“What?” Reese Hughes asked, clearly baffled.
“I said, you should go in and be one part of the gay couple,” Diana repeated. Peter had a hard time keeping his face impassive at seeing his superior's flabbergasted expression.
Hughes took in a deep breath before he asked calmly, “Why would you think so, agent Barrigan?”
“Because you would fit in. You're at the right age and you're an authoritarian man. Mr. Karn specializes in helping gay couples adopt a kid and he usually takes clients who have trouble because of an age difference. He also likes the couples to have a certain dynamic,” Diana explained.
“What dynamic are we talking about?”
Peter Burke chimed in. “Mr. Karn prefers it if the older man is in charge of the relationship. He also prefers it if the younger man is very good looking. He's especially fond of brunettes with blue eyes. From what we've heard from the other gay couples he sets them up, says he has trouble arranging the adoption because the biological mother wants more money. If they'd do him a favor he claimed to be able to make money from the favor and in the end that would be speeding up the whole adoption process.”
“Wow. That must be one of the worst cons I've ever heard of,” Neal said from where he was comfortably perched on his chair.
Hughes, who was sitting next to him, frowned and tapped Neal lightly on the shoulder. Neal's reaction was imminent – he straightened up in his chair and threw Hughes an apologetic smile.
“Well, it's working really fine and leaves a lot of men very humiliated and some of them even in big trouble with work and family,” Diana said.
“What does this favor consist of exactly?” Hughes asked.
“He wants to film a porn movie with, er, explicit content,” Peter answered.
“If it's a porn movie it's quite obvious that the content is explicit, isn't it?” Neal quipped.
After a disapproving look from Hughes he hastily averted his eyes. Hughes veered his eyes away from Neal to his agents and asked, “Peter, don't drag it out. What about this porn movie?”
Peter took in a deep breath then replied, “The older man has to spank the younger man with various implements until the younger man is raw, then they have intercourse. From our evidence it is obvious that Mr. Karn expects the older men to inflict a lot of pain on their partners. Some of the relationships didn't survive afterwards and the couples broke up. Sometimes they canceled the adoption beforehand but sometimes they tried to deal with what happened. To make matters worse, some of those videos appeared online.”
There was a heavy, nauseous silence hanging in the room when Peter finished his short speech. Peter looked at Hughes who seemed to be lost in thoughts. Instead of pressing Hughes for any kind of reaction Peter swept his gaze around the room. He stopped when he became aware of Neal's stony but very pale complexion. An idea formed in his mind as he eyed his consultant.
Hughes broke the silence by saying, “All right. I'm game. It's no good sitting behind a desk all day.”
Peter grinned. “You and sitting behind your desk all day? That's not what you're doing, sir.”
“Anyway, now find me an agent that can play the other part of the couple so we can get started on setting this Mr. Karn up.”
“What about Caffrey? He'd fit the role,” Peter suggested.
Neal, who was usually so good at hiding his true emotions, gaped openly. He stared from Peter to Hughes then back at Peter. A nervous laugh escaped his mouth before he muttered, “That's incredibly funny, Peter, but no. Just no. I'm not going to pose as some mindless … bunny.”
“But you'd fit perfectly,” Diana interjected.
“No,” Neal said in a strangled tone. “There are enough agents who'd be better suited to play this role.”
“All right, agent Barrigan, find someone else to play that role, then set us up with new identities and so on,” Hughes demanded as he stood up from his chair. He pointed two fingers at Neal and said, “Caffrey, I'd like to have a word with you in my office.”
Neal paled and unashamedly threw an appealing glance towards Peter. It only gained him a shrug and a curt hand sign to follow Hughes. Reluctantly he got up and followed the older man.
“Have a seat.”
Neal sat down, the caution obvious in his body posture. He watched Hughes standing in front of his office window, his back turned to Neal. They remained like this for a few minutes that seemed to stretch to an eternity. Neal couldn't stop himself from becoming restless and squirmed on his seat.
When Hughes turned around he directed his intense stare right at Neal. The younger man froze and swallowed heavily. He was surprised by Hughes' gentle question, “Would you mind telling me why you're so afraid of me?”
“I'm not afraid of you!” Neal blurted out even though his cheeks heated up and betrayed his words.
Hughes took a few small steps towards Neal, his eyes never leaving Neal's. “Are you sure? Why does it seem to me as if you want to run and hide right now?”
“Because that's exactly what I want to do right now?” Neal's face colored even more. He lowered his eyes before he added, “You weren't supposed to hear that, by the way. I'm usually better at pretending … whatever.”
The laugh that erupted from Hughes startled Neal. In astonishment he looked up only to press himself into the backrest of the chair as far as possible. Hughes had closed the distance between them and stood right in front of Neal. His eyes were still crinkled from laughing but his voice was clipped when he repeated, “Why are you scared of me?”
Hughes grabbed Neal's upper left arm and hauled him up on his feet. Neal squeaked in fear and struggled against the hold Hughes had on him. Hughes briskly turned him around and delivered a powerful swat to his ass. Neal yelped in surprise then tried yanking his arm free in outrage.
“You! What do you think you're doing?” Neal raged.
“I'm demanding an answer. Preferably one that isn't a lie.”
“I did not--,” Neal cut himself off when Hughes lifted his arm anew. “Okay, okay, I won't lie again, okay?”
“Why are you afraid of me?”
“Why shouldn't I be? You just … y-you did … I don't want to tell you.”
Hughes turned Neal back so they were facing each other. Laying the forefinger of his other hand under Neal's chin he tipped Neal's face up and looked searchingly at the other man. Neal tried to school his face into impassiveness, or at least something that didn't scream panic in bright, bold letters. It didn't work.
“So, I take it you are afraid of me because you don't like dealing with consequences and you suspect that I wouldn't refrain from a more hands-on approach if you cross the line. Is that about it?”
Neal's expression turned from frightened to sullen and defiant within seconds. Sourly he replied, “I'm not going to bother with replying to this humbug you're spouting.”
Hughes tightened his grip on Neal's arm then slowly towed him over to a comfortable looking armchair. Neal's eyes widened in alarm and more meekly he tried, “I'm sorry for the use of language. You … you just caught me by surprise and--”
Neal yelped when Hughes sat down in the armchair and pulled Neal with him so he ended up on Hughes' lap. With an embarrassed laugh and mumbled apology Neal tried to excuse himself and get up. Hughes simply locked both arms around him and held on. In a soothing voice he said, “You might look like an angel sometimes but you're definitely not one. No, please calm down. You're fine where you are.”
“Is this normal FBI etiquette? Because if it is than Peter has no clue. He never sits me on his lap and I doubt you should be doing it either. Of course you're the big boss here and can do whatever pleases you, which includes threatening your agents or their consultants and demanding them to do things they'd rather not do and …,” Neal sucked in a deep breath when he ran out of steam. “Are you even listening to me?”
“Yes, I am. You don't have to worry about anyone seeing you in this … compromising position, the door is locked. Now, be a good boy and relax.”
“A good boy? Do you listen to yourself?”
“Yes, I do. If you really wanted to be anywhere else right now you'd be there. But since you're not I take it that you actually like sitting on my lap,” Hughes said with a smile.
Neal looked at the older man as if he had grown two heads. “That's some of the weirdest logic I've ever heard. Oh, and just for the record, I don't like sitting on your lap.”
“Prove it? How am I supposed to prove it? Why do I even have to prove it? It should be commonsense. Also, I don't want to hurt you,” Neal spat back.
“Hurt me? Why would you hurt me?”
“If I'd really put up a fight to get up I could hurt you. I hate to break it to you but you're not as young as you used to be.”
“No, I'm not. If you want to get up then try it. Otherwise get comfortable, you're going to be here for some time.” Hughes laid his head comfortably on the backrest and drew Neal with him so Neal's head was tucked under Hughes' chin.
Neal tensed up and his breathing became labored. Hughes' arms were strong, confident and more like a shelter than a prison. Neal felt safe which should be ridiculous but he couldn't bring himself to get up. He couldn't bring himself to stop panicking either. His confusion left him rigid and barely breathing.
Slowly Hughes loosened the tight hold he had on Neal. One of his arms remained locked tightly around Neal's upper body whereas the other hand strayed away to rub Neal's thighs. After a while Neal took in a shuddering breath and mumbled, “You don't look like a cuddler.”
“You look like you are and as if you didn't get enough cuddles in the last few years.”
A shocked gasp escaped Neal's mouth. Hughes was right; he had always liked to cuddle, to be physically close to someone but he'd never gotten enough of it. Would it be so bad to take what was offered freely? Just for a few minutes? Neal squirmed on Hughes' lap; he couldn't bring himself to accept the offered comfort and safety. Acidly he said, “My suit will get wrinkles.”
“You don't know that. Haven't you ever heard about the importance of appearances?” Despite his remarks Neal still didn't try to get up from Hughes' lap.
The older man smiled, “I'm sure you know all about it. But right now you only have to be worried about appearing to be relaxed.”
Neal wanted to keep fighting but truth be told – he was tired of always wearing a mask, never showing who he really was, what he really needed. Tentatively he relaxed his muscles and breathed in and out slowly. Hughes kept up the soothing strokes, which caused Neal to give in completely after maybe five minutes. Chucking off his shoes he curled himself together on Hughes' lap. He laughed when Hughes praised him, “Now that's a good boy.”
To Neal's astonishment he had fallen asleep on Hughes' lap. When he woke up he was curled up in the armchair, a woolen blanket covering him. Groggily he opened his eyes and looked around, only to find Hughes sitting behind his desk, working at the computer. Neal thought it was safe watching the older man for a while behind his half-closed eyelids. He startled when Hughes addressed him, “You're awake. Have you slept well?”
“Um, yes. I'm sorry I fell asleep on you.” Neal fought his way out of the blanket and fumbled with the laces of his shoes. He cringed when he heard Hughes' footsteps approaching. He didn't know how to handle this whole situation and wanted to get out of the office as quick as possible.
“So, now that you've survived sitting on my lap and being in my close proximity for about two hours, how do you feel?”
“Two hours? I was here two hours? What do I tell Peter?” Neal blurted. He smoothed the wrinkles in his suit as he frantically thought about a believable story he could tell Peter.
“Yes, you were here two hours. Taking your behavior as a basis I would say you're very scared and equally close to bolting out of this room. Am I correct?” Hughes asked. His voice was gentle though firm and it gained him Neal's attention immediately.
“You're going to believe what you want to believe anyway. Don't worry, I'll just make something up in case anyone asks,” Neal replied in a snide tone. He really couldn't deal with Hughes right now, he seriously couldn't. The older man pulled too many emotions to the surface at once.
Hughes raised an eyebrow and calmly held out his arms. Neal shook his head and took a step backwards. He was through the wind as it was; he didn't need to make it worse. He needed time to get his barriers up again, the ones that had saved him more than once even though they also hindered him from seeking a satisfying relationship with anyone.
“Neal, do you want me to get you?”
“No! God, no! I can't imagine what you'd do if you had to get me!”
“You can't? I'm quite sure that your imagination is working just fine. I'll be counting to three now and either you're here, in my arms at three or I'll come and get you,” Hughes declared.
Neal opened his mouth to protest but only intelligible syllables left his mouth. Why couldn't he play the unflappable and always eloquent Neal Caffrey right now? Why did he always feel uneasy around Hughes?
Neal's eyes darted to Hughes then he took a cautious step forward. He glanced over to the door, estimating if he could outrun Hughes and get out. As if Hughes could read his mind he suddenly pulled a key out of his pocket and let it dangle from his forefinger. “Running won't help you. Two.”
Neal closed his eyes, clenched his hands into fists and quickly took the missing steps towards Hughes. Once he was there Hughes arms locked around him and held him tightly. Embarrassed Neal mumbled, “I don't understand what's going on here.”
“You don't want to understand what's going on here. There's a difference. Now be a good boy again and relax.”
“You won't let me go if I don't do as you say, right?”
Neal unclenched his fists and brought his now open hands up to tentatively hold onto Hughes' shirt. One of Hughes' hands rested on the small of his back and the other one cradled the back of his head, pressing it against Hughes' collarbone. A full body shudder ran through him when Hughes shifted his weight slightly so they were pressed together tightly from the hips upwards.
Neal could barely hinder a pout from forming on his face when Hughes ended their embrace. He quickly straightened and tried to hide the disappointment from showing on his face. Hughes had to think he was crazy because first he fought him tooth and nail and the next moment he didn't want to let go. After clearing his throat Neal said awkwardly, “Well, thank you very much for letting me rest. I'll go and do some work now.”
“You do that. Have a good day, Neal.”
That was it? Neal blinked. For some reason he expected Hughes to keep him with him or … Neal had no clue what he expected. He did, however, know that he was more than reluctant to leave Hughes' office.
“Anything wrong, Neal?” Hughes asked. He laid a hand on top of Neal's shoulder, squeezed lightly and waited.
“No. No, everything's peachy,” Neal ground out. He ignored Hughes' raised eyebrow, knowing very well that his tone had been close to spatting. Irritated he stalked over to the door and jogged the doorknob. Without turning around he asked, “Would you mind opening the door?”
Hughes hands landed on both of Neal's shoulders and with surprising ease he turned Neal around so they were facing each other. The hard stare he received caused Neal to lick his lips nervously.
“Actually I do mind. Maybe you're not rested enough to go back to work already.”
Neal's eyes widened and he gulped several times. “I'm good to go back, really.”
He really, really couldn't stand to be that close to Hughes anymore. His body and mind were completely out of sync; one of them craving what the other one wouldn't admit to.
“How about you try lying to me when you look at me properly?” Hughes asked mildly.
Neal blanched. His attempt at shaking off Hughes' hands were futile. He ended up in Hughes embrace with his arms firmly locked around, all the fight drained out of him as soon as he felt the pressure around him. Resting his head on Hughes' shoulder he closed his eyes and made an attempt at regaining his composure.
“Does that mean you don't want to try?”
“No. I'm too scared of the consequences,” Neal admitted quietly.
“And maybe … just maybe you feel a tiny bit comfortable where you are right now?”
“I … maybe,” Neal conceded.
Hughes peeled Neal away from his body only to cup the slightly flushed face in his hands. He brushed his thumbs over Neal's cheekbones, the tenderness of this action almost bringing tears to the younger man's eyes.
“Feel free to come to me any time you're in need of a hug.”
Neal stared at the older man, waiting for him to tell him that this had all been a joke, a cruel joke. When Hughes didn't say anything, simply looked at him with open affection he eventually croaked out, “Are you serious?”
“Did I ever give you the impression I was much of a joker?”
“Um, no, absolutely not.” Noticing the slight frown appearing on Hughes' face Neal hastened to add, “but I'm sure you have a sense of humor.”
“Good catch. Are you ready to go back to work now?”
“If I say no, would you give me the day off?” Neal asked with one of his thousand-watt smiles plastered on his face.
Hughes gently tapped Neal's chin with a finger then pressed a firm kiss on Neal's forehead. As he unlocked the door he replied, “With that smug look on your face? No way. Now get going.”
Neal registered the pat on his back as Hughes steered him out of the door. Even after the door had already been closed behind him he was still reeling from all the emotions that crushed over him, threatening to overwhelm him. Surveying the people bustling downstairs he took in a deep breath. No one seemed to recognize him which was just what he needed right now. With his head high and his body language firmly in check, he proceeded downstairs and sat down at his desk. Pulling out a file he dove into his work even though this file was one of the most boring ones he had ever gotten.
Later that day, at home, he sat in the dark and stared out into the sky. The sky was clear and blue and stars were visible everywhere. The view was great but all he could feel was pity for himself. Pity for being alone, pity for having tried to lead a lifestyle that wasn't him. Angrily he turned his gaze from the stars to the red wine in his glass. Why couldn't he just be normal and be satisfied with normal things and relationships? Why did he have to want so much, all the time? Why the hell did Reese Hughes offer him something he knew he couldn't have?
It was all Hughes' fault that he felt this … this fragile. Neal loathed this feeling as he loathed quite a few more feelings. They were all stored and securely locked behind high internal walls and Neal didn't even want to get a small glimpse at them. Instead of pitying himself even more he swallowed another sip of his wine and pulled his persona in place. For some reason his persona didn't seem to fit him well anymore which was also Hughes' fault. Giving in to his frustration and anger he hurled the glass on the floor where it made a satisfying sound.
Breathing hard he stared at the little pieces of glass and the red liquor pooling in a corner. The satisfaction quickly made place for even more frustration. A knock at his door had him squeaking in surprise.
“Neal? Dear, are you all right? I thought I heard something smashing,” June asked from the other side of the door.
Neal couldn't bring himself to look her in the face. Staying where he was he shouted, “I accidentally broke a glass. I'm cleaning it up right now. Thanks for asking, June.”
June seemed to hesitate and Neal held his breath, praying for her to go away. He almost missed what she said because he gave a huge sigh of relief. “If there's anything I can do just let me know, dear.”
“I will, thank you!”
Neal went to fetch paper towels and a waste bin then crouched in front of the mess he had made. A heavy shiver ran through his body and the roll with towels dropped out of his hands. He curled his arms around his knees and let out the first anguished sob. He couldn't stop for a very long time.
After a restless night Neal woke up with a thumping headache and a mood quickly falling to zero. Swallowing two pills with his coffee that tasted unusually stale he wondered how he was supposed to survive this day. His stomach was churning and not even fruit appealed to him. Even though he tried to hide behind the newspaper June was very well aware of him not being his normal chipper self.
“Neal, dear, are you coming down with something? You barely ate anything.”
“I'm fine,” Neal grumbled from behind his newspaper.
His eyes flashed in irritation before he quickly pulled himself together when June confiscated the paper. “Neal, what is going on? I've never seen you sulking before. Exhausted, sad – yes but never like this.”
Looking at June's concerned face Neal couldn't hold onto his anger. It deflated as quickly as it had risen. “I'm not sulking. I'm just not in a good mood. Work … work was, um, a bit overexciting yesterday.”
“Oh dear, I hope no one hurt you?” June laid a comforting hand on Neal's arm and watched him closely.
Neal shook his head. Far from it! No one had hurt him but Hughes would do so if Neal didn't put a stop to things right now. “No, no one hurt me. But you're right, maybe I'm coming down with something.”
“You should call in sick, dear, and get plenty of rest.”
“Ah, I don't know. Peter would only believe I was up to something and be here in about twenty minutes. Since I'm not really sick he'd just drag me into work anyway.”
“Do you really believe that? I always had the impression that your agent Burke cares about you,” June pondered aloud.
“He cares about his consultant helping him out on his cases,” Neal replied bitterly. Upon seeing the surprised look on June's face he hastily excused himself from the breakfast table.
No one cared about him, not really.
Neal's mood plunged even deeper when he immediately received the two-finger point from Hughes, beckoning him to come to the conference room. He still took his time to hang up his coat and hat and also ventured over to the coffee machine to get himself a coffee. The disapproving look his delay gained him from Hughes and Peter, and come to think of it, from everyone else in the room didn't go unnoticed by Neal. He just couldn't bring himself to care about those looks.
Gracefully he slipped into a chair, put one of his most dazzling smiles on and greeted the other people, “Good morning! A wonderful day today, isn't it?”
Peter took in a deep breath, most probably to scold Neal in front of everyone else. Neal clutched the mug tightly in his hands, part of him hoping that Peter would do so and give him an excuse to lose his temper as well. Defiantly he gazed at Peter, knowing very well that this challenge would push Peter's blood pressure up.
To Neal's astonishment Hughes cut Peter's remark off even before he had uttered it. The steely gaze he hefted on Neal affected Neal more than he liked. The stare-down ended maybe ten seconds into it with Neal dropping his eyes and staring sullenly into the brown liquid. Taking a sip he grimaced and shoved the mug away from him.
Totally lost in thoughts Neal didn't realize that the room had gone quiet with all eyes directed at him. Only when Peter lost his temper and slapped both his hands on the table did Neal look up in bewilderment.
“Fantastic, the great Neal Caffrey is suddenly with us! Would you mind paying attention? We're talking about you and if I recall correctly you were strictly against playing one half of a gay couple,” Peter hollered.
“Well, I still am against it and there's no need to yell at me.”
Neal watched a vein throbbing wildly on Peter's temple and a small smile tugged on his mouth. Peter had turned around, hands on hips and breathed like a locomotive. The effect Neal's little tease had was definitely interesting to watch. Neal could push and push and Peter would yell and threaten but in the end he couldn't reign Neal in. In what seemed like a lifetime ago, Neal had thought if anyone could reign him in it would be Peter Burke.
“Mr. Caffrey,” Hughes sharp voice pulled Neal out of his curious study of Peter, “which information exactly did you memorize from the last few minutes?”
“That Peter is not happy?” Neal answered. A few of the other agents hastily turned around or pretended to suffer from a coughing fit whereas Peter threw a menacing glare at him.
“Does that mean you didn't listen at all and we have to repeat everything that has been said?”
Neal frowned. This had to be some kind of a trick question. If he answered the wrong way it could get him into serious trouble. Nonchalantly he lifted his hands up in a don't-get-mad-at-me way. “I'm sure you'll be able to come to a decision without my input. And whatever I say will be overruled by agent Burke anyway.”
The smug look on Peter's face told Neal that he had just committed a major mistake. He still kept the smile on his face although his eyes darted around the room, searching for help.
“Fine,” Diana said. She walked over to him, handed him a file and told him, “You better get used to your new identity then and congrats on being married to Hughes for a while.”
“You can't be serious!” Neal sputtered.
“If you had listened, which you didn't, you would know that we're absolutely serious about this, Neal. Hughes will contact Mr. Karn in a few minutes and make an appointment for the next days. You should use your time wisely so you're prepared,” Peter said as he came around to Neal, opened the folder and tapped his fingers on something on the sheet.
“You used my real name?”
“We used your and Hughes real first name, there's a difference,” Peter explained, exasperation barely hidden in his voice.
“Because I'm sure I'd slip otherwise,” Hughes chimed in. “Have a look at the folder and be in my office in an hour.”
Neal stared at Hughes retreating back in stunned silence. When the older man reached the door he emerged from his shocked state. “Hey, wait! You said there would be other agents who could play my part. I made it very clear that I will not take part in this.”
Hughes posture was stiff and the rapid stride in which he came back into the room wasn't promising for Neal. In a clipped tone that didn't leave much room for arguments Hughes said, “Mr. Caffrey, you will take part in this because the bureau demands your participation. It will probably an ego-boost for you to hear that we couldn't find an agent who would fit the criteria of Mr. Karn.”
Neal gaped at Hughes while he struggled to find a biting retort. Before he could come up with anything Diana said dryly, “Neal, it means you're by far the prettiest guy in the whole building.”
Almost on autopilot Neal corrected her. “Guys aren't pretty, they are handsome.”
“So, you're the most handsome guy in the whole FBI building. What gives?”
“Diana, you're aware that he,” Peter pointed at Neal, whose face lightened up, “will be impossible because of what you just said?”
“I just stated the obvious and he's always impossible.”
“Hey, Diana,” Neal interrupted, his mood turning playful, “you want to go out for a drink tonight?”
“Caffrey, don't push your luck.”
Neal shrugged his shoulders, picked up his folder and ventured to the door. As he past Hughes the older man murmured, “I expect you in my office in one hour.”
Neal nodded, his playful mood changing into sullen and angry again. Why the hell did he have to pose as one half of a gay couple with Hughes being the other half? Why couldn't it be Peter? That would be fun! He could needle and tease Peter to infinity!
He walked over to his desk where he threw the folder carelessly on it. He glowered at it for some time until Jones said, “I think it would be helpful to open the folder.”
“No, really? What would I do without you, agent Jones?”
“Hey, no sweat, man. It's just well-meant advice from me. Hughes won't take it kindly if you show up in his office unprepared later,” Jones replied light-heartedly.
Neal swallowed at the memory of his total inattention earlier. Hughes hadn't seemed to be too happy about him and his behavior. It was probably for the best to just go through that folder and don't give Hughes even more ammunition.
Exactly an hour later Neal gathered his folder and walked to Hughes' office. The urge to run and hide was almost overwhelming but how pathetic would it be to give in to that urge? Tentatively he knocked at the door, ready to go back to his desk if he didn't get an answer within the next three seconds.
So much for that. Telling himself that he was Neal Caffrey, conman par excellence, he briskly walked into Hughes office. Flashing the older man a brilliant smile he said, “You said one hour and voilà! Here I am.”
“So I see. Please close the door and lock it.”
Neal did as he was told, his stomach rolling unpleasantly in anticipation. In the meantime Hughes emerged from behind his desk. Without preamble he plucked the folder out of Neal's hands, laid it carefully on his desk, then took one of Neal's hands in his own. Walking over to the comfortable armchair he towed Neal with him. Neal's eyes widened when he saw their goal.
“What are you doing?” Neal asked, his voice hitching at the end.
“We're getting comfortable.” Hughes sat down, kept hold on Neal's hand and patted his lap with his free hand. “There you go.”
Neal shook his head while he tried to free his treacherously trembling hand. “No.”
Hughes let go of Neal's hand only to land a resounding slap on Neal's behind. Neal jumped and before he had time to say ow Hughes pulled him onto his lap. Still slightly gasping from the intense sting of that single slap Neal didn't put up a fight. “I hope I don't have to do that when we speak to Mr. Karn on Thursday.”
“You … you wouldn't dare!” Neal stuttered indignantly.
“I would. Believe me when I tell you that there have been many, many times in the past when my hand had a serious itching.”
“So why are you starting it now? Because you want to practice your role? May I add that I still don't want to take part in this?” Neal shot back.
“Duly noted.” Hughes pulled Neal's head onto his shoulder, linked his hands around Neal's waist and with that had Neal effectively pinned to him.
Neal remained tense and unyielding. Acidly he spat, “Why are you doing this? Now?”
“Your relationship to Peter seems strained and everyone can see what a toll Kate's death took on you. It seemed to me as if you could use some attention,” Hughes replied, his voice irritatingly confident yet compassionate.
“It's been months since her death. I'm over it.”
“No, you're not. Such wounds take much more time to even start healing.”
Neal raised his head to look, really look, at the older man. Something in his voice caught Neal's attention. Hughes looked straight back at Neal who thought about what he knew about this man. Within seconds it was clear that he didn't know much more than his first name. While he mulled over his non-existing knowledge of Reese Hughes it clicked. Surprised he said, “You lost someone yourself.”
Hughes gave a lopsided smile. “Did you think you're the only one who ever survived going through the motions after the death of a loved one?”
“No! I just didn't know, er, didn't think you …,” Neal trailed off.
He lowered his eyes before he abruptly heeled off his shoes and tucked his feet under him. Slowly he put his head back on Hughes' shoulder then cautiously molded against Hughes' chest. Hughes clasped the back of Neal's head in one hand while the other one rested on Neal's hipbone. Neal relaxed even more when he heard Hughes softly uttered, “Thank you.”
Time went by agonizing slow in the beginning. Neal wondered what was going on between them, if he wanted something to go on or not. As time went by he shut his eyes to enjoy the closeness to another human body. Of course he could have another human body close to his own anytime he wanted but this … this was different.
For starters – there wasn't any kind of sexual tension between them. He didn't have to perform or live up to a fantasy of someone which was relaxing in itself. Also, he was starved. Absolutely starved for physical contact. If he was completely honest it wasn't just any kind of physical contact he needed. He wanted, he yearned to be hugged, to be held, receiving comfort. Deep down he could even acknowledge that yes, he did yearn for sitting on someone's lap, as incredible and infantile as this might sound.
Hughes' voice rumbled in his chest when he started conversationally, “Now tell me how long we're married to each other? Oh, and remember that you have to call me by my first name.”
Neal cringed. He couldn't imagine calling Hughes by his first name. It was like crossing a border from a safe harbor onto a very precarious boat. Every movement had to be coordinated with the wallowing of the boat; there was no secure stand anywhere in sight. Neal swallowed the rising bile in his throat and cuddled closer to the older man.
“I swear it's not that hard to call me Reese.”
If only Neal could believe him. Since he couldn't he stayed silent and clutched at Hughes' shirt with more force. Resting his weight fully against Hughes and ducking his head further down Neal hoped that Hughes' wouldn't force him to look at him and demand a coherent reply.
He did something far worse. He used an endearment, which shouldn't even be called an endearment in the first place. “Come on now, pup.”
Neal chortled, mostly to hide his embarrassment. He felt his cheeks heating up as warmth uncoiled inside his belly. He liked Hughes calling him pup. How absurd was that?
Even more absurd was that he heard himself talking, rapidly firing off the answers to Hughes' questions. Hughes hands started a never ceasing journey of running up and down from Neal's shoulders over his back to his butt. At first Neal shifted and tensed every time Hughes' hands came to a rest on his behind, expecting Hughes to demand more of him. The worst thing was knowing that he'd probably give Hughes whatever he required if he only kept up the soothing movements.
Hughes broke the ice by saying, “It's quite all right. I'm not going to molest you. I can't say I'm not tempted but I'm old enough to do the politically correct thing.”
Neal chuckled and made an effort to relax. In addition, Hughes further questions distracted him to the point where he tolerated Hughes hands resting on his butt for a short time until Hughes kept them there.
When the interrogation was over Neal asked, “Why did you do that? You know that I'm always well prepared. You couldn't possibly believe that I wouldn't know the answers.”
“It was an excuse to get you on my lap.”
Neal pushed himself away from Hughes' chest to look at the older man. Not sure if he was mocked or if Hughes was genuine Neal almost neared detonation point. Before he could utter anything Hughes pressed a firm kiss on Neal's lips. Without thinking Neal responded enthusiastically.
Hughes ended the kiss quickly which led to Neal awkwardly blinking and feeling very humiliated. His attempt at withdrawing from Hughes was cut short by Hughes cupping his face in both hands, firmly telling him, “No drama, please. Let's go slow. You have to be sure if that's what you really want.”
“Funny that this thought occurs to you now. You didn't have a problem forcing me onto your lap or putting your tongue into my mouth,” Neal spat out. He felt rejected which hurt more than he thought it would.
“I didn't put my tongue into your mouth, I kissed you. There's a difference.”
“You still took what you wanted without asking me first!”
“Yes, I can see that going well. Neal, would you mind if I kiss you?” Hughes replied dryly.
Neal's answer was a glare and another struggle to get up from Hughes lap. “Let go!”
Hughes shook his head, pulled hard which sent Neal toppling against Hughes' chest again. A frustrated shriek escaped Neal's mouth as he twisted and squirmed. It didn't help, not one single bit. How the hell could Hughes be that strong? It was impossible to break free of his arms.
Neal ended up sitting in between Hughes legs, his back against Hughes' chest with Hughes arms fencing him in. It felt safe, horribly safe and utterly too much. Neal gulped in air in huge breaths before he, after several attempts, squeezed out, “I don't want this.”
“You don't? Or you think you shouldn't want this? Are you scared?”
Neal pulled together his last reserves and trashed from side to side, not once causing Hughes to lose his grip on him. Shaking from the effort Neal slumped back against Hughes and tightly closed his eyes to stop the tears from falling. Bitterly he said, “This is stupid.”
“No, it's not. You are who you are and if that's what you need, why would you call it stupid?”
“Why wouldn't I? It shows what a weak, needy person I am. Now let the fuck go of me!” Neal screeched the last words.
“I really don't think it's advisable to let go of you right now.”
“Advisable? Advisable?” Neal's voice rose higher, fueled on disbelief and outrage. “Why are you doing this now? You're just screwing around! Does it feel good to make fun of me? Does it?”
In one swift motion Hughes flipped Neal over his lap, which didn't fully register with Neal until the first slap landed on his butt. Several more followed, causing Neal to kick helplessly. He barely made a sound though, he was horrifically aware of other people – a lot of people – working behind the closed door. A hard slap on the center of his already burning butt ripped a groan from Neal's throat, “Ow! Reese, stop it! Please!”
Hughes stopped, flipped Neal back so he was sitting on Hughes lap again. Neal gasped when his butt came into contact with Hughes' surprisingly hard thighs. “Ow, ow, ow.”
“I am not screwing around nor do I make fun of you. Is that clear?”
“Fine, I'm glad we're on the same page. To answer your other question: I thought Peter would be able to give you what you need and I … I didn't want to get involved with you. You are young and I'm not. Also, you are a conman after all,” Hughes added.
“Peter doesn't do needy and weak. He likes tough and independent and … whatever else. I'm not what he wants and he isn't what I want.”
“What do you want, Neal?”
“I … I …,” Neal trailed off, helplessly shaking his head. He couldn't admit openly what he wanted; the fear of humiliation was too strong and foremost on his mind.
Hughes gathered Neal closer, so he had his weight on his hip instead of his butt. Idly Hughes ran his hands through Neal's hair, waiting for the younger man to relax again. “Want me to tell you what I want?”
“I'm not sure.”
“That's okay, Neal. I'll just start and if you can't cope you can cover your ears with your hands.”
A laugh erupted out of Neal at Hughes' suggestion. “All right, go on.”
“I want to take care of you, make you feel safe and loved. No, don't cringe. I know that you like having this aura of independence and nonchalance but I also see how tired you are of pretending to be someone you're not.” Hughes hushed Neal who opened his mouth to protest. “However, there would be some rules which you'd have to obey. Breaking the rules obviously would have consequences.”
“So basically you want me to submit to you and let you beat me?” Neal spat, his voice dripping with venom.
“Neal, being scared is one thing, accusing me of beating you is something different entirely.”
“You beat me just a few seconds ago!”
Hughes put Neal on his feet faster than Neal could blink. Still faster Hughes got up, took his hand and led him into a corner of his office. Neal recoiled when it became clear to what Hughes intended to do. “No! I will not stand in a corner! Absolutely not!”
“No?” Hughes asked lightly, one of his surprisingly large hands resting on Neal's neck, gently guiding him into the designated corner.
Tears formed in Neal's eyes which made him feel stupid and utterly embarrassed. Angrily he wiped at his eyes with a fist. Still he didn't put up a real fight against Hughes and both men knew it. When they reached the corner Neal stiffened and asked stunningly, “You'd really do that? You'd stand me in a corner like a naughty child?”
“Would you rather be over my knee, bare butt up in the air and get a spanking?”
Fighting the blush was futile. Neal swallowed heavily as his stomach tightened. Hughes said these things so matter-of-factly, not as if he was an idiot or should be put into a strait jacket. Neal closed his eyes briefly, debating whether he should give in or not, whether he should go for what was offered and try to trust, to really trust.
Turning around he threw an inspecting stare at Hughes who let him look, his posture calm and confident. Tentatively Neal reached out and brought his arms around Hughes' neck. He hid his face against Hughes' collarbone, which seemed to become his favorite place.
Hughes arms closed around his waist, pulling him flush against Hughes' body. “What do you want, pup? Honestly?”
“I don't want to be in charge all the time. I want … I want you to tell me what to do and … and, er, coerce me into obeying,” Neal whispered, barely audible.
“I can manage that. You are aware that you're committing to something permanent, right? This will work 24/7, not just when you feel inclined?”
“I know and I'm scared. No, scratch that. I'm terrified. You … you aren't just doing this to get a better performance for Mr. Karn, are you?”
“I've got you and we will talk about the details. And no, this has nothing to do with Mr. Karn. This case might have opened my eyes or helped me pluck up my courage to pursue you,” Hughes confessed.
“You needed to pluck up your courage? It's hard to believe,” Neal said, all the while clinging to Hughes' neck.
“I'm only human after all.”
Neal pried his head away from Hughes' collarbone, swallowed down the lump in his throat and asked, “Would you mind if I kiss you?”
Hughes' eyes lit up, as he responded, “No, I wouldn't.”
Neal held his eyes open, wanting to remember Hughes' expression on his face but as soon as their lips touched his eyes fluttered close. The first kiss was almost shy, the next kisses grew steadily more confident, more urgent and way hotter.
When Hughes cautiously slipped the tip of his tongue into Neal's mouth the younger man opened up without reservation. Hughes allowed his tongue to explore Neal's mouth, relishing the sweet moans that Neal emitted.
Neal whimpered when Hughes stopped their kiss and stared at his new lover, boyfriend – whatever – out of glazed eyes. Breathlessly he said, “I could get used to this.”
“Behave and that's what you'll get a lot.”
“You're a spoilsport,” Neal complained though his words lacked heat.
“We still need to talk about details and we need time for that. How about we make a start tonight? I'll pick you up around seven?”
“That's fine,” Neal beamed.
Hughes patted Neal's bottom before he reluctantly let go of the younger man. “Come on now, Neal. Back to work.”
Neal grinned, suddenly feeling much better, more at ease and calmer than half an hour ago. Already at the door he turned around with a frown. “Reese? Won't other people get suspicious?”
“We have to be careful, that's for sure.”
The revelation behind those words stunned Neal into silence for almost a minute in which he could only stare at Hughes. When he was sure of having control over his vocal cords again he stated, “You're taking a big risk.”
Not knowing how to respond without making a fool out of himself or crying like a baby Neal simply said softly, “Thank you.”
“Go on now, pup, everything will work out fine.”
And weirdly, this didn't only make sense to Neal, he actually believed Hughes.
Neal's belief in Hughes was put to a test shortly after their conversation in Hughes' office. Something urgent came up which prevented Hughes from picking Neal up for the planned dinner. Neal still clung to the hope of seeing his new lover later in the evening although his enthusiasm was gone.
He flicked through some books and tried to relax but nothing really caught his attention. He hastily snatched his phone when it rung. “Hello?”
“Hey pup, it's me. I'm still stuck at the office and don't know how long it'll take me. How about we move our dinner plans to tomorrow?” Reese asked.
Neal took in a deep breath before he answered tonelessly, “Sure. See you tomorrow.”
He didn't leave Reese any chance to reply to that. After switching the phone off he stared at it darkly. Seconds later the phone rung again, startling him. Looking at the caller ID he saw that it was Reese again. Since he decidedly was not in the mood to talk to the older man he let the phone ring until the call went through to voicemail.
He squashed the slightly uneasy feeling that uncoiled deep in the pit of his stomach. Telling himself his action was completely justified he let the phone ring again two more times. Each time caused Neal to bring more space between himself and the phone. Eventually he switched it off. Not being available wasn't a criminal offense; it was his god damn right. As much as it was Reese's right to cancel on him.
This thought hurt more than it should. Neal didn't like how disappointed he felt and berated himself that he should have known this wasn't going to work. Hughes was probably laughing his ass off right now. Who else would know about Neal having made a total fool out of himself earlier today by now?
Neal swallowed heavily. Surveying his room for a few minutes he tried to disentangle his various emotions so he could decide on how he felt exactly right now. He gave up when all he achieved was a deeper level of confusion.
He fetched his fedora and his jacket and headed out, resolutely ignoring the impulse to stay at home, call Reese and tell him how sorry he was for not picking up the phone and how very disappointed he was that Reese couldn't make it tonight. Deep inside he knew Reese would understand and offer at least some kind of comfort. Yet, he didn't trust his feelings and stoke the white little flame of anger within him. That was far easier.
Neal wandered around in New York, not for the first time pitying himself for the restriction of his two-miles radius. There wasn't really anywhere he wanted to be so he kept strolling around until he reached Central Park. Neal looked around, his stomach fluttering unpleasantly.
Glancing at his watch he registered the time, a few minutes before midnight, which should tell him that taking a walk through Central Park might not be his brightest idea. On the other hand – he felt decisively adventurous. If he was honest he also needed to prove to himself that he wasn't some fainthearted little boy, nor did he resemble a helpless pup. What had seemed like an endearment only hours ago, now was an insult of epic proportions.
Straightening up, Neal ventured into the Park, closely observing his surroundings and the people. He saw various deals being made, heard the unmistakably sounds of flesh slapping against flesh and sirens in the background. Suddenly the appeal of showing off what a tough guy he was vanished. There wasn't anyone who'd recognize him being tough anyway.
Tired, cold and utterly dispirited Neal left the Park and walked to his room. As he opened the door he thought that maybe tomorrow would look better. He walked over to the table, not bothering to look around and threw his hat on the table. The swat that landed on his backside caused him to yelp and swivel around in alarm.
“Hello pup. Did you have a nice nightly walk?” Hughes snatched Neal around the waist and pulled him on his lap.
Hughes clamping his arms around Neal's waist tightly stopped Neal's initial reaction of getting up. Since only an outright struggle would get Neal out of Hughes' grip he opted for sitting stiffly on the older man's lap.
“So, did you?”
“Did I what?” Neal snarled.
Reese's eyebrows knitted together dangerously close, causing Neal to lower his eyes and watch his restlessly twisting hands. Reese pulled Neal even more closely towards him before he repeated, “I said: Did you have a nice nightly walk?”
“I was just getting some fresh air.”
“For over five hours?” Reese asked skeptically.
Neal felt his face go hot and ducked his head in embarrassment. He hadn't planned on Reese finding out. One of Reese's hands left Neal's waist and came up to cup Neal's cheek. The light pressure there urged Neal to lift his head and look at the older man. Against his better judgement Neal hazarded, “I got kind of carried away.”
“Neal, just to get this straight. I won't ever tolerate a lie from you. Be it an outright lie, obfuscation or any kind of shenanigans. But since we're just starting together I'll give you another chance. How about having another go at answering my question?”
“How about you let me go to sleep now?” Neal snapped.
Reese was insane. Neal could very well walk around at night wherever he wanted and didn't need to explain his actions to anyone, especially not to his lover who had canceled on him. All self-righteous arguments crunched to a stop when Reese asked, “All right, pup, as you wish. Would you prefer going to sleep with or without a sore butt?”
“You … you can't spank me! We … I … you said we would talk about the details first and … and how was I supposed to know you want me home like a good little wife, waiting for you!”
“I think I forgot to mention that I don't tolerate any kind of tantrum either.”
“Oh great!” Neal had another try at getting up from Reese's lap. This time he struggled against Reese's hold, dignity be damned. Slightly out of breath Neal panted, “I was just walking around in the neighborhood.”
“Is there an echo in here?” Neal replied acidly.
“You walked around for five hours in the neighborhood, did I get this right?”
One part of Neal screamed at him to take his last words back, to tell Reese the truth but instead he gave in to that impulsive little voice inside his head, urging him to spat, “Yes, your grace.”
Even though he knew he had pushed for this it still came as a shock when Reese put him on his feet, unfastened his pants and slid them down together with his boxers. Dumbly he allowed Reese to guide him over his lap. Only when Reese pushed up his shirt did it dawn on Neal what was going to happen. Panic tightened his throat and chest and forcefully he tried to get up from the older man's lap.
A sound smack landed on his upturned butt and tore a loudly yelled “ow” from Neal. Half a dozen slaps followed too quickly for Neal to fully process what happened. Breathlessly and smarting fiercely he laid over his lover's thighs, tightly clutching the fabric of Reese's pants.
“Imagine my surprise when you wouldn't answer your phone anymore even though I tried several times. Then you switched it off completely. To top this I find your room abandoned when I hurried over. Imagine further how worried I was about your well-being. Especially after I found out that you were strolling around Central Park during the night,” Reese said. Conversationally he added, “I can look up the data of your tracking anklet as well as Peter, did you know that?”
“When did you look it up? Half an hour ago?” Neal asked, his voice dripping with venom. “I'm just asking since you were oh so worried about me. I would have thought you'd come looking for me but maybe you were too busy with searching my room?”
Neal grinned when he felt Reese shift his feet and take in a deep breath. His comment had gotten to him, which was exactly Neal's intention. His eyes opened wide when Reese walloped his butt for what seemed an eternity. In reality barely a minute could have passed. Neal's butt ached fiercely by the time the spanking ended. He desperately tried to breathe through the pain and keep his eyes dry.
“Did you seriously want me to come and drag you out of Central Park? Because I can assure you I would have made my displeasure very clear,” Reese said when he was sure Neal was capable of listening.
Neal shivered and his butt muscles clenched involuntarily. Sincerely he answered, “No.”
“I'm glad we're clear on that.”
Annoyance swept Neal up again and he had another go at pushing himself off Reese's lap. It only resulted in Reese taking a firmer grip on his hip and securing Neal's legs with one of his. Neal felt sweat trickling down from the nape of his neck into his collar. Nervously he licked his lips before he replied acidly, “So what? Did you honestly expect me to sit in my room and mourn your absence?”
Reese's hand fell another half a dozen times; each one evoking increasingly shaky sobs from Neal. “That should at least explain to you how I feel about you speaking to me with such blatant disrespect. Or do I need to explain myself better?”
Neal shook his head frantically while he gulped and fought to contain his sobs and tears. “No. You made yourself perfectly clear.”
“That's good. Why did you switch off your phone?”
Another attempt of changing his current situation over Reese's lap ended in a mild swat and Reese saying, “You stay put here until I tell you otherwise. Now answer my question.”
“I … I don't know.”
The next swat made Neal jump and hastily volunteer with, “I just didn't want to sit around here all by myself.”
“So, you were angry with me? Is that the same reason why you ended our talk in the first place?”
“You had said all you wanted to say!” Neal protested. This conversation didn't go well, not at all. His butt was proof of that.
“No, my boy, you were hurt because I canceled dinner and threw a tantrum. I already said earlier that I don't tolerate tantrums and I won't tolerate you hanging up on me. Your defensive behavior right away tells me also that you were very much aware I wouldn't be pleased with you wandering through Central Park at night. Am I right?”
“Just because I'm a conman doesn't mean I'm capable of reading minds. How was I supposed to know what you'd tolerate or not?”
Reese merely sighed then delivered six more swats, all precisely to the same spot.
“Ow! Ow, Reese! Stop! Please! I'm sorry!” Neal babbled as he kicked and squirmed, trying to bring his scorched butt out of range of Reese's hand.
“Have you been throwing a tantrum because your feelings were hurt or not?” Reese asked. He rested his hand on Neal's by now very red butt, absorbing the heat there.
Neal swallowed while he tried to figure out what to say. Nothing really sensible came to mind so he opted for telling the truth. “Yes.”
“What did you tell yourself when you decided not to answer your phone?”
“Do we have to talk with me in this … this humiliating position?” Neal croaked. He hated that his voice broke and gave away how much this all got to him. Not really expecting Reese to oblige, Neal gasped when Reese pulled him up and sat him firmly on his lap.
A few tears spilled over involuntarily when his freshly spanked butt made contact with Reese's thighs. He couldn't hinder a pained sob escaping from his mouth though he tried to conceal it with a coughing fit. His attempt of getting his pants and underwear back on was forestalled by Reese saying, “No. I'm not sure we're done yet.”
Neal's eyes widened in shock. Looking up beseechingly at Reese he assured him, “We're done! We're done, I can assure you of that.”
“I certainly hope so but since I can't be sure your pants stay off.”
It was a reminder of who was in charge and Neal knew it. He felt vulnerable, way too vulnerable for his liking and totally out of his depth. Glancing at Reese out of his big baby blue eyes he begged softly, “Please? Just … just my underwear? I swear I won't put up a fight if you believe that I d-deserve more.”
Neal's cheeks burned and he couldn't bring himself to look at Reese. He couldn't remember the last time he felt that acutely ashamed. Reese didn't give him much time to dwell on his embarrassment. Briskly Reese put him on his feet, pulled Neal's boxers up and equally briskly sat him down on his lap again. Despite being prepared for it Neal still yelped, “Ow!”
Reese manhandled him so most of his weight was on his left hip and his head tucked securely under the older man's chin. Neal wrapped his arms around Reese's waist and let out a shuddering breath. Shakily he said, “I'm sorry. I knew it was wrong but … but I was so angry.”
“You couldn't tell me that you were angry or disappointed?” Reese asked calmly.
When Neal didn't answer he tapped Neal's butt warningly. Neal started talking, fast. “I thought you'd make fun of me, that you'd changed your mind and … and that everyone would laugh at me.”
Neal became uncomfortably aware of how much Reese's grip around him tightened. Silence stretched out between them in which Neal squirmed restlessly on Reese's lap. Eventually he couldn't keep silent anymore. Tentatively he asked, “Reese?”
Pensively the older man replied, “Still here, pup. I'm very disappointed in you. That you seriously thought I'd tell anyone about us and this special kind of relationship we started. You don't trust me one single bit, do you?”
Shocked by the older man's words Neal struggled to sit upright so he could see Reese's face. The older man looked exhausted, even slightly apprehensive. A horrible thought occurred to Neal.
“You're thinking this was a fault, right?” he blurted.
A small smile appeared on Reese's face as he squeezed Neal's shoulder gently. He kissed Neal's forehead, went on to each cheek then to his mouth and ended with a light kiss to the tip of Neal's nose. Neal shivered; the tenderness got to him like nothing else could. Softly he repeated, “Do you think it was a fault?”
“No, but I think it'll take some time for you to trust me. I wish it wouldn't be that difficult for you. I take your reaction to me canceling dinner that you really looked forward to it?”
Neal blushed and ducked his head. Reese didn't have any of it. He cupped Neal's face in his hands, forcing him to look at him. “Answer my question, please.”
“I … yes,” Neal whispered. “Yes, I did.”
Reese nodded in understanding. He pressed a firm kiss on Neal's lips then pressed their foreheads together. “We both know that it is possible for me to cancel any kind of plans on short notice. I expect you to cope with that. I also know that you sometimes have to go into dangerous situations but I won't ever put up with you taking unnecessary risks. Another stunt like tonight will get you paddled in the future. Is that clear?”
Neal swallowed audibly before he answered, “I'm probably completely out of my tree for agreeing to this but yes, I understand the consequences and agree to them. I take it that hanging up on you will have consequences too?”
“Yes. As well as lying to me. That most definitely will earn you a spanking too.”
“I foresee rosy times for my butt,” Neal replied dryly.
Reese laughed out loud. He pulled Neal into a tight hug before he urged Neal to stand up. Neal was more than reluctant to get up as it meant Reese would leave soon. Today, or more precisely yesterday, had left him emotionally exhausted and incredibly clingy-feeling. Yet, he tried to do the grown-up thing and let got of Reese's shirt.
“How about I stay over tonight, pup?”
“That would be awesome,” Neal answered truthfully. One of his dazzling smiles broke out on his face as he slung his arms around Reese's neck, almost strangling him.
Chuckling, Reese said, “All right, all right. Let's go to bed. I'll leave early in the morning to go to my apartment and change clothes so don't flip out when I'm not there when you wake up.”
Neal didn't like the idea of waking up alone and it showed clearly on his face. Reese's raised eyebrow brought a new blush on his face and he hastily exchanged the scowl with a tentative smile.
Both men undressed quickly and slid into bed and under the covers. Unsure of what was expected of him Neal laid rigidly on his back, even though this position was highly uncomfortable with a soundly spanked bottom, and stared up at the ceiling. A growl caused him to jump. “What the hell are you doing? If I wanted to have the bed to myself I would have gone home.”
A more hands-on approach followed Reese's statement and ended with Neal nestled up closely against Reese. Still, Neal was unsure of what Reese expected of him. Cautiously he slipped his hand towards Reese's crotch. Before he could push his fingers into Reese's briefs his hand was captured and pulled up to rest on Reese's chest.
“Not tonight, pup. We're both tired and overwrought. If we do this I want to do it right and I don't want you to wince each time your butt comes into contact with the linen or my hand. And yes, I'm very much attracted to you so don't start telling yourself I don't want you.”
Neal's lower lip stuck out as he recognized the warning in Reese's voice. The light tap on his butt was also rather helpful. “How could you possibly know I'd think that?”
“Just a guess. Now go to sleep.”
“You can't actually make someone go to sleep by giving him an order, you know.”
“I can,” Reese stated.
And he most definitely could.
Neal woke up to his alarm clock going off. He shut it off and rolled over in bed. Despite his knowledge that it was highly unlikely for Reese to still be there he patted around with his hand for a sign of the older man's presence. Finding the other half of the bed empty and cold came as no surprise. It didn't boost Neal's mood either.
Grumpily he rolled over on his stomach, grimacing slightly as his butt reminded him of the events a few hours ago. He slipped one hand into his boxers and felt around for obvious damage. Astonishingly it only felt tender to his touch but nothing more. It was almost disappointing. Almost.
When Neal finally pried his eyes open he stared at a folded note on the pillow next to him. A rush of excitement surged through him and he hastily unfolded the note, completely ignoring how needy he might come across to someone else. Since there was no one else around – why bother pretending not to be excited?
The note, written in Reese's barely decipherable scrawl read:
I'll see you at work. Looking forward to playing married with you today.
A dazed grin appeared on Neal's face. As much as he loathed the idea of meeting up with Karn, the prospect of spending some hours with Reese was very appealing. Feeling way more at ease he got out of bed, sped through his morning routine, skipped breakfast and went over to work.
At the bureau Neal could barely concentrate on the files in front of him. He tried hard not to think if it was due to the content of the files or his still tender butt. Around eleven o'clock Peter called him up to the conference room where Reese and some other agents already sat. Reese was prepared with a watch that held a bug inside and Diana showed them a box with matching wedding bands. Before she could slip one of them on Reese's ring finger Neal asked, grinning impishly, “May I, please?”
Peter's eyebrows almost rose to his hairline and he unsuccessfully tried to stifle a grin. Neal was proud of himself because his fingers remained steady during the procedure of slipping the ring on Reese's finger. “There you go, Mr. Connor.”
Reese snatched Neal's hand and kept a firm hold on it while he retrieved the other, visibly smaller wedding band from the box. Neal shifted his weight from one foot to the other several times and nervously blinked his eyes. His usual nonchalance was nowhere to be seen which made him feel distinctively vulnerable. Reese released him from his uneasiness by gently sliding the wedding band on his finger.
Diana clapped her hands together and other agents followed, at first reluctantly but then with more vigor. Especially when they discovered Neal blushing furiously. Neal successfully freed his hand out of Reese's grasp, only to find out that Reese's hands now gripped his hips. Surprised he looked at his lover. All the while he wondered where the hell to put his hands when Reese said seriously, “I believe we should seal our commitment with a kiss.”
Neal's eyes grew incredibly big. He couldn't believe Reese was going to kiss him in front of their co-workers, right in the middle of the day in a conference room of the FBI. Yet, there was no doubt about what Reese intended to do. Helplessly he allowed Reese to pull him closer before he felt a firm kiss pressed on his lips.
The other agents whooped and applauded. Neal's cheeks felt hot and for an awful long time he didn't know where to look and what to say. Reese very obviously winked at him, which cheered the agents on to another round of whooping. Exaggeratedly Neal rolled his eyes and proclaimed, “I hope you're up to my standards, darling.”
The whooping sounds changed into chortles and open laughs, in particular when Reese replied, “I'm always up to a challenge, sweetheart.”
Neal shook his head, grinning. Reese diffused the cheerful and bordering on going wild atmosphere with a brisk hand sign that indicated for his agents to sit down and calm down again. Not even one minute later everyone was seated and quiet again. Neal stared at the agents then gazed at Reese. He wasn't the only one responding to the authority of Reese but he was the one Reese chose to go further with than anyone else. Pride swelled up in his chest, pride and something way more primitive. Possessiveness. Reese was his as much as he was Reese's. This revelation shouldn't have come as a surprise, yet it did.
Forcing himself to listen to Reese's words he caught only his lover's last words. “Mr. Karn agreed to meet us for lunch to see if he's capable of helping us.”
“From what we gathered from other couples he took on as clients we know that he looks for signs of specific role distribution in the relationship. That means you have to make sure Reese makes the decisions and enforces them,” Peter explained.
Sullenly Neal muttered barely audibly, “Why can't I make the decisions?”
Slowly Reese turned towards Neal. The older man's body language clearly spoke of his displeasure and Neal found himself floundering in embarrassment. “I … I, um, it's just ... Oh, all right! You get to make the decisions and I'll be a good little boy and follow your lead.”
The icy stare Neal received from Reese for his comment churned his stomach very unpleasantly. The sudden tension and silence in the room was interrupted by Peter saying, “Don't forget that you're supposed to be the pretty boy. Switch on your charm and smile and everything will be smooth sailing.”
“On that note, Neal and I will be heading over for our lunch with Mr. Karn and you lot get ready,” Reese said.
Everyone got up at once and hurried out of the conference. Everyone except Neal and Reese though it was only because Reese got hold of Neal's hand. Awkwardly Neal stood next to the older man as he watched the agents leave the room. Diana clapped him on his back and he managed to squeeze out a small smile. Peter lingered on and threw a scrutinizing glance towards them. “Neal? You all right, kid?”
Neal barely suppressed to jump. “Yes. I'm all right, Peter. Just … just a tad nervous, I guess.”
“Why?” Neal echoed. “What do you mean why?”
“Why are you so nervous? You plunged into way more dangerous situations without any kind of backup and you didn't look half as nervous as you do now,” Peter replied as he walked over to the pair.
Reese's hand tightened reflexively around Neal's hand. Neal wondered what he should tell Peter. The truth? - That he was afraid of what Reese made of his lamenting just a short time ago? He cleared his throat before he answered as lightheartedly as possible, “That was probably because I didn't think before I acted. This time I had way too much time to think beforehand and … and Karn? This guy makes me nervous.”
“It's only lunch this time, Neal,” Reese stepped in. With a curt nod he beckoned Peter out of the room. Neal saw Peter gazing at their still intertwined hands and the frown that evoked. When he pulled his hand out of Reese's the older man allowed the withdrawal. Peter walked out, still wearing a deep frown.
Finally alone Neal found it hard to look at Reese. He found it equally hard to swallow or keep still.
“Let's go to my office and fetch my jacket,” Reese pronounced after a very long and uncomfortable period of silence between them. “We might be able to squeeze in a five-minute discussion about throwing tantrums there too.”
Neal's stomach plummeted to the ground. Defensively he started, “I didn't--”
“No?” Reese interrupted him. “You didn't throw a tiny little tantrum just a few seconds ago?”
“Well, next time you try to stay cool when someone says to your face that you're submissive. It would get your hackles up as well,” Neal replied hotly.
“We're not going to have this conversation here. Follow me into my office.”
“And if I don't?”
“I can certainly put you over my knee here if you'd like that better.”
Neal blanched. Reese wouldn't do that. Or would he? “You wouldn't … that's not ...”
“Yes, I would. I'd tell everyone we put in a little impromptu practice session. Neal, come on now. I don't want you to be sitting on a freshly spanked butt during lunch.”
Neal grimaced at this mental image. “I won't like the discussion, will I?”
“You'd dislike me being angry with you even more,” Reese stated as he walked towards the door.
Annoyingly, Reese was right and Neal's best chance was to trail after Reese. Sighing deeply he did just that.
“Lock the door, please.”
Neal stared at Reese's back for a few seconds until Reese's clipped demand of, “Now.” got him moving. He fumbled with the lock then faced his lover. His stomach plummeted even deeper when Reese addressed him with the two-finger point. Slowly he made his way over.
“Shall we deal with your little tantrum now or do you want to add something to it?”
“W-What? But … but you said you wouldn't … spank me before our meeting with Mr. Karn,” Neal protested.
“I said that I don't want you to sit on a freshly spanked butt not that your behavior wouldn't have consequences.”
Reese's words sent shivers up Neal's spine. Dry-mouthed he looked at Reese and asked, “W-What consequences?”
Reese pulled Neal close then slipped his hands into Neal's pants. As he kneaded Neal's firm globes in his hands he dipped his nose into the junction of throat and shoulder. Neal hissed while Reese's kneaded the still tender flesh of his butt. “Are you scenting me?”
“Let's say I like how you smell, pup.”
“Shouldn't … shouldn't we stop this …” Neal trailed off and gestured towards his crotch with a slightly embarrassed smile.
“You're probably right,” Reese replied. Neal moaned softly in disappointment, which resulted in Reese squeezing the bulge in his pants once more.
“That's cruel,” Neal complained.
“No, it's a reminder whom you belong to and that I won't put up with tantrums. However, I keep my word and won't spank you now. Feeling a bit uncomfortable now should be enough punishment for your tiny tantrum.”
Neal huffed and bestowed Reese with a scowl. “I'd rather have you take care of me and spank me. How am I supposed to concentrate now?”
Reese pulled on his jacket and threw an amused glance towards the younger man. “If you're serious I'd be happy to call Mr. Karn and postpone our meeting for half an hour.”
“Uh, no. We don't want him to get suspicious,” Neal backpedaled hastily. Another spanking on top of last night one's was so not on his wish list.
Reese smiled, cupped the back of Neal's head in his hands and dropped a fierce kiss on his forehead. “I thought so.”
Neal sighed. When Reese loosened his hold around his head he swiftly wound his arms around Reese's neck and clung to him. Immediately Reese enveloped him in a tight hug, almost squeezing all air out of his lungs.
“I don't usually throw tantrums,” Neal mumbled. “I really don't. It's only when I'm around you I … I seem to lack self-control.”
Reese trailed kisses along Neal's jaw line until he reached Neal's mouth. “You mean you're acting like a brat?”
Neal grimaced but nodded nonetheless. “I don't mean to!”
“I believe you.”
“Yes, and believe it or not it's a good sign you're letting lose your inner brat.”
Baffled Neal searched Reese's face for this being a joke. “Are you serious?”
“Yes, because it shows that we're clicking. You're a brat; I'm your top. It's only natural that I draw out the brat in you as well as you draw out the top in me.”
Neal blinked then stammered, “O-okay. It sounds weird but also makes sense to me. Which just proves I'm nuts.”
The slap that landed on his butt shoved Neal's hips right against Reese's and also elicited a surprised yelp out of Neal. “Ow! All right, it's all perfectly normal!”
“We do what is best for us. We don't harm anyone by what we do so stop putting yourself down for needing a firm hand and someone to take care of you,” Reese said earnestly.
Bitterness seeped out of Neal's words when he replied, “A grown-up man shouldn't want any of this.”
“Yet you do.”
Neal swallowed heavily. The urge to deny his needs, to thump his fists on something surged upwards inside him and left him dizzy with an unexpected bout of rage.
“I know you don't like hearing it. I also know you'd rather kick me in my private parts right now but I assure you that you will learn to accept your needs. I will be happy to stay at your side and provide you with whatever you need. We will talk about it more extensively later but now we really have to meet up with Mr. Karn.”
Reese gently carded his hands through Neal's hair and kissed him again. Neal's emotions were in turmoil and with a pout on his face he said, “I don't want to meet up with this guy. I also don't want to elaborate my needs and you just messed up my hair.”
With something akin to a growl Neal strutted over to the door and unlocked it. Reese used the time to breathe in and out deeply several times. Finally he won the fight against the laughter that bubbled up inside him and schooled his face into a serious mask. He followed Neal swiftly, grabbed his hand and sternly whispered, “You do not go first. You'll do exactly as I say because Mr. Karn needs to see us acting a certain way.”
“Why do we have to start here? We're still inside the bureau.”
“Because I said so.”
“That's not a real reason!” Neal snarled.
“Neal.” It was just his name but spoken in that controlled voice it caused Neal to reign himself in, immediately.
“One more time and I absolutely won't care who's looking at us. You do not get to play me while we're around other people, thinking that you can get away with everything. Understood?”
Neal nodded swiftly. He threw an apologetic smile at Reese. He might struggle against the boundaries Reese imposed on him but if he was honest this was exactly what he craved. Reese seemed to understand him without Neal having to explain himself. Tentatively he smiled at him when Reese flashed him a quick grin and wink.
The grin and wink transported so much. Yes, Reese understood. And yes, this was going to be okay. The road would be bumpy but they'd get through it together.
Now, all they had to do was face Karn and blow up his scheme. Inwardly Neal prayed for patience and that his inner brat would behave during lunch. He didn't want to invite a spanking from Reese, especially not in front of an audience. Subtle signs of how their relationships worked should be enough for Mr. Karn.
Neal couldn't help but feel way more uneasy than the situation so far warranted. If this were a con of his own he'd stop it. Feeling like this didn't bode well. Unconsciously he stepped closer to Reese in the elevator. A discreet touch from Reese and a whispered, “Breathe, pup. It's going to be okay.”
Neal forced a smile on his face and desperately hoped for Reese to be right.
Neal trailed after Reese, imagining himself taking off at a run and hiding until the case was closed.
“If you think what I think you're thinking you're better off forgetting about it,” Reese said conversationally as they walked out of the FBI building.
Neal blinked innocently at Reese, doing his best to widen his eyes. Smiling a beatific smile at Reese he countered, “You don't know what I'm thinking.”
Reese put a gentle hand on the small of Neal's back before he replied, “You thought about bolting and hiding. Let me tell you that this wouldn't go well with me.”
Neal couldn't suppress the startled expression on his face. He didn't even try to fight the pout. “How could you know that? It's not fair.”
“Neal, come on. It wasn't that hard to deduct. You're afraid of Mr. Karn and you're through the wind because of us,” Reese lowered his voice and his eyes softened. “Of course you'd rather hide instead of facing your fears.”
Indignantly Neal snapped, “I'm not afraid.”
With a few long strides he widened the space between himself and Reese. He was most certainly not afraid. At least not openly and anyway, harboring an uneasy feeling towards Mr. Karn shouldn't be considered as frightened. It was a healthy concern, nothing else. Also, Reese could claim disciplining him as much as he wanted, he'd never follow his words up with actions in public. Triumphantly, Neal squared his shoulders and smiled at other peasants.
Reese catching up with him and growling rudely interrupted his train of thoughts, “If I recall correctly we've just been through this.”
Neal bestowed him with a sympathetic gaze that clearly spoke, “Yeah, I know. Pity that you can't do anything about it now, huh?”
Neal ignored the sudden sloshing feeling in his stomach when Reese looked at him from under narrowed, bushy eyebrows. He couldn't ignore the nose-dive his stomach did when Reese pointed at a sign a few steps on their left. “Oh, look, there's a public restroom, let's visit the facilities.”
Neal stopped, not caring about some muttered complaints from other people and gaped. Reese didn't just say that, did he?
Reese laid a hand under his left elbow, a gentle yet powerful reminder of who was in charge, and guided Neal to the men's restroom. Swallowing convulsively he followed Reese. Once inside the restroom and against all better judgment Neal stalled. “But what about Peter? He'll want to know why we went inside!”
“Every man has the right to use the restroom once in a while, don't you think?”
“But Reese! Please, not here! I'm sorry, really, I am! It won't happen again!”
“I intend to make sure of that.”
“Reeeeeese!” Neal whined. “What if someone comes in?”
After making sure no one else occupied one of the other stalls Reese walked to the outer door of the restroom and locked it. “No one is going to interrupt us. Now come here.”
Neal blanched. Reese really was going to spank him. At a public place with people around very closely. He hadn't seen that coming!
Shivering miserably he knew he should go over to Reese and receive what he'd known he'd pushed for. Why couldn't he just once accept a limit and don't test it until he had to face the consequences?
He remained frozen to the spot, from where he gazed beseechingly at Reese. He didn't hold much hope that Reese would refrain from spanking him but trying couldn't hurt, right?
Reese sighed. “Neal, we don't have time for a thorough session and I don't intend to spank you bare. I might change my mind if you don't move this instant.”
Neal moved. Not because he wanted but because his legs cooperated with Reese's words despite what Neal's consciousness thought about them. Shame-faced, gaze firmly hefted to the ground, he slowly walked over to his lover. Reese laid a finger under Neal's chin to tip up his face. “This is going to be okay, pup. Maybe you'll take me more serious afterwards.”
“I take you serious, I totally do!” Neal protested. At least after this he most definitely would.
Reese dropped a kiss on Neal's forehead then guided him into a stall. He put a foot on the toilet before he guided Neal over his thigh. Neal clutched Reese's pants leg in his right hand while his left hand got bent on his back. Neal tried not to think too hard about how awkward and disgraced he felt. Neal's pants stretched taut over his upturned butt and he acutely wished he'd chosen a thicker pair of pants this morning.
Only Reese's grip on him prevented Neal from shooting upright when the first slap landed on his butt. Neal hissed through clenched teeth, wishing to be anywhere but here. Reese applied a full dozen slaps on his butt; each one placed with force on Neal's sit spot. Halfway through it Neal gulped in air in huge chunks and squirmed desperately over Reese's thighs. His eyes watered, as his butt grew warmer and warmer.
Reese didn't hold back and that, on top of yesterday's spanking hurt like a bitch. Neal couldn't recall the reason for his stupid behavior just a few seconds before anymore. Since when did he get hung up on someone calling him afraid of something?
The last blow to his butt ripped a pained howl from him. Embarrassed he sniffed and swallowed, hoping Reese was done. Reese rested both his hands on Neal's butt shortly before he helped him to his feet. Neal's hands flew to his tormented backside and rubbed there. It didn't lessen the pain, nor the embarrassment. Yet, he didn't feel guilty or in doubt of Reese's feelings for him.
When he could breathe regularly again he looked up at Reese. Sullenly, yet honestly he said, “I don't like my inner brat.”
Reese cracked a smile at him and pulled him into a tight hug. “Is this you or your butt speaking?”
Neal stooped a little bit so he could push his head under Reese's chin. “I don't want to be afraid.”
Reese's fingers massaged the base of Neal's neck while he asked with obvious concern in his voice, “If you don't feel up to it I can go alone to this meeting. Eventually you would have to face Mr. Karn though.”
The offer sounded tempting; incredibly so. On the other hand, every one would know Neal had chickened out. Neal's pride won over his uneasy feelings though he didn't sound very assured when he said, “No, I'll go with you.”
They arrived exactly on time at the restaurant Mr. Karn had selected. Neal would have liked one of the fancy French or Italian restaurants but Mr. Karn had decided on a German one. Neal wondered what he was supposed to eat, Bratwurst mit Sauerkraut?
He didn't hide his dislike for the choice of restaurant, which earned him a light tap on a still smarting backside. Neal flushed and ducked his head when Reese whispered into his ear, “Careful now. Peter will be able to listen in from now on.”
Neal nodded and docilely allowed Reese to walk him to their table. Mr. Karn got up and stretched out his hand to Reese. Neal disliked the man instantly. Reese even had to prompt him to take the offered hand and shake it.
Mr. Karn was tall and broad. The suit he wore did nothing to hide this fact. With his dark hair and the sharply trimmed van-Dyke beard he should have looked sophisticated. To Neal he appeared dangerous and predatory.
Even more so when his eyes widened in interest upon seeing Neal wince slightly as he sat down. Neal tried to sit very still though the hard surface of the chair was a challenge for his butt. He listened halfheartedly to Reese and Karn exchange pleasantries and barely participated.
The man creeped him out. In a huge way. If you'd be so inclined you could even say Neal was scared of the man sitting opposite of him. He almost flinched when Karn addressed him, “I hope you're okay with my choice of restaurant. I'm originally from Germany and from time to time I like to eat German food.”
Evading to reply directly Neal said, “Do you miss your family?”
“Oh, I visit them from time to time. I built myself a new life here.” He shrugged then gave up the orders for their drinks. The waiter disappeared briefly before he came back and handed them the menus.
Neal pursed his nose in disgust. Reese briefly touched his left hand with his fingertips but it was enough for Neal to reign himself in. Karn watched them like a hawk, causing Neal to shift uncomfortably around.
“You don't look like the Schweinshaxe – type,” Karn said gently. “Maybe you'd fare better with one of the Schnitzel – variations.”
In the end, and after Reese patted his knee under the table twice warningly, Neal decided on a Jägerschnitzel whereas both Reese and Karn chose Wiener Schnitzel.
After the waiter had taken their orders Karn directed his gaze and next question at Neal again. “So, you want to build your own family too. Tell me a bit about yourselves. How you met and why you want to adopt a child.”
Neal took a deep breath and started reciting what they had agreed on. The fake background story flew over his lips smoothly, which sometimes earned him an admiring sideways glance from Reese. The easiest part was to confess how he felt about Reese because he didn't have to fake that. It was just slightly disconcerting to know other people were listening in.
Karn was entranced by Neal's words, smiled a lot and laughed at some pointed remarks. Reese grinned, only occasionally covered Neal's hand with his own when he wanted him to camp it down a bit. Neal reacted immediately, very well aware of Karn's almost greedy gaze directed at him.
The food was surprisingly good even though Neal decided afterwards to be done with eating for the rest of the day. When the waiter appeared to refill their glasses with wine Reese shook his head, indicating for Neal to do the same. Briefly Neal bristled but the hand that out of nowhere came to rest on the small of his back and slid downwards forced him to deny politely as well.
Karn leaned back in his chair, the corners of his mouth twitched in approval as he raised his refilled glass in a toast to them. “I believe, gentlemen, that you'll soon become fathers.”
Neal beamed one of his thousand-watt-smiles at Karn although his gut clenched dreadfully. His dislike of the man grew to epic proportions.
“From what I gathered you'd rather adopt a baby or a toddler, is that right?”
Reese nodded. “If it's possible, yes.”
“What about the gender? Any preferences?”
Reese and Neal exchanged a glance then shook their heads. Karn nodded cheerfully. “Well, well, I believe this won't take long. One thing though, I'd like to visit you at home to make sure there's enough room for a child. I take my responsibilities serious and hope you don't mind me looking in your home. The address on your application is the right one?”
Before Reese could get a single word out Neal replied, “That's just a small apartment we used for a while. We're going to sell it soon. When the baby is there we'll move to the house.”
“The house?” Reese echoed.
“Yes, sure. You don't want to raise our child in a tiny apartment, darling, do you now?”
“Of course not.”
“How about Reese calls you tomorrow to give you the address?” Neal asked. Karn frowned in suspicion so Neal hastily added, “I want to make sure everything is all right there. It probably needs airing and a thorough dust off.” Sliding his arm through Reese's he added, “Also, Reese and I could have a look and decide which room should become the baby's room.”
“You haven't been there in a while, it seems.”
“No, it's too big for two people but just right for three or more.”
Karn's mouth twitched before a full smile appeared on his face. “Three or more, you say? I believe we'll get along very well, Mr. Connor.”
“I hope so, too,” Neal replied.
Mr. Karn paid the bill, business expenses he said, and followed them out of the restaurant. Outside a gray sky debated whether it should open its floodgates or not. Neal adjusted his fedora and slid one hand into the front pocket of his pants. A cool breeze caught him by surprise and he gasped. Shivering he shifted from one foot to the other until Reese's arm sneaked around his waist. Neal let himself be pulled close against the older man's body and slung his arm around Reese's waist as well. The urge to rest his head on Reese's collarbone was almost overwhelming but he resisted.
Reese turned them slightly around so he sheltered Neal from the breeze as much as possible. Karn drunk this display of affection in openly. “I must admit, at first I wasn't so sure if I'd approve of your application but after seeing you together … I'm impressed. It seems to me that both of you know their places in your relationship. To me it's important that one person is the leader in a household and the other one obeys the rules.”
Neal stiffened almost imperceptible. He was even able to keep the smile plastered on his face though he really wanted to throw a good punch at Karn's face. Reese's hand tightened his grip around Neal's hipbones, the thumb starting a firm but at the same time soothingly stroking motion.
“That's exactly how it works for us, isn't it, pup?”
In no way would Neal's vocal cords work and answer so he just gave a curt nod. Karn's eyes gleamed. Not wanting to give away his true feelings Neal lowered his eyes to the ground, hoping Karn would take this as shyness on Neal's part.
“Is that why he wears an anklet?” Karn asked conversationally.
Neal froze. The anklet! God damn it! How could they forget to cut off his anklet, that had never happened before. Neal lifted up his head, a wild look on his face as his heart thumped loudly and fast. Reese didn't seem fazed. Not at all. He smiled at Karn pleasantly before he answered, “I like to know where he is all the time, if that's what you mean. Let's call it a safety procedure.”
“Why don't you use a collar around his neck?”
“It chafes his sensitive throat and this way it's more secretive. Not many people inspect him that closely.”
Reese's voice never lost his light, conversational tone but it also held a very clear warning. Karn assessed Reese for another few seconds before he grinned and stretched out his hand. “A man after my tastes.”
Karn eventually bade them goodbye after making sure Reese would call him the next day around noon to arrange a visit at their house. Reese stirred Neal around, towards the van where Peter, Diana and Jones were waiting.
“That was close,” Peter said as soon as Reese and Neal entered the van.
Neal slumped down into a chair and let out a breath. “I thought we'd blown it. Not that I'd mind that much. The guy is creepy.”
Reese handed the bugged watch to Peter. “He is. Peter, I take it you heard everything?”
“Very clearly, sir,” Peter responded. “You were a very convincing couple. Just … what house are we talking about?”
Four pairs of eyes directed their gaze at Neal. “I've seen the apartment you've chosen for us in case he wants to meet us there and quite frankly, it's horrible. Reese is posing as someone who earned a fortune through the Internet; our living arrangements have to display that. We need something more pretentious, which means a house and staff.”
The agents stared at him in disbelief for a short moment before they all began talking at once. Neal lifted his hands in a placating manner. “Hey, chill out. I'll take care of that.”
“I was afraid you'd say that,” Peter sighed.
“Oh come on, boss. He's actually good at this stuff,” Diana chimed in.
Neal's grin grew bigger. Questioningly he looked at Reese. “So, Mr. Connor, how about you give me the afternoon off, I'll arrange everything and call you with the address of our new residence at, let's say, around five?”
“Will I regret this decision?”
“Oh, you never know in advance.”
“All right, Neal. You wouldn't refrain from doing it anyway,” Reese said.
Neal slipped out of the van after waving goodbye to four amused FBI agents.
Neal called Reese exactly at five, told him the address and said he'd wait there for him. When Reese arrived he parked in front of a house that was almost an exact replica of June's house. It even had June standing in front of it, talking to Neal.
Neal smiled at Reese when the older man joined them. He introduced June to him, “This is my landlady, June. She said she could help us out.”
June smiled her usual warm and fond smile. “It came to my attention that you two need a representable house and a staff for about two weeks?”
Reese's eyes widened in surprise then narrowed when he saw how intensely Neal inspected his shoes.
“Neal,” he put as much threat in this single word as he could muster. It had the desired effect on Neal as he lifted up his head and looked at Reese apologetically. “Neal, please, don't tell me that you told someone who's not with the FBI what this is all about.”
“I didn't. I merely brought to her attention that the FBI doesn't supply adequate houses for what we're planning to do.”
“That's my name,” Neal grinned, knowing very well that he'd already won. He turned to June and suggested, “June, why don't you tell Reese about your offer.”
“No,” Reese squeezed out between gritted teeth. “No, whatever it is, it is no.”
“Ah, come on, Reese. Just listen to her, please.” Neal sidled up next to Reese, embraced him and rested his head on his collarbone. Directing his intense blue eyes at Reese he smiled tentatively and added another soft spoken, “please.”
Reese tried his best not to fall for Neal's trick but it was to no avail. “All right, I'll listen.”
June chuckled. “At least you two are already arguing and acting like a married couple. Whoever you want to convince that you are a couple, I believe it's going to work. Now, as I told Neal already I own another house here in New York. You're standing right in front of it and I'd be honored if you would use it. Of course I'll also provide you with a maid and a cook.” June smiled at Reese, then tilted her head sideways and asked, “Would that be helpful?”
Too stunned to answer right away Reese let his eyes roam over the house in front of him. Neal jumped into the conversation, “That's such an awesome offer. Reese is pleased to say yes and thank you, right Reese?”
Reese glanced between June and Neal, both of them looking at him expectantly and smiling. Eventually he conceded defeat and said, “Yes, that would be helpful. I'm assuming we can move in immediately?”
“Yes, of course. I already sent the Tellas; they are the caretakers, over. To avoid blowing up your cover I told them that I sold the house to the two of you. Mr. Tella is a tad rattled by the fact that I sold the house to a gay couple but I'm sure he'll come around.”
June walked into the house, introduced them to the Tellas and showed them around the house. They decided that Reese would drive June back home while Neal would stay in their new house. Reese would pack a suitcase with clothes for Neal, drive over to his own apartment and pack some of his own clothes.
Neal walked them to the car, closed the door behind June then frowned. “We need another car. This one has FBI printed all over it.”
“No, it hasn't. It's plain and functional and-,” Reese cut himself off and thumped the roof of the car. “Okay, you're right. I'll get us a more pretentious car.”
Neal flashed him a dazzling smile. Reese groaned when Neal quipped, “That's so sweet of you, hon.”
Neal successfully spent the time chatting up Mr. and Mrs. Tella. The maid took to him in a blink of an eye whereas her husband took some more time to warm up to him. In the end Neal was sure that Mr. Tella at least liked him. Not the idea of him being with another man, especially someone who appeared to be of the same age as Mr. Tella himself - “it's called robbing the cradle, child”, he had grumbled. Neal shrugged it off.
Mr. Tella was courteous to Reese when he came back and took the suitcases from him. “Did you decide which room you'd prefer as your master bedroom, sir?”
“Yes, we'll take the one on the left side.”
“That's a very wise decision. The sun shines into the room early in the morning and you should be able to have breakfast outside on the balcony. I'll bring your suitcases upstairs,” Mr. Tella declared, bowing slightly.
Neal stepped towards Reese, impishly smiled at him and loosely slung his arms around his lover's waist. “I think I'm starting to like this whole scheme.”
Reese swiped the thumb of his left hand over Neal's lips, asking, “Why is that?”
“Oh, you know, I get to spend the night in a really nice house, share a bed with my lover …,” Neal trailed off, his eyes glinting. Tilting his head slightly so he could whisper into Reese's ear he added, “Maybe we'll have time to bring my ass to better use than for you to spank it?”
Grinning, Reese pulled him into a hug. “I'm humbled by this invitation.”
“You should be. I don't offer my ass to everyone. And just so we're on the same page: you don't get to top every time.”
“Pup, who's the one who makes the decisions for us?”
Neal froze before he turned big blue eyes at Reese. With a sigh he answered, “You do.”
“Thank you. If you really want to top that's fine but you don't get to set the rules, is that clear?”
“Yes,” Neal said more subdued. “Would you really let me top you?”
“Sure, why not. You might want to re-think your wish after I'm done with you later though.”
Reese's rumbling and promising voice sent shivers down Neal's spine. Slipping one leg between Reese's he jutted his pelvis forward until he was pressed hard against the older man. After kissing him breathlessly he said, “I'm looking forward to it.”
They broke apart when Mrs. Tella cleared her throat. “Dinner will be served in half an hour.”
“Thank you, we'll be there on time.” To Neal Reese added, “Let's get unpacked, sweets.”
Neal blinked as Reese took his hand and towed him upstairs. “Did you just call me sweets?”
“Well, we don't want to shock the Tellas with me calling you pup, do we?”
“You think sweets is less of a shock?” Neal countered as he tried to keep pace with his lover.
Aha. Neal couldn't follow Reese's logic but arguing would probably just get him swatted. Deciding to be generous he let it go. Still shaking his head he went to the open balcony door and stepped outside. The view was nice. Not as nice as he was used to but he had Reese with him, which counted as compensation.
Leaning against the brick railing he stared at the sun in the distance. Red waves lingered around her thickest point, almost looking like blood streams trickling down from her. Neal swallowed and shuddered. This was disturbing to watch.
Before he could turn around and avoid looking at the sun taking a bloody bath Reese's strong arms encircled him from behind. Reese teased him lightheartedly, “Looking at the sunset? You're such a romantic!”
Neal didn't feel in the least romantic right now. Not wanting to spoil Reese's good mood he squirmed around in Reese's embrace. He rested his head on Reese's shoulder, kept his eyes closed and simply enjoyed Reese caressing his back.
“You okay, pup?”
“I want to have dinner and then I want you for dessert,” Neal replied huskily, hoping Reese wouldn't call him on his evasion tactic.
Either Reese didn't get the evasion or he decided to let it slip this time because he didn't say anything for a long time. They stood on the balcony in a tight embrace, holding onto each other. Reluctantly Reese loosened their embrace after some minutes. “Let's go inside and have dinner.”
They enjoyed dinner; said goodnight to the Tellas afterwards then took turns in the bathroom to take a shower. Neal tried his best to convince Reese of taking one together to save time but the older man didn't relent.
Reese waited for him in bed, propped up against several pillows when Neal emerged from the bathroom, dressed only in one of his silky blue robes, which accentuated his blue eyes even more.
He felt surprisingly shy as he saw Reese's longing stare. Taking a deep breath he undid the belt that held the robe around his waist. The garment fell open with only the slightest swishing sound. Neal couldn't remember ever having felt that exposed before.
Slowly he walked to the bed, where he stood for a moment, soaking in Reese's hungry gaze. Reese pulled back the covers, revealing himself and his obvious interest in Neal.
Growing more boldly at seeing his lover's interest Neal shrugged out of the robe. Naked he crawled over to Reese. Firm hands guided him until he straddled Reese's hips. A demanding kiss made Neal's head spin and he wholeheartedly gave himself to Reese, in every way possible.
Neal woke up the next morning with his head on Reese's chest and their legs intertwined. Contentedly he simply laid there, inhaled the musky scent of his lover and watched the curtains billow in the slight morning breeze. Streaks of sun shone into the room, painting it in warm colors.
He startled when Reese's still sleepy voice rumbled, “Good morning, pup. How are you feeling?”
“Good,” Neal replied honestly.
One of Reese's hands wandered down to lightly pat his butt. “How about here?”
“Hmm, let me check.”
Neal unwound himself from Reese and stretched out next to him on his back. A light twinge here and there, reminding him of their activities the night before. He turned his head to smile at Reese who frowned at him in concern. “Let's say I'll remember today what we did last night. It's all good memory.”
Reese reached out to card his fingers through Neal's tousled hair. “Damn it, you look even younger now.”
“I could reciprocate this statement but I doubt this would go well with you …,” Neal trailed off, a grin forming on his face.
Reese growled before he lunged at Neal. Rolling atop of him he trapped him and started tickling him. Neal squirmed and fought but Reese's fingers seemed to be everywhere. Out of breath he begged shortly after, “Stop! Reese! Reese, stop! Please, I'll be good!”
Reese captured Neal's thrashing head in his hands, held it in place and kissed him. Neal arched upwards as much as he could and opened his legs. Before they could deepen their kiss there was a knock at the door. A tentative voice asked, “Mr. and Mr. Connor? Breakfast is ready in the dining room.”
Neal groaned. “Can't we skip breakfast?”
Reese kissed the tip of his nose then called out to Mrs. Tella, “We'll be downstairs in a few minutes.”
They heard Mrs. Tella's disappearing footsteps before Neal directed a pout that would qualify for olympic standards at Reese. A raised eyebrow from Reese didn't erase the pout completely. Reese bent down to kiss Neal again before he whispered, “We could save time if we take the shower together.”
Neal grinned at Reese then hastily followed him into the bathroom.
Reese called Mr. Karn around noon and despite being quite busy Karn said he could make it possible to visit them late in the afternoon. Peter and a team came by shortly after the call to install the surveillance cameras.
“They won't put anything up in our bedroom, right?” Neal whispered urgently into Reese's ear.
“No, we agreed on surveillance being installed solely in the downstairs room.”
“Where are the Tellas? Won't they become suspicious?”
“I sent them to the market to go grocery shopping and also to get some flower arrangements. They should be occupied for the next two hours at least. Peter and the others should be out by then,” Reese replied.
He overlooked the installation, talked to Peter and his other agents while Neal grew increasingly bored. He wanted to have the place to themselves again, wanted to make the most of the time he had with his lover.
Several times he sat down in one of those highly elegant and also highly uncomfortable armchairs in the library, a book opened in his lap but he couldn't concentrate. He gave up after a while, went to the ceiling-high shelves full of books and browsed through them. Some of the art books drew his attention and he carried them with him to a reading place near the window.
He settled down in the armchair, his legs tucked underneath him and began to read. When a hand came to a rest on his shoulder he flinched, so engrossed had he been in this particular art book. Reese glanced at the book quickly before he bent down to press a firm and possessive kiss on Neal's lips.
Someone cleared his throat in the background, causing Neal to freeze. He felt Reese's hand on his shoulder tighten before their eyes locked briefly. Casually Reese said, “Yes?”
“We're all set,” Peter replied.
Neal swallowed heavily, wishing for Peter to go away, or at least for him to not have been witness to the kiss. His wish didn't come true though. Peter stopped when he was able to look at Reese and Neal, who curled himself deeper into the armchair.
“I thought there was more going on with the two of you than meets the eye.”
“Do you have a problem with that, agent Burke?”
Neal watched Reese straightening up, his eyes turning to steel. Peter didn't look intimidated, merely a tad cautious. Wearily he sighed and asked, “Is this consensual?”
“What are you implying, Peter? That he brutally forced me to become his bed-bunny?”
“Neal!” Reese and Peter shouted in unison.
“What? Just thought I'd ask. Not that I'd mind watching you beat each other up because of me.”
Peter cracked first. A grin formed on his face then he shook his head. “Are you sure you're up to that challenge, Reese?”
“Well, I'm not one to shy away from a challenge.”
“I hope you didn't find your master,” Peter grinned. On his way out he clapped Reese on the back. “We'll start surveillance as soon as Karn arrives. Don't forget to have private talks and whatever else you two indulge in, only upstairs.”
“But Peter! I, uh, nevermind.” Neal broke off after receiving a warning glare from Reese.
Whistling, Peter left the building.
Neal's good mood deteriorated as Karn's visit neared. He clung to Reese, even did so much as crawled on his lap and curled himself together there. Reese said nothing, just ran his fingers up and down Neal's spine, up and down until Neal dozed off for a while.
He was slightly disorientated when the doorbell rang.
“Sweets, it's time to work a little bit,” Reese whispered.
Mrs. Tella showed Mr. Karn in and guided him into the living room. Reese lifted Neal from his lap, which earned him an annoyed grumble. Getting up, Reese smoothed the wrinkles of his pants and stretched out his hand to Karn. “Mr. Karn, it's a pleasure to meet you again.”
“Same to you, Mr. Connor. I have to say this seems to be a lovely house from what I've seen so far. The neighborhood is good and if I recall correctly there are some well-known private kindergartens and schools within a short distance,” Mr. Karn said as he swept his gaze around the living room.
His gaze lingered a bit too long to be called respectful over Neal's figure on the sofa. Neal shivered under the intense gaze, forcefully shook the remains of sleep off and stumbled to his feet. He smoothed his hair before stepping to the other two men. His eyes were still small from sleep and his voice hoarse when he addressed Mr. Karn, “You seem to know an awful lot about this neighborhood. Do some digging around?”
Karns eyebrows rose up, daring Neal to go on with his unspoken accusation when Reese intervened, “You have to excuse my husband's poor choice of words. He's not really awake, it seems to me.”
Neal flushed, especially when Reese looped an arm around his shoulder, pulled him in close and whispered, “Apologize to him. Now.”
Louder Reese repeated, “I expect you to apologize to Mr. Karn for your rude behavior.”
“I wasn't rude, I--”
“Would you rather have a close look at that corner over there while I show Mr. Karn around our house? The house in which we want to raise a child? With respect?”
Unsure if Reese played his role up or if he was seriously upset with Neal the younger man swallowed. He looked from Reese to Karn and back, hoping for a clue but found none. Karn's expectantly intense stare made Neal feel exposed, vulnerable, almost threatened. Subconsciously he stepped closer to Reese, so the older man's breath grazed his cheek with every exhale.
Dropping his eyes and clutching at the waistband of Reese's pants Neal murmured, “I apologize for my poor choice of words, Mr. Karn. It won't happen again.”
“I'll accept your apology, Mr. Connor. I'm impressed by the strength of your relationship,” he added towards Reese.
Neal wanted to puke, preferably right on Mr. Karn's polished black designer shoes. He did, however, not want to invite Reese into swatting him, especially not in front of that horrible man.
During the tour through the house Reese held on tightly to Neal's hand. He also arranged it that he walked in the middle of the three men so Neal wouldn't have to stand to close to Karn. Subtly he changed positions whenever Karn came too close to Neal for which Neal was eternally grateful.
After the tour they had a drink together and Karn gave an approving nod. “Everything looks great so far. Now I'll only need to find you a child.”
With freshly awoken interest Neal asked, “How long will that take?”
“Impatient much to hold your own little boy or girl in your arms?”
Karn patted Neal's arms in what was intended to be a comforting gesture. Neal didn't flinch at the unexpected touch but his breathing sped up immediately. He felt soiled where Karn had touched him and bile rose up in his throat.
Reese saw Neal's face go pale and swiftly intertwined their hands. Neal's breathing turned more regular when Reese squeezed their hands in intervals. To Karn he said, “I'm sure you can understand my husband's excitement. A child will be the ultimate sign of our commitment to each other.”
“I do. I tried to be funny. I'm sorry if it came across as condescending.”
Karn lifted his hand to pat Neal again but this time Neal saw the movement coming. Hurriedly he got up from his chair so Karn's hand patted only air. The urge to bolt, to bring as much space as possible between him and Karn, was foremost on Neal's mind. Still, he didn't get far. Reese's left arm shot out as Neal walked past him. He wrestled Neal onto his lap, clasped one hand around the back of Neal's head and pressed it against his clavicle.
Neal stopped struggling, horridly aware of Karn watching them and maybe deciding that Neal was too unstable to become a parent and therefore jeopardizing the whole operation. Reese's other hand searched for his forehead, rested there for a while before he sighed audibly. Neal held his eyes closed as he leaned against Reese.
“I'm sorry, Mr. Karn. I should have known something was off with my husband. I suspect he's running a fever. Usually he'd tell me when he doesn't feel good but I guess he too desperately wanted to participate today to make a good impression,” Reese lied smoothly.
“Oh,” Mr. Karn sounded surprised, then added, “That would explain his behavior, I'm sure. Don't worry about it. I already have two children in mind for you. I should be able to set up a time for a first meeting within a week.”
Neal opened his eyes, too stunned not to look. “Really?”
“Yes, really, Mr. Connor. You get some rest now so you're fit to welcome your new family member.” Mr. Karn got up, prevented Reese from dislodging Neal from his lap with a hand sign and said, “I'll find my way out.”
Reese and Neal listened to Mrs. Tella showing Mr. Karn out before she came back to them. “Is there anything you need? Mr. Karn mentioned that the kid, oh, I'm sorry; I mean Mr. Connor didn't feel well. Maybe he's coming down with the flu?”
“I'll take my husband upstairs. If you'd be so kind and bring him a cup of tea that would be most welcome,” Reese replied.
Mrs. Tella nodded. Deliberately she hurried out of the room. Neal lifted his eyes to look at Reese. “I'm not actually tired. Karn just crept me out. Why did he have to touch me?”
“We have to keep appearances. You can take a bath and get warm while I do some work. Oh, and Neal? I agree, he is creepy and his interest in you is starting to worry me.”
“At least I'm not imagining it.”
“No, you're not,” Reese told him as he put him on his feet. Guiding him on the stairs and out of earshot of the surveillance bugs he added, “You'll only talk to him when I'm around, is that clear? No matter what he says or tries, you will not go anywhere with him alone.”
Neal rolled his eyes even though he secretly felt relieved. If Reese forbade him to be alone with Karn he didn't have to feel like a wimp. Still, he quipped, “You don't need to worry. You just have to look up my tracking data and know where I am.”
They were almost on top of the stairs when Reese's hands fastened on Neal's hips and spun him around so they stood face-to-face. Neal blinked then nodded hastily after hearing Reese's next words, spoken too forcefully to be ignored. “This is a downright order. If you fail to follow it, I'll paddle you so you won't be able to sit down for at least two days. Are we clear?”
Reese and Neal agreed on staying in “their” house for a few days, with Peter sometimes bringing folders over for Neal to review. Reese could log into his computer and do most of his administrative work from there. They didn't want Karn to become suspicious in case he watched them.
Neal as his alter ego was supposed to work from home anyway. They had given him an identity as a children's book illustrator and surprisingly for Neal he enjoyed trying his hand at drawing such kind of pictures. Reese was supposed to have retired and enjoyed having the freedom to spend time with Neal and get to know him better.
Both men settled into an easy daily routine, both of them content in the roles they had chosen in their relationship. It was way easier for Neal than he had previously thought it would be. He wouldn't go so far as say he loved that Reese made most of the decisions for them but he wasn't far away from it either.
On the fourth day of their stay in June's house, which was by now the Connor's residence, Reese was called into the office. “I have to go, pup. It shouldn't take more than two or three hours so don't work yourself up in a snit.”
Neal grimaced as he looked up from his current illustration, a red-scaled dragon, carrying a fearless looking young girl. “I won't.”
“That's nice work, you're doing here,” Reese said before bending down to give Neal a proper goodbye-kiss.
“Who knows, maybe I'll become an honest man,” Neal answered with a chuckle.
An hour after Reese's departure the door bell rung, causing Neal to grumble to himself. He was almost finished with this illustration and didn't want to talk to Peter or Mozzie or anyone at all. He almost groaned aloud when Mrs. Tella opened the door to what had become Neal's atelier in one of the upstairs rooms within the last few days.
“What?” Neal snapped in irritation.
“Mr. Karn is here and wants to speak to you. He says he has good news,” Mrs. Tella beamed at him.
She had helped Neal prepare a room for a baby after she had gotten wind of the adoption. Actually she had been the one who had insisted on preparing a room and neither Neal nor Reese could find it in themselves to resist. Neal felt a bit guilty for deceiving her, hoping that she'd forgive them after having learned the truth later.
Reese's words rung in Neal's ears while he hastily wiped his hands on a cloth. He only wore a pair of thin sweatpants and a t-shirt, which made him feel acutely uncomfortable in Karn's presence. The man didn't wait for Mrs. Tella to show him in; instead he followed her and shoved past her into the room.
With his hand outstretched and a full-fledged grin on his face he strode over to Neal, clasped his hand and shook it vigorously. “I have excellent news, Mr. Connor. I found you a little baby girl. Her name is Victoria; she's eight month old and has the sweetest smile you've ever seen. You'll love her on the spot.”
Neal smiled. It meant that the scheme would be over soon and he didn't have to meet Karn ever again. “That's great news. When will we be able to see her?”
“Oh, that's why I'm here. I arranged for you to visit her right now. The orphanage was so kind to allow your visit on this short notice. Come on, get dressed and let's visit your little girl.”
Karn's smile seemed genuine and it was even the tiniest bit infectious. Neal wavered, not sure what to do. Hesitantly he said, “Reese … he's in a meeting with some shareholders of his company. I'm not sure I can reach him now.”
Karn looked disappointed. “Well, you can try and if he doesn't pick up you can try later from the orphanage? Maybe he'll be able to catch up with us?”
“I'm not sure I should go without him.”
Karn shot him a strange look. “You really are devoted to your relationship. I'm sure your husband will understand if you for once make your own decision. Try calling him first and if he doesn't answer we'll go on our own.”
Neal looked doubtfully but dialed Reese's number nonetheless. He only got his voicemail and left a message. Shrugging into a sweater he took in a deep breath and said, “Well, Mr. Karn, lead the way. I can't wait to meet little Victoria in person.”
His buttocks sent panicked messages to Neal, already clenching pitifully in anticipation. Neal ignored those signals as much as he could, telling himself he wasn't outright disobeying Reese, merely not followed his orders by the book.
His backside stayed unconvinced.
The ride to the orphanage was short, which helped to ease some of the tension in Neal's body. Discreetly he adjusted the hem of his pants over his tracking anklet, for once happy, or at least relieved at having to wear one. Reese could always find him, no matter what happened.
It was with great effort that Neal chit-chatted with Karn. He sat too close to Neal, constantly found reasons to touch him or brush his hands along Neal's thigh closest to him. Neal had to force himself not to flinch and jerk away each time.
The orphanage was run mostly by women. A stout fiftyish woman with a friendly face and kind eyes, led them to little Victoria. Neal had to give it to Karn – he had found a beautiful little girl. Her blue eyes shone brightly with interest as they approached.
When Neal smiled at her she smiled right back, one little tooth glimpsing through her lower gum. Neal crouched in front of her on the floor where she inspected him solemnly for half a minute then crawled towards him. The ice broken, Neal spent maybe half an hour with her, playing and pulling delighted noises from her.
Karn and the woman observed them while they conversed lightly. For the first time Neal wondered if they suspected Karn of a crime he hadn't committed. The man seemed so devoted to finding a child for Reese and him to adopt. Setting the gay couples up to get more money from them didn't fit with the image Neal had of the man. Given, Karn had a weird fascination with him and especially Reese's handling of him but hey, to everyone his own kink.
Playtime was over much too quickly for Victoria's liking. She cried heartrendingly when Neal got up and waved. She even crawled clumsily after him until one of the women swept her up in her arms. Neal needn't fake the tears pooling in his eyes as the little girl pulled on all of his heartstrings at once.
Karn patted him on the back before placing a hand between Neal's shoulder blades and actively guiding him out of the building. Softly he said, “I see, I found a match.”
Neal nodded. He endured the hand at his back though he felt slightly sickened by it. Pity and guilt knotted his stomach together tightly. Pity for the sweet little girl that might have thought she found herself someone to take care of her. Guilt for deceiving the kind woman in the orphanage who thought she found one of her wards a loving parent.
A few years earlier Neal wouldn't have had those thoughts; he knew that much about himself. Now, he had changed, was still in the process of changing. Whether he liked the changes in himself would have to be seen.
Neal pulled himself out of his introspectiveness when Karn helped him in the back of his limousine. He climbed in after Neal and rested a hand atop of Neal's thigh. This time Neal couldn't suppress the flinch. Fighting against the uprising bile in his throat he picked up Karn's too softly skinned hand and placed it on the other man's thigh.
“You don't like to be touched much, hm?”
“Not by everyone.”
Karn frowned, which caused Neal to add hastily, “I don't mean to offend you but, uh, Reese, um, doesn't like it and I'm not keen on disappointing him.”
“You mean you don't like when he disciplines you.”
Neal squirmed on the seat then admitted, “Yes.”
Karn assessed him silently for a while as the car drove, almost slid, through the busy streets. Neal startled when Karn spoke, “How about we drive over to my bureau. You could sign some of the adoption papers already and take them home to your husband.”
Bringing home the papers would most certainly show Reese what Neal had been up to all day. Sighing deeply, Neal gave in to the inevitable. He'd most certainly be in tears tonight because of his soon to be very sore backside. Pasting a smile on his face he gushed, “That sounds great.”
Karn seated Neal in a leather armchair, sat a glass of water next to him on a small table and brought him the adoption papers. Neal smiled, tried to call Reese again but just like the last time he only got his voice mail. He left another message, hoping that at least leaving messages about his locations would spare him the full wrath of Reese later.
Karn busied himself with some papers and phone calls. The third phone call caught Neal's attention. Karn's voice grew more and more agitated until he threw the handle on the receiver with a loud thunk. Curiously he asked, “Is everything all right?”
Karn swept his hands over his face and emerged ruffled and disappointed. Neal's stomach coiled at the sight. Something was amiss and Neal in the middle of it. Alone.
“There seems to be a little complication with your adoption,” Karn sighed.
Neal couldn't believe it. He had been conned by Karn, his gentle face, his apparent interest in helping a gay couple adopt a child. His skills at detecting a con seriously had vanished. He heard himself asking, “What complication?”
“It seems the mother wants more money to give Victoria up for adoption. From the papers you handed me in so far I know that you're quite wealthy but this … this is out of your league. Or at least, I doubt you'll be able to get so much money together within 24 hours.”
“What sum are we talking about?”
Neal gaped when Karn informed him. “I'm so sorry, Mr. Connor, I've seen how much you liked little Victoria.”
Neal knew this script from now on. He just didn't have any kind of proof to nail the bastard later. Still, he had no other option than to play along. “But there has to be another possibility!”
Karn put his chin on his steepled hands, obviously lost deep in thoughts. Neal sat rigid in the armchair, wishing for Reese to call him so he could tell him what was going on. His phone stayed silent as it had done all afternoon.
Hesitantly Karn opened his mouth to say, “There might be one.”
Before Neal could answer the double doors of Karn's bureau burst open. Unconsciously Neal pressed himself deeper into the leather as a tower of a man strode inside. The tower's dark eyes blazed and they were directed solely at Neal.
“Rowan!” Karn snapped.
The tower named Rowan abruptly stopped in front of Neal where he seized Neal's ankle. Pointing at the flashing digital anklet Rowan growled, “Do you have any idea what this is?”
“Yes, it's a tracking anklet. His husband wants to know where he is at all times,” Karn sneered.
“Is that what they said?” Rowan let out a harsh chuckle.
Too swiftly for Neal to do anything against it, he pulled Neal upright and walked him over to Karn's desk. Rowan's paw remained on Neal's neck, which suddenly seemed to be very delicate and fragile. Swallowing heavily Neal finally croaked out, “What is going on here?”
A shove and all Neal could do was to plant his hands on the desk in front of him to prevent himself from falling. For a brief moment Neal wondered what went on when something collided with his backside, pushing him on to his toes from the sheer impact. He howled and flung his hands back to cover his backside.
The human tower forced Neal to stand still, one hand again resting around his neck while the other one laid loosely on his hipbone. Neal didn't dare move an inch. His knees started to shake when Rowan said, “The anklet made me suspicious so I took a picture of him and ran it through my database. His name is Neal Caffrey and he's a convicted felon, working for the FBI. I think our little scheme blew up. Or at least they tried to blow it up.”
Neal stood frozen to the spot, his heart hammering almost painfully hard in his chest. Karn's face turned into an ugly mask when the implications of Rowan's words hit him. He stalked around the desk, stopped in front of Neal and slapped Neal's face, hard. Unbidden tears sprang to Neal's eyes and he bit hard on his lower lip to keep the moan in.
“How do we get rid off the anklet?” Karn asked, his voice cold, menacing.
“However we get it off it'll trigger an alarm.”
“Get it off and then bring him down in the dungeon.”
“I'll convince the Feds that he tricked them and fled.”
Rowan stared at Karn doubtfully. Neal did the same. Neither Reese nor Peter would fall for it. Karn seemed to be convinced of himself though. Grinning wolfishly he said, “Trust me. You may start paddling him. Be sure to have at least two cameras running. I want to get all his tears on film, as well as his ass turning from white to a deep red.”
Neal swallowed. “Hey, can't we--”
Karn interrupted him by asking conversationally, “Ever been caned before?”
Neal paled but said nothing.
“You'll get to know just how much your ass can be punished. Very soon, my boy.”
Neal shook his head, vigorously. Rowan smiled as he began to pull away from him. “Oh, this one will be fun to break.”
Neal placed a kick right on Rowan's kneecap, swiveled around and took off. He heard Karn and Rowan shouting his name. He ignored them, his fear fueling his legs. He already saw the door, the one that led out of the building, and sped up even more. Just when he reached for the handle, a tall figure sidled up besides him.
Rowan grinned before he seized Neal up in his arms and carried him away from freedom.
Neal screamed and kicked. Rowan tightened the choke hold he had on his victim. Neal's struggle ceased as the pressure on his windpipe increased. Blackness invaded his peripheral vision while he clawed uselessly at his captor's arm.
Peppermint-fresh breath brushed along his face when Rowan demanded softly, “Stop it.”
Neal let his body go lax and in an instant Rowan reduced the pressure on his windpipe. Gulping in air Neal felt Rowan move in long strides, carrying him as if he weighed nothing more than a child. Shuddering, he tried not to think of what the tower could do to him. He only had to keep his head up until Reese arrived. It shouldn't take too long. Reese had said he'd be away two or three hours, he should be home by now. Also, neither Karn nor Rowan had taken off his anklet so far.
Neal's head spun when Rowan set him on his feet unexpectedly. He leaned heavily against a wall and fought against a dizzy spell. Someone pulled his pants leg up, gripped his anklet and then Neal felt the cold steely blade of something metallic. He inhaled sharply, made an attempt of freeing his ankle, which only resulted in a swat on his backside. This one was as bad as the one he had received earlier but this time he managed not to howl. The yelp he emitted sounded more tearful and scared than he liked to hear though.
Rowan lifted him up onto his feet as soon as the anklet was removed. Karn showed the anklet to Neal, grinned, then destroyed it with a hammer. With the anklet smashed to pieces Neal's hope of being rescued before he got really hurt crumbled as well.
Reese entered their house – no, June's house, he corrected himself – looking forward to spend some time with Neal. As much as he loathed doing undercover-work, this one held some positive elements. He smiled to himself while he shrugged out of his coat and hung it up.
Hurried footsteps walked in his direction. Reese turned, the smile still in place, as he expected Neal to greet him. It was only Mrs. Tella though. She admonished him, “Sir, you shouldn't hang up your clothes yourself.”
“Oh,” Reese said.
Mrs. Tella smiled at him, understanding as she always seemed to be, and asked, “I hope you had a good day, sir?”
“I had so far, thank you.”
She peered around him then frowned. “Where did you leave your husband? Did you bring a picture of the baby?”
Reese looked at her in confusion. “Excuse me? Neal is here, at home and what baby are you talking about?”
Equally surprised Mrs. Tella looked at him. Before she could reply Mr. Tella came up next to her. He smiled at Reese. “So, I heard you're going to have a girl?”
Dreading what he would be hearing next Reese replied, “I don't know what you're talking about. What girl? Where is Neal?”
The Tellas exchanged a concerned look before the man answered, “This adoption guy came by. Mr. Connor went with him. They wanted to go to the orphanage and visit the little girl you were going to adopt.”
Mrs. Tella added, “I heard Neal saying that he tried calling you and would do so later again. He hoped they would catch you so you could meet up with them at the orphanage.”
Reese retrieved his cell phone and listened to his inbox. Neal had called twice. The first time he told him about driving with Karn to the orphanage to visit a little girl named Victoria. The second time he told him that he was at Karn's bureau, signing the adoption papers and would be home soon, together with the papers.
Reese dialed Neal's cell phone number, ready to read him the riot act's, with the Tella's eyes hefted on him. The phone rang several times. Instead of Neal's voicemail taking a message the phone went dead. Reese tried again but the phone remained dead.
Taking a deep breath to calm himself down, Reese dialed another number. The Marshall's bureau answered and he quickly asked for Neal's location, rattling off Neal's anklet number.
The Tella's eyes grew wider and Mr. Tella laid an arm around his wife's waist, pulling her closer to him.
“I'm sorry, sir, we lost the signal a few minutes ago. Agent Peter Burke has already been informed five minutes ago.”
“Thank you for your information,” Reese said before he dialed Peter's number. “Peter, it's Reese. What was Neal's latest location?”
Peter didn't seem to be the slightest irritated about Reese calling him and asking about Neal's whereabouts. Reese heard bustling in the background, someone grabbed papers while Peter and whoever was with him, headed to the elevators.
“He's at Karn's bureau.”
“God damn it! I have the feeling that Neal didn't lose his anklet on his own accord,” Reese growled as he shrugged back into his coat. Mrs. Tella stepped away from her husband to help him.
“You think his cover was blown?”
“I suspect so. Neal called me twice today and left messages on my voicemail.” Reese filled Peter in with the details as he raced to his car.
“We'll go in and find him,” Peter said, his tone grim.
“I'll meet you there.”
Reese switched off his phone as he climbed into his car. Putting a siren up on the roof he cast a quick glance at the bewildered Tellas, standing at top of the stairs, looking at him in open concern. Reese wished he could assure them – and himself - that Neal was okay. He really wished he could.
Neal's cell phone rang as Rowan carried him down a flight of stairs. He struggled to get to it but immediately Rowan put pressure onto his already sore windpipe. Neal stopped and Rowan pulled his cell phone out of his pants. The phone kept ringing, only interrupted by Rowan's amused snort. “Look who's trying to call you?”
He held the display so Neal could see the ID showed Reese's name. Instinctively he tried to snatch it from the Tower's hand. In growing despair he watched Rowan smash it against a wall. The ringing stopped abruptly.
Dry-mouthed and with a thick lump wedged into his throat Neal stared at the remains of his cell phone. Rowan's grin grew broader as he lunged for Neal to walk him further downstairs.
They stopped in front of a small door that Rowan opened by typing in a code. The door mechanism gave a soft clicking sound, then the door swung open. Neal's eyes widened in horror. A huge bed stood in one part of the room, a bench and a cross were placed in the middle of it while the walls were covered with various implements – paddles, whips, canes, floggers. Ropes, chains and handcuffs were neatly ordered on a huge table.
Neal's breathing sped up at the sight of this room of horror. He would have recoiled and run if it wasn't for Rowan's solid body at his back. Rowan's hands slid from his shoulders into his hair, turning his head to get a good glance at every ceiling corner. Cameras were installed at each corner and two more were installed on stands in the middle of the room.
“We'll start lightly. I'll warm your ass up with just my hand. Then we'll proceed to the paddles. The cane will be a highlight, especially if you've never been caned before.”
Neal wasn't going to tell this monster behind him that he had never been paddled before either. Trying one last time to flee he stamped on Rowan's right foot, dodged under his arm and took two steps at a time.
Halfway up the stairs Rowan's right paw grabbed the back of his waistband and pulled sharply. Neal tumbled right back into Rowan's chest where his captor's left arm tightened around his torso like a band of steel.
Neal had trouble breathing and gasped in relief when Rowan dragged him into the horror room again. Footsteps followed them, for a brief moment allowing Neal to hope for Reese coming to his rescue. Kneeling and coughing on the hard floor he blinked against the veil of tears in his eyes.
Karn bent over him to inspect him. With a snarl he asked Rowan, “Why isn't he already stripped and bound to the bench?”
Rowan bristled at Karn's admonishment. “He's quite the fighter, that's why. You're more than welcome to try your hand at him.”
Karn took a step towards Rowan and immediately they launched into a heated debate. Neal carefully slid further away from the two men. Sweeping his gaze around the room he looked for a route out of this disaster.
Someone cleared his throat and drew Neal's attention back to the two men. Karn left the room through a backdoor while Rowan watched Neal, an amused smile splayed on his face. “He's just activating the cameras. Then we will strip you and introduce you to a form a discipline you've never encountered before. The video will be a bestseller.”
Gleefully he rubbed his hands while Neal swallowed heavily. Advising himself to keep his cool he didn't raise to the bait. He would not plead or beg or do anything else that could be considered humiliating.
Helplessly he watched Karn come back into the room, close the door behind him and give a curt nod to Rowan. Both men approached Neal, slowly, almost predatorily. Neal hated himself for shivering at the sight of them, very well aware that they wanted to intimidate him. It worked, boy, did it work. Neal had to give it to them.
When they reached him, each grabbing one of his upper arms and seizing him upright he fought. He struggled and kicked and used every bit of strength he could muster to loosen their grip on him. Nothing helped.
They undressed him then dragged him over to a bench. Panic tightened Neal's throat and chest when Rowan pressed him face forward over the bench while Karn retrieved a rope. Forgetting all about dignity he babbled, “Hey! Hey, wait! You don't need to do this, you really don't! I--”
The slap that landed on his ass stopped Neal's plea, pressing all air out of his lungs in a yell. Eyes wide open like saucers he glanced over his shoulder, sure that Rowan had used one of those awful implements displayed on the walls. Rowan grinned at him and held up his right hand. “Only my hand so far.”
Neal shuddered and closed his eyes. Karn tightened the rope around his body, binding him to the bench without leaving any leeway for Neal to move around. He was completely immobilized and at the mercy of his captors.
“You get started. I'll enjoy the show over there.”
Karn pointed at a comfortable looking armchair in a corner of the room from where he had an optimal view of Neal without appearing on the video later. Neal braced himself when Rowan moved around to one of the walls. He took his time to collect whatever he needed, leaving Neal to his imagination.
When Rowan came back he stood next to Neal's head, a ball gag in his hands. “Open.”
Neal shook his head frantically. Rowan walked a few steps before he applied a dozen hard swats to Neal's tautly stretched backside. The first ones had Neal gasping and straining against the rope. The last ones had him yelling at each slap.
“Will you open your mouth now?”
Despite his ass feeling scorched, Neal shook his head again. He heard Rowan sighing. Neal had no time to ponder whether Rowan's sigh was one of disapproval or something else because the next swats rained down on his ass. The slaps were even harder than the first round and Rowan concentrate most of his efforts on the lower slopes of Neal's buttocks. Neal howled.
Neal snuffled when Rowan finished though the tears remained behind his tightly closed eyelids. Rowan pulled Neal's head up sharply and before Neal could process what was happening Rowan had successfully pressed the ball gag between Neal's teeth. Rowan expertly fastened the chains of the gag before he crouched down in front of Neal's face. A tap on Neal's left cheek caused him to open his eyes.
Rowan held up a wooden paddle for him to see and said, “Let's go on with your education first with this paddle. After that I'll use this one.”
He held up a thin, transparent piece of plastic. “This is a Lexan paddle. It's supposed to sting quite intensely.”
Neal's eyes widened involuntarily and his heart hammered wildly in his chest. Every muscle of his body clenched in fearful anticipation as Rowan got up and moved around. Neal flinched when Rowan laid a hand on the small of his back. Neal's eyes darted around the room while he waited for the first slap of the paddle on his bare skin. He found Karn sitting in the armchair, his pants unfastened and leisurely stroking himself.
Neal felt dirty, soiled to his core but he couldn't dwell on these thoughts because the paddle snapped down. Again and again it fell relentlessly on his ass, turning the skin from a light pink to an intense red.
Neal gave up on all dignity very soon and started to cry.
Reese met Peter and his other agents in front of Karn's bureau. Peter hurried over to Reese, waving a piece of paper in his hands. “Search warrant.”
“Good. Let's visit Mr. Karn.”
Reese rang the bell. When no one answered the door he tried again. After the third attempt he turned around and said grimly, “We're going in.”
Peter nodded, beckoned two other agents over who broke open the door. Immediately the agents swarmed into the building, calling out for Karn but received no answer.
The building was thoroughly searched. Yet, there was no sign of Karn or Neal. One of the agents jogged to Reese, holding up the pieces of Neal's destroyed anklet. Peter swore. “Damn it! Damn it! He has to be here somewhere!”
Diana rushed to them right then and said, “We found a secured door in the basement.”
Diana turned around with Reese and Peter on her heels.
Neal had endured the spanking with the wooden paddle and after that another thorough spanking with the Lexan paddle. His whole being was concentrated on one part of his anatomy – his raw backside.
Karn's movements grew more urgently and he wheezed, “Use the cane.”
Neal whimpered. He couldn't take anything more, he absolutely couldn't.
“Take the gag out, I want to hear him scream.”
“As you wish.”
Rowan unfastened the gag and surprisingly careful took it out of Neal's mouth. Neal's jaw hurt. Really, really hurt.
Rowan crouched in front of him again, eyes softer now than before. He massaged Neal's jaw lightly, almost tenderly. “It's all right, boy. Good ole Karn will be done soon enough. He'll be tired and go upstairs afterwards. You and I, however, will have some fun.”
Neal sobbed; tears ran down his cheeks in small rivulets. Rowan made hushing noises. “Don't cry, pretty boy. After the caning you're through with your punishment. At least for today. I'll make you feel good. Bet you never had such a big cock up your ass.”
Horrified, Neal watched Rowan pat the bulge in his pants before he got up with a smile. Neal shook all over. This was all too surreal to be real, this just could not happen to him. It could not.
The first searing strike of the cane disabused him. Neal screamed. When the pain abode to a level where Neal didn't fear to puke he started begging. The second strike tore another, even louder scream from him. Dimly he was aware of Karn climaxing while Rowan laid another stripe onto him.
The door broke open and suddenly the room was filled with people calling “FBI”. Neal hung his head, not interested in anything going on around him, and cried hard.
He flinched and cried out in pain and fear when something got thrown over his body. Opening his puffy eyes he saw Reese standing next to him, talking rapidly to someone else, instructing whomever to cut Neal free. Neal felt tugs from gentle hands on his body but he couldn't even voice his gratitude. All that came out of his mouth were unintelligible sounds.
Reese crouched next to him, his mouth pressed against Neal's ear, telling him that everything would be okay now. Neal turned his head slightly, directed his watery gaze at Reese and nodded. On impulse he pressed a chaste little kiss against the corner of Reese's mouth. Reese didn't even blink in surprise, simply held onto Neal's hand as the medics placed Neal on a gurney.
Three days later
The ride from the hospital was pure torture for Neal, despite having taken painkillers beforehand. Reese tried to avoid bumps in the road as much as he possibly could, well aware of the pained hisses Neal emitted.
The cane had broken Neal's skin and deep bruises covered Neal's backsides and the top of his thighs. He'd be in pain for quite some time. Reese had ordered Neal on sick leave, his very last official act. Karn had confessed but not without letting everyone know that Reese and Neal were a couple in real life. Of course Reese could have denied it but Neal's little kiss had been seen by a lot of people. Reese decided to come clean and step back from his post. Neal had been shocked by Reese's decision but secretly he admired Reese's straightforwardness.
Reese pulled the car at the curb and killed the engine. Cheerfully he said, “Here we are, pup.”
“But … that's June's place. I mean, the one where we faked to be married and so on.”
“I had a long talk with June. She insisted on us using the house for as long as we wish.”
“Wow, and the great Reese Hughes couldn't do anything else but comply?”
Reese grinned as he climbed out of the car. He rounded the car and opened Neal's door for him. Neal hissed and muttered while Reese helped him out of the car. Standing on shaky legs he leaned heavily against Reese. “It still hurts so much.”
Reese stayed silent, merely acknowledged Neal's words with a firm kiss on top of Neal's hair. Slowly they walked to the house where Neal stopped dead in his tracks. “What about the Tellas? Do they know ...”
“Yes, they do and yes, they are still here. Mrs. Tella is mostly disappointed that there won't be a baby to spoil in the household. From what I gathered she might approach you with taking a foster child into care.”
Baffled Neal stared at Reese. “Seriously?”
“They are not angry or anything?”
“No, like I said, they were disappointed. They still seem to be very taken with you and want to support you during your convalescence.”
Neal smiled and quipped, “I have that effect on people.”
“Come on, let's get you inside.”
Neal was sweating by the time they finally reached their bedroom in the house. Mr. and Mrs. Tella followed them, one with a tray filled with tea and a small fruit basket and the other one with a vase of flowers. They excused themselves swiftly after seeing in how much pain Neal was.
Reese helped Neal kick off his shoes and get rid off his pants and underwear. A relieved sigh escaped Neal's mouth when he lay flat on his stomach, cool air drafting over his backside.
“Do you want a sheet to cover yourself?”
Neal shook his head. As much as he loved to be here again, with Reese close by he was also apprehensive. Reese hadn't said anything about Neal's disobedience so far and Neal dreaded the consequences. He watched Reese unlace his shoes and put them away neatly. His stomach fluttered unpleasantly when Reese slid his leather belt out of his loops, slowly, so incredibly slowly.
Neal's eyes stayed focused on the belt and a whimper slipped out as he came to the only logical conclusion. They were at home, had their privacy and Reese was going to spank him with a leather belt. Neal couldn't believe Reese would do this, now, when he still hurt so badly. A sob followed the whimper, drawing Reese's attention to his younger lover.
“I'm sorry, I shouldn't have gone with him. Especially because you forbade it.”
“No, you shouldn't have.”
“But … but you never said anything about a spanking with a belt!”
Confusion spread over Reese's face. When he looked from Neal's clearly distressed, pale face to the belt in his hand understanding dawned on Reese. Not trying to hide his exasperation he asked, “Did you seriously believe, for just one second, that I'd spank you now?”
Irritatedly Neal replied, “You said you'd paddle me if I choose to disobey you.”
“I'm your top, not some cruel monster. Your backside dazzles in all colors, you have really, really deep bruises and the cane tore open your skin so you bled. We have to change dressings three times a day and you honestly believed I would punish you? I'm appalled.”
Tears filled Neal's eyes so fast it was frightening. Choking, he said, “I'm sorry.”
“Do you feel as if you're in need of a punishment?”
“Good, I'd have to wonder about your sanity if that would be the case,” Reese replied dryly. While he changed from his formal work clothes into more comfortable ones he added, “That doesn't mean you got a free pass to do as you please.”
“I know. I don't ever want you to use a paddle on me.” Neal shivered and grimaced. “Actually, I think I'm traumatized. The word paddle alone causes my butt to clench in fear.”
Reese slid onto the bed, pulled Neal on top of him and peppered his face with gentle kisses. “I hope you'll never even consider disobeying any of my orders in the future.”
“I won't.” Comfortable silence stretched out between them before Neal broke it with asking, “So, what about it?”
“What about what?”
“You're officially retired and have a lot of free time now. How about a foster child?” Neal fluttered his eyelashes innocently at Reese.
Reese's eyebrows rose until he very slowly tightened one arm around Neal's waist and with the other hand began to tickle the younger man.
“Stop! Reese! Stop it! You can't do this! I can't defend myself properly!” Neal screeched.
Reese just grinned. “I know, pup, I know. I don't need a paddle to punish you.”
Neal's screeches soon turned into helpless fits of giggles as he begged his partner for mercy and promised him to always, always obey him.