s2309: (Neal&Sara 3)
[personal profile] s2309
Title: Don't Need A Dozen Roses
Characters (Pairings) Sara Ellis, Neal Caffrey, Mozzie, (Sara/Neal)
Rating: NC-17
Word Count: 6456
Disclaimer: White Collar is Jeff Eastin's brainchild. Not mine.
Summary: Sara Ellis is confronted with a case that promises to be just as exciting as she expects it to be and a client who's going to be a pain in rather more unexpected ways.
Content Note: This story portrays the very beginning of a D/s relationship. If you'd like to know anything at all about kinks mentioned or explored in this story, please don't hesitate to PM me.
Author's Note: This fic is for [livejournal.com profile] citrinesunset, for the [livejournal.com profile] wcpairings exchange, with love. I hope you enjoy it! It follows one of your prompts as closely as I could manage. And I am so sorry for the delay!!! Real life staged multiple interventions.
Be warned, italics have been merrily overused.
Pardon the formal register of my writing - I've been watching far too much of The Royals.
The title's from the Nicki Minaj song Get On Your Knees. I would call it the anthem of this fic if my words didn't always end up this damned sappy. As things are, this fic is also inspired by Same Old Same Old, Dust to Dust, Eavesdrop, Disarm, and Poison and Wine, all by The Civil Wars, all delightfully angsty. The Civil Wars write and sing the best Neal/Sara songs. (Disarm is a cover, for the record.)
Sara's a lawyer in this AU. I, however, am not. (In this AU or in real life.) And even if I was, I still wouldn't have much of a clue of the American legal system, which is not the same as the Indian one. So I bullshitted my way through the legal stuff. Most of it is probably inaccurate. Prior warning issued. Sorry not sorry.
There will be more in this verse! Maybe. Look to Can't Hold You Closer Than This for my (totally nonexistent, I can assure you) reliability with delivering on fic-related promises. (This one might just get written, though, because it's mainly sexy fun times. No promises!)
I will give this fic another editorial look-over tomorrow, because I am paranoid as fuck.
Why are my fics turning into such lengthy monsters lately??? What happened to nice little thousand word fics???


The first time Sara Ellis lays eyes on Neal Caffrey, nothing remarkable happens. Two people make eye contact, that's all. Ten years later, she probably won't even remember this precise moment. (In the right circumstances, though, she might romanticize it.)

It's just another day, another client, another case.

(Okay, no, it's not. This is a tough case. It's going to take all her brilliance to win it, and she's bursting with energy and excitement for all the unromantic reasons.)

"Sara Ellis," she says almost as soon as she sits down. "You must be Neal Caffrey."

"What gave it away? The scrubs, the cuffs, or the fact that I'm the only person in the room?"

Sara sighs. "You're in jail. You're bitter. I get it. But right now, we need to prep for your trial, and I need you to focus, not wisecrack." She sets down her files (they were supposed to be just one or two, but she kept darting in and out of her office before leaving and ended up with an armful)."Just out of curiosity, why didn't they grant you bail?"

"Something about escape artistry and being a flight risk. I forget." He neatly shoves it out of the conversation and papers it over with a smile.

She has to spare a moment to wonder how many times he's executed that particular manoeuvre. (That isn't important, though. He's a client, not a friend.)

"You should have hired me earlier," she says instead. "I might have been able to convince the judge otherwise."

He politely suppresses a laugh. "I doubt that."

"Really? If you put your mind to it, you could break out of here, right?"

He shrugs. "Piece of cake."

"That's exactly what you should have told the judge. Whether you're inside or outside, if you want to run, you'll run. Prison's no deterrent. But if you're on the outside, you get a chance to say your goodbyes, enjoy your last few days as a relatively free man. Throw in an appropriately serious but hopeful expression from you and I'd say you would've had something resembling a shot. Possibly even a fighting chance with a sympathetic judge."

He blinks in surprise. "You almost convinced me."

"See?" She allows herself a smile. "Who was representing you before me? He's done a bit of a hack job. Doesn't seem too experienced."

"My friend's a lawyer. He offered to represent me after the initial arrest, but he suggested that I hire someone with more experience once it became evident that my case would go to trial."

Sara snorts. "In other words, he rabbited at the thought of entering an actual courtroom."

"Something like that," he says, with a small smile on his face.

"Good thing too. He might have lost you this case. It's not going to be easy," she says happily, her voice dropping as she begins to assess various defense strategies.

She's excited for the first time in a while. She hasn't had a case like this in a while. If they walks the tightrope between truth and obfuscation just perfectly, this man could walk.

She glances back at him to see his eyes just a little lower than they should be. A chill runs down her neck. She usually notices shit like this sooner.

There's vinegar in her mouth. She wants to spit it at him, so she does. "Eyes up, Romeo," she snaps.

He honestly looks startled, and then apologetic.
That's new. She's never seen that before.

"I'm so sorry. I was just..." he casts around for believable options fruitlessly, before admitting, "...admiring you."

Truth. Another surprise. And, somehow, also a disappointment. She expected better from a con man. If she's going to win him this case, she needs better.

She tears her eyes away from the file for long enough to shoot him a glare. "Do you say that to all your lawyers?"

"Just the beautiful ones." He turns up the wattage on his grin.

Is he trying to blind her? If so, it's not very smart of him. She needs to be able to see if she's going to fight his case, and win.

Idiot.

She grits her teeth and pointedly focuses on the file. She has a job to do.

(She waits till she's outside before she lets the warm glow of the word beautiful wash over her.)

-:-

"I swear, if I hear the words Fifth Amendment one more time-"

"He must not bow down to the man! We're con men, we keep our secrets."

Sara massages her temple and pours herself a tall glass of excellent wine. ("Is that a bottle of 1978 Chateau Margaux? If so, may I-" "No.") If she'd known that this case came with an eccentric do-gooder who was guaranteed to do nothing but good for the developing migraine, she might have refused.

"Look here," she starts to say, but then realizes that he never gave her a name. "What's your name, anyway?"

He looks at her like her car just screeched to a halt inches from him. "Uhhhh... Don. Tay. Haversham. Dante Haversham."

"Haversham," she says, with a wince - the imminent migraine doesn't like Dante Haversham one bit - "Your friend is charming. I need the jury to see that. So he's testifying, like it or not. And if you want me to have even the faintest chance of winning your friend's case, you need to do two things."

He shuts his mouth and looks at her with rapt attention.

"First - shut up."

"Okay, that hurts."

"Second, go through this list of charges and tell me which ones he's guilty of."

"That's just absurd."

"Have you completely forgotten about client confidentiality?"

"Ah. Right."

"I need to know which crimes the prosecution might be able to scare up some evidence on so I can prepare counterarguments."

"Oh, that's an exceptionally short list. Barely even half a page- oh dear."

"Please don't," she says softly. Unfortunately, the only gods in her vicinity are partially deaf.

"They might be able to charge him for some bonds he forged."

"I thought he was the best in the game," she grumbles as her hand skitters uselessly across the countertop, looking for something soft. (It's been a while since she looked for a someone when it got this bad.)

"He's also reckless. He went out of his way to speak to the suit on the case."

"Suit?" She does not have the wherewithal for this today.

"FBI agent," he translates.

She closes her eyes and winces. "Of course he did. That'll be the video evidence that the prosecution's withholding from discovery."

Haversham raises an eyebrow at her.

"I have contacts." She shrugs, one arm raised to block him (and anything that reflects light, really) from view, which the migraine thanks her profusely for by sticking a pillow between the hammer and her head.

"Also, there's a chance that-"

"Make a list."

"But you said-"

"I know what I said. I said go through the list. Now I'm saying make a list. You've been of use, now get out."

"You know, if you didn't want my help, you didn't have to invite me in."

Sara elects not to say anything about him inviting himself in, falls onto a sofa, and blocks out any remaining light with a pillow. She flinches when the door shuts behind Haversham, which makes everything hurt even more, but at least she's alone and it's quiet.

She should be working on the case. She wants to be working on the case. But it's going to have to wait till tomorrow.

She bloody hates migraines.

-:-

The case is just as thrilling as she thought it'd be. She has a fight on her hands for every bit of goodwill they garner with the jury. The various identities, the many occasions when he 'coincidentally' happened to be visiting a museum that was robbed shortly thereafter, the private residences liberated of some priceless item while he was schmoozing the owners, all explained away and topped up with a charming smile, maybe even a heartwarming anecdote.

(She'll admit, though, that it takes everything she's got and more (with some strategic emoting from Caffrey sprinkled on top) to convince her that judge and jury are inclined to throw out the grainy video evidence starring a bank teller (who makes a very uncertain witness) and the back of someone's head. She thanks her stars that Caffrey didn't mention the bonds he'd just cashed in when he met Agent Burke.)

The client, on the other hand, is a rather unexpected, far less enjoyable thrill.

He hasn't been flirting relentlessly. She made sure that he knew better than to do that. He hasn't even been flirting. He just quietly reminds her that he's interested every so often, with some particularly lovestruck look or other that he probably pulls out of his back pocket in between trial prep (or so she'd like to think).

And now, minutes or hours away from a decision that could change his life:

"Go out for dinner with me."

Is he serious? "What, you find one person who doesn't fall for your charms and you're immediately smitten?"

Caffrey has the gall to look affronted. "You intrigue me."

"Because I elect not to match your smile with one of my own."

He changes tack. "Please?" he asks, like a puppy nudging his woffly nose at someone for just one (more) treat.

Sara shakes her head. "Even if I was interested, I don't do the girlfriend thing."

"Really? Because the tan line on your ring finger says otherwise."

She looks away, suddenly chilly, and covers her left hand with her right. "I'd think that it says exactly that, wouldn't you?"

"I'm sorry," he says softly.

She looks back at him. Huh. He looks genuinely apologetic for having hurt her.

(But then again, he keeps poking at old bruises and bringing them back to life. He'd better be apologetic.)

"One night. Hotel room. My pick," she decides. Why not? He's smart, he's hot, and he clearly wants her.

(And then he'll be gone.)

He wrinkles his nose. "At least let me take you out to dinner first."

"What, and bore me to tears? I say we skip to the fun stuff and call it a day."

Now he's the one with vinegar in his mouth.

She's so tempted to laugh.

"How about this," he says diplomatically. "We meet for dinner in the hotel's restaurant, and the moment you decide you're bored, we'll empty our plates down our throats, you can grab me by my tie, drag me out of there, and we skip to the fun stuff."

This time, she does laugh, because his words, like sunshine, warm her from the inside and evaporate her worries. She laughs a full, hearty laugh and keeps going till her cheeks hurt.

"Hey! Give romance a fighting chance," he says, indignant.

"I'd really rather not," she says, with an honesty that surprises even her.

(He's smart enough not to look at that too closely. After all the old woulds he's aggravated, he better be.)

"You realize that this means you have to win me my case, right?" he says instead.

"Do I hear you betting against me?"

"Absolutely not. Something else, something that makes it less likely that you'll tear my throat out with your bare hands."

Sara bares her teeth in a confident, lionlike smile. "Better."

Then her smile softens. The consequences of a loss settle in the air between them. The possibility of prison for him, years of his life

(She never cares about more than the cheque with cases like this, with a rich client who's paying a hefty fee to be kept out of prison. How did he become one of the people whose cases she takes because they don't deserve the years they'd otherwise have to serve in prison?)

(What is the matter with her?)

She picks up a pen, twirls it betwen her fingers, and says, "Whatever they decide, you and I both know that we gave it our best shot."

He nods.

For the first time, she sees a hint of seriousness in his eyes, like he maybe realizes how critical this all really is.

She doesn't like it.

"And if I'm still single, you can come find me when your sentence is up. Who knows, I might be down to get my freak on."

It's his turn to laugh.

-:-

She'd expected a few days' reprieve before their agreed-upon soiree, so she's understandably surprised when she receives a text from Neal a mere two hours after the jury declares him not guilty on all counts (yes) asking for place and time.

If you keep up this level of enthusiasm, never might become an option, she's tempted to reply.

But that's too cruel.

She removes the business card of her favourite hotel from her wallet and traces her fingers over the lettering.

Is she ready for it to be over so soon? Whatever 'it' is?

Damn it, Ellis. Don't you get sentimental now.

She sends him the name and tells him to meet her there at seven.

-:-

Light, flirtatious conversation is surprisingly entertaining.

Wait. She has to qualify that. With Neal, light, flirtatious conversation is entertaining.

She's been on plenty of dates, and she's never had this much fun, or been this comfortable.

Should have known it couldn't last.

His rambles coverered two subjects. Places and people.

"You know," Neal says, around a mouthful of feta and tomato salad, "the last restaurant I visited that prepared their salads with such care was probably in France, in this quaint little town in the suburbs of Paris. It was, rather unfortunately, named Bobigny, which made... a friend of mine, pick the alias Bobby for the rest of the trip. The restaurant wasn't anything special, but the food... divine. They had these adorable little quiches stuffed with... Sara? Are you okay?"

And memories.

Sara sighs. She knows she's probably being stupid, or selfish, or both, but she can't stand talk of the past. (Probably because she'd rather pretend that many hallmark events of her own past never happened.)

(How does he manage to find every single one of her bruises? Why doesn't he have the decency to leave them alone?)

She turns away and says, tonelessly, "I'm bored."

Neal, true to his nature, doesn't heed his own promise. Instead of eating, he puts down his fork and reaches a hand across the table. "Sara?"

"Do you really want to have sex on an empty stomach?"

"If I figure out what I did wrong, then I don't mind."

She turns to look him in the eye. His eyes are wide, concerned, possibly even worried.

"You care too damn much," she comments.

Neal smiles sadly. "Maybe I do."

"That wasn't a compliment."

"Ouch," he deadpans.

She can't help an amused smile.

"There we go!" He picks up his fork again, pauses to consider the room, and raises a hand to beckon a waiter at just the right moment. "Could you bring out the rest of our food as soon as possible, please? We have a meeting to get to." He adds a charming smile as a flourish.

"Certainly," the waiter says, and walks towards the kitchen.

"A meeting, huh?" Sara asks, her eyebrows rising to express her amusement.

"Of sorts." He picks up his fork and spears a chunk of feta and a tomato. "Aren't we supposed to empty our plates as soon as possible?"

Now he decides to follow the rule book. She shakes her head and picks up her own fork.

-:-

Neal Caffrey wears too many clothes.

Sara knows this because they've both been undressing him for the past minute, and he's still somehow in his vest and pants. They haven't even gotten around to unbuckling his belt

Damned cufflinks. Damned tie bar. Damned tie.

"Should I have dressed down?" Neal asks apologetically.

"Oh, absolutely not. Wrestling cufflinks into submission is the hottest kind of foreplay, didn't you know?"

Neal's laugh is muffled by the vest he's pulling off his head. "Maybe we should have considered the possibility of doing it with clothes on. There's the risk of stains, but there are also condoms."

"Finally, a man who says the words condoms and manages to make it sound hot."

Neal pulls her closer, unzips her dress, and kisses her cheek. "Just what I want to hear from the woman I'm screwing."

Sara, who's finally done wrestling his belt out of its buckle, shoves off his pants and boxers in one go, lets her dress slide off her and onto the floor, and whispers, straight into his ear, "Who says you're screwing me?"

Neal steps back, surprised. "What do you mean?"

His confusion is so adorable.

"This," she says. She walks him backwards to the bed, nudges at his shoulders so he falls gracefully onto it (thank goodness they took off their shoes at the door), and climbs on top of him to kiss him deeply. This. She strokes his cock (already hard, good, that's good), hands him a condom, doesn't object as he worships her breasts with his tongue, with his lips, with his unsteady breaths. This. She guides his hand to her cunt, away from her hypersensitive clit, shoves one finger into herself to demonstrate, lets him finish the job. This. She lowers herself onto his cock and fucks him luxuriously, like they have time (they have tonight, they have time). This. She lets out shaky moans as she comes, back arched, hands trembling. He's close, his eyes shut, his mouth wide open, but not there yet. This. She takes his cock, condom and all, into her mouth, and it doesn't take long for him to lose control too.

This. She stretches out on the bed, tugs at his arm so he'll roll over, rest his head on her shoulder, lie there with his eyes closed, where she can see his face and know he's fine.

(She's been in the scene for too damn long to let go of habits like those.)

-:-

Sara was right, Neal thinks.

He isn't thinking very coherently, though, just lying there, eyes shut, considering whatever thoughts choose to pass through his mind.

He's never been fucked before.

This... this bone deep satisfaction is new, too. This total comfort, this serenity, her hands in his hair, her bare skin under his hand, her heartbeat flooding his senses. This quiet.

This is it. We're done.

Yearning. That's the feeling that somehow translates into an ache in his chest.

He doesn't want morning to come.

"I want more," he says softly.

The silence stretches like a rubber band, threatening to snap more viciously with every second that passes. But when Sara speaks, the silence doesn't snap. It dissolves.

"Drinks. I pick the club."

-:-

Sara hasn't been to Toujours in a while.

(Since she started dating Bryan. He didn't seem like the kind to accept something as far from 'usual' as this.)

Toujours is just the same as ever. The bar has the best fruit juices and mocktails, the lounge gives no hint of the activities people indulge in further inside the club (except perhaps in the patrons' clothing), the little enclaves at the back of the room are screened so people can give and receive aftercare in peace.

She doesn't even know why she's called Neal here. If he doesn't know a thing, she's definitely not taking him all the way inside.

But she wants more too. And she's not trying the unmitigated disaster that most people call a relationship again. If someone wants to be in her life, they'll have to want to kneel at her feet.

Or leave.

(As much as that might sting with this particular boy.)

"Your guest, Ms. Ellis." The very British, very formal waiter, Henry, who's been a part of Toujours longer than she has, is followed by Neal, who's carrying a goddamned rose, and an appropriately sheepish expression. "May I know your choice of beverage?" he asks, setting down menu cards almost before Neal's seated himself across from her.

"Pineapple juice," Sara says. "Unless you don't have any."

"Today, we do. But I should mention - we revised our budget for pineapple juice. We might run out by tomorrow."

Sara laughs softly. "As long as there's some for today."

"I do believe there is. And you, sir?"

Neal's examining the menu with a furrowed eyebrow. "Do you not have a wine selection?"

"We most certainly do. I merely assumed, since you're with Ms. Ellis, that'd you'd be heading inside shortly. My mistake. If I may-"

"You assumed correctly, Henry."

Neal's eyebrows stay furrowed, but he orders an orange juice without further ado.

He waits till Henry leaves to ask, "No alcohol?"

"House rules."

"House?"

Sara sighs. "How much do you know about BDSM?"

Then the metaphorical lightbulb flickers on. "A fair amount," he says (thank goodness).

"How much?"

"Not a lot. I suppose I'm of the variety that uses silk scarves and tie blindfolds to spice things up once in a way."

"I'm not."

"I guessed as much. This place is impressive. And discreet." He fiddles with his rose. "So no romantic dinners, huh?"

"I might allow it. If you've been good."

Neal nods. "You're a Domme."

"Yes."

"With the whip and ball gag?"

"Ironically, those two things do absolutely nothing for me. The whip's too cliched and the ball gag keeps you from talking to me. I'm confident in my ability to read my sub and tell when something isn't quite going right, but I like to leave my sub the option to safeword for themselves. Besides, people always sound so good when I'm turning their world inside out. And blindfolds are fair game."

"Ah." Neal nods seriously, as though she just soliliquized about something more poignant than ball gags and whips. "I'm not sure if I'm a sub. I mean, it seems exciting, but I've never done it before. Not seriously."

"Well, then, this is your chance to decide if you want to."

Henry is there for the briefest moment as he sets down their drinks, but he disappears in short order.

Neal is about to pluck a petal off the rose when he stills. "This was meant for you."

"It seems to be serving you better at the moment," she says kindly.

"I guess." He plucks off a petal and begins to shred it carefully, neatly. "So what would this relationship involve?"

"That depends on us. Our limits. I have mine, I'm sure you have yours too."

"No handcuffs. Beyond that, I'll try almost anything once."

Sara nods appreciatively. "That's smart, qualifying that sentence with an 'almost'. Good thinking."

Neal smiles absently and plucks another petal to shred. "What about your limits?"

"I'm not very extreme in the showy sense. I don't play with fire, needles, bodily fluids. I rarely even use restraints. What I do play with is sensation, impact, humiliation, power. And with these, I play for keeps. I'll take it slow with you, obviously, but I expect complete obedience in scene. And if you're willing, out of scene."

"Out of scene?"

"Do you speak French?"

"Yeah."

"Translate 'Toujours'."

"Always... oh." Neal plucks another petal and turns it over in his hands.

"Toujours is for people who are, or want to be, in a power exchange relationship. Depending on the person, that can mean when two people are together in private, in public, or even when they're apart."

"Sounds hot," Neal comments as he finally begins to shred the petal in his hands.

"It's hard work. Just like most kinds of serious kink."

Neal's running his fingers through the shreds of rose petals when all of a sudden, he stills. "Humiliation?" he says incredulously.

Sara blinks, surprised. "Did your ears only just catch up?"

Neal ignores her. "I'm putting that on my 'no' list."

"Your hard limits."

"Yeah. That."

"Good. Knowing what you don't want is just as important as knowing what you do."

Neal nods along, mild surprise in his eyes, probably from her easy acquiescence.

That stings a little. What did he expect? Or does he know so little about the scene?

Has she shown him too much already? She doesn't want to overwhelm him.

"If we end up doing this, I also want Wednesdays," Neal says definitively.

"Okay. For?"

"You. Us. To take you dancing. Cook you dinner. Bring you roses and not shred them myself."

"I don't need a dozen roses, Neal. And I don't do the girlfriend thing."

"No one does. But people like it all the same. Everyone loves romance."

"Not this person."

"Well, that's my condition. Take it or leave it."

"How about we decide that after you've decided whether or not you'll be doing this at all?"

"Fair point." Neal gathers the shredded petals into a neat pile. "What about my life?"

"Your life of crime and criminal excess? It's yours. Do what you want, I don't care. But I won't be an accessory. And the next time you get caught, I won't fight your case."

"If we do this?"

"If we do this."

Neal begins to drum his fingers on the table.

Oh, hell no.

Sara divests the stem of its remaining petals and hands them to Neal with an annoyed glance.

Neal takes them gratefully. As he's bringing his hands back to his sides, his elbow bumps into his glass of orange juice. "When did that get there?"

"A while ago." Sara smiles and remembers to tip Henry generously.

Sara's left with a green stem. She twirls it like a pen, imagines signing her name with a flourish, and begins to see the appeal of shredding rose petals.

"We'd be exclusive, yes?" Neal asks, when he's gone through the remaining petals, the remaining sizable shreds of petal, and some of the tissue paper.

"Probably not."

"Probably not?" Neal looks thoroughly scandalised. "Are you going to singlehandedly upend every romantic notion that's ever existed?"

"I just don't buy into the concept that there's one perfect person out there for you. Maybe you get three. Maybe you get twenty. I like to keep my options open."

We're fighting so fiercely on this, you'd think we were already committed to each other, Sara thinks bemusedly. And then, I don't even want to date. Why am I fighting this?"

"Okay."

Neal stops abruptly.

It seems as though she cut off some eloquent point he was making.

"Okay," she repeats. "We're exclusive. If we do this."

Neal huffs out a laugh. "We're probably doing this, aren't we?" he says, his head in his hands.

"It does seem that way, yes."

"Yeah." He twirls a scrap of tissue around one of his fingers. "Be gentle with me," he says, almost inaudible, blue eyes wide and vulnerable.

She reaches out and takes his hand, scrap of tissue and all. "Always."

"Wednesdays?" he asks softly.

"Okay," she says, the word fflowing out of her mouth at the tip of a surge of laughter. His innocence and charm is heartwarming enough to melt even her.

If he keeps this up, he's going to change her ideas about romance. And that might not be a terrible thing.

-:-

This evening has been such a rollercoaster, Neal thinks.

He barely knows which way is up. Entering this club has been like falling face first into a blackhole,

And he isn't out yet.

The gentle, lulling music is still sucking him further and further into this whole other world. Sara's still sitting across from him

He swallows down his orange juice in one gigantic gulp and ignores the insistent craving for wine.

"You haven't been inside a dungeon before," Sara says. It's a statement, not a question.

"Nowhere near."

"Are you sure you want to?"

He nods furiously. "Yeah. I should know what I'm getting myself into." And then I can have wine.

Or, you know, he could just have wine right now and not go in at all. A whole bottle. Yeah, that would be nice.

He shuts down that train of thought. This is something he needs to do before he commits himself completely to this... this otherness.

She smiles reassuringly at him, takes his hand, and leads him in the direction of a corridor that looks like it leads to the washrooms.

Which, surprisingly, it does. There's a door on either side, men and women. But, less surprisingly, there's a third, grander door straight ahead.

And it opens into a changing room.

The number of safeguards in this place. Neal shakes his head.

"Welcome back, Ms. Ellis," says a smiling young woman from behind a counter.

"Hi, Jen," Sara says easily. "Could I have two white wristbands, please?"

It's a little disconcerting, how well Sara seems to know this place. It may be a neutral location in theory, but this is her turf, these are her grounds. And he's the outsider.

And then there's a wristband around his wrist and they're through another door and the floor falls out from under his feet.

The music has changed. It's gone from soothing to seductive, heavy, The air smells of sex and latex and... fire? Neal glances towards the source of the smell and sees and exposed back, and a flame going closer, closer, closer...

"That's not where you should be looking," Sara murmurs at his side. He glances at her, and then at the copse of couches she's indicating.

Men and women, wearing clothing ranging from normal to latex to barely any at all, some seated, some kneeling, some in more elaborate positions. Most of them are talking in low voices. About what? The weather?

Sara leads him to a sofa that's facing away from the more... exciting happenings, and sits.

"What am I..." His mouth is dry. He licks his lips and tries again. "What am I meant to be looking at?"

"Whatever you like."

A woman in white walks towards them, but Sara shakes her head, causing her to turn after acknowledging them with a nod.

Neal doesn't know where to start. There's so much... so many people... so many

He ends up focusing on a girl, kneeling on a cushion, jet-black hair tied away from her face. She's weaaring nothing but a thong and a length of rope around her wrists. Her eyes are closed and her expression is peaceful as she leans into a hand on her shoulder

He doesn't know how long he watches her for. The hand that was on her shoulder moves to her hair, scratches against her scalp absently, smooths hair back into place.

When she stands up to leave, his world is turned sideways again.

"Neal?" Sara says softly, with one hand over his.

"I can't give you so much of myself. I don't know how." Ugh. He sounds broken.

Sara shakes her head. "I'm not asking you to. Most of these people have been working at this for months, if not years. You don't get here in a day. I'm just asking you to trust that I won't hurt you. You get to decide how much of yourself you give me."

Neal nods slowly.

"I really threw you into the deep end, didn't I?"

Neal nods faster.

"You okay?"

"Uhhh..."

"Let's go," she decides.

The blackhole goes, the wristband goes, but the music doesn't. It turns gentler again, and he finds himself back at their table, his pile of shreds still in place, strangely enough. They should have cleared it by now.

"You get to change your mind," she tells him. "You can decide, right now, that this is too much for you, and I'll drop you home. This isn't the Matrix," she says, and he begins to laugh softly, tiredly, because she doesn't get it.

"I'll still want you. Even if I say no. And I'll always have that 'what if...' at the back of my mind. I have to try. At least once."

Sara shakes her head. She probably thinks he's a fool. But she rubs a soothing thumb on his hand anyway. "I will be as gentle as I know how, I promise you."

He wants to joke about how he'll probably be left with bruises from head to toe, but this isn't the right time.

He just hums placidly and says yes again for good measure.

(He doesn't need wine anymore. Just a bed and some peace.)

(Or maybe, this soothing music and Sara's hand on his.)

-:-

I'm kneeling on the floor of her playroom, naked.

I'm kneeling on the floor of her playroom with my hands clasped behind my back.

I'm kneeling on the floor of her playroom, and there's nothing holding me here.

He tries to fit the sentence together in his mind in as many ways as he can, trying to make sense of it. No, that's not the problem. The problem is that it makes sense, far too easily. And that feels horribly, terribly... normal.

The floor and ceiling are right where they're supposed to be.

Nothing's moving.

"Neal," Sara says, in a deeper, richer, and somehow gentler tone than he's ever heard from her.

"Yes, ma'am."

"What are you thinking?" It feels like a rebuke, but it's gentle, and steadying.

He wishes he had something to shred, though.

"It's just that I'm a little uncomfortable, ma'am. I'm not sure why. Nerves? What if I get something wrong? I'm not really-"

He quiets immediately when she lays a finger on his lips.

"There's nothing to get wrong. Just listen to my voice, and do as I say."

He nods slowly, reassured.

"And I'm going to let it slide this once, but when you're on your knees, you call me ma'am."

"Yes, ma'am. Sorry, ma'am."

"It's all right. Now, stay still."

Okay. That's easy, he thinks as he hears her heels click on the floor.

Something cool smatters across his back and he flinches violently.

"One," Sara says.

Not easy.

She'd promised him a spanking at the end of this. One smack for every mistake he made. He'd scoffed then, sure that he'd have to ask her to double whatever number they ended up at.

Now? He's not so sure.

It happens again, but this time, he's prepared, and beyond a little stiffening of his neck, he doesn't move.

She walks around to crouch in front of him.

She's holding a glass of water. Water.

He wants to laugh. So stupid. His lips part briefly, but he remembers, just in time. Stay still.

He stops breathing. It's the only way to contain that laugh.

"Good boy." She smiles and kisses the corner of his mouth.

She dips her fingers into the glass and then touches her fingers to his shoulder. A drop of water forms there, and begins to slide down his chest.

Stay still, stay still, stay still...

He shivers.

"Two."

He wants to sob. It's barely even been a minute, and he's earned himself two spanks already.

"You're not failing," Sara says as she runs one hand through his hair. "You're supposed to screw up. This sounds like a losing game, I know, but you get a rosy red ass and plenty of cuddles in the end. I think that counts as a win, don't you?"

She really is ridiculously good at reading her sub. Just like she said. Everything'll turn out just like she says.

His mind finally settles into a calm silence. "Yes, ma'am," he says, leaning into her touch.

His world becomes her voice, her hands, her commands. She orders and guides and turns him the way she wants, and he follows along and does as she says and flinches at the wrong moment and earns himself another number.

When they're up to thirty, she stops and has him bend over her knee.

She holds him in place with an arm on his back and a leg holding his knees together. It feels far more inescapable than handcuffs ever did, if only because he wants to be there.

He counts this time. They've discussed this. He almost starts counting while she's warming him up, but the blows are too gentle and too quick to count, which clues him in.

"Ready?" she asks when she's satisfied.

"Yes, ma'am."

He wasn't ready.

One is a crack, a whip lash (which is hilarious, she doesn't even use whips), it knocks the breath out of his lungs, and he nearly doesn't get it back in time to say, "One, ma'am"

Two and three and four and five spread the sting from that one spot to everywhere, all over, and he feels like he's on fire. By ten, he's redefining fire.

They'd tried this out earlier, but that was through his pants, and that was twice, and that was ice compared to this.

"Colour?" she asks.

"Green," he says, barely managing to get it out with one breath before he has to breathe in again.

More fire. More.

Twenty has his teeth clattering because of a shaky jaw. Twenty five starts a whimper in the back of his throat. At twenty nine that whimper touches his lips.

And at thirty, he lets out a sob and clings to the leg he's bent over like it's a lifeline, and there should be tears on his face but there aren't, and he hurts but he feels so boneless and relieved and good that he doesn't know what's pain and what's relief, and her hand is all gentility now, soothing stings as it caresses his ass gently, and her voice is all gentility now, coaxing him to his feet, to her bed, into her arms where he can hide till he's a little less open.

(He didn't even notice that her hand got gentler after ten.)

Maybe this is why she doesn't want romance. So she never has to feel this way. Because usually, power and control are crazy balls, going everywhere all at once, but this way, she's holding them both in one hand, and she knows all the tricks to make them dance to her tune for a while and then come right back to her hand.

He doesn't mind being broken open this way because she's there to hold him till he's together again. She's holding on right now, rubbing a salve into all the sore spots, easing the strain gathered between his shoulder blades, pulling him close to her and running a gentle hand through his hair.

(He wants to know why there's no one there to do this for her, but she'll never tell him, so he doesn't ask.)

She deserves someone to hold her too.

He wants to give that to her. Be that for her. Hold on when she's broken open and hurting, no questions asked.

And if he does, she'll still be his Domme, but maybe she'll like their Wednesdays more.

Date: 2016-06-05 07:35 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sheenianni.livejournal.com
WOW, that was absolutely amazing!!!

Can we get more? I want more. This has all the makings of such an interesting universe...

I love how both Sara and Neal are still so recognizably them despite the different settings. And I love how things start slowly between them; how he subtly reminds her that he's interested and they agree on the one date if she wins his case (I love Sara's competitive side).

Then that night. Neal wants more, and Sara could just walk away but she agrees to meet again. The way they negotiated (I love the idea of Wednesdays, and all Neal's limits sounded very like him); how Sara showed Neal a bit of the club and then gave him space, both of them recognizing their limits.

The ending was very touching, when Neal decided someone should be the one to give Sara a shoulder to cry on and hold her when things get messy. She will probably stuggle with that, but Neal can be patient when he wants. I hope this relationship could be good for both of them.

Wondefully written and I can't wait to read more if you indeed expand this universe :)

Date: 2016-06-05 09:19 pm (UTC)
sherylyn: (Default)
From: [personal profile] sherylyn
^^What Sheenie said!! This is just really, beautifully done, and so very *them*, in spite of all the differences of things. Really, really lovely!!

Date: 2016-06-08 04:50 am (UTC)
sapphire2309: (Sara)
From: [personal profile] sapphire2309
Thank you so much!!1 I have explanations for why things differ from canon, but I didn't have room or time to include them xD

Date: 2016-06-08 07:11 am (UTC)
sherylyn: (Default)
From: [personal profile] sherylyn
Hee! You didn't have to include them, really. I think it worked perfectly fine as it is. But I always like when characters in AUs still are themselves, even under different circumstances (if that makes sense), and you did that wonderfully, IMO :)

Date: 2016-06-08 07:57 am (UTC)
sapphire2309: (Neal 1)
From: [personal profile] sapphire2309
I'm so glad they seemed in character to you! :D

It does make sense! Which is a large part of the reason I prefer near-canon or canon-divergent AUs to the completely out there ones. There's a series of choices people make that puts them on a path, and without having made those choices, the person can become completely different. You can't divorce Neal from the choices he made, pick up his character, and make him something else (or, at least, I think you can't). You have to go back and figure out what choice he made put him on this road he's on, figure out what happens if he made a different choice, and go from there.

Like, in this story, I believe that [spoiler alert? spoiler alert.] Neal made the emotionally mature choice of not chasing after Kate when she decided to leave, which is why I tried to write him a little more emotionally stable and balanced here than I do when I write canon!Neal. There are events that led him to that maturity, but I'm not spoiling you for those yet! *evil author is evil* :D

spoilerfree tl;dr - choices that Neal made lead him to be more respectful of people's emotional boundaries and such, while still being a carefree conman and thief.

And I'm going to shut up now because I'm not sure that I make sense and also because long comment is becoming longer.

Date: 2016-06-08 08:37 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sheenianni.livejournal.com
I feel the same about the canon-divergent AUs.

Because if you put the characters in completely different settings with different back stories, the characters might share some basic traits with their "counterparts" (biology influence) but mostly you're bound to get some very different people. So unless their alternate experiences somehow closely mirror the original, you end up writing about a different person, even if he has the same face and genetics.

The fartherst that I ever ventured off the canon storyline was in my Cospiracies series, when Mozzie got adopted by a good, loving family at age twelve and it changed things for everyone. (Who is Mozzie if he's not a criminal mastermind? And what events would shape him closer to the person we know?)

The way I see it, you can make these characters take a different turn on one of those numerous crossroads; or you can have them take the same journey but tweak it a little, either by putting them in a different settings (different time) or by introducing another element (e.g., a wing!fic that closely follows canon). But if you change things too much, the people become somebody different, and then it's just original fiction with characters who wear the same faces and appearances.

(Sorry for the long comment :D )

Date: 2016-06-08 09:21 am (UTC)
sapphire2309: (Mozzie)
From: [personal profile] sapphire2309
The nature vs. nurture debate has a place even in storytelling :D I love it!

And yes, I totally agree with you. Some fanfics I've read (I'm not taking names here, because they're all well written stories and I respect the effort put in by the authors) have the names of the characters, and some of their traits, but they feel like entirely new characters wearing familiar faces because of the total AU. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing! Some people enjoy that. I just happen not to.

I don't think I've properly read your Conspiracies series. I have to remember to check it out properly one of these days. Hopefully, my mental notepad won't lose this page.

(Dude, I'm the last person to criticize people for long comments. xD)

Date: 2016-06-08 02:01 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sheenianni.livejournal.com
I do enjoy a very AU fanfic from time to time, provided that it's well-written... same as I occasionally enjoy fanfics with OOC characters, if the story is interesting enough. But generally I prefer canon divergences and characters who are still recognisably themselves (and then watching them make those different choices and how that affects them).

LOL, it's a long series (over 70k words, so make sure you have a free afternoon if you want to read it :D ) Anyway, the Conspiracies series is one of those cases where Mozzie is obviously very much shaped through his different experiences (Neal and Peter are much closer to their canon selves, since the changes in their lives haven't been nowhere near as significant as for Moz). The relationship between Neal and Moz is also affected by the changes, although it's just as strong. Part of the joy and challenge of writing this series was to see more and more of "our" Moz emerge as a consequence to certain circumstances (the story goes very dark in the sequel BTW. Some ugly things happen. And then there's our characters who just care about each other so much and have to get through that shit. (There's also about a million plotholes. Definitely proves that I have a lot to learn when it comes to a heavily plot-driven fic...))

If you ever look for it, most of my fics are on my Master list (apart from the newest ones).

Date: 2016-06-08 06:53 pm (UTC)
sherylyn: (Default)
From: [personal profile] sherylyn
YES!! The two of you just perfectly described the whats and whys of the AUs I generally enjoy most vs. the ones that don't appeal to me (at least mos of the time). That one time I complained about a friend whose writing didn't appeal to me a lot lately, it was b/c of exactly what y'all described: they have the same names/faces as canon characters, but they're so different that they might as well just be some random people you stuck in a familiar "world" or whatever.

I like the way both of y'all look at this, and how you do your AUs... a *lot*!! <3

Date: 2016-06-11 02:10 pm (UTC)
sapphire2309: (Elizabeth)
From: [personal profile] sapphire2309
Yay! Glad I could be of assistance c:

Awwwww, thank you!!!! *blushes*

Date: 2016-06-11 08:51 pm (UTC)
sherylyn: (Default)
From: [personal profile] sherylyn
Hee!! You're very welcome!! <3

Date: 2016-06-10 04:27 am (UTC)
sapphire2309: (Mozzie)
From: [personal profile] sapphire2309
Ditto c:

I'll make sure I do! :D

Date: 2016-06-08 07:46 am (UTC)
sapphire2309: (Neal&Sara)
From: [personal profile] sapphire2309
OMG OMG OMG thank you so much!!! You've got me flailsqueeing all over the pace :D

Ugh, Neal's the best flirt ever. I had such a hard time walking that line with him. Because you know he wouldn't be obnoxious, but also, he has to try.

Sara's competitive side is basically canon xD

You see what a softie I am? Neal deciding that he'd be Sara's person wasn't even in my fic notes, but after that first scene, during the aftercare, it just happened. Ahhhh, my precious lonely girl. I will forever love her <3

I'm so happy you want more!!! There is more plotted out, now it's a question of getting my unreliable ass in the seat and my fingers on the keyboard. Which is all the challenge, isn't it?

Thank you so much <3

Date: 2016-06-06 12:17 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] citrinesunset.livejournal.com
Aw, thank you so much! I really enjoyed your take on this idea. I like the idea of Sara as a lawyer, and the AU concept took me by surprise (in a good way--it's an interesting change to their canon dynamic, and it was fun to read). And the BDSM and the spanking scene are very hot. I can also see Neal being very into romance, and having a bit of a hard time being with someone who's not as into it.

Thank you for writing this for me!

Date: 2016-06-08 07:37 am (UTC)
sapphire2309: (Sara 3)
From: [personal profile] sapphire2309
Oooooh, love the icon!!

Yeah, I didn't know I was AU-ing till I realized that the S3 timeline just doesn't give me enough time to build a D/s relationship along with the canon one. I might still give that a shot someday, though! (see: probably not xD I suck with these things.)

I'm so glad you liked the story!!!

It was my pleasure <3

Date: 2016-06-10 05:40 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] hurinhouse.livejournal.com
I love the idea of Sara being a domme. Of course she is! Neal's apprehension is delicious, and then he gives it a try anyway - pure Neal. Inreally want him to get his Wednesdays. He needs romance. :)

Date: 2016-06-11 02:07 pm (UTC)
sapphire2309: (Sara)
From: [personal profile] sapphire2309
Thank you so much!!!

So true! And you just know she takes being a Domme as seriously as she would paying taxes.

Thank you so much!! And yes, boy deserves his Wednesdays <3

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