Author's notes

Hi everyone! I like the parent-child relationship of Peter, Elle and Neal. I also love cats and dogs so… From time to time their fluffy perspectives will be added in. The story's main focus is Peter, who is chasing after Keller's crew, and Neal, the poor soul just kind of caught in the middle of things.

I like to play with the points of view and so, for example, all of the perspectives of adults in the story are written in the past tense, while the perspective of Neal is written in the present tense.

You do not need to have watched the TV series to enjoy the story.

I have two beta readers.

Disclaimer: This is a work of fan fiction using characters from the USA Network original series White Collar. No copyright infringement is intended.

And now, onto the story:


Chapter 1 "The missing one"

"In just the same way, it is not the will of your heavenly Father that one of these little ones be lost."
Matthew 18:14 (NABRE)

According to the weather forecast the day was going to be warm. Peter, since he had become an FBI agent, had mixed feelings towards summer. Obviously he enjoyed the weather, but at the same time he could not forget the statistics. In summertime the rate of committed crimes increased almost 10 percent, especially during a warm day like that one. It was six in the morning and Peter was just coming back from walking Satchmo when his phone rang. He looked at the number. It was Jones. Work was calling him.

"Peter, you were right, he's got a new forger!" Those words made Peter think that day was going to be the lucky one. Finally they had a breakthrough in a series of interconnected cases the FBI had been working on for five years then.

Their person of interest was Matthews Keller. The man, whom the FBI and Interpol had linked to various misdeeds, from arms smuggling to stolen antiquities. Yesterday Peter noticed that over the last two years his skills in forgery had noticeably improved, also becoming a center of his activities. Two weeks before a new painting had surfaced. The higher quality of the work compared to the earlier pieces the man had been suspected of making raised questions. Peter figured that some top shelf forger had joined Keller's team. On one hand it was not good news at all, a better quality work meant a lower chance of detection, but on the other hand… It meant one more human capable of making mistakes. Besides, if the forger was really that good, then maybe Keller's temporary withdrawal from his more violent criminal activities would continue.

"I'm sorry but I can't join you for breakfast," his wife's words pulled Peter out of his current thoughts. Only then he realized he had already managed to free Satchmo and fill the dog's bowls with water and dry food. "Something came up with the opening at the gallery!" Elle added in a hurry.

"We'll make up for it on our date-night!" he called out remembering the promise he had made that weekend. There will be no job, just us. Elisabeth waved her hand at him in agreement and in the next moment they kissed and said hon to each other - their own word for I love you.

Peter, again busy with his thoughts of the new forger, made his way up the stairs. After having changed into a suit he returned and grabbed his keys and lunch from the kitchen counter. That was when he noticed that in a hurry he must have forgotten to close the front door. I was gone for just a minute, he reassured himself.

"Satchmo, buddy, I'm going out too, behave yourself!" he shouted closing the door. A request for good behavior was needed because Satchmo, despite his distinguished age of five, still seemed to have a mind of a puppy. But that day it seemed the dog was having a quiet day, since he did not even bark so much in response to Peter's words. Satisfied with that, Peter started the car. After his vehicle had disappeared round the corner, the street outside the Burke's house went quiet again.

Not a soul in sight could notice a lonely Labrador, who after his unsuccessful run after his lady's car, came back to his home only to find the front door closed and the second car of the Burke family gone as well. Settling himself for a moment beside the gate the Lab made the most miserable sounding whine, but after having received no answer, it became clear to him he was truly alone. He was going to bring his family back home on his own. Satchmo was a brave dog and New York was his city. Failure was not an option.

/\_/\
='x'=

Looking over the edge of the rooftop Neal takes a deep breath. He is standing on the top of the Metropolitan Museum. He likes coming here to watch the sunrise. Not to rob, not to do anything exciting or fun. But just to watch. It is something he learned to do a long time ago. The rooftop of their Saint Louis block was the only place that made him feel safe during his mum's parties. Trying to shrink away from the memory he blinks several times. No tears fall, which is good. Even when alone, he is not a big fan of crying. Glancing down Neal feels a shiver run through him. Down below he can see a famous sculpture – the golden Diana holding her bow tight, her eyes focused on the prey no one besides her can see. He wishes one could shoot an arrow through sorrow. Then, maybe she could protect him.

A sudden sound makes him wince. It is one of his burner phones. Someone is calling him from a blocked number. In a panic he realizes he forgot to mute his phone before climbing up here. He quickly hits the receiver button, praying that no guard has heard the incessant ringing. He backs away from the edge of the rooftop wanting to be less exposed while talking.

"Yes?" he hoarsely whispers into the receiver.

"What? Have I caught you in the middle of something?" Neal hears the remark and recognizes the voice of his mentor.

"No," he snaps. "I was―" for a moment he hesitates trying to figure out what kind of lie would make an adult like Mister Keller respect him. One thing is certain, he is not going to tell his mentor the truth. If Mister Keller knew that Neal sometimes liked to climb the rooftops and dream, it would just make the adult tease him. "―I was leaving a villa just now. I needed some extra cash," he improvises. For a moment there Neal feels pleased with himself. Until his mentor speaks again.

"What villa?" Mister Keller snaps. He sounds angry. And that is when Neal realizes his mistake – he has overdone it by pointing out it was a villa. He should have said it was just a regular house.

"Not from your list of targets, I swear," he quickly replies trying to repair the damage he has just done. "You know my loyalty. I would never act this way on my own without your explicit order."

"What villa, George?" Comes the quiet hiss from the speaker. At first Neal does not know how to answer. The addresses come rushing through his head but Neal cannot pick a random one. Knowing Mister Keller, the man probably knows every name of every street in New York. That, and the surnames of its richest residents, of course. An old memory comes to him. It is from the time he first came to New York and was still struggling to find his way in the new city.

"434 McClellan Street," he confidently answers. From what he remembers none of Mister Keller's contacts live there and it is a safe distance away from the man's territory. Neal hears his mentor relax. Mister Keller could get really paranoid, sometimes. Still, it is always nice to have someone familiar to talk to. Neal likes to talk quite a lot. Usually though his audience consists of street cats, not adults and… For the most part, he prefers it this way. It is way easier to entertain a cat than it is to entertain an adult. All cats want from him is tuna and as long as he provides them with it… They are good. Also, it is the fact that having only 'meow' to say, no cat has ever asked him a question he would not want to answer. Well, to be quite honest… No cat has ever asked him any question. At least not in a REAL way, as Mister Keller would undoubtedly say. This thought almost makes him believe that no cat has ever spoken to him. Which is a perfect example of how much harder it is to listen to an adult than it is to listen to a cat. To Neal's mind, it could really do his mentor good if he decided, from time to time, to limit his lectures to a single, simple word like 'meow'. Maybe then, talking to Mister Keller would be easier. If he were just a little more like a cat than an adult. But then again, no cat has ever provided Neal with his own workshop. So, maybe it is a good thing Mister Keller is an adult, not a cat. Still…

"Kid? Are you still there?" As Mister Keller's alarmed voice reaches him, embarrassed Neal realizes he must have fallen into yet another one of his daydreams. It is clear that the adult must have asked him something.

"Yes, sorry," Neal rushes with an answer. "A cop. I had to duck and for a moment got distracted. I'm with you now," he lies yet again.

"Well, tell me at least what you stole," he hears the amused voice of his mentor. But as he is about to start boasting about some rare antic Neal has to stop himself. There exists a limit to showing off during one phone call and he feels like he has already reached it.

"Just a couple of bucks. I told you. I needed money, not artworks," he replies instead. Money is a safe choice since Neal has plenty. If Mister Keller demanded a proof of this break-in Neal would have no trouble providing him with it. As seconds pass and there is still no answer, he begins to worry he might have sounded rude. But how could his mentor ever think that Neal would rob a mansion he knew Mister Keller was targeting? "I'm not like Travis. I would never steal from you," he adds half in challenge and half in apology. After another one of those uncomfortably long pauses he hears the man's brisk voice again.

"Good. I will need that loyalty by tomorrow. Be ready at noon, will you?" Neal frowns. At noon? So it is going to be a meeting then, not a heist.

"I will," he simply replies and in the next moment he hears the end call chime. For a moment he stares at the phone blankly. So, it seems that tomorrow is going to be exciting. Lost in all the possibilities Neal looks up at the sky.

The clouds look very happy today. The pack of fluffy cat-dog hybrid creatures seem to be having a race above him. He wants to join them. Sadly he has no wings - at this time. Surly if he asks, Leonardo will help him make a pair. But that is for the future. Now… Climbing down the building Neal smiles. His sketchbook has been feeling slightly neglected lately. It deserves some attention and Neal knows exactly where to find the best of models - Central Park must be full of fluffy things with tails by now.

/\_/\
='x'=

His legs are fast, his nose is keen, his mind is set, but the world has grown too complicated for a dog even as well-equipped as Satchmo. He does not know how to find his masters in this never-ending maze of smells and sounds. They are lost. Taken wherever the metal four-legged contraptions decided to spew them out today. You just never know with those things - they are notoriously unreliable. The end destination impossible to predict. Unfortunately, his two-legs are seriously addicted to the joy of riding these bouncing contraptions. Behaving like puppies, they do not understand that the pack should stick together. Not off, playing in parts unknown.

When he smells a deviled ham sandwich, he runs after its scent, but it turns out to be just a mislead. It is not his two-leg eating it. Then he smells the flowery not-water, the same one, that for some incomprehensible reason his lady uses to mask her scent, but it is not hers either. When Satchmo reaches the more crowded areas of the city the scents become all the more confusing. Weird beings, those two-legs. They are as big as bears and yet decide to live in as close a proximity to each other as ants! Always wandering off, leaving their packs behind! How preposterous!

/\_/\
='x'=

This is a perfect spot, Neal tells himself stopping by a big oak tree. Its old, wide branches spread in a massive umbrella, its crown still allowing many inlets for the sky, the blue clearly visible amid the shades of green. Emerald and chartreuse, lime and viridian… Neal closes his eyes for a moment and takes a deep breath. He climbs up the tree, then settles himself on one of the highest branches. From this spot he has a wonderful view of the park while also staying well out of sight. He stands apart from the world. The ever watchful, unseen silent observer. Opening his sketchbook Neal looks around for inspiration. So. What should he draw first? Something on the edge of his vision catches his attention. It is an orange blur moving with surprising swiftness from tree to tree. Neal smiles. It's been a very long time since he drew a squirrel.

/\_/\
='x'=

His legs are fast, his nose is keen, his mind is set, but even such a strong-willed dog as Satchmo cannot ignore his hunger forever. If he were home he would just eat from the Bowl his masters filled for him every morning. But such as things stand…

Satchmo explores some trash littering the ground. Then his nose catches a far more appetizing smell. Meat aroma is wafting from the closest gathering of two-legs. When he comes closer he realizes why. There are mouth-watering sausages lying on a it-is-hot-silly-dog-do-not-touch-it thingamajig. How nice of the two-legs. Satchmo barks in gratitude.

"Whose dog is it?" One of the two-legs invites him to join the feast. Graciously Satchmo accepts the invitation. With his fore-legs he leans on the stand and digs in with gusto.

"Hey!" Clearly worried that he might burn his nose the concerned two-leg tries to catch him by his collar. But Satchmo does not have time to play. His stomach is full. He has to move on and continue his search.

He-who-invites-to-fatty-feasts lands on his butt which makes Satchmo pause. He cocks his head at the two-leg. He would really love to accept the invitation to play but he simply has no time for it. He is on a mission. Come to the Burke-den later, he barks, we'll play and feast some more.

Suddenly there are more hands that try to grab his collar, but yet again he is quicker. Rapidly barking out heartfelt apologies and invitations to the Burke-den to all and sundry, Satch makes his escape. Maybe it is not just his two-legs, but the two-legs in general that always want to play.

"CATCH THAT THIEF!" He-who-invites-to-fatty-feasts hollers in disappointment. Running off Satch barks yet again. Later, my two-leg friend, ok? Later!

/\_/\
='x'=

"CATCH THAT THIEF!"

Neal is just in the middle of his second sketch this morning, when the sudden shout makes all his senses stand on alert. Before he even knows what is happening the familiar feeling of adrenaline flooding his system makes his heart beat faster.

"Catch me if you can," Neal automatically retorts. In an instant he is back on the ground and ready to run. He narrows his eyes and looks in the direction the irate shouting is coming from.

He sees a fat man in a food worker apron frantically talking to a PEP officer, his hands angrily gesturing in Neal's direction. He frowns not recognizing the livid man. After a second both adults take off again, running in his direction and Neal realizes it is not a time for asking questions. Turning on his heel Neal runs off heading for the exit.

"STOP!" Hearing the yells behind him Neal feels a bit surreal. It is not every day that he gets chased for something he has no recollection of doing. Is it possible that the man has seen him earlier this morning picking somebody's pockets? Well, maybe. On the other hand Neal is a master at picking pockets. Was it the graffiti then? Neal knows he could get a bit absent-minded while painting.

"KID! YOU AND YOUR DOG, STOP AT ONCE OR YOU WILL GET INTO EVEN MORE TROUBLE!" Surprised Neal slows down enough to look over his shoulder. What is that adult blubbering about? Neal has no dog. Is it a trick? Or was all that shouting not directed at him after all? Suddenly Neal realizes who besides the two adults is participating in the chase. A yellow lab, its tongue lolling out of its smiling mouth, barks at him playfully. The dog passes him only to circle back and come running in his direction again. So it is not him they are after, after all?

Neal halts. Good grief, a PEP officer chasing after a dog. Calling it a thief. Don't adults have anything better to do with their time?

Seeing him stop, the dog follows his example and grounds to a halt as well. It goes down on its elbows, its tail raised and wagging. The dog barks again.

"Dear Vincent! Where did you come from?" Kneeling next to the dog, Neal chuckles and pats its head affectionately. Looking over his shoulder he can see the dog's pursuers are getting dangerously close. "Shouldn't you still be running?" The dog regards him curiously, its eyes are guileless.

/\_/\
='x'=

His legs are fast, his nose is keen, his mind is set, but the two-leg pup's speed impresses him so much that he just has to chase after him. He has never met a two-leg this fast, but then…

Why did you stop! Satchmo barks in reproach. Then he comes closer to the two-leg. Come on, you're doing great. Let's keep on running, he urges. Instead of taking his advice, the pup kneels next to him.

"Dear Vincent! Where did you come from?" The two-leg pup exclaims and Satch looks at him astonished.

There is some instinct in every dog that no dog knows how to explain, but every dog knows it exists. And there is no greater judge of character than Satchmo. He has always known that his pack was incomplete. The Burke den was missing someone.

Why do you two-legs like to wander so much? Don't you know the pack should always stick together?! He barks with consternation. The-missing-one chuckles and pats Satchmo on the head. It's no barking matter, Satchmo continues with his lecture. Why are you laughing?

"Shouldn't you still be running?" the two-leg apologizes. Satchmo is not the one to hold grudges.

Well, at least I have found you now. He licks the pup's paw in acceptance. Don't worry little one. Now we just have to find where the other two have wandered off to and then we'll be good to go back to the Burke-den.