This was too long to get into my Partners of Paradox collection so here it is, independent. Hope you enjoy reading as much as I enjoyed writing it.

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Substitute Father

"Peter, I got that file you wanted," Neal Caffrey announced in a voice that clearly stated his disdain for performing an act reserved for a secretary. He walked into Peter Burke's office with an exaggerated sigh.

The back of Peter's chair faced him but he could see the agent's sleeve resting on the arm rest.

"Let me guess," Neal sighed again as he leaned against the wall, "you don't need this file anymore, do you? And now you're going to send me out to find another one."

Peter didn't turn to look at him.

Neal shook his head as he folded his arms over his chest. "Can you at least look at me while you send me away on another degrading assignment?"

He heard the squeak of the chair and Neal lifted pleading blue eyes to the person sitting in the chair, hoping that his pout could persuade Peter. It usually didn't work but he'd keep trying.

Instead, pale green eyes stared back at him quizzically from a young, tanned face topped with spiked blond hair.

Neal blanched and straightened in surprise.

It was just a kid, probably six or seven. He sat in Peter's chair, his sneakers scraping across the ground. He wore faded jeans and a shirt advertising Volcom. He was also wearing one of Peter's jackets, the sleeves swallowing his small arms and the back crumbled up behind him. He fiddled with a pair of handcuffs; a lollipop sticking out of his working mouth. He eyed Neal at first with bemusement and then squinted with suspicion.

"Peter?" Neal asked, stepping closer to examine the boy that had replaced his partner.

The boy suddenly pointed his forefinger at Neal and stuck his thumb straight up into the air in the imitation of a gun. "Freeze!" he shouted past his lollipop.

"What?" Neal asked, automatically raising his hands into the air, more out of habit than fear.

The boy jumped out of the seat, Peter's jacket swirling around his legs as he ran up to Neal, waving his "gun" in one hand and the handcuffs in the other. He jumped up to grab one of Neal's raised arms and pulled it down to his level.

"You're under arrest," he snapped with authority as he pinned Neal's hand behind the ex-con's back and clamped one handcuff around his wrist.

"Under what charges?" Neal sputtered as his other arm was pulled behind him and his wrist handcuffed. He wasn't sure how to react. He had never been arrested by a kid before.

The boy paused in thought, sucking on his lollipop loudly. Then he shrugged. "Because I said so."

"What kind of reason is that?" Neal demanded, turning his head to glare at the boy.

"Neal?"

Neal looked up quickly; hope glistening in his eyes as he locked his gaze with Peter's. The agent slowed as he entered his office, taking in the sight of a young boy arresting the ex-con.

"Peter," Neal sighed with relief.

"What's going on?" Peter asked as he closed the door behind him. His eyes flickered down to Neal's handcuffed hands and then to the boy responsible for Neal's capture.

The boy stepped around Neal to fully face Peter. He slapped his arms to his side and puffed out his chest with pride. An excited smile brightened his features as he slapped Peter a crisp salute.

"The suspect has been detained," he said quickly, the stick of the lollipop bobbing up and down as he spoke.

"A little help," Neal whispered pleadingly to Peter, shrugging his shoulders to indicate his handcuffed hands.

Peter looked from the piteous face of Neal to the boy's enthusiastic smile. His lips curved up into a grin.

"Good work, Agent Dagery," Peter said in a deep, authoritative voice as he offered his own salute to the boy. "You've captured one of the most elusive convicts."

The boy trembled with joy as he shifted out of his salute to stand beside Peter.

"This is a joke, right?" Neal asked, searching Peter's eyes for an explanation.

"Neal, this is Agent Kyle Dagery," Peter introduced.

Neal looked down at Kyle and the boy squinted suspicious daggers back up at him. "Awfully young, don't you think?"

"Kyle has been a great help around here, huh?" Peter asked, placing a hand on the boy's shoulder. Kyle's glare instantly shifted away from Neal to beam up at Peter. He nodded as he folded his arms over his chest to appear formidable; the long sleeves slipping over his arms.

Neal looked from Peter to Kyle, confusion evident in his helpless gaze. "What?" It was all he could say under the circumstances.

"Kyle," a new voice called. Kyle turned and Neal followed the boy's gaze to a tired looking woman: her eyes dull, her skin weathered, and her graying hair tired loosely into a frayed bun on top of her head.

Kyle waved to her, his hand finally peeking out from beneath the fabric. He turned back to Peter and slipped out of the jacket and handed it to Peter. A nameless badge glittered on his chest. He started to take it off.

"You can keep that," Peter smiled and was rewarded with another excited grin from the boy. Neal however shot in indignant stare at Peter. Why did the kid get to have an official badge when Neal had been denied one?

"Thanks," Kyle exclaimed and wrapped his short arms around Peter's waist in a hug. Peter patted his back and Kyle pulled away. He shot another glare at Neal. "I'm watching you," he said with a threatening point of his finger that made Neal take a step back. Then he spun on his heel, pulled the office door open and trotted down to his mother, hugging her fiercely and showing her his new badge.

The mother looked up at Peter fondly and the agent waved to her. She nodded her thanks and took Kyle's hand. Kyle turned back to wave his goodbye to Peter before he was led away by his mother.

Peter watched them go, his smile still lingering on his lips. When Kyle and his mother were out of sight, he turned back to Neal with a sharp inhale.

"What was that about?" Neal asked as he followed Peter to his desk.

Peter fished around in his drawer and pulled out a small key. Neal obediently turned and Peter unlocked the handcuffs, freeing Neal's hands. The ex-con rubbed his wrists and eyed the handcuffs warily.

"Kyle Dagery's father went missing a week ago," Peter explained, his voice oddly toneless and forlorn compared to his previous jovial attitude. "He and his mother come by to personally check on our progress and to offer any new information she may have remembered."

Neal watched Peter as the agent dropped tiredly into his chair; his smile lost. "When she comes, Kyle comes straight here." A sad chuckle escaped from his lips. "I give him candy, some handcuffs, and a badge. And he has fun. But that's all I can do."

He wiped a hand over his eyes with a sigh and looked up at Neal. "I can't find his father."

Neal sank into the chair opposite Peter and entwined his fingers to rest his hands in his lap. He kept his eyes on Peter, those sparkling blue orbs watching the anguish cross the agent's face.

"I can only act as a substitute for so long," Peter admitted quietly. "Eventually I'll find his father and see him on the occasional visit or…" Peter sighed again and looked away, the rest of his sentence fading into silence.

"Or he'll learn that his father's dead," Neal finished knowingly, his voice seeped with sadness.

Peter nodded gravely. "The kid could break. Then I'll never see him again. I know that's the wrong reason, but, I kinda like having him around."

"I can see why he keeps coming back," Neal offered gently, a smile curving on his lips.

Peter looked at him quizzically.

"You're kind to him, you act like a father to him, you're proud of him, and you give him candy. Hell, that's why I keep coming back."

Peter examined Neal's sincere expression and then broke out into a light chuckle. "I've never given you candy."

Neal bobbed his head in thought. "Well, there was that bitter chocolate but I guess that doesn't count. Candy works on a kid, but I'm sure Kyle will remember the first three things most when he grows up."

Peter nodded slowly in agreement as he leaned forward to place his elbows on his desk and laced his fingers together. His eyes were focused on his desk for a moment in thought and then he lifted his gaze to meet Neal's.

"Is that what you'd remember?"

Neal smiled and stood. He plopped the file onto Peter's desk. "That and a whole lot more."

He gave the agent a mock-salute and sauntered towards the door.

"Neal," Peter called.

Neal turned back to see Peter come around to stand before him. He extended one hand, holding out a wrapped lollipop to Neal. The ex-con looked from the candy to Peter with slight stunned surprise. A slow smile crept along his lips, brightening his features.

He took the candy. "Thanks, partner,"

"Yeah, don't expect it often." Peter stepped past Neal to open the office door. "Now get back to work."

Neal chuckled and headed out the door. As he left, Peter gave him a proud pat on the back as he had to Kyle. Neal kept walking forward; keeping his back to Peter to hide his smile.

While Neal hadn't been lucky enough to have Peter in his life while he was younger he was still blessed to have the agent in his life now. And he knew he had found his own substitute father in the man.

In a way, he was just like Kyle: returning to Peter's side whenever he could, to do all that he could to get the job done; excited to receive Peter's praise and proud because Peter was proud of him.

Because he was like Kyle, he knew that what he had told Peter was true. Kyle would never forget Peter or what the agent had done for him.

He knew because Neal knew he'd never forget Peter or all that the agent had done for him.

The candy was just an extra treat.

._._._._._.

Cute right? Just wanted a scene where a kid arrests Neal and this came up. I like how it turned out though. How about you? Reviews and constructive criticisms are always appreciated especially when you point out typos that are in desperate need of fixing.

Now since this isn't part of my POP compilation, there is no riddle. Sorry.

And I've wanted to say this for a while now but never found the right time to: I don't think Kate is dead. Sure it may look like it, but USA also wanted us to believe that Peter was the bad guy that had taken Kate. Plus, these drama shows just love bringing back characters previously presumed to be dead. Just you wait. She'll be back.

Disclaimer: White Collar and its characters belong to its creators and USA. Volcom is also copyrighted by another company and I merely used the brand of a shirt boys like to wear to clothe Kyle with.

Until next time,

Hobey-Ho