back so he could shout at Jones. “Pass me your backup!”
Jones got the gun out of his leg holster, put it on the floor, and shoved it towards Peter. Peter grabbed the gun, but before he could return fire, he saw Neal rush in through the same door Jones had come in.
Peter’s heart jumped into his throat, and he immediately started firing at James’ assistant to keep his gunfire trained on him instead of Neal.
Running into the gunfire hadn’t been a good idea, Neal knew that, but now that he was there, he couldn’t do much about it, save for keep his head down and try not to get himself shot.
While James’ assistant was focused on Peter, Jones took careful aim, and shot the assistant in the leg. The man went down and the gun fell out of his hand. James himself didn’t have a gun, and was currently ducked down behind one of his vehicles.
Both Peter and Jones immediately stepped out from behind their hiding spots kept their guns trained on the assistant, and carefully walked towards him while telling them both that they were under arrest.
Within two minutes both James and his assistant were cuffed, and Jones was calling for an ambulance for the assistant, while Peter called for more backup.
Once the immediate threat was over, Peter pinned Neal with a glare, and then turned back to Jones. “Stay here and wait for back up. Neal and I are going to go have a little talk in private, and then we’ll be back to help.”
Jones glared over at Neal and said, “I told you to stay in the van.”
“I know.” There wasn’t much Neal could say to that, but he tried anyway. “I’m sorry.” And if he wasn’t sorry now, he couldn’t help but reflect glumly, he’d be sorry very shortly.
“Neal,” Peter said curtly, and headed out towards the van, expecting the younger man to follow him. As they walked Peter couldn’t help but replay the image of Neal running into the open door again and again. By the time they made it to the van, he still couldn’t believe his partner had done it. He opened the back door and said, “Get in.”
Neal had followed along without argument or protest, and climbed into the van without hesitation. He knew what was about to happen; dreaded it, but couldn’t blame Peter. “I don’t have a good enough reason.” He said it straight away, because he wanted his partner to know that he understood how badly he’d screwed up.
Peter climbed in after Neal, and shut the door behind them. Some of the anger that had been boiling under the fear settled when he heard Neal’s confession. “Why did you do it?” Peter asked, trying not to yell. “Jones told you to stay, and I know we’ve been over that particular issue before, so tell me what made you get out of the van and walk into the line of fire.”
“They were shooting at you.” Neal hesitated, but continued, “Jones got out of the van. He told me to stay put. But I started thinking…what if you got shot? And once I started thinking that, I couldn’t stop.”
Surprised, Peter put a hand on Neal’s shoulder and squeezed it gently. “I understand,” he said softly, “and I appreciate that you were worried about me, but you’re right, that’s not a good enough reason. You weren’t wearing a protective vest, you didn’t have a weapon, and you haven’t had the necessary training to help in that situation, so all you ended up doing was putting yourself in danger. When I saw you come in through that door,” Peter unintentionally squeezed Neal’s shoulder harder, “All I could think about was that you could get shot.”
“I know,” Neal said. “My worry trumped my common sense.” He’d just known that Peter was unarmed. That things had already started to go bad and could easily get worse.
Peter nodded, because he honestly did understand, but that still didn’t make Neal’s actions acceptable. Already regretting that this was necessary, Peter moved his hand down to Neal’s upper arm, and pulled him close. Then he put his left foot on the seat of one of the van’s four chairs, and pulled at the younger man until he was slightly bent over his raised thigh. “Maybe this will help your common sense to kick in if there’s a next time.” He started swatting, putting his shoulder into it to make sure Neal knew he was extremely serious about changing his behavior in the future.
Neal whimpered and tried to hold still, but he was fairly certain this was the hardest Peter had swatted him, not to mention that being over the other man’s leg was different enough to the other times to stand out from them. He began to shift and squirm, no matter his intentions.
After six harsh swats, Peter paused and said, “You do NOT go running into a situation where there is gunfire going on, even if you’re worried.” With that said, he gave Neal four more blistering swats all concentrated on the lower half of his rear end where his ass and thighs met.
Neal couldn’t help his whimper that turned into something of a yelp. His eyes filled with tears and he responded, “I’m sorry, Peter!” The words ended on something approaching a sob.
Certain that he’d gotten his message across, Peter pulled Neal into an upright position. After getting a look at the younger man’s face, Peter put his foot back on the floor, and pulled Neal into a tight forgiving hug.
Surprised to find himself being hugged, Neal nevertheless quickly returned it, breathing deep as he struggled to remain in control of his emotions.
After a few moments, Peter patted Neal’s back a couple of times and let go. “Alright, as far as I’m concerned, we can put this incident behind us. I’ve got to go back and help Jones. Are you ready to come help look for evidence, or do you need a few minutes to collect yourself?”
Neal took a deep breath and stepped back, wiping at his eyes. “I think I need a few minutes,” he answered honestly. “I’ll come and join you.”
Nodding in understanding, Peter said, “Take as much time as you need. I’m sure we’re going to be here for hours looking for evidence.” He opened the door, climbed out, and shut the door behind him to give Neal some privacy before heading back towards the house.
Neal wasn’t in danger of tears falling any longer, but it was far harder to bring his emotions under control than it had been the previous time he’d been punished. Maybe it was because this had been the most intense time, both in terms of emotion and in terms of the actual swatting itself.
Still, he couldn’t hide out in the van all day. Moving gingerly, because the sting was still there, he climbed out of the ban and went to join Peter and Jones.
# # #
Neal watched as Jones finally walked out of the office, which meant he and Peter were alone there. He couldn’t help thinking about the final time Peter had swatted him; because he’d done something to endanger himself. And he liked to think he’d curbed his behavior since then, at least mostly.
Peter had done something very similar to what Neal had done. And if it wasn’t acceptable for Neal, it wasn’t acceptable for Peter. But no one was going to pull him up on it…not unless Neal did that himself.
He hadn’t wanted Peter to get shot, Then or now. Only this time, Peter’s own actions could have been responsible for that. And Neal couldn’t think of any other way to get through to his partner other than to do what Peter had done to him.
Peter knew it was somewhat cowardly to spend the entire afternoon in his office, but he was thoroughly ashamed of his own actions, and needed a day before he could face anyone again, especially Neal. He felt sick with hypocrisy when he thought about the fact that he’d punished Neal for being reckless, and then he’d done something reckless himself. Even listening to his boss yell at him for a good half an hour hadn’t helped ease his feelings of guilt. The only thing that was going to help at this point was going home and telling Elizabeth everything. She always made him feel better, no matter how bad things got. But he had to wait for everyone to leave before he could take his walk of shame across the office, so he’d sat at his desk and pretended to be busy with paperwork.
When he saw Jones leave out of the corner of his eye, he took a sigh of relief. Neal was the only one left, and now that the office was virtually empty, Neal wouldn’t hang around. Peter shut down the computer screen he’d been working on, and waited for his partner to leave.
There really wasn’t much point in waiting around. Neal didn’t have the first clue what he was going to say to Peter; but then again, there hadn’t been any talking going on when he’d been swatted. At least not beforehand.
Instead of leaving; which Neal figured Peter was probably expecting him to do, he walked to his partner’s office.
Dismayed to see Neal enter his office, Peter tried not to be overly obvious about not making eye contact, as he tidied his desk for the night. “I was just about to leave. Did you need something?” Peter asked.
“Uh, yeah.” Now that Neal was standing here, though, he didn’t know how to start. It wasn’t like he could grab Peter’s arm while his partner was sitting down. “I figured maybe we should talk about what happened today.”
Cringing, Peter muttered, “I’d really rather not, but…” he sighed and finally looked up at Neal, “…yeah, we probably should, because I owe you an apology.” Unable to keep eye contact, despite his best efforts, Peter stood and went to get his suit jacket off the standing coat rack by the door. “I was out of line today. I was reckless, and I know it.” Forcing himself to look his partner in the eye he said, “I’m sorry.”
Neal nodded. “Things could have gone south fast.” He stepped over to Peter, grasped his partner’s arm, and swatted him.
To say Peter was surprised would be an understatement. Shocked would be more accurate. An involuntary gasp came out of him, and he had to struggle not to follow through with his first instinct, which was to pull his hand out of Neal’s grip and back away. Instead he forced his body to freeze in place while his mind raced. He’d certainly never imagined this scenario, but now that it was happening, he ruefully had to admit that turn about was fair play. This is exactly what he would be doing to Neal if the tables were turned, so he couldn’t in good conscience fight it when it was happening to him.
Accepting his fate, Peter lowered his head slightly and kept his eyes trained on the floor.
The first swat took Neal almost as by surprise. He hadn’t really expected Peter to accept it, but he knew he had to follow through now that he’d started. He landed two more swats and then said quietly, “You weren’t prepared for what happened. The only person who was there with you was me…and when I mentioned calling for backup, you brushed me off. I know you can handle guns, but what if it had gone wrong? You could have been shot. Ended up in the hospital. Ended up dead.”
Peter clenched his jaw and took the swats silently. Then when Neal started talking about the mistakes Peter had made, a new wave of shame and remorse washed over him. He nodded to the floor and said, “I know. I should have listened to you. Believe me, it won’t happen again.”
“Good.” Neal landed another two swats. “There are people who rely on you…who need you. Not only me.” He finished up with one last swat and squeezed Peter’s arm before he let go of his partner.
Peter was unable to keep in a soft grunt of pain when the last swat landed, and held his breath waiting for more. Then when Neal squeezed his arm and let go, Peter knew it was over and let the air out of his lungs slowly. Forcing himself to face the younger man, Peter said, “You’re right, I have too many people relying on me to take risks like I did today. It’s more than a little humbling to have my own methods of correction being turned around and used on me, but I know I deserved it, and you have more of a right than anyone else to dish it out. So are we square now?”
Neal nodded. “I think I have a better understanding now of how you felt when I ran straight into gunfire,” he commented, trying to lighten the mood at least a little bit as well as indicate that there weren’t any hard feelings, at least on his side.
“And I think I have a better understanding of why you haven’t done it since,” Peter said with a wry smile. “I don’ t know about you, but I’m more than ready to call it a night.”
“Yeah. It’s been a long day,” Neal agreed. “You want to meet for breakfast in the morning?” he asked with a smile.
“Sure, that would be nice.” Peter said, while turning off his office light and walking out with Neal following. “That place with the fancy coffees that you like around the corner from June’s? Or would you rather come over to my house? I’m sure Elizabeth would love to see you.”
Neal smiled. “I’ll come to your place. We can always go out another time,” he replied.
“Sounds good.” They walked through the front office doors, and into the hall where Peter pushed a button for an elevator. “Did you want a ride home?” Peter asked while they waited.
“I could do with a ride home,” Neal answered, feeling somewhat relieved things had returned to normal…or at least close to it.
They took the elevator down in companionable silence, and once they got in Peter’s car, he tuned on the classical station that he knew Neal liked. June’s house was only ten minutes away by car. As Peter pulled into traffic, his mind wandered back to all the times he’d swatted Neal. At the time he’d certainly felt justified in his actions, and he was certain that the physical correction had helped Neal curb his wilder tendencies, but now that he’d been on the receiving end, he wasn’t as confident in his previous actions.
Shifting slightly in his seat, Peter tried, and failed, to get more comfortable, which made him hyper aware of the fact that he’d messed up earlier in the day. But while he was frowning over the residual sting, he realized with surprise that he didn’t feel nearly as guilty as he had before getting swatted. All afternoon he’d been mentally kicking himself for his earlier behavior, but that internal tirade telling him what a fool he’d been had finally stopped.
Some of the tension drained from Peter’s shoulders as his confidence returned. Getting swatted was humiliating and painful, but ultimately it helped him forgive himself so he could move on. And if he’d brought Neal a measure of that same feeling over the past nine months, then it was worth a little pain and humiliation.
Neal was quiet as he listened to the radio and thought about the day’s events. Now that he’d been on the other end of the swatting, he thought he had a better appreciation for what Peter had felt when swatting him. He hadn’t exactly thought Peter had enjoyed doing it, but he’d always assumed the older man had got at least a bit of satisfaction out of it. But maybe not. After all, Neal hadn’t enjoyed doing it, even though he’d honestly believed it was necessary; and from the way Peter had responded, it seemed his partner had agree with him.
When they reached June’s house, Neal got out of the car with a, “I’ll see you in the morning,” and then closed the door, stepping back and watching as Peter drove away.
(Feedback makes me happy.)
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