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White Collar Fic - Kid Fears
kid!Neal
doctor_fangeek
Title: Kid Fears
Rating: PG
Characters/Pairing: Peter, Neal, Elizabeth
Length: ~6360
Spoilers: None
Warnings: None (but FYI, it's a de-aging fic)
Summary: Neal's strange affinity for de-aging objects continues.  But what happens if Peter isn't there to find him when he's lost?

AN: This is kind of a sequel to my first kid!Neal fic.  I started writing it ages ago, got stuck for a while, got busy for a while, and finally finished it last week and decided to post it for Caffrey-Burke Day (there's a fair amount of El in here too, but there's a lot of Peter/Neal relationship at the core, so I think it works for today).  Title from the song of the same name by Indigo Girls.  Thanks to my good buddies rabidchild67, for initial beta work on the first few parts, and ivorysilk for the read-through of the full-length story.




Neal pushed open the door of the little shop and slipped inside. The bell over the door announced his entrance. A young woman organizing a shelf full of nativity figurines turned to look at him and ask if he needed help. He assured her that he was fine, just browsing, and moved off toward the back of the shop. He resolutely ignored the voice in his head – the one that sounded all too much like Peter Burke, FBI agent – that was telling him he shouldn’t be here. The owner of the shop was a suspect in a current forgery case, and they were waiting for a warrant to search his home and business. But really, Neal thought, what could it hurt to check the place out, see what he could dig up? Their suspect was out of town, and even if he weren’t, he didn’t know Neal, would have no way of connecting him to any sort of investigation he might suspect was directed at him. Maybe Neal wouldn’t find anything, but the risk was minimal, and the chance that he might just come up with something useful was worth it. Really, what was the worst that could happen?

It was a small mercy a little while later that Neal couldn’t remember thinking those words. On the other hand, he couldn’t remember because he was rather suddenly no more than five or six years old and in a heap on the floor in the back corner of the crowded junk shop, clutching the wrist he’d inadvertently used to try to break his fall from the step stool he’d been standing on when he went to move a strange little statuette out of the way of the pieces he’d really wanted to look at. If Neal had been more aware of what had just happened, he might also have been able to appreciate the fact that his clothes had become kid-sized along with him, or that he’d chosen to put on jeans and a Henley this morning instead of a suit. As it was, he was mostly thinking that this place was kind of scary, especially the skeleton figurines on the shelf off to his right. And that he’d made an awful lot of noise when he fell, not to mention the sound of a bunch of stuff falling off of that one shelf he’d knocked into on the way down. And that his wrist really hurt. And also, that he was all alone.

Then he heard the sound of footsteps approaching from the front of the store. He sort of remembered seeing a friendly-looking lady not that long ago. Maybe he’d seen her on his way into this place? Whatever this place was. But the approaching footsteps didn’t sound like they belonged to her. Neal was trying to decide if he should get out of there, or if he should wait for whoever was coming. Maybe they could help him. Wait, maybe it was Peter? Neal only had a very fuzzy recollection, at best, of how he’d gotten here. But he remembered Peter, and that Peter always finds him. The footsteps were very close now, and Neal looked up hopefully, but the man who came around the corner a few seconds later was big and scary and definitely NOT PETER.

“What the…?” the big man shouted, looking around at the shelves, some of which were now partly empty, and the various bits of what used to be on them which were now strewn around the floor, and in the center of it all, Neal, who was trying his best to look small and not worth noticing. “Did you make this mess?” the man asked, glowering down at Neal. “And how did you get in here, anyway?” he continued, not even stopping to see if Neal had an answer to the first question. “Where are your parents?” the tirade continued. The big, scary man kept shouting questions at Neal, but he didn’t actually wait for him to answer one before he went on to the next. “They’re going to have to pay for the damages, you know? I hope they give you a good hiding when they see what you’ve done.” There was a pause. Neal kept quiet. He didn’t know how to answer most of the man’s questions, anyway. “Well. What do you have to say for yourself?”

Thankfully, Neal was saved from having to answer – and he had a feeling the man would have tried to wring the answer out of him given half the chance – by the appearance of the friendly-looking lady. He’d been so focused on the scary man that he hadn’t heard her coming.

“Joe!” she called out sharply. “Can’t you see you’re scaring him?”

“Look at the mess he’s made back here!”

“I can see that. But he’s just a little boy.”

Neal had the sudden realization that this might be his best chance to get away, now that “Joe” was distracted. He wasn’t sure why he would have come to this strange shop in the first place, or what he should do next, but whatever was going on the man didn’t seem like he had much interest in helping him. One thing he did know – though how he knew he couldn’t say – is that the odd little statue lying on the floor next to him was somehow important. And so was the black plastic thing with the glowing green light on it that he was half sitting on. He had the feeling that he didn’t have much time before bigscaryJoe stopped talking to the lady and started shouting at Neal again, so he grabbed the little statue thing and put it in his jacket pocket, shoved the green light thing back and under one of the shelves, and got to his feet and made a dash for what he really hoped was the back door.

“Hey, you!” he heard. That was Joe. The nice lady was saying something too, maybe – hopefully – telling him to let Neal go. Neal shouldered through the door, looked one way and then the other, and took off down the street. He risked a quick look over his shoulder just in time to see the man coming out of the door a block or two behind him, but Neal dodged around a lady with a stroller, skirted a family of four, and soon managed to leave his pursuer behind. Neal slowed down then – he probably shouldn’t be drawing attention to himself, just in case. But he kept walking, figuring it couldn’t hurt to put a bit more distance between himself and the mysterious shop.

Neal had made it a few more blocks, but he was getting tired of walking, and his wrist was starting to throb. Thankfully he spotted a park just up ahead. Soon enough he was sitting on one of the swings. There were plenty of kids there, some on the swings or the small jungle gym, and others playing tag in an open, grassy area to one side of the playground. Mothers sat on benches, watching their children. It was easy enough to blend in. To pretend he belonged. Except he didn’t. None of those mothers was watching him. Something was wrong, Neal knew. This wasn’t “home,” and his mother wasn’t going to be coming for him any time soon. He was lost again, and on top of that, there was no sign of Peter. Peter always found him. That much he was sure of. Maybe he shouldn’t have run away? He couldn’t really remember how he’d ended up in that weird shop. Maybe he was forgetting something else. Maybe he’d done something bad, and Peter was mad at him? So far, Neal had just been doing what felt right. He’d somehow known to grab the little statue. He’d run away from Joe because he was big and scary and didn’t seem like he wanted to help Neal at all. Now he wasn’t sure what to do. He wasn’t sure, but he didn’t think it had ever taken Peter this long to find him before. Well, if Peter was looking for him (please, please, please let Peter be looking for him), maybe he’d better stay in one place and wait.

So Neal waited. After a little while the kids playing tag stopped, and their moms gathered them up to take them home. Then a boy and his dad showed up and started playing catch. If Peter had been his dad, Neal thought, he would have played catch with him. But Neal didn’t have a dad, not since before he could remember, when he was really little. Maybe Peter would play catch with him anyway. He could ask him when he came to find Neal. If he came to find him, Neal thought, a small part of him getting worried. Okay, maybe it wasn’t such a small part. He couldn’t understand why Peter wasn’t here yet. He tried not to think about that, though. Probably Peter was really busy. Peter had a really important job, with the F.B.I. Neal probably just needed to wait a little bit longer.

So Neal waited some more. His tummy rumbled, and he tried to remember when he’d last eaten, or what he’d had for breakfast, but he couldn’t. “What if Peter isn’t coming?” Neal thought again, as much as he tried not to. What if he’d gone to that shop and talked to the scary man? Neal had made a big mess, and the man had been really, really angry. Maybe Peter and Elizabeth decided Neal was too much trouble? It was going to be dark soon, and more people were leaving the park. It was getting kind of cold. And Neal thought his wrist might be kind of swollen. He was trying very hard not cry – he was getting too old for that sort of thing – but he didn’t know what to do, and he couldn’t stay here all night. He squeezed his eyes shut to stop the tears and he when he opened them there was a policeman coming toward him. It was one of the ones who ride horses, but he’d gotten down off the horse and was heading toward Neal.

Some part of Neal wanted to run, and he almost did, even though he wasn’t sure why. It was weird, but sometimes he had feelings like that, that he didn’t understand. And sometimes he just knew things, and he wasn’t sure how. Like he’d just known that the little statue thing was important, and so he’d kept it. But this time, even though part of him wanted to run, there was another voice in his head telling him that he should stay, that the policeman would help him. The voice sounded an awful lot like Peter. And Neal trusted Peter.

So Neal stayed. The policeman was big, and maybe a little scary, but he smiled at Neal like he meant it – Neal was good at telling those kinds of things, even if he was little. He asked Neal if he was hurt, and what had happened, and where his parents were. Neal listened to the Peter voice, and trusted the policeman to help him, but he also listened to the Neal voice in his head and didn’t tell the policeman the whole truth – that he didn’t know where his parents were, or how he’d ended up in some strange little shop and had to run away. He didn’t think the policeman would believe him, so he knew he had to tell him a better story. At first the policeman was ‘spicious, when Neal said he’d hurt his arm falling off the jungle gym. And he wanted to know where Neal’s mom and dad were, and why he was all by himself. And even Neal, who was good at stories, was having a hard time with all of the questions. So he started crying, and saying he was s’posed to go to Uncle Peter and Aunt Liz’beth’s, and he’d just wanted to stop and play for a little while, but then he fell and…and…. And he cried some more, and held onto his hurt wrist, and the policeman stopped asking questions Neal couldn’t answer, and patted him on the shoulder, and told him that he would find “Uncle Peter” and that he would take him to the hospital, and get him all fixed up. Neal calmed down enough to tell him Uncle Peter’s last name (which was one of those things that he somehow just knew) and that he worked for the FBI. The policeman called someone to come and get them (so Neal didn’t get to ride the horse). They went to the hospital.


Their waiter had just left after delivering their appetizers. Elizabeth liberated one of the steamed clams from its shell and popped it into her mouth. The dish was one of her favorites, and Peter found himself just sitting and watching her enjoy it for a moment. El caught him looking and gave him a sly smile, then speared another clam and held out her fork. Peter smiled back, leaning forward to accept the offering, savoring both the delicious food and the fact that finally, after several weeks of heavy caseloads and too much time in the surveillance van (for him) and dealing with a difficult bride and her even more difficult family (for her), he and El had managed to successfully plan and execute a much needed date night.

Right up until a few minutes after the main course arrived. That was when Peter’s phone rang. A part of him wanted to just let the call go to voicemail, but another part, the FBI agent who was never entirely “off the clock,” sighed and reached into his pocket.

“Sorry, Hon,” he said, already feeling guilty, but El just smiled and nodded in understanding as Peter took the call. He was glad he did.

After the caller, who identified himself as Officer Harding of the NYPD, confirmed with him that he was, in fact, Peter Burke and that he did work for the White Collar Division of the FBI, Peter was resigning himself to yet another date night cut short. He shot El an apologetic look. She shook her head, her expression half-amused, half-rueful, and went back to her grilled salmon.

“I’m glad I was able to reach you,” the officer was saying. “Your nephew was very upset.”

“What?” thought Peter? Nephew?

“Excuse me?” he said, instead, buying time.

“Your nephew, Neal? Caffrey? I brought him to the hospital and he gave me your name.”

Peter’s first thought was to wonder what on earth Caffrey had gotten himself into this time. Then the words “brought him to the hospital” registered, and his frustration was quickly tempered with concern. A small part of his brain was also wondering why Neal would tell a New York cop that Peter was his uncle, but, oddly enough, that was the least of Peter’s concerns at the moment.

“Hospital? Is he all right?” Peter asked. El looked up sharply at that, her expression clearly asking for an explanation.

“He’s fine. Just hurt his wrist. They think it’s probably broken. To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what happened. I found him in the park, and he seemed a bit young to be there all by himself. He said he hurt his arm falling off the jungle gym, but when I asked about his parents he got very upset, and all I could really get out of him was that he was supposed to be going to his aunt and uncle’s. Luckily he was able to give me your name, and he knew where you work, so I was able to track you down.”

Peter managed to listen to the man’s story, find out what hospital Neal was at, and end the call without giving himself away, but as he set the phone down on the table he closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

“Hon?” Elizabeth said. “What’s going on? Who’s in the hospital? Is it Neal?”

Peter shook his head and rubbed at the bridge of his nose before opening his eyes. He sighed. “Apparently my nephew Neal Caffrey fell off of the jungle gym and broke his wrist.”

“Hon?”

“A city cop found Neal – who apparently wasn’t old enough to be running around by himself – at the park. Neal gave him my name, said he was supposed to be coming to stay with his Uncle Peter and Aunt Elizabeth. I don’t know what’s really going on, but I think we have to assume that it is Neal and he’s….”

“A child. Again,” Elizabeth finished the sentence for him.

As much as they were starting to become old hands at dealing with pint-sized versions of Neal Caffrey, Peter wasn’t sure that they would ever truly be used to it. And somehow, every time it happened, it was just a little bit shocking. However, there wasn’t really time, at the moment, to wonder about the how or why. Right now Neal was apparently a small child with a broken arm, and he was all by himself at the hospital. Of course they would go get him. And then they would deal with whatever had happened.

Peter flagged down their waiter to ask for the check, claiming a family emergency as he declined the offered to-go boxes. Clearly he was more than a little distracted, as they were halfway to their destination before it occurred to him that the hospital was outside of Neal’s radius. He figured Neal would give him a hard time if he knew that Peter still had Electronic Monitoring Compliance on speed dial in the Taurus, but right now it was probably a good thing. Except that according to Neal’s tracking data, he’d been at the same address for the past few hours, and it wasn’t the hospital.

“Damn it, Neal!” he said, smacking one hand on the steering wheel.

“So I’m guessing that address is familiar?”

“Yeah, it’s familiar all right. It’s a shop that belongs to a suspect in the case we’re working. We’re waiting on a warrant, but of course, Neal had other ideas.”

“But he’s not there now, is he? I mean, it’s got to be him at the hospital, right?”


It was Neal all right. When Peter and Elizabeth got to the hospital and tracked down their “nephew,” they were directed to Exam Room 2, where a little boy with Neal’s dark wavy hair was sitting on the end of the exam table. At the moment he was alone in the room. He was holding his left arm close to his chest and looking down at his feet, one of which was swinging rhythmically back and forth. There was a slump to his shoulders that made him look somehow even smaller than he was, as did the hospital gown which seemed to be at least a size too big. Having seen Neal at about this age at least twice before, Peter recognized him instantly, but he had the feeling that no matter how many times Neal changed into a child, he would never really get used to it.

“Neal?” Peter said softly, not wanting to spook him. Neal just curled into himself more, if that were possible, and shook his head back and forth a few times. Peter stepped all the way into the room, then slowly crossed the small space until he was within arm’s reach of his wayward CI. His wayward CI who was once again a child. He could sense Elizabeth behind him, hovering in the doorway.

“Neal, buddy? Look at me? Are you okay?”

Neal suddenly went very still. His eyes shot up. They were, as always, impossibly blue. They were also red-rimmed – clearly he’d been crying. And they were very, very wide as he looked up at Peter.

“Peter?” Neal said, and the uncertainty in his voice just about broke Peter’s heart.

“Yeah, buddy. It’s me.”

He wanted to offer something more, some sort of reassurance, but before he’d had a chance to collect his thoughts Neal was sliding off of the table and barreling into Peter’s legs.

“I’m sorry, Peter!” he blurted out. There was the slightest pause, and then it was like a dam had broken and words came tumbling out. “I didn’t mean to make such a big mess. I just fell. And then the man came, and he was yelling, and I ran away. But then you couldn’t find me. I prob’ly should have stayed there. But that man was so angry, and I was scared, and you weren’t there. You’re always there, Peter. And then I thought since I couldn’t ‘member how I got there, that maybe I forgot something else and you were mad at me. Please don’t be mad at me Peter!”

The torrent of words stopped as Neal drew in a shaky breath. Peter took advantage of the momentary pause to gently disengage Neal from where he was clinging to Peter’s legs with his uninjured arm, but Neal just stared resolutely down at his feet.

“I’m not mad at you, Neal,” Peter said, squatting down in front of him. It wasn’t entirely true. Peter was mad at Neal, but not at this Neal, and not for some imagined wrong-doing. This Neal was scared and upset, and the rest of it could be dealt with later, when Neal was back to normal.

“I can do better,” Neal said, as if Peter hadn’t spoken. “I kept the little statue thing. And I listened to the Uncle Peter in my head when the policeman came, even though I wanted to run away again. But I stayed. And he helped me. And….”

“Neal,” Peter said, speaking a little louder this time, but trying to keep his voice even. He wanted to get the boy’s attention without scaring him any further.

Neal’s monologue came to a sudden stop, but he still seemed unwilling to look at Peter.

“Neal, buddy, look at me,” Peter coaxed gently. Neal sniffled once, twice, but then he squared his shoulders and raised his head. Peter had the feeling he was working hard to hold back tears.

“I’m not mad,” Peter said again.

Another sniffle. “You’re not?” Neal replied, and this time it was the burgeoning hope in those big blue eyes threatening to break Peter’s heart.

“But I made such a big mess! And then I ran away and you couldn’t find me!”

“I’m sorry I didn’t find you sooner, Neal, but it wasn’t your fault. I didn’t know you were lost, at least not at first. As soon as I found out, I came right here.”

“But….”

“And you did a good thing, getting help from the policeman.”

“I did,” Neal agreed, nodding, but he still sounded unsure.

“The policeman called Peter,” Elizabeth said, from just over Peter’s right shoulder. He’d been so focused on calming Neal down that he hadn’t heard her approach. He glanced back at her with a smile.

“That’s how we knew where to find you,” she continued, stepping past Peter and brushing an unruly curl of hair off of Neal’s forehead before resting a hand on his shoulder. And instead of shaking her off – as he was usually wont to do at this age – he leaned, ever so slightly, into the touch.

“How about we let the doctors fix you up now, Neal,” Peter said, "and then we’ll take you home? We can talk more later if you want, okay?”

Neal turned his attention back to Peter, a too-solemn expression taking over his face for a moment, and then he nodded.

“’Kay.”

Peter breathed a sigh of relief.

An hour or two later, and Peter had called Diana and asked her to go to Parker’s shop the next day and check on the anklet, and the Marshals to let them know that Neal Caffrey was on an all-night stakeout with him. He’d taken a picture of the little statuette that Neal had thankfully stuck in his coat pocket after he’d, well, “changed,” and asked Elizabeth to send it to Mozzie. Peter still wasn’t sure how Moz was always able to get information on whatever magical de-aging object Neal happened upon, but he was grateful enough not to ask too many questions. Neal, meanwhile, had been taken to X-ray, where it had been confirmed that he had, indeed, broken his wrist.

He seemed to be doing a bit better by then – perhaps because Peter and Elizabeth were both waiting for him when he came out of the X-ray room. He even had a smile for the doctor when he was told that he could choose the color of his cast, though he looked to Peter and Elizabeth as if for confirmation. “Whichever one you want, sweetie,” Elizabeth said. Peter nodded in agreement. Neal picked bright orange. Once the doctor was finished with Neal and he’d gotten dressed again, the nurse gave them some instructions – the usual “keep it dry” speech, things to watch for (numbness, tingling, pain getting worse). Neal was given some ibuprofen to take, and they were sent on their way.


“C’mon, buddy. Let’s get you out of here,” Peter said. He handed Neal his jacket, the one with the fleece lining and the hood. It was still a little too big for him, but that was okay – it made it easier to get on over the cast. Then Peter bent down to pick Neal up. Neal was a big boy, too old to be carried, but he decided that maybe, just this once, it was okay. He was tired and sore, and it had been a really long day. Peter easily hoisted Neal up. “You’re really strong, P’ter,” Neal said. Peter paused, mid-lift, giving Neal a funny look, but then he just smiled and settled Neal in his arms. Neal found he didn’t mind being carried. Peter was solid and real and safe.

“Here, sweetie, let me help with that,” Liz’beth said, once Peter had settled Neal in the car and Neal was fumbling with his seat belt. He could do it himself. He could. But maybe it was okay to let someone else do it just this once. It was hard with only one good hand, after all. “All set,” she said as she finished buckling Neal in, then leaned in to give him a quick kiss on the forehead. He squirmed away in embarrassment, but she just smiled at him and ruffled his hair. Just as she was about to shut the car door, Neal’s stomach let out a big grumble.

“I think someone’s hungry, Hon,” Elizabeth said.

Peter turned to look back from where he was sitting in the driver’s seat. “When did you last eat, Neal?” he asked, looking very serious.

“The policeman got me some crackers from the machine,” Neal replied.

Peter frowned, and Neal got the feeling that he wasn’t answering the question right.

“I’m sorry,” Neal said. “I don’t remember before that.” Neal thought really hard. He’d already made a big mess, and then Peter and Elizabeth both had to come and find him at the hospital, and he didn’t want Peter to be mad…but he just couldn’t remember.

Peter looked at him for a minute, and it looked like he was thinking hard too. But then he stopped frowning and smiled at Neal instead. “That’s okay, buddy. You had a hard day. And we know you’re hungry now, so how about we get you some dinner? Do you want to go home? Or maybe we could go to the diner?”

“The diner!” Neal said. He was tired, and home sounded good, but Neal liked the diner. They had grilled cheese, and they put chocolate and caramel sauce on your ice cream sundae if you wanted, and they had all sorts of yummy pancakes. Neal wondered if he could have pancakes for dinner. He was trying to decide if he wanted blueberry or chocolate chip, and the next thing he knew someone was saying his name.

“Neal, honey, time to wake up.” It was Elizabeth, and she was leaning over him, unbuckling his seat belt.

Neal yawned and scrubbed at his eyes with his good hand. He hadn’t meant to fall asleep. He wondered how far it was from the hospital to the diner, and hoped they hadn’t decided to go home instead, but when Elizabeth helped him climb down from his booster seat and out of the car he was happy to see the familiar neon sign on the other side of the street. He let Elizabeth take his hand in hers and the three of them headed across the street and inside.

Neal took off his jacket, struggling a little with the left sleeve, then carefully hung it over the back of his chair before he sat down. It was important to take good care of his things. The lady who showed them to their table smiled at him and brought him crayons with his placemat. It had a picture of zoo animals on the front, for coloring, but he turned it over and started drawing on the back instead. He’d just gotten started on the trees in the background when the waitress came with their menus, so he kept on drawing.

“Neal?”

That was Peter, who was holding out a menu.

Neal took it, even though he knew what he wanted. Maybe he should have a backup plan in case he couldn’t have pancakes for dinner? He liked grilled cheese, but there was a picture of some kind of sandwich with melted cheese all over the top that looked good too, and so did the cheeseburger with bacon.

“What do you think, sweetie?” Elizabeth asked him.

Neal hesitated for a moment, unsure.

“Can I have pancakes?” he finally said.

“Whatever you want,” Elizabeth answered.

“Even though they’re supposed to be breakfast?”

“Even though they’re supposed to be breakfast.”

When the waitress came back, Neal ordered all by himself – blueberry pancakes, and a glass of milk, and bacon on the side (‘cause he was really hungry). Peter got the cheeseburger (no bacon). Elizabeth said she wasn’t very hungry and ordered a fruit salad, but then she helped Neal finish his (which was kind of good, because maybe he’d gotten just a little too much food, though he couldn’t really help it that the pancakes were so big).


Peter hadn’t been at all surprised when Neal had fallen asleep again on the short drive home, and he would have been happy if Neal had kept on sleeping, would have been happy to just take off Neal’s jacket and shoes and take him up to bed. But of course Neal woke up as Peter was carrying him into the house. Elizabeth stepped in, taking charge of getting Neal washed up changed and ready for bed. Peter took Satchmo out for a quick walk around the block, checked his phone just in case Mozzie had found anything (there were a couple of texts – no solution yet, but he thought he was making some progress), and made sure the house alarm was set, then headed upstairs.

He met Elizabeth in the hallway upstairs. She was just leaving the guest room, or “Neal’s room” as it had more and more often come to be called, and the two of them continued down the hall to their bedroom.

For a moment they just stood there facing each other in the middle of the room, a quiet moment after the sudden storm of events of the evening.

“Any news from Mozzie?” Elizabeth asked after a minute.

“He’s working on it,” Peter said with a shrug.

“Which means?”

“He thinks he’s making progress, but that’s all he really said. I think we’ll know more tomorrow.”

Elizabeth nodded. “Well, I’m sure he’ll figure it out soon,” she said. She looked a little uncertain, but Peter thought that there was maybe something else on her mind, beyond the question of when and how Neal would return to normal. This wasn’t their first time dealing with the vagaries of magical de-aging…or their second, or third, and they’d yet to meet a magical object whose mysteries Moz failed to crack.

“So, how’s Neal doing?" Peter asked with some trepidation. Neal had been more than a little out of sorts when they’d first tracked him down at the hospital. True, he’d been hurt, but he’d also seemed unusually worried that Peter and Elizabeth – well, mostly Peter, to be honest – might be angry with him. He seemed to be doing better by the time they left the hospital, and he’d clearly enjoyed the trip to the diner. But Elizabeth was definitely worried, and with Neal – well, certainly with adult Neal – you never knew what was brewing under the surface.

“I don’t know,” Elizabeth said, in a tone which did nothing to allay Peter’s concerns. “He’s upset about something, I think, but he’s trying to hide it.” She paused, frowning. “And he’s pretty good at it. He’s six years old, Peter. He shouldn’t have to pretend he’s fine.” Another pause. “Talk to him?”

Peter sighed, but nodded in agreement. “I’ll try,” he said, then leaned down for a quick kiss.

“I love you Hon,” Elizabeth said as they broke apart.

A couple of minutes later, after a quick trip downstairs to the refrigerator and a stop in the bathroom, Peter knocked on the open door of the guest room and stepped inside. Neal was sitting cross-legged on top of the bed covers. He was wearing his dark red pajama pants, but not the matching top – the one with the shark on it and the long sleeves that probably wouldn’t have fit over his cast – in favor of a plain white short-sleeve tee. As Peter sat down next to him on the bed, Neal looked up at him with those big blue eyes, a curl of his tousled hair falling onto his forehead, and he looked so much like a miniature version of his adult self that it took Peter aback. Except, of course, for the bright orange cast on his arm.

“How’s the arm, kiddo?” Peter asked. “Does it hurt?”

“S’okay,” Neal said.

Of course it is, Peter thought to himself. “You sure about that?” he said instead, gently coaxing.

Neal didn’t answer right away, but Peter just kept looking him in the eye, and waited.

Finally Neal relented with a shrug and admitted that it hurt “a little.”

Peter handed him a glass of juice and an ibuprofen, which Neal took. Peter set the glass aside. Neither of them spoke for a minute. Neal looked at Peter, then down at the bed. Elizabeth was right, Peter thought, something was up. He waited another minute, hoping that Neal would start the conversation, but wasn’t surprised when that didn’t happen.

“Neal, buddy, can you look at me please?”

There was a brief hesitation, then Neal complied.

“You were pretty upset earlier, at the hospital.”

Neal looked away.

“Neal?”

Silence.

“Something’s bothering you, and we can’t fix it if you won’t tell me what it is. I’m not mad. I promise.”

Neal looked down at the bed briefly, then back up at Peter.

“I was scared,” he admitted reluctantly.

“It’s okay to be scared, buddy. You were hurt. And you were all by yourself.”

Neal didn’t respond right away. He seemed to be trying to decide what, or maybe how much, to say.

“I was scared you might not be coming,” he finally blurted out. After which he turned his gaze back to the bed. Or maybe some invisible piece of lint on his pajama pants.

“Because you thought I was mad?”

Neal nodded, but didn’t look up.

“You understand that I’m not, right?”

Another nod.

“Are you sure about that Neal?” Peter asked gently.

“Uh huh,” Neal replied, but he didn’t seem overly happy about it.

Peter waited while Neal continued to study the bedclothes.

“But?” he prompted, when it seemed that Neal wasn’t going to offer up anything more anytime soon.

“What about next time?” Neal said softly, eyes still downcast.

“Next time.” Peter parroted back, still not at all sure where Neal was going with this.

“Next time I get in trouble,” Neal said with a shrug. His tone was matter-of-fact, but when he looked up Peter could see the worry in Neal’s eyes, far more worry, in Peter’s opinion, than a six-year-old ought to be having over some yet to be determined future transgression.

Peter was still trying to formulate a response to that when Neal took a deep breath and plunged ahead.

“I try to be good,” he said, “and listen to the Peter voice. But sometimes I mess up.”

“Everyone messes up sometimes, Neal. It’s okay,” Peter said, trying his best to reassure. It didn’t seem to be working.

“But you find me when I’m lost, and ‘Lizbeth makes me soup when I’m sick, and hot chocolate, when…I don’t know….just ‘cause, I guess…and what if you are mad next time? Or I’m just too much trouble?” Neal said in a rush, looking like he was working hard not to cry.

Peter just sat there for a moment, speechless. Neal thought what? That Peter and Elizabeth would abandon him if he misbehaved?

Peter scooted closer to Neal and put an arm around his shoulders, pulling him into a one armed hug.

“Elizabeth and I love you, Neal,” he said, and part of him wondered just where that had come from, even as he realized that it was true – and not just of six-year-old Neal. “You’ll never be too much trouble.”

Neal pulled away, just enough to be able to look Peter in the eye without leaving the safety of his arms.

“You’ll find me even if you’re mad?” he said uncertainly.

“I’ll find you even if I’m mad.”

“Promise?” Neal said solemnly.

“I promise. Now about we go downstairs and see if Elizabeth will make us all some hot chocolate?”

Peter watched as a tentative smile replaced the Very Serious look on Neal’s face.

“Sound good, buddy?” he prompted.

“Sounds good.”

And with that, Peter stood up and scooped Neal up off the bed, and together they headed downstairs.


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Awwwwww - this is adorable.

Thanks! Glad you liked it. :-)

Kid Neal is so adorable and so damn heart breaking. I'm torn between wanting him to stay a kid so that he can get the loving childhood he deserves and him being big again so Peter and El can show him how much they love him and that they always will no matter how much he messes up. <3 this. El's hot chocolate sounds pretty good :)

Nate

Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment.

One of the things I really wanted to work into this (besides H/C for poor kid!Neal and his broken arm)(and pancakes) was the idea that Neal's fears as a child resonate with adult Neal.

So glad you liked the story.

I'm all teary-eyed here.

This is brilliant and hurty and I love it so much.

And THIS:

“I try to be good,” he said, “and listen to the Peter voice. But sometimes I mess up.”


Awwww. I'd say I'm sorry you're teary-eyed, but part of me feels really good that I invoked those emotions. :-)

Thanks so much for the lovely feedback (especially since I've been epic fail at feedback lately ::frowny face::).

Aw man, I love wee Neal here. He needs all of the snuggles and all of the pancakes. ♥

I love wee Neal too. :-) He totally needs snuggles. And pancakes. And El's hot chocolate.

Thanks for the comment.

So cute! It looks like I need to go back and read all the other stories in this 'verse.

Alas, there's only one other story so far, but you can find it HERE

And my fic masterlist (such as it is) is HERE

So glad you liked the story.

Aw, so adorable! I think Neal's need to know that Peter will be there even if Peter is angry with him is spot on. So glad Peter was able to say to kid!Neal what would be hard to say to adult!Neal.

(I think, after everything these two have been through, adult!Neal knows that Peter will always be there for him--and that the reverse is also true. All the same, I hope someday they find the words to tell each other!)

I am terribly behind in replying to comments here, but I've made it back. :-)

Anyway, I definitely think Peter would have an easier time saying some things to kid!Neal. Also, I totally get your point about Neal probably knowing that Peter will be there for him (depending, of course, on when in their timeline it is), but I wonder if there isn't still that occasional lingering uncertainty.

In any case, glad you liked it and thanks for commenting.

Just seconded everyone else's positive comments. It was nice to have Neal not afraid of the policeman (like some kids are of firemen aka Darth Vadar effect) and his disappointment at not getting to ride the horse. Thought it was funny about orange cast - echoing the orange prison clothes, but H'ween is just around the corner.

Continuing to catch up on my replies...

...thanks so much for taking the time to comment. Glad you enjoyed the story.

I loved this. I am a sucker for a great kid!neal fic, I tell ya.
Oh Neal! You can listen to the Peter voice! He'll steer you in the right direction! But it's okay if you make a little mistake! He still loves you!
;________________;
<3

I like a good kid!Neal story too. It's not a genre I imagined writing, but then I was playing a writing challenge game at a fan meet-up and one just sort of popped out. And then there was a sequel.

Glad you liked the story and thanks for commenting.

Absolutely lovely and hurty and totally huggable. Because who wouldn't want to cuddle a wee!Neal with those beautiful big blue eyes? I was so hoping someone would write a kid!fic. I just love them so much. You just made my day :D *hugs*

Sorry it took so long to reply, but I'm so happy I made your day! Wee!Neal *is* huggable, isn't he?

aww..This made me cry..My heart goes out for kid Neal..
Neal deserves all the love and affection..

Sorry I made you cry (but glad I made you feel strongly enough that it happened).

Thanks for commenting!

This was so sweet. I love any stories with Neal as a kid and you do such a good job with them. I just happened to come upon this story. Is there a way to track your stories so I know when you have a new one. I'm fairly new to fan fic?

Thanks!

Unfortunately, I don't know all the ins and outs of tracking someone's posts. Although some of my LJ posts are friends-locked, all my fic is public, so if you friend my journal my stories should show up on your LJ friends page. I should tell you though, that I'm not a very prolific writer.

That said, if you want to check the rest of my stuff, I have a master list post HERE.

Awww so sweet. And believable but sad that Neal would feel this way.

Love this.

Also liked that Neal has a backup plan if pancakes don't work lol.

LOLOLOL that Neal ALWAYS gets de-aged and Peter and El being all "Again?!?"

Thanks!

Glad you found it believable. And that you enjoyed the idea of there being a whole series of de-aging events. The first kid!Neal that I wrote started out as crack, but then developed a serious streak, but the whole, "Oh no, here we go again" part stayed in there, and I continued the concept in this one.

This was just so wonderful. It's already been said above, but I really admire how much your kid Neal is in character; how you show just small, subtle traces of the Neal we know and love... I't amazing.
I don't usually like kid!fics, but yours are one of the few exceptions. Thank you for sharing this story with us!

Thanks so much for your kind words. I'm flattered that you like my kid!fic when it's not usually your thing, and I'm very glad that you found my kid!Neal in character. Glad you enjoyed the story.

(Deleted comment)
“Elizabeth and I love you, Neal,” he said, and part of him wondered just where that had come from, even as he realized that it was true – and not just of six-year-old Neal. “You’ll never be too much trouble.”
Perfect! Thanks

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