A/N - Rated T because there is some relatively minor abuse necessary for the backstory in the beginning of this chapter. :/ Don't worry, the more time that passes, the fluffier it will get. It's kind of like making cotton candy, except not really at all. Also, I don't own White Collar in any way. I'm just borrowing these beautifical characters briefly. Heh accidental alliteration.

"You didn't finish the painting.." His maniacal voice was steady and composed.

The cramped living room was eerily quiet and his steps were dangerously heavy on the cracked, hardwood floors. It was the calm before the storm. And Neal knew it all too well.

"No. I- I couldn't get the supplies in time. The FBI agent- Burke. He was after me again. I couldn't.." His hasty words were slurred from his fear and his mind was all over the place. All he could think about was his abuser's raging face, his calm, yet deadly, words and the empty canvas being paraded in front of him.

He needed to get out. Now.

"Oh, the big, bad FBI agent was after you. Was he now?" His captor chuckled. But it wasn't a soft or gentle chuckle. It was cruel, it was harsh, and it made Neal want to run - and fast. But he couldn't do that. He knew this.

"If- If I hear about this Agent Burke one more time, you are going to be sorry, m-my dear boy." His father's voice was harsh now, his words slurred by the booze slowly pouring out of the bottle clenched tightly in his hand.

In an instant, the canvas fell hard to the floor, tearing against the split wooden panels. Neal's breathes were quickening now, in time with his accelerated steps backwards. His father was angry and Neal was smart enough to know that this was about to get a lot worse.

"L-ook at the paper, Nea-l."

He was holding up the contract. Oh, that despicable contract. How Neal wished he could destroy it. To tear it apart. To burn it and watch it crumble before him. But he had no ability to do that. He could merely watch the text in his father's hands. Staring at him, mocking him.

"You owed me that painting you ungrateful son of a -"

His father took a threatening stride forward and Neal winced despite himself.

"Dad.. dad." The drawn out words burned at Neal's tongue. This man was not a father to him. He never had been. He was nothing but an abusive drunkard who made his life hell. He used Neal's talent for his own selfish benefit, not giving a damn about what happened to his own son.

"I'll g-get you that painting. I promise you, I will." He was pleading now. "Can't you give him something else in my room? There's still a lot of other pieces in there. You could get a - a really good figure for some of those." He wanted to break down just thinking about his own cowardice. But if he valued his life, he knew that there was nothing else he could do.

"He did not request a different piece. He wanted the one he paid me for, you imbecile.."

"Okay, okay. It was just a suggestion. Please, why- why don't you just calm down?

"Ohh, calm down? I - I should calmm down? Well, you'd like that wouldn't you.. you'd.." His father stopped mid-sentence and Neal braced himself for the inevitable, cringing as his legs almost gave out in fear.

His father paused for a moment before walking to the nearby counter and rummaging through the drawers. Neal could only stand in quiet dread as his father pulled out two identical, metal objects. Both of which he was far too familiar with.

His father approached him as fast as his sluggish, alcohol-hindered steps could take him. With two sets of handcuffs in one hand and the large bottle of booze still in the other, he made his way over to his son.

"You- you betrayed me. I looked like a fool in front of the buyer. I - I had noth- nothing to give him in exchange for my money. For m- my precious money. You think this whiskey just buys itself, don't you ?" His voice was rough and his teeth were clenched as he snarled.

Neal backed farther away from his abuser, holding his hands in front of him as a sign of surrender.

"Oh, well aren't y-you helpful?" His father snickered with mock glee as he inched closer to him. "Just handing yourself over to me-"

Neal muffled a scream as his father took two long strides before grabbing him by the wrists and fastening a pair of handcuffs onto each of his outstretched hands.

His father had two sets of handcuffs. Yes, two. He didn't wish to bind Neal hands together. That would be far too simple and considerably less painful. Instead, he chose to attach both hands separately to the well-known rusted bar that hung from the decapitated apartment ceiling. He never preferred it when Neal was able to run.

He quickly slammed the paired cuffs onto the corroded bar and fastened them tightly, despite the harshness of his son's accompanying cries.

He pulled back slightly then to survey his work, chortling menacingly as he did so.

"Not so fun, is-is it boy?" Neal didn't respond, only fought harder against the cuffs as he hung there.

"Well, I-I for one am f-finding it very fun. In fact," he paused, taking a long swig out of the bottle still held tight in his hand. "Why don't we spice up our enjoyment j-just a little bit?"

At that moment, Neal couldn't help but yell, pulling his body back against the wall with all of his might. But it was no use.

The glass had shattered immediately. The bottle of burning alcohol had been smashed hard against him. He felt his skin punctured with shards of razor-sharp glass, warm blood coating his clothing, and the foul, acidic smell of cheap whiskey burning at his flesh.

He pulled harder at his restraints. But the rigidity of the taut cuffs only worked to cut deeper into his skin. His efforts merely aggravating the open wounds.

"Oh ye - yes that was quite amusing, wasn't it boy?." His father barked, a devilish glint in his eye.

"Oh my g-" Neal could hardly form coherent words. "Dad.. listen," he sputtered, voice rasping and eyes squinting from the acidic burn, "let- let me down."

"Ha! And what on - on this Earth would possess me to do a foolish thin' like that? I don't have to do anything you tell me, you worthless idiot. You didn't follow the rules, boy. And you know what would happen if you broke the rules.." He paused momentarily, in thought.

"I could kill you right now if I w-wanted to." He seemed to seriously ponder that thought for a moment and Neal's heart stopped.

"Considering you're provin' to be no use to m-me anymore, maybe I will do just that.."

His father approached quickly and before Neal could utter a word, his hands were held firmly against his neck, squeezing with all of their might.

Neal was losing oxygen- fast. Considering his father's grip only grew tighter as he struggled, he chose to stop, preparing himself to face the inevitably when a large, earsplitting sound filled his ears. It was the door. The sound of the door being kicked in.

"Bruce Caffrey," a confident, familiar-sounding voice boomed. "Put your hands where I can see them. Do not move."

The voice was steady and calm, yet the worry and concern assaulting the contours of the man's face were unmistakable. It was Agent Peter Burke. The man Neal had tried so desperately to get away from was now the one person in the world he wanted to see.

He felt immediate relief overcome him as his father reluctantly removed his hands and held them above his head.

It's funny.. Neal thought, the new-found oxygen slowly clearing his foggy stupor. It-it's funny how things work out.

WCWCWCWC

The agent ran up to Neal immediately. The moment Bruce had his hands above his head, Peter had motioned for his backup to quickly restrain and cuff the man. He had faith in his team, and after all, he had more pressing issues to attend to; the victim of Bruce's latest assault. His own son.

"Jesus - Caffrey." Neal's head was bobbing slightly and his eyes were closed as he hung motionless from the bar. But as Peter came closer he could tell that he was still breathing. The kid's breathes were coming in slow and ragged. But nonetheless, he was breathing. And Peter could not have been more relieved.

He nudged Neal lightly on the shoulder, careful to find a place that had not been so badly damaged. He was trying to gain his attention but was finding it incredibly difficult to do so.

Peter turned from the kid for a moment to address his astute team. "Someone please find the keys to these things or get me pliers or something!" Peter's orders were precise and direct and he was content when his request was met with resounding, yes, sirs from his backup.

"Caffrey? Caffrey- hey, look up for a minute. It's just me. He's gone now." Peter waited a moment, scared that Neal had possibly lost consciousness before a quiet mutter was heard.

"Sorry. I really can't."

Peter winced inwardly before regaining control of the situation. "Okay. That's okay. We're going to get these cuffs off of you first." He said, his mind thinking rapidly. "And then, well the paramedics are already on their way. It's gonna be fine."

Neal nodded slowly and Peter couldn't help but notice the deep red hand prints on his possibly broken neck. The agent in him felt a sudden, piercing urge to just make things better. To help this poor kid who had been so horrifically abused. But for now, he'd just have to wait.

"Here's the key you requested, boss."

Peter looked away for a minute to take the key out of his fellow agent's hand.

"Thanks, Di. Could you instruct the team to search for evidence? Oh, and check on the location of the paramedics while you're at it."

"You got it, boss."

Careful of Neal's injured wrists, Peter, slowly but surely unfastened the cuffs and lowered a very limp Neal Caffrey to the ground.

"Thanks." The soft reply was so unfamiliarly quiet, that if Peter hadn't been standing so close, he doubt he would have even heard it.

Peter nodded futilely before taking a seat next to Neal against the wall.

"Caffrey," Peter turned to look at the beaten young man. "Really, you're gonna be okay, now. You have nothing to worry about."

Neal didn't look up at him.

"The paramedics should be here soon." He continued. "They're probably stuck in rush hour or something." He paused then, unsure of what to say next. What reassuring platitudes could be said to the teenaged conman whom you've chased for years that you just found hanging from a bar, horribly abused by his own father?

Well, it's not exactly a Hallmark specialty.

"So uh, can I help in some way before they get here?" Peter said, at an apparent loss.

Neal only shook his head no.

They sat in silence for a while before he felt Neal shift slightly beside him.

"So," Neal began slowly, his voice low. "Agent Burke."

Peter snapped to attention as he heard the quiet words uttered from the boy beside him.

"Wh- what brings you to this joyous neck of the woods?" His tone was unusually low and his voice was calm and even.

"Wouldn't NYPD usually handle a case like this?" Neal was attempting to lift his head up slowly now that the pressure had ceased and the swelling had gone down significantly.

"Well, yeah. Usually they would." Peter supplied, eager to be free of the discomforting silence.

"But they alerted the White Collar division once they found out that the woman who called about the possible assault was actually the downstairs neighbor of the one and only Neal Caffrey." Peter could swear he heard a light chuckle but he couldn't have been too sure.

"They thought that maybe the noise that the she heard had something to do with your alleged escape plans after your last forging incident. Because this falls into my area of expertise, they figured it couldn't hurt to have the FBI go down and check it out." Neal didn't respond so Peter chose to simply carry on talking.

"And by the looks of it, the noise she heard was probably just the sound of the bottle shattering." Peter paused momentarily, cringing inwardly. He couldn't even imagine what Neal had been put through. And not just today.

"Huh, area of expertise?" He questioned, titling his head slightly. "So, you think you're some kind of expert on me, Burke?" Neal's voice was still rough as he managed to lift his head enough to lean it back against the wall.

"No, I know I am." Peter replied, not missing a beat. "I mean I have been chasing you for almost two years, right? What are you like fifteen, now?" Peter grinned slightly and Neal gave him a weak smile in response.

"Hm, interesting. I thought you knew everything about me."

"I do." Peter said quickly. "And I'm right about that."

Neal only huffed in response and Peter took that as a yes.

"Well," Neal continued, after a brief pause. "Considering I've also been running away from you for almost two years, I guess you could say I'm somewhat of an expert on you too, no?"

"Not necessarily." Peter said, matter-of-factly."I have FBI resources. You do not."

"Fair enough. But I have street contacts. Which I hope you do not."

Peter chuckled then, watching as Neal's smile grew just a little. "No. I don't think that would do wonders for my reputation."

Neal shook his head slowly before closing his eyes again. And Peter let him be.