Disclaimer: White Collar is the property of Jeff Eastin and the USA Network.

Warnings: AU, kid!Neal, language

Summary: An investigation takes Peter in an unexpected direction.

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The Promise of a Better Life

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Chapter 01

"Do you remember any unique features about this guy, maybe a—"

"Guys," the security guard made sure to emphasize the plurality as an EMT closed the cut on his forehead with a butterfly band-aid. "Must'a been a whole crew of 'em. Professional, too. I'm a retired cop, see, so I know how to defend myself. But these guys took me down in 10 seconds flat. Just...POW!" Here he slammed his fist into the palm of his hand, then shook his head as though it was all he could do to escape with his life.

"A crew," Peter jotted that down in his notebook, "Any idea how many?"

"Nah, just know that I heard lots of footsteps."

"Okay," then without much hope of extracting any further information, Peter asked, "How about accents? Tattoos?"

"Nothing. Like I said, POW!"

"Right, pow," he echoed with a tinge of annoyance.

Peter didn't quite know what to make of the other man. He certainly wasn't retirement age like the man suggested. He had a bumbling sort of innocence about him, and Peter wondered briefly whether that had anything to do with his short-lived career in law enforcement. Still, part of him questioned the authenticity of what he was seeing, and somewhere deep in his gut, something about this guy didn't sit right.

"Hey, look man, my kid's waiting on me. Do you need me for anything else?"

Peter turned toward the door to see a boy in his early teens, who only slightly resembled the man in front of him, standing behind the yellow tape and clutching a thin jacket against the icy New York winter. He could see his blue lips shivering even from this distance.

"Jesus." How long had he been out there like that? A few more minutes and he'd be a popsicle. Peter couldn't hold back the accusatory glare he directed at the boy's father.

"I know, the kid's a knucklehead. He's not even supposed to be here. Probably heard the sirens or something. He gets so worried." The man scrubbed at his face, looking suddenly very tired, "I would'a sent him back home, but I was kinda wrapped up in all this, you know?"

"Yeah," Peter sighed guiltily, reaching into his pocket to retrieve his card. "Yeah, go ahead and get him home. Call me if you remember anything pertinent to the case. Take care, Mr..." he squinted at the nametag just above the security badge, "Caffrey."

"Call me Clayton," the man politely insisted, "And I hope you catch your man."