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Fanfic- Neutral Ground

Title- Neutral Ground
Fandom- Catch Me If You Can
Ship- Carl/Frank
Genre- slash, angst, romance
Warnings-  implied m/m sex, unbetaed content
Wordcount: 2700
Disclaimer- I do not own Catch Me If You Can the movie, book, or play; furthermore, this is in no way related to the real person Frank Abagnale Jr.
Summary- Fank and Carl meet in the one place where neither of them has an advantage.

The air was thick with cigar smoke and the scent of alcohol, and the smooth notes of a jazz player in the corner filled the room. Frank sat off in a corner, content simply to sip his drink as he watched the people talking at the bar and swaying gently on the dance floor. There weren’t many places like this, where men could come to dance and drink with men, and he’d been pleasantly surprised to find this one, in the cellar of a more traditional bar.

He’d first discovered one of these places when he’d rented a room above one, during a time when he was between cons. Curious, he’d gone down to investigate and found himself being drawn in. A handsome man had offered to buy him a drink, and the next thing he’d known, he was pressed against the inside of a bathroom stall with the man’s tongue down his throat. He’d enjoyed it much more than any of his nights with the women he’d wooed, but it just didn’t fit with the high-class personae he was trying to create. Ever since then whenever he’d been between cons, with no invented reputation to worry about, he’d search out one of these places and relieve some stress.

It was the only time he didn’t have to put on an act. No one here wanted to know his name; no one here cared who he was. With no questions asked, there was no need to answer with lies. When he was in this place, he could act however he wanted, without having to worry if it was out of character with his persona. He could let go of his carefully cultivated control, and allow someone else to take the lead, allow someone else to pursue and ravish him for a change.

It was relaxing. It was liberating. Just being here, in the darkest, loneliest corner of the bar, was enough to wash away the stress that had accumulated as the FBI got closer and closer to catching up with his latest persona. Now that persona had been abandoned, and he was safe.

Frank threw back the rest of his drink and surveyed the crowd, considering which man he might try to charm. All of the men on the dance floor or at tables were already paired up, but there were a few sitting alone at the bar. Frank stood and began to make his way towards the bar, using his emptied drink as an excuse to go over and flirt.

As he walked, he looked over the men who were sitting alone. The one on the end was handsome, but seemed to be enamored with the bartender. That guy next to him wasn’t really Frank’s type. The next—Frank froze as the man’s head turned in his direction, giving him a full view of a very familiar face.

FBI agent Carl Hanratty, the man who was always trying to arrest him. Frank’s mind scrambled, and he started to move towards the door, but it was too late. Carl’s eyes had locked on to his. The man had recognized him. Frank wanted to run, but he was frozen in place, unable to move. His only thought was to wonder in horror how the FBI had found out he would be in a place like this.

Then Carl turned away, thanking the bartender as he refilled his drink. He didn’t look back at Frank, didn’t do anything to indicate he’d even seen him, although Frank knew he had. It didn’t make any sense. Why wasn’t Carl coming after him? Why weren’t armed FBI agents breaking through the doors to arrest him? Frank waited as agonizing seconds ticked by for something to happen, for someone to come up and slap a pair of cuffs on him, but no one did.

A man pushed by Frank, and he realized that he was still standing in the middle of the room. Nothing had happened. No one was coming at him. He didn’t understand.

Frank took another step towards the bar, and another, but still nothing happened. He came up to the counter and ordered a refill, watching Carl the whole time. The man didn’t look in his direction even once.

Curious despite himself, Frank went over to where Carl was sitting and eased onto the empty barstool next to him. He didn’t even look up. “You’re not going to arrest me?” Frank asked.

“And explain to my superiors why I just happened to be in this kind of place when I ran into you?” Carl asked bitterly, and Frank suddenly understood. The FBI had not found out that he came to these places. Carl had not come here to find him. Carl was here in secret, for the same reason Frank was, and he didn’t want people asking about the circumstances if he brought Frank in now.

“Damn… Never figured you for this, Carl. Aren’t you married?” Frank asked the last in a low whisper, so that only the man beside him would hear.

“Divorced,” was the curt reply.

“Aah. This have anything to do with it?”

“What do you want, Frank?” Carl asked, looking at him for the first time since their eyes had met across the room. His tone was annoyed, and Frank sensed that he was close to getting up and leaving.

“Nothing, nothing! Just curious is all. Why are you here, in this city? You couldn’t possibly know I’d moved here yet.”

“On another case,” Carl answered brusquely. “Caught the guy pretty quick, figured I’d have some time to relax.”

Frank leaned against the bar, watching the other man. This was the chance Frank had been wanting since their first meeting, the chance to see Carl face to face without the risk of being arrested. They had been caught up in this dance for over a year, testing and learning about one another without any words passing between them. It had always seemed to him that there was something almost romantic to their relationship, as if their mental sparring was a proxy for flirting. Sometimes, especially after a drunk-dialed phone call to Carl’s office on Christmas Eve, it was easy for Frank to imagine that there was some kind of emotional connection between them. That there could be more, it the circumstances were right. Now was the chance to test that theory.

Frank reached out and put a hand on Carl’s shoulder. Feeling the muscles tense at his touch, Frank squeezed his shoulder, massaging it gently. “You don’t look very relaxed to me.”

“What are you doing?” Carl’s eyes were locked on him now, wide with fear and maybe something else.

Frank leaned closer and smiled coyly. “What people come to these places to do. Don’t pretend you don’t know.”

“Frank, I’m supposed to arrest you,” Carl growled, grabbing the wrist of the other hand Frank had extended towards him.

“But you won’t. Not tonight, you won’t. So why not take advantage of it?” Frank reasoned. “Unless,” the sexy smile fell, and Frank looked away, “you don’t want to?”

It was a horrible question to have to ask. If the answer was no, then no amount of alcohol and no near look-alike would ever again be enough to let him pretend the answer had been yes. This man was the one person who had been a constant in Frank’s life, who was always there when he looked for him. It made Frank feel safe and loved in a way that didn’t make any sense for a criminal to feel towards an FBI agent. Frank would be crushed if Carl told him outright that the affection he had imagined Carl felt towards him was just that- imagined.

He could see the doubt in Carl’s face, watched as it slowly turned into resolve. Frank held his breath as he waited for an answer. “No one ever finds out about this, not ever. Not even when I catch you and the FBI interrogates you.”

A wide smile split Frank’s face. He didn’t even bother saying that Carl would never catch him. “No one ever knows,” he promised.

“Alright.” Carl downed the rest of his drink and stood up from the bar. “You got a room around here?”

Frank grinned. Now that Carl had made his decision, he was jumping in with both feet—which suited Frank just fine. “Yeah,” he said, slipping his hand into Carl’s. “Come with me.”

Frank led the way up through the main bar on the first floor to the little tenement rooms on the second, pulling Carl by the hand. As he stopped to fumble with the lock, Carl reached out to stroke his sides, making him shiver and drop the keys. Carl laughed as Frank bent down to pick them up, and then wrapped his arms around Frank’s waist from behind while Frank tried to open the door a second time. He succeeded, and quickly pulled Carl into the apartment.

It was a tiny two-room thing with the bed right next to the stove. Carl went immediately to the bed, pulling Frank with him. Frank sat beside him and threw his legs over Carl’s lap, leaning into the other man when he wrapped his arms around Frank’s body.

“Not the type of place I’d expect you to live in,” Carl commented.

“I’m between jobs right now.” Frank replied, nuzzling Carl’s neck. “I don’t get to be picky.”

“Ah. You must miss the high life.” Carl murmured as he moved Frank so that he was straddling Carl’s lap.

“A little. Being able to do this is more than worth it, though.”

“This in general,” Carl whispered against Frank’s lips, making him shiver. “Or specifically with me?” He kissed Frank gently, passionately, and the younger man moaned. It was their first kiss, and although the taste was tainted by alcohol, it was tender and loving.

“In general it’s worth it,” Frank replied breathlessly when they broke apart, and received a sharp bite to the skin at his jaw that made him gasp. Clearly Carl thought there was something that ought to set him apart from the other men. Frank wholeheartedly agreed. “Unh… But with you… I’d give myself up willingly if it meant I could do this with you every day.”

The kissing and caresses stopped abruptly. Carl pushed Frank back to arm’s length and looked him in the eyes, his expression grim. “You know that could never happen, Frank,” he whispered. “If you turned yourself in, you’d go to prison. I couldn’t stop that if I wanted to.”

Frank averted his eyes, fingers fidgeting with the fabric of Carl’s shirt. “I know,” he whispered. “I know that.” 

And he did. This was just a one-night thing, a temporary ceasefire, and as soon as it was over, the battle would start again. Whatever happened here, it didn’t change the reality of the situation. But that didn’t mean he couldn’t enjoy it while it lasted.

Frank gave Carl’s chest a light shove. “Come on, you’re ruining the mood!”

I’m ruining the mood?” Carl asked, his small grin showing that he was teasing.

“Yeah!” Frank threw himself down on the bed and tucked his hands behind his head, giving his best seductive grin. “Weren’t we in the middle of something?”

“You’re too cute for your own good,” Carl muttered as he leaned over Frank, pressing their bodies together as their lips met.

“Mm. Did you just admit I’m cute?” Frank teased as they broke apart for air.

“Shut up,” Carl replied fondly, leaning down to kiss him again. Frank decided to comply; after all, there were much better things he could do with him mouth right then.

~          *          *          *          ~

A grey sunlight streaming through the dirty window to shine on his face woke Frank the next morning. He moaned softly and rolled over to escape it, snuggling against the warm body next to him and burying his face in the other man’s chest. The nagging guilt he usually felt after anonymous encounters but tried to suppress, at least for a few more minutes, was not present this morning. Instead he just felt safe and warm.

“Mm. Mornin’,” a familiar voice said. Frank made a noise of contentment and pressed closer. The voice chuckled softly and a pair of warm arms was wrapped around him. It seemed to Frank that he must be dreaming; surely only in his dreams would Carl be holding him like this. And yet it didn’t seem like a dream…

Frank moaned softly and pulled away, reaching one hand up to rub at his eyes. He looked up at his bedmate’s face and blinked, emotions of disbelief, then amazement, then pure joy running through him as he recognized the face and remembered the events of the night before.

“Did I wake you?” Carl asked gently, reaching out to stroke Frank’s sleep-mussed hair.

“No,” Frank replied, and then yawned widely. He stretched his arms and legs out with a groan, then settled back down in the bed. He was still too tired to get up, and anyways, he wanted to enjoy this moment while it lasted.

“Any chance of getting breakfast downstairs?” Carl asked him.

“It’s a bar, not a bed and breakfast. But there’s a nice place down the street I like to go to…” Frank trailed off, and Carl shot him a concerned look. “But, will you be able to go there with me? Or would you have to arrest me as soon as we leave the building?”

Carl frowned and chewed his lip. After a moment’s consideration, he spoke. “I think we’ll be stuck at this stalemate until after we go our separate ways.”

“Great, ‘cause Annie’s makes the best pancakes,” Frank said, grinning. Carl smiled softly in reply, and Frank leaned in for a quick kiss. “I want to cuddle a bit more,” he said honestly, snuggling up against Carl again. The older man wrapped his arms around Frank once more and kissed the top of his head.

“Hey, Carl,” Frank said softly.

“Yeah, Frank?” came the gentle reply, murmured against his hair.

“Do you think we’ll ever be able to do this again?”

There was silence for a long time, and Frank forced his body to remain relaxed even though instinct told him to tense up. If this was going to be his one night with Carl, he wanted to enjoy it as much as he could, and make it last as long as possible.

“Probably not,” Carl answered at last. “I can’t think of any other circumstances when I wouldn’t have to arrest you on sight.”

“I guess it’s too much to ask for another chance meeting like this,” Frank sighed.

“I never know where you are. Like you said, it’s only a coincidence we’re in the same city at once, let alone the same bar.”

“Maybe,” Frank said, an idea beginning to form. “Where’s the next place you’re going?”

“D.C., tomorrow, but I’d never go to a bar there; it’d be too dangerous if someone I know saw me around.” Carl thought for a moment, his hand idly stroking Frank’s chest as he did. “I did get a tip that a certain counterfeiter might be in Detroit.”

“I know a place there. It’s under a motel called The Flamingo. Great drinks, great music. I highly recommend it.”

“Hm. And it’ll take me at least three days to confirm the lead, they’ll give me five days to catch him, but I can probably manage in four…”

“So seven days, then?”

“That sounds about right.”

“I’ll be there,” Frank said with conviction. Carl chuckled.

“I don’t even want to know how, since you won’t have any money or a legal job.”

“Details,” Frank replied flippantly, and Carl laughed and pulled him close. Frank lay there for a moment, content just to enjoy what was happening. He’d slept with Carl. And he’d be getting another chance to sleep with Carl, and maybe another after that, and another. It was like his most precious wish had suddenly been granted.

Finally Frank pulled himself out of Carl’s arms. He turned back to kiss the man before slipping out of bed. “Come on,” He said, grinning at Carl, who smiled back contentedly. “Let’s shower and get dressed. I don’t want to miss the breakfast hours.”