A/N: So, I got into White Collar and started writing this a month or two ago after discovering the joy of de-aged Neal through a couple of stories on this site. And now I am posting it even though it's a mess and I shall attempt to update it soon. I imagine it will be easier now that I got through this first chapter. Anyway, it's just for fun. Hope you enjoy.
This situation is nothing new: Neal Caffrey is somewhere he probably shouldn't be and the tips of his fingers are close to something impossibly shiny and undoubtedly priceless.
Don't get him wrong, the backroom of Mrs. Ju's Beguiling Bygones is in Neal's restricted two mile radius. And that sign on the door? Scratched, letters faded to the point where you could only make out the three E's of a supposedly longer word and there was no L, just ON-Y. But there's a teeny tiny knot of guilt in his stomach, the one he gets when he's in a particular situation and he thinks of Peter and the things Peter expects…no, wants. The things Peter wants to be able to expect of Neal.
This situation is nothing new. And it is most definitely something Peter does, indeed, expect of Neal.
But the aged gold chain looks ancient, and the snake hanging from it is large and matching and gem-encrusted to the point where the thing might as well just stop trying to be a snake and change its title to the Golden Jubilee.
I shouldn't, Neal thinks again, and his fingers itch.
He shouldn't. He shouldn't even touch it. He shouldn't even be here, but Mozzie said there were items of interest in the backroom of Mrs. Ju's Beguiling Bygones and Mrs. Ju was conspicuously absent from the front of the store and Neal was bored. And everyone knows a bored Neal is a Neal with itchy, but nimble fingers, ten elegant experts in the art of thievery, and he's touching it, damn it, he's touching it. Touching it is the first step to stealing it and-
The muffled sound of a jingling bell comes from the other side of the door. Someone just came into the store. A customer, maybe, or the decidedly negligent Mrs. Ju, it doesn't matter, Neal needs to make himself gone. He yanks his hand back, pulls his greedy eyes away from yet another pretty thing to occupy his time.
He tries to pull his mind away with his eyes, but it doesn't come as easily. It goes to its default. It goes to Kate.
He breathes in and smells her burning.
His fingers go back to the snake. His eyes go with them, but they get caught on that dark space where the pads of his digits meet those gold gems and the phantom smoke is in his lungs. He thinks of Peter, of how these same fingers dug into Peter's arms while the con got lost in the smoke and sorrow of a plane on fire burning all his love away.
And he thinks, I shouldn't.
Peter loves playing this game. Even if it ever only goes on for a minute.
"You did." El's smile is knowing. Her eyes are tired and her hair is mussed and she overslept. But she knows, she always knows, so she's not angry. "You turned off the alarm."
Satchmo's collar jingles as his tail wags. Peter puts up a leg to stop him from exiting the bedroom, lest he ruin the morning's hard work with his mischievous canine ways. El leans back against the pillows in a smug fashion.
Peter snorts. "What makes you think you're so lucky?"
His wife rolls her blue eyes. "Oh, just shut up and give me my cereal and toast already. You're going to be late for work."
Peter opens his mouth to protest, but his eyes catch sight of the digital clock on their bedside table and it snaps shut on its own accord. She's right. He's got about five minutes to leave if he's going to pick up Neal beforehand or he's going to be late. She's right. She's always right.
"Damn it," he grumbles good-naturedly, and turns around. The tray is organized up to Bureau standards: one small cherry blossom-adorned bowl of Super Sugar O's, one plate of toast with a dollop of strawberry jam, one cup of coffee hold the sugar, and one perfect flower in a miniature glass vase polished to sparkling, thank you very much. Peter picks it up from outside the bedroom door and takes it to his wife, leans down for a kiss, which she returns with fervor.
"Thanks, hon," she says, flashing her teeth in gratitude, and Peter's heart gets caught in his throat for just a moment as he remembers for a time so numerically high that he could never keep track that he's the lucky one. "Have a good day."
"You, too, hon. Enjoy your day off." He turns around, makes for the door.
El's voice chimes from behind him, "Oh, I will."
Peter smiles. She will, he thinks, and for all the years he's been bound to her, her voice sings in his head long after he's left the room, gone down the stairs, exited the house. For all the years, it still makes his heart thump like Satchmo's tail, his blood rushing hot through his body, and Peter Burke is a lucky man who is warm under his skin.
Well. This just isn't something June expected to wake up to today. She's had a lifetime of surprises – some good, some bad, some better left forgotten – but this? Her husband, her Byron, was a beautiful man with a brilliant mind who never ceased to amaze her with his inherent criminality, with his ease at bringing any amount of glorious illegalities into their home. June remembers, quite vividly, one anniversary in which he treated her to dessert – a ten thousand dollar sundae: the world's most expensive chocolate, most exquisite vanilla bean ice cream, twenty-three karats of edible gold, etc. etc. She has to admit even now that she wasn't aware of all the nonsense in that delectable beast of a final course (well, there was a crystal goblet and an eighteen karat gold spoon), but this…
This was even more ridiculous than that sundae. This was…impossible.
And where on earth have Neal's manners gone?
She raps her knuckles against the bathroom door. "Excuse me, young man?"
She doesn't usually pull the maternal chastisements out for Neal – actually, she's not sure she ever has, this might quite possibly be new, but right now… right now, "young" is an understatement.
A tiny cough comes muffled from the other side of the door, and a small voice says, "I'm…I apologize, June. I don't know w-what got into me. I just…I can't."
Neal is distressed. June doesn't blame him. She wasn't sure it was real at first – mainly because it couldn't be. Real things are possible things and this is most definitely an impossible thing. An impossible and ridiculous thing as her eyes concluded ten minutes ago when three feet and five inches of Neal Caffrey opened his apartment door, all dark mussed curls and blue eyes bright with fear and bewilderment.
He'd said something, something along the lines of "I don't know what happened to me" but it got jumbled somewhere along the way, caught in the sob that was emitted halfway through and then it was nothing but childish tears and a small blur running to the bathroom. Slamming the door.
"I don't w-want you to see me like t-this," Neal says now, and his cries have subsided to echoes of their former selves, nothing but hiccups and extra syllables.
It's impossible. It's ridiculous.
It's happening. June realizes this as she feels that sorrowful pang of heartbreak at the confused little voice that belongs to Neal. Her boarder, her friend, and the closest thing she has to a son.
"It's okay, darling," she croons through the door. "We're going to figure this out and get you back to normal, okay? I don't know how, yet, but we're going to fix you up. You don't have to worry."
"B-But…you're going out of town. You have to g-go see your family, June."
She does. She does have to go see her family. Her sister has fallen ill, is succumbing to the unfortunate fading of immunities that comes with age, but Neal…"It can wait, sweetheart. I-"
A firm, steady knock at the door interrupts her platitudes. Peter. Peter is here in the nick of time, as he so often is. Good, noble, heroic Peter. June releases a breath she didn't know she was holding.
"Neal?" Peter calls. "Neal, we're going to be late, buddy."
"Is that P-Peter?" Neal's voice asks from the bathroom, something akin to hope riding the end of the inquiry as June opens the apartment door to a Peter Burke who somehow looks both relaxed and impatient at the same time.
"Ah, June," he says. "How are you doing? Is Neal around? Kid's going to make us late."
"Peter," June says, and she didn't realize she was panicking but she must be, because he looks concerned, and then alert, and then he's in the apartment looking around all fervently for signs of danger.
"What's the matter?" he asks in a low voice. "June, what's going on?"
"Peter, I… I don't know how to tell you this-"
She doesn't have to. The bathroom door swings open and that blue-eyed little blur crashes into Peter's legs. Tangles around them. It takes a moment for June to realize that Neal's wearing his hat, that it's encompassing his head, falling over his eyes in a manner that is at once comical and adorable.
"P-Peter," Neal says desperately, his high voice a siren in the suddenly silent room. "Peter, my hat is too big and my ties are too long and…and…"
Neal trails off and tips his head back, lets the hat fall to the floor as he looks pleadingly up at this man June knows he regards as his personal hero. Peter blinks down at the tiny boy, and June sees both the spark of recognition and that disbelief that she knows from experience will still be there thirteen minutes from now, that will most likely be perpetual because this is impossible. Impossible and ridiculous.
"Neal?" Peter asks.
Neal nods, and takes in a shuddering breath. "I…Peter, I seem to have… I seem to have literally become a small problem."
And June feels all of the energy go out of her bones as she takes a seat for the first time since discovering said small problem. She can't think of anything to add to that, and of all the surprises she's experienced throughout her somewhat long and exciting life, this is the only one she feels too old for.