just another coin to pay your way withAuthor: iamshadowFandom:
A cold case on Peter's desk reveals something about Neal's past that Peter hadn't suspected.Content:
Sex work/prostitution (discussion of), awkward conversations, revelations, trope subversion.A/N:
Written for the AU: hooker/porn/stripper square of Round One of trope_bingo
This is set in a vague timeframe after S02 E11 Forging Bonds, but without any real hard links to the major music box/sub/treasure plot arcs.
There's a file on his desk. It turned up in the night, like an unwanted guest. He's gone through it twice, and it still has the same ugly facts within on the third read.
“I need you to explain this to me,” Peter says, as neutrally as he can, handing it to Neal.
Neal crooks a sly smile that doesn't quite reach his eyes after glancing at the top sheet, then the one underneath. “Why, Peter,” he drawls, “I would have thought a happily married man such as yourself would have heard about the birds and the bees by now.”
“No birds, no bees. It's male prostitution with a side of theft. Tell me about Lance Bryant.”
“Since when are we Miami Vice?”
“Since you decided seven years ago that turning tricks in Atlantic City was a viable career path over art school,” Peter snaps, and he knows the moment it's halfway out of his mouth that it's the wrong thing to say.
Neal's face goes blank and hard, but Peter doesn't miss the flash of anger just before the walls slam down.
“I didn't- I just- I need to know,” Peter says, trying to soften what he'd said, unwilling to apologise, unable to let go of his need to have all the answers. It's hard to not be angry at Neal, to resist the urge to shake him by the scruff of his neck for something he did when he was barely old enough to drink.
The smile that follows on the heels of the blankness is patently false and mildly lecherous. “You want the dirt
, do you?” Neal asks. His body language changes, almost imperceptibly, but Peter feels his face heat as Neal slowly looks him up and down, biting his lip. There's a dark hint of something in Neal's eyes that Peter wouldn't have believed it was possible to fake, until now. If he didn't know better, he'd think Neal was about to proposition him.
Then it all falls away, and Neal's just sitting there, watching Peter, no doubt cataloguing all the tells Peter's got on display. Peter feels conflicted and shaky and somehow hurt
, and he doesn't have the focus or the distance to dig into why
, not when Neal's just patiently waiting for Peter to catch up and compose himself.
“It's all a con, Peter,” Neal says eventually. “You show people what they want, tell people what they want to hear. It's a means to an end. It's easy.”
The score from Lance Bryant's crime spree had been small-time, or, at least, from what wound up in the file, it appeared to have been. Most of the thefts committed by Neal-as-Bryant had probably been unreported. One minor Impressionist painting that surfaced again six months later in Brussels. A few high-end timepieces. A nineteenth century sapphire pendant. The bulk of the take was mainly money, credit cards, and a small cache of poker chips that added up to about two grand. Barely enough to keep a con with Neal's tastes in good quality burgundy for a couple of months.
“It's your body, Neal,” Peter says, and it sounds slightly choked to his own ears.
“It's just currency, Peter,” Neal says, and it's the most cynical Peter's ever heard him. It's unyielding and matter-of-fact, almost callous.
Peter thinks about his early, fumbling experimentations with sex, some disastrous, some ill-advised, some joyous. He thinks about El, about how they fit together.
He thinks about walking into the bar of an upscale hotel, or onto the floor of a casino, and faking his way into the bed of a married oil magnate who's spending ten grand on a single hand of poker, all with the express purpose of stealing his Rolex, his cufflinks and his cash while he's dozing through the afterglow.
“No,” Peter says, shaking his head. “I can't- I don't believe that.”
Neal's small smile is genuine, but slightly indulgent, almost patronising. “You're a romantic,” he says, meaning, you're a child, who still believes in fairy tales
“What about Kate?” he asks.
Neal's smile disappears, but his tone is carefully light. “Kate wasn't the kind of girl meant to slave away, bussing tables. Life was hard, then,” Neal says. After Adler. After Peter started chasing Neal. “That meant certain sacrifices.”
“Did she... as well?”
“No.” Neal's answer is firm and immediate.
“Then how could she...” Peter can't even bring himself to say it, to ask. Neal answers anyway.
“I think she liked the fantasy,” Neal says, and Peter honestly doesn't know what to do with that, doesn't know how to process the concept of a girl sitting back and letting her boyfriend go out and sell himself just to keep her in the style she'd become accustomed to, let alone a girl who let him go out and sell himself because it titillated her.
“Did you ever tell her it was a lie?” Peter asks, eventually.
“No,” Neal says, and his eyes are clear, his body language slightly folded in, like he's trying to be smaller. For once, Peter doesn't think it's a conscious thing.
Peter nods slightly, closing the file gently, putting it to the side. “Take an early lunch,” he says.
Neal looks a bit confused. Peter clarifies.
“Go buy that ridiculous sushi you like. Sit in the park. Drink a latte. Bring me back an espresso and one of those sugar doughnuts from the café down the street. You know the one.” He tugs a bill from his wallet and hands it over.
Neal's still looking as though he's waiting for the other shoe to drop. “We're good?” he asks, and Peter wishes he didn't sound just a little bit guarded, like he's bracing for a blow.
“You were honest with me when I asked you. We're good.”
Neal looks serious and introspective when he walks out through the bullpen, as though he's struggling to assimilate that.
Peter breathes deep and slow, then goes about filling out the paperwork required for yet another discovered piece of the 'stupid things Neal has done' puzzle. The haul was minor and the painting recovered. They've certainly given Neal amnesty for far more significant past offences during his time with White Collar. Hughes probably won't do more than glance over it before signing.
Neal returns in a bit over an hour, smelling slightly of soy sauce and wasabi. He's back to his usual dazzling self, but Peter's coffee is just the way he likes it, and there's not one but two sugar doughnuts in the warm, slightly greasy bag. It doesn't make the memory of the morning any less uncomfortable, but it's a subtle sign that Neal's forgiven him. Peter's licking sugar from his fingertips when Neal catches his eye across the bullpen, and the cheeky grin he shoots Peter's way helps to make the residual guilt Peter still feels melt away.
I have a low tolerance for a lot of the portrayals of sex work out there in fan fiction and the media. It's incredibly polarised - either it's kinky fun and sexy, or it's a short step away from drugs and violence and death. Rather than pander to either cliché, I decided to just have sex work be something from a character's past that comes up for some reason. So this is a back-story snippet that's an AU of canon, but not an unbelievable one that's terribly far away from what we see in the show.
Tags: fan fiction, gen, peter&neal, pg, trope-bingo, white collar