Author: Colakirk
Prompt: Test
Fandom: White Collar
Rating: PG-13
Author's Website: Cola's page


"Morning Neal," Elizabeth Burke stepped aside while welcoming her husband's CI into the family home. It wasn't unusual for the young man to call by to catch a ride in with the agent if they were planning to head straight out into the field. Sometimes Peter would swing by to collect Neal, and other times, it suited Peter for his young partner to meet him at his Brooklyn townhouse.

"Peter will be down in a minute, sweetie. You want breakfast?"

"No, but thank you anyway, Elizabeth, I grabbed a pretzel on the way over."

"A pretzel hardly constitutes a nutritional start to the day, Neal," El admonished. "Do you know how much salt is in those things?"

The young con was ever so tempted to drawl out a, 'yes mom,' but withholding his retort was the sensible option to avoid having to go fifty-rounds with 'mom' once she'd been given the green light to proceed. Instead he simply went with, "I'm planning on having an early lunch – there's a trendy new café right next to the building where we're doing our surveillance – they toss a great Ceaser salad…all fresh ingredients," Neal added to support his argument.

El studied the young man for sincerity before deciding to give him the benefit of the doubt and let the subject drop. Besides, her husband could do with a salad for lunch rather than his usual fare of street side hotdogs. El made a note to have a stern word in Peter's ear before they left the house. "Well, make yourself at home, I'll go see what's keeping him."

Neal refrained from sighing out loud as he watched the young woman disappear up the stairs. He dropped back onto the couch and reached for the morning paper, happy with the knowledge that he wasn't going to be forced fed a bowl of oatmeal. Unfortunately for the young con, his elation was short lived…

As he picked up the newspaper, Neal startled and gasped out loud, for underneath was a most unwelcome sight – Peter's trusty old wooden paddle! The young con blinked his eyes a couple of times hoping that the evil instrument of torture, the one Peter used to beat his backside with all too frequently, would disappear from view…after all, surely it had to be a mere figment of his imagination.  Sadly for Neal it was not.

The young con's eyes darted in the direction of the stairs before returning to the object sitting ominously in the middle of the coffee table. It had to be some sort of test, Neal considered. Peter must have laid the paddle out in the hopes of getting an easy confession. But what the crap have I done now! Neal whispered under his breath while wracking his brain for possible 'paddle worthy' misdemeanors he may have committed in the past day or two.

After a long moment of thinking, the young man came up empty and had to seriously consider alternate, less painful possibilities for the paddle being positioned on the coffee table. Perhaps it wasn't a test at all. Perhaps El had been having a clean-out of the drawers in the living area, perhaps Peter had come to his senses and decided it was high time he treated his CI as a responsible, law abiding adult - like he was and not like a teenage brat, or perhaps the paddle laying on the table was something as simple as it hadn't been put away since its last use. Neal thought back - it had been just over a week since Peter had used it to wallop his backside after he impersonated a federal officer during a particularly drawn out undercover operation. Neal claimed it was merely harmless fun but Peter, knowing it was because his young partner had been bored out of his brain and wanted to speed up due process, found no humor in the impersonation and said so with a dozen painful swats to Neal's tender rear end.  In any case, it was unlikely that the neatness conscious Burkes had left the paddle lying on the coffee table where it was discarded after the delivery of his punishment but Neal was prepared to entertain any scenario that didn't involve him on the receiving end of a sound hiding.

"Morning Neal."

The young con startled once again, this time at the sound of his partner's voice. He stumbled to formulate a response to the older man's greeting. "H-Hello…P-Peter."

The agent had been heading towards the kitchen but upon hearing the uncertainty in his young partner's voice turned back and inquired, "You okay?"

"Y'eh, I'm uh," If this was a test to see who would break first, the seasoned con was up to the challenge. Neal pulled himself together and redirected, "I'm good, how about you?"

The agent studied his young charge intensely for a beat before rolling his eyes and resuming his trek to the kitchen. "You want a coffee," Peter called out over his shoulder.

Neal moved with precision speed to cover the paddle back up with the newspaper as soon as Peter's back was turned. "Uh, no thanks, and …shouldn't we be heading off? I'll go get us a coffee when we get to the stakeout. I'm sure Clinton and Dianna will be anxious for the change over."

Peter returned to the living area sporting a steaming mug of coffee. "You sure you're okay?"

Neal responded with the best indignant look he could muster, "Yes, I told you I was fine fifteen seconds ago. Nothing's changed since then."

Peter eased himself down into the arm chair and shrugged, "Something's changed. This is the first time since you came to work for me that you've been anxious to get to the van. Usually you hate the van."

"Usually…yes, usually I hate the van…"

"With a passion," Peter added between sips of coffee.

Neal gave the older man another look before continuing, "I'm just looking forward to getting there so we can get the evidence we need and close the case, and then we can move onto greener pastures. Gotta give me points for the enthusiasm of youth." The young con stood up as he was speaking and made like he was ready to head to the door. "You want me to drive while you drink your coffee?"

"'First off, no, I don't have to give you points for anything," Peter responded casually as he checked his watch, "and secondly, we've got time before we have to meet up with Jones and Dianna, in fact…." Peter reached across and snagged the paper off the table, "On this rare occasion when I don't have to rush out the door, I find myself with enough time to do my cross word."

Neal stumbled back onto, rather than sat back on the couch as the paddle once again made a menacing appearance on the coffee table. He had to remind himself to breathe as he braced himself for the stern lecture that would no doubt precede an ass beating with the heavy piece of pine. Neal dropped his head to avoid eye contact and tried once more to recall what he may have done to warrant a 'good butt kicking.'

As far as he recalled, he hadn't picked any wallets for case related Intel gathering, and for a good reason. It hadn't been that long ago that Peter had made a particularly painful point by whipping each palm six times with a metal ruler while reminding Neal that he had not been given two perfectly good hands just so he could pick pockets.

He hadn't made contact with Alex or any of his other crime super friends that were on Peter's no go list. And as far as he knew, he hadn't broken the curfew June had set after he came down with a bad case of the flu after staying out late three nights in a row in the 'bitter chill of a New York Winter's night'. With the obvious eliminated, what else was there? If he was going to beat Peter at his game, he had to know what he was up against.

Neal stared off into space…and then it hit him. But surely not? There was no way Peter could know…was there? Besides, it had been harmless enough, and it wasn't like it wasn't already stolen property to begin with. It couldn't be called stealing if was already stolen…right?

"So Dianna was saying that it looks like the car dealer from across the street may be heavily involved," Peter didn't bother looking up from his crossword as he proudly inserted another word.

Which was probably just as well for Neal as it gave him time to re-school his features after his mouth dropped open and his eyes all but popped out of his head. "Is, uh, is that right? I guess that uh, kind of make sense as he'd have the means to, uh, import the stolen artifacts."

This time Peter did look up. His young CI never had difficulty formulating a sentence… unless he was up to no good and found himself on the backfoot. "Something I should know about Neal?"

Neal took a moment to consider. There was no way Peter could have found out about  the 'operation' at  Riverside Motors. It was less than three blocks from Junes so it wasn't like his monitoring anklet would trigger any suspicious alerts on Peter's notebook, plus, his involvement had lasted less than five minutes and Mozzie had disabled all the surveillance cameras so there was no chance he'd been caught on camera hot wiring the Jag. Mozzie had called in a favor for an old friend who had been swindled by Riverside Motors and because the deal had been underhanded to begin with, there wasn't anything that could be done through legal channels to get back what had already been paid for. Enter Neal and his little black leather wallet of tools and the sports car was back in the hands of the 'rightful' (a term that was used rather loosely in Mozzie's world), owner in a matter of minutes. "Not that I'm aware of." Neal tried to bring back the cocky Caffrey charm but the agent saw right through it.

Peter eyed his young charge suspiciously while taking a long, thoughtful sip of his coffee. "Anyway," he continued, "according to Dianna, looks like the car dealer has come unstuck because he didn't know about the hidden surveillance camera we had planted on the billboard across the street. He thought he had a free reign after their regular cameras were ' inadvertently' destroyed by vandals late last week."

"You h-had more planted?" Neal tried to suck in air but it felt like a bench press had been dropped on his chest making the simple act of breathing feel like an impossible task.

"Yes, we had the advance team plant a number of cameras in several places around the block."

"You…you didn't tell me."

Peter raised his eyebrows casually to indicate the answer was self explanatory. "Why would I? You're not ever involved in that part of the operation."

"Yeah," Neal had to agree, "but still, it's only good manners to fill you partner in as much as possible."

"Okay Neal," Peter sighed and spoke as if placating a five year old, "from now on, I'll fill you in on all the mundane facets of our operations…but I don't want to hear any whining from you that it's boring you to tears."

"Thank you Peter, and no, you won't hear any 'whining' from me. The opposite in fact - It'll be good to know I'm appreciated as one of the team for a change."

Peter rolled his eyes and simply ignored the theatrics. "Speaking of being part of the team…have you got your lock-pick kit with you?"

Neal sprung to his feet, no longer able to disguise his concerns, "Why? What does it matter if I do? It's a legal lock kit pick. You approved of it yourself? It's not a crime to carry it around!"

"Nor is it a crime to use it to pick locks if we have a warrant…which we do….Neal," Peter also climbed to his feet but his stance was a lot more intimidating than the young cons…"What's going on?"

Neal waved his arm casually, while reminding himself that he'd been challenged with far greater tests in the past and come out victor so this little show Peter had devised this morning should simply be a walk in the park as far as his superior talents were concerned. "Nothing…As far as I know we're going to take over from Dianna and Jones. They've got some evidence that the car dealer is involved. Our job is to find out if that's true and then we're going to make some arrests… Anything I missed Peter?"

"Nope, except for the part where you pick the locks on the luxury car."

Neal wiped his sweaty palms down the front of his trouser legs. How did Peter know? How could he possibly know? But somehow…somehow, he'd found out, which is why he'd strategically placed the paddle on the coffee table to elicit a confession. Well…he was Neal Caffrey, the greatest con NYC had ever seen and it was going to take more than one seasoned FBI agent with a gut that the CIA would pay good money for if they knew about it, and more than one wickedly painful paddle, to break him. "What locks?"

"Neal…?" Peter drawled out the name like only he could and the young man felt victory slip through his fingers and spill with defeat all over El's stylish berber rug .

"Fine!" The con caved like a mother trying to say no to her sick child. "Fine Peter, yes I did it, yes it was stupid, yes I should have known better and exhibit greater impulse control and yes, I need to say no when it means I'm back in prison for good if I get caught!" Neal pointed at the paddle with a rather dramatic finger, "But no, for this particular offence, I don't think I deserve any more than twelve whacks."

Peter tilted his head while trying to make sense of the young man's ramblings.

"Okay, whatever!" Neal huffed as he stepped over to the kitchen table. "Fifteen, that's all I've earned myself for my foolishness and I know you're going to have to agree with me on that!" And with that final, demanding statement, the young con bent himself across the table and folded his head into his arms.

Peter tried to get his head around what had just happened and looked down at the presented backside clearing expecting to be punished. He would have asked for clarification but it was unlikely he'd get any more sense out of his worked up partner. Besides, it appeared that Neal had already worked out the finer details all on his own. Fifteen swats. Peter shrugged, picked up the paddle and moved over to the side of the young con. Without further delay, he pulled back his arm and whacked his trouble prone partner firmly across the middle of his backside. Neal winced but made no move to push himself back off the table. The younger man knew it was in his best interest to stay – getting up in the middle of a paddling would eventuate in Peter taking him across his knee for a bare bottom paddling – something he tried desperately to avoid at all costs. The agent swung his arm powerfully, delivering searing swats painfully upon his CI's rear end. By the time he got to the fifth, he could hear Neal cursing softly under his breath – "fuck…fuck….FUCK!"

"Neal," Peter warned, "Do I need to wash your mouth out before I proceed?"

"N-no s-sir," Neal ground out before squeezing his lips tight and settling for grunting and squealing in lieu of the curse words.

Peter pulled back his arm and delivered a half dozen searing whacks to the back of the younger man's thighs. Neal hated being smacked across the back of his legs, which is why Peter did it in the hopes it would make more of an impression if the young con was reminded of his misdemeanors every time he sat down for the next day or two. Peter finished off the punishment with a number of powerful swats to the sensitive under curve before finally patting the younger man twice on the back, signaling the end of the thrashing.

Neal wiped the corners of his eyes on his shirt before gingerly standing up and turning to face the older man. "I'm…sorry Peter. I know it was stupid and I won't do it again."

"Okay, bud, I know you'll try your best." Peter placed the paddle back on the coffee table while suggesting, "Why don't you go upstairs and straighten up? We'll head off as soon as you're ready."

On the way up, Neal passed Elizabeth heading down. She'd no doubt heard the spanking being dished out, but even if she hadn't, Neal's post paddling shuffle was a dead giveaway. "You okay sweetie?"

El pulled her boy in for a motherly embrace knowing the answer would be one of polite non-disclosure. "Yeah…I'm good…I'm just going…" Neal pointed up towards the bathroom.

"Sure sweetie," El released her hold and stepped to the side, "take your time." She watched the young man step up to the landing, wincing herself at how painful each step looked before continuing on down to where her husband was standing in the middle of the living room, staring down at the coffee table and its interesting centerpiece.

El wrapped both arms around her husband, "What did he do this time?"

"Honestly," Peter raised an eyebrow while contemplating an answer, "Honestly El, I have no idea."

El now appeared as confused as her husband. "Huh?"

"El, I think this is one of those times that Neal surpassed even my ability to work him out so I'm not even going to try."

"Okay then," El shrugged, secure in the knowledge that her husband always had Neal's best interest at heart. As she pulled out of the hug, the young woman indicated the paddle on the coffee table, "You should stick that back in the drawer, you left it out last night. Speaking of which…what were you doing with it out in the first place?"

"Oh…" Peter thought back, "I stayed up catching up on some files late while watching a game and I went to sign some reports and needed something solid to rest on so I got the paddle from the sideboard…It made a perfect lap table."

"Is that right?" El didn't appear nearly as impressed as her husband. "I'll pack 'the table' away for you now that you've finished with it?"

El moved to collect the object of interest off the table, but Peter held back her arm, "No…" Peter's eyes sparkled like they did when he just cracked a case, "I think I'm going to leave it there for a little while, you never know what might come to light with my…" The agent pointed up the stairs while conjuring up an appropriate adjective.

"With your wayward 'son'?"

"Mmm," Peter pouted and narrowed his eyes at his wife's choice of words. "I was going to say my frustratingly impulsive, non-compliant insubordinate ex-con partner."

El tipped her chin up and smirked. As she made her way to the kitchen she threw over her shoulder, "Mine was better!"

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