AN: This is the first story I've ever written. Teen!Neal idea came from LStuds' wonderful fanfic 'Damage Control', you should check it out if you have the chance.
Disclaimer: White Collar belongs to USA Network and Jeff Eastin.
Special Agent Peter Burke looked up as the door opened with an automatic click. It was noisy inside the visiting hall of Crossroads Juvenile Center. There were a lot of kids and visitors scattered in different tables around the room. A woman who looked just like the boy sitting in front of her in an orange jumpsuit was crying loudly.
He was directed to the last table away from the door he just entered. The Correctional Officer gestured for him to sit down as he explained the situation to Peter.
"We've been trying to contact his parents or guardians. We haven't found any yet. He hasn't used his phone calls to call them or his attorney, says he doesn't have one. He's having a Detention Hearing before a judge in two days. You've talked to his social worker? She'll come in with Caffrey when you talk to him."
Peter nodded. He had talked to the woman for a few minutes before making the trip to the Detention Center. His first impression, even over the phone, had been that she wasn't interested in helping. She certainly wasn't interested in getting in the way of the FBI for a criminal kid, which in this instance was alright with him. He really needed to get something out of the kid.
"Anything else I should know about?" Peter asked.
"Not really. He got into a fight with some of the other punks yesterday during lunch but he's okay."
Peter nodded to acknowledge the information as the CO left him sitting down on the bench and went off to get the prisoner. Peter couldn't believe he was actually in a Juvie Hall. As part of the White Collar division of the FBI he never thought that he'd have to deal with a teenager criminal. Who's ever heard of a teenager forger/con artist?
After a few minutes the door in front of him opened and the same CO returned with a teenager in an orange jumpsuit and a woman behind him whom he assumed was Carly Jackson, the social worker.
Neal Caffrey was not too tall for a fifteen year old. His head was covered with a mop of wavy brown hair. It was a bit greasy and fell over his face a little bit on the sides, but otherwise it looked perfectly styled. He had the brightest blue eyes Peter had ever seen. He moved a bit stiffly and had a nasty bruise on his arm, but as he turned to sit in front of Peter he flashed him an incredibly disarming smile. Miss Jackson took a seat beside the boy, far enough so they didn't touch.
"I'm Peter Burke, FBI. NYC White Collar Division." He set his badge in the table in front. "So, Neal Caffrey, adolescent criminal, I presume?"
Caffrey's smile widened as he took a searching look at Peter and suddenly decided that he liked him. "Alleged adolescent criminal, Agent Burke," he said.
"Cut the crap Caffrey. You were caught in the act. There were stolen and forged paintings right beside you in that warehouse."
"But you can't actually prove if I forged them or not," Caffrey replied.
"We still have you on possession of stolen property. Do you really think that if I look very hard, I won't find something to add forgery to that?" Peter asked.
The kid didn't even bother to answer. He was looking at Peter's badge and examining it as if he could find something to prove that it was a fake.
"I've never met a federal agent before," he said as he handed the badge back to Peter.
"I think most fifteen year olds wouldn't have a reason to know one."
"Yeah, well I'm not most fifteen year olds, can't you tell?" Caffrey answered with another smile. Peter could see that the kid was good at deflecting and he was good at lying. He was smart too. He liked smart.
Peter opened the file he had carried along and started reading. "Neal Caffrey, fifteen years old. Mother deceased four years ago, father deceased thirteen years ago. Born in New Jersey. You have no other family except your mother's sister which lives with her husband and their two children." He looked up to find Caffrey looking directly at him. He seemed to be paying attention, looking to see if there was something in the file he could actually refute or use to his advantage.
"It seems like you've been living on your own here in New York City for a while," Peter continued, "there's no record of you in school for at least 3 years. You got caught once before when you were 12 for shop lifting, got sent to a foster home after a week in Juvie. They couldn't locate any relatives, but it didn't matter because you ran away after a day there. You've been in the Missing Children posters and alerts for years now, but nobody has seen or heard form you since then. How have you been able to stay underground for so long?"
Neal shrugged. "Good luck and lots of charm of course, Agent Burke."
Peter sighed. He obviously wouldn't get anything out of the kid by being subtle, so he tried another approach. "Caffrey, you know why I'm here, right?"
Neal raised his eyebrows, blinked once and answered truthfully. "You need me to provide you with information about the art heists and forgery scams that have been taking place in the last six months or so."
"Yes," Peter said, deciding to be honest with him as well. "In fact, you are our only lead in this case. We've never been this close before and I've been working on this for 2 years. I need you to help me catch whoever is behind this, because I don't believe for a second that I have before me a teen criminal mastermind capable of pulling all of this off."
Caffrey actually looked offended as he replied. "You hurt my feelings Agent Burke. Maybe you'd like to consider the fact that I'm that good."
"Oh, I don't doubt that you're very good. But this is a big operation, too big for someone of your stature to pull off," Peter said.
The kid seemed to consider his position for a few seconds before answering. "I can't give you anything Agent Burke," he said slowly. "I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. I've got nothing to do with those stolen paintings."
"What about the forgeries?"
Caffrey's demeanor changed instantly and he asked in a conceited tone, "They are pretty accurate, don't you think?" he said.
"Tell me you didn't do this." Peter insisted.
"I didn't do this?" Neal shrugged.
"Dammit Caffrey," Peter said under his breath as he stood up and started pacing before the table. He took a look at the kid again. He looked smart, too smart for his own good. Something about him made Peter want to help him, but he couldn't. He couldn't do a single thing for him if he didn't give anything in return. He was a con and a criminal after all. He wasn't to be trusted. "They're putting you inside for good. You'll be here until you're 18. You know that, right?"
"Yes, I'm aware of that," he said as he looked away.
"You still won't give me anything?" Peter asked.
Neal looked at his hands and his bruised arm. Despite everything he had to fear inside this place it still wasn't enough to go against the man that he knew would be waiting for him outside. "Sorry, no," he said quietly not meeting Peter's eyes again.
Peter took one more look at him and then turned to the social worker. "Miss Jackson, I guess that will be all." She stood up to shake his hand and went to call the CO to take Neal back inside.
Neal stood up and Peter couldn't help seeing him shudder as he looked back at the corridor filled with detainees in orange jumpsuits. Some of the guys in there didn't even look like kids, Peter thought, as he followed Caffrey's gaze. Some even had stubble and most of them were tattooed. Caffrey looked positively innocent and out of place compared to those other guys.
"Wait" Peter called as Neal started to walk to the door. Neal turned around to Peter and gave him a questioning look. "Just…" He paused trying to find something to say. "Be careful Caffrey."
"I'll be fine Agent Burke. I'm always fine." He gave Peter a final dazzling smile, turned around, and walked confidently into the crowd to wait for visiting hour to be over.
As soon as he was sure that Agent Burke had left the visiting area, Neal tried to move as fast as he could to the other door at the end of the hall without bumping or touching any of the other guys. Neal couldn't help thinking about how big some of them were or about how dangerous. All the prisoners had to wait for visiting hours to be over in a common hall for the COs to take them back to their cells.
He could spot Keller and his goons on the left of the hall looking at him. He avoided their gaze and continued to the end of the hall. There were 10 minutes left before they would take them back inside and he didn't really want a repeat of yesterday's fight. Four big guys had taken his lunch food and roughed him around until the officers decided to get them off of him. They decided he wasn't hurt enough for the infirmary and they just took him back to his cell. It really wasn't fair. He had no chance against four guys. He fisted his hands as he thought about it. He might not have looked hurt, he wasn't bleeding or anything, but he still felt hurt. He wasn't about to admit it to anyone, but some pain killers would have been heaven sent last night.
He reached the end of the hall and started thinking about the visit he just received. Peter Burke seemed like a competent agent. Although rarely honest himself, Neal liked the honesty and determination in Peter's eyes. He had done the right thing in not helping him. According to Mozzie no "suit" could be trusted. He wasn't sure helping Agent Burke would help him get out of here. He didn't need less time in Juvie, he needed to get out. He couldn't risk telling a suit about him if that didn't get him out in return.
He was still thinking about this when he noticed that everyone had drifted away from where he was by the door. He looked around and saw Keller and two of the guys from yesterday approaching him. Oh no… he turned to look at the clock in the wall behind him on the other side of the bars. Five minutes left. Great. Plenty of time for a nice beating.
As soon as he realized that he wouldn't be able to get away he just couldn't think anymore. His breathing was getting faster by the second and he could feel his palms sweating and his blood pounding in his head. He didn't know if he could take this for much longer. He needed to get out of here. He tried to yell for a guard as one of the bigger guys grabbed him by the shoulders, but nothing would come out as he struggled to breath. The last thing he thought before the pain and unconsciousness was that Mozzie had better hurry up with a plan because he didn't think he could last inside for much longer.