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White Collar Fic - I'll Be Home for Christmas
Neal-Prison
doctor_fangeek
Title: I'll Be Home for Christmas
Rating: PG
Characters/Pairing: Neal, Peter, Elizabeth
Length: ~2900
Spoilers: None really, unless you are way behind (brief mention of some Season 1 and Season 2 events)
Warnings: None
Summary: This was not the way Neal Caffrey planned on spending Christmas Eve.  And it was just a little too close to another Christmas Eve from his past for comfort.

AN: My entry for the whitecollarhc Advent.  I actually started writing this story, or at least conceived of it and wrote maybe a paragraph, some time ago, inspired by a prompt on one of the White Collar LJ communities.  That paragraph, by the way, did not end up in the version of the story I ended up writing for this fest.  Big thanks to my good friend ivorysilk, who brainstormed some of the plot elements with me and then read the draft I sent her just yesterday and gave me some really helpful feedback.

Neal Caffrey grimaced and set his cup down. Who knew that the coffee on the 18th floor would be even worse than the usual fare upstairs in White Collar? And to think that he’d been annoyed this morning when he’d been sent on a coffee run. He’d held his tongue and not pointed out that they had probies for that, deciding that it probably wasn’t worth it to test the hospitality of the Organized Crime division, especially first thing in the morning (and even if Ruiz was out of the office for the day). But after spending all morning and the first part of the afternoon stuck at a desk digging through piles of financial statements and investigation reports, Neal was more than ready for a break. He was not having a good day. It was bad enough he had to work on Christmas Eve. He’d put up a token protest when Peter had let him know, but while the two of them had, if anything, grown even closer in the past few months, Neal knew that he was still on shaky ground after the mess with Fowler. And to Peter’s credit, he hadn’t played the, “It could be worse, you could be in prison” card. Then Neal had found out that not only did he have to work on Christmas Eve, but what with things being slow in White Collar, Peter, Diana and even Jones all having the couple of days before Christmas off, and a request coming in for Neal’s services, he was going to be working down in Organized Crime.

Neal sighed heavily and scrubbed at his face with one hand. A headache was building behind his right eye and he massaged his temple. Then he looked at his watch and wondered what the chances were that he would be allowed to leave even a little bit early. Agent McIntyre – his temporary handler – wasn’t so bad. He didn’t look at Neal with contempt, or give him any variation of the “you’re a tool in my belt” speech. He didn’t invite Neal to the division’s Christmas lunch either, but he did have one of the probies bring a plate of food to the desk Neal had been assigned to for the day. He was just typical, “by the book” FBI. And Neal was a CI, and it was his job to sit at his desk and dig through the files he’d been given. About half an hour later, Neal was confident he’d found the connection between the guns and the money and the art. About an hour after that he’d found enough of a trail to satisfy Agent McIntyre. Maybe forty-five minutes after that, he’d finished writing up the report on his findings. And about fifteen minutes later McIntyre magnanimously decided to let everyone – including Neal – leave “early.” It was four in the afternoon.

Still, beggars couldn’t be choosers, and at least it was early enough that Neal’s preferred neighborhood coffee shop was still open. After a cup of very good coffee and some equally excellent strudel stuffed with apples, pears and cranberries, Neal was feeling quite a bit better. It was a clear night, and not too cold, as Neal set off to run one last errand before going home. He was mentally reviewing the list of supplies he needed to pick up. Moz was in town and Neal had promised to make his “special recipe” eggnog. And okay, if he was honest with himself, he was maybe hoping to bring some over to Peter and Elizabeth’s when they got back from visiting her family in Connecticut. If he just happened to make too much, he might as well share it, right? Neal smiled as he walked, glad to be able to put the less than pleasant part of this day behind him.

One patch of ice, a squeal of brakes, and the sudden, sickening “thump” of impact later, and Neal found himself regretting that thought. He also found himself lying on the ground, trying to clear his head. There was a voice, asking if he was okay, and someone standing over him, he thought, but everything was kind of fuzzy at the moment.

Neal was somewhat more coherent by the time the ambulance arrived, and answered the EMT’s questions as best he could, but his head hurt and it was hard to concentrate. And unfortunately the process required him to catalog his various aches and pains, which he wasn't sure didn’t include just about his whole body at the moment. Then they loaded him into the ambulance and stuck something in his arm, and the next thing he was really aware of was arriving at the hospital.

There was some waiting. And a long list of questions. And more waiting. Neal had no idea how long he’d been at the hospital, but he’d made it as far as sitting on a table in an exam room dressed only in a hospital gown when the marshals – two of them – arrived. They had matching dour looks on their faces, and Neal found himself wondering if they ever smiled, but only for a moment. Then he found himself marveling at his doctor – all five foot three or so of her – as she deftly took charge of the situation. Yes, they could come in and determine that the man they were looking for was in her exam room. No, she could assure them that it was highly unlikely that his tracking anklet had been tampered with, and that whatever malfunction they had been seeing was very likely due to the fact that he’d been hit by a car (and it wasn’t until then that Neal actually realized there was a problem, looking down to see that his anklet apparently couldn’t decide if he was in his radius or not, at least based on the alternating red and green lights). Yes, it would be most helpful if they would please remove said anklet so that she could get a proper look at Mr. Caffrey’s leg. After which they were welcome to wait in the hallway while she examined her patient.

“Thanks,” Neal said, genuinely grateful and lacking the energy to offer up anything more than a tired smile.

“I’m just doing my job.”

“Still, I appreciate it. I’m not sure I was up to dealing with them just yet.”

“I’m fairly certain you weren’t,” the doctor replied, with a sympathetic smile. “Wait,” she added after a short pause. “You didn’t disable your electronic monitoring device and then get yourself hit by a car to cover it up, did you?”

“You found me out!” Neal said with a grin, the banter providing a welcome, if short-lived, distraction.

And it was regrettably short-lived. The diagnosis – a sprained ankle, bruised ribs, and a moderate concussion – would usually mean keeping him overnight for observation. Except for the fact that it was Christmas Eve, which would usually mean sending him home as long as there was someone to keep an eye on him for the night. But with Peter out of town, and the tracking anklet out of commission, that wasn’t really an option. The Marshals went through the motions of calling Neal’s temporary handler. The call went to voicemail, but it wasn’t as if Agent McIntyre was going to offer to take him in. And as a ward of the state, Neal couldn’t sign himself out either. Though even if he could have, there was still the malfunctioning anklet issue. Neal probably would have been even more frustrated by the whole situation, if he weren’t so sore and tired. But in the end there was pretty much no choice but to admit him, and so Neal found himself stuck in the hospital. On Christmas Eve. And to top it all off, after the Marshals determined that they would not be able to get a new anklet delivered until probably the day after Christmas, they declared him a flight risk and handcuffed him to the bed.

So much for putting the bad part of the day behind him. And what had Peter said before he’d left, after he’d assured Neal that he wouldn’t have to work with Ruiz? “I know it’s still Organized Crime, but they just need you to look through some files. What could go wrong? I bet you’ll solve the case before the day is over. And El and I will see you when we get back from her sister’s. I know she’s looking forward to trying out her new stew recipe on you.”

“What could go wrong?” Famous last words, Neal thought as he tried, only marginally successfully, to find a more comfortable position. Then again, it could be worse. When the nurse who’d come to check on him and give him his pain medication found out that he’d missed dinner – the unfortunate consequence of arriving at the emergency room just before 5pm – she’d gone to the cafeteria and returned with some surprisingly good chicken noodle soup. And as frustrating as it was being at the mercy of the U.S. Marshals and their ability (or perhaps willingness) to get a replacement tracking anklet, there was still light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. There would be a new anklet, and Peter would be back in town, and the time-frame for both of those things was days. And Neal knew all too well about “worse,” especially since this was not, in fact, the first time he’d been stuck in the hospital on Christmas Eve, or even the first time he’d been stuck in the hospital, on Christmas Eve, handcuffed to the bed…


It was the week before Christmas, a couple of months into his third year in prison, and Neal, who was usually extremely healthy, finally caught one of the bugs that was making its way through the inmate population. He tried to deal with it on his own – Kate was due for her weekly visit in a couple of days and it wouldn’t happen if Neal was in the infirmary. Unfortunately, the decision was taken out of his hands when he started not just keeping himself awake with his coughing, but also his neighbors, and Bobby, the night shift guard on Neal’s block, heard one of his more explosive coughing fits and declared that he “didn’t like the sound of that.”

The first night was actually a bit of a relief, since whatever they gave him for his cough knocked him out – it was the best sleep he’d gotten in several days. But by the next afternoon Neal was reminded of just how much he hated the infirmary, which was even more boring than his cell. Being confined to his bed all day and night was already starting to drive him crazy. And on top of that, after another couple of days it became clear that whatever they were giving him wasn’t doing the job. The prison doctor would probably have just tried switching him to a different medication…if it hadn’t been for the whole coughing up blood thing, which got him an express trip to the local hospital. Two days before Christmas.

Under other circumstances the change of scenery would probably have been welcome. While the hospital wasn’t really anyone’s first choice of places to spend Christmas, it wasn’t as if holidays in maximum security were anything to write home about, and a change to the frequently mind-numbing routine of prison was usually a good thing. But Neal had already missed Kate’s regular weekly visit, and now he was pretty sure he was going to miss seeing her on Christmas Eve as well – for all Neal knew, they’d just tell her that he was still sick and she should come back in another week. Instead of thanking her for the books and art supplies and sharing stories of where they would go and what they would do when he got out, he was handcuffed to the bed in a sterile hospital room, alone with his thoughts and his headache and his lingering cough…


So yes, Neal knew, it could be worse. He’d been in that hospital bed through Christmas and a couple of days beyond, missing Kate and knowing that the only thing waiting for him once he was released from the hospital was eight more months in an eight by ten foot cell. Unfortunately, he found that “it could be worse” didn’t really make it that much easier to be alone with his thoughts and his headache and his sore ribs this time around. He eventually fell into a fitful sleep, and dreamed of Kate’s plane exploding and of Mozzie being shot and Peter being kidnapped.

When Neal woke up he was more than a little disoriented, images from his dreams tumbling in his head. He went to rub the sleep from his eyes, only to be brought up short by the handcuff chain. “Oh, right,” he thought. “Accident, hospital, Marshals.” And then there was a gentle hand on his arm, which didn’t make any sense.

“Neal, sweetie, are you okay?” a voice that sounded just like Elizabeth Burke said. But that didn’t make sense either. Neal opened his eyes, turning his head toward the voice to find Elizabeth sitting on the chair next to his bed.

“Elizabeth? But…you’re in Connecticut,” Neal blurted. Not his most articulate moment, but between the restless night and the pain medication things were kind of fuzzy.

Elizabeth smiled at him. “Apparently not,” she said.

“Peter?” Neal was struggling to process this unexpected development.

“Getting coffee.”

“But,” Neal started. He paused, gathered his thoughts as best he could, and started again. “How did you even know I was here? I’m pretty sure the Marshals didn’t call Peter.”

“No, they didn’t. And they certainly heard about that.”

“What?” Neal felt like he was a step behind in this conversation.

“Why don’t I start at the beginning?” Elizabeth replied, and proceeded to explain how Peter had called Neal the night before to see how he was doing, only to have the call to Neal’s cell go to voicemail. When the same thing happened the next two times, he’d tried June – no luck, as she was at her daughter’s. Then he’d had Elizabeth get Mozzie on the phone – he hadn’t seen Neal, and proceeded to berate Peter for letting some “Mob Chasing Suit” keep Neal at work all night.

“Peter eventually got someone from the Marshal’s office on the phone who could tell him what had happened. And he was not a happy person, especially when he found out that the agent in charge from Organized Crime left him a voicemail update. On his office line.”

Neal shrugged. “I’m a CI. And I’m not even his CI. What was he supposed to do?”

“Oh, sweetie,” Elizabeth said, looking at him with a strange mixture of sadness and affection that Neal didn’t want to think too hard about.

“What he wasn’t supposed to do was just dump you off on the Marshals and not even try to reach me.” Apparently Peter had returned from his coffee run and overheard the last part of their conversation.

Peter crossed the room and leaned down to give Elizabeth a peck on the cheek and hand her a Starbuck’s cup, then turned to Neal.

“How are you feeling? Ready to get out of here?”

“What?” Neal said, feeling lost again. Peter seemed to be waiting for more of an answer, so Neal made an attempt. “The doctor wanted to keep me for observation,” he said. “And the Marshals said they won’t have a new anklet until at least tomorrow.” He pulled on the cuff tethering him to the bed for emphasis.

“Then it’s a good thing someone here is a Federal agent willing to take custody of you,” Peter replied, a hint of a smile on his face. “And your doctor says you’re doing fine. Well, as ‘fine’ as you can be given the concussion and the bruised ribs. She’d still prefer that you have someone to keep an eye on you for another day. But seeing as you’ll be in my custody, I think we’ve got that covered.”

Neal frowned.

“Neal?” That was Elizabeth, looking concerned.

“McIntyre was right not to call Peter. You shouldn’t have had to leave your family because of me.” Neal sighed. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s not like you went out and got hit by a car on purpose,” Peter replied, sounding a little frustrated.

Elizabeth shot her husband a look, then turned her attention back to Neal.

“What he means is, it’s not your fault. You’re family too, and no one should be stuck in the hospital on Christmas if they don’t have to be. My sister understands. So how about we get a nurse in here so we can get you discharged and get you home?”

Home. Neal hadn’t had anywhere he really thought of as home in a long time. He didn’t want to read too much into Elizabeth’s words, nor did he think he was ready to look too hard at his gut reaction to them, but he had a feeling that Peter and Elizabeth were waiting for some sort of response from him.

“I don’t know what to say,” was what came out, and while it was vague enough, Neal thought, it was also the truth.

“How about, ‘Yes, Elizabeth, I’m ready to go,” Peter said. Neal looked at him, and seeing only fond amusement on his face decided to just go with it.

“Yes, Elizabeth, I’m ready,” he said. “Let’s go home.”


Awwwww ♥ *smishes them* What a wonderful story \o/ I just love sad!Neal getting the comfort and love he deserves. Awww... it's just perfect. Thank you \o/

I'm a bit behind replying to comments as I posted my fic maybe an hour before I hit the road for a New Year's Eve gathering with a bunch of college friends.

Anyway, thanks so much for your comment. Poor sad!Neal, but yes, he is on his way to some good comfort in the end. Glad you liked the fic.

Aw, Neal! I love that the temporary handler wasn't a bad guy, he just wasn't Peter. And seeing Neal's sad resignation about being stuck at the hospital give way to the unexpected happiness of Peter and El coming to get him was great.

As I was talking through some of the details of this fic, I decided that the temporary handler could (and maybe should) be just a regular agent - it's not that he has a problem with Neal, but he's not going to go out of his way for him either. I'm glad that that seems to have worked for people, and I really appreciate the specific feedback on things you liked.

Thanks!

This was a very cute fic!!! Thanks soo much for sharing with us, and I hope that you will write for wc_women_fest's ficlet challenge that starts in TWO days!

Thanks for stopping by and for leaving a comment. Glad you liked the story.

Aww... poor Neal! His recollections of past Xmas in prison and his resigned loneliness were very poignant. Also I liked that you made the OC agent not mean, just not his buddy like Peter is.

Poignant is good - glad the resignation and loneliness were effective. Thanks for commenting!

This was wonderful. Just realized that my comment from yesterday didn't load. >.< So I don't have any specific feedback, because I don't have time to re-read/skim right now, but really, I loved this. :hugs Neal:

Hmm...disappearing comment...bad LJ.

Thanks for taking the time to stop by again.

Aww glad Peter and El made it back in time

This was great! i love that the agent wasn't a bad guy, just not all buddy-buddy like Peter is - and the flashback to the Christmas in hospital he spent while in jail was poignant too. Especially with the nightmares that followed it *hugs Neal*. I also love Neal's confusion when he wakes up to find Elizabeth is there!

Lovely fic! :)

So glad that you (and others) liked the characterization of the OC and found aspects of the story poignant. Thanks for the feedback!

I really loved it! Poor Neal, nobody is supposed to spent Christmas time alone and especially not handcuffed to a hospital bed! (I've wrote quite a similar piece, maybe you want to check it out; it's on my LJ). I'm glad that Peter and El came back, even if they didn't have to since the other agent was already around. It shows how much they care about Neal. Well done!

Thanks! I'm not sure if I've read yours - I'll have to check it out (though LJ is being slow & difficult today).

Edited at 2013-01-02 07:28 pm (UTC)

Oh that was a sweet story. Love that Peter & El came home to take care of Neal.

Thanks for commenting! Neal needed some taking care of, didn't he? Glad you enjoyed the story.

Poor Neal. I like it that he takes the 'it could be worse' approach for every new thing that pops up, and that there's really no one to blame.

One of the things I really thought about when I was working on this was what the temporary handler would be like, and how it might be good if he wasn't a villain.

Thanks for commenting!

I liked Neal's doctor. Sadly, we didn't see too much of her. Kinda reminds me of Miranda Bailey from Grey's Anatomy.
D'awww, Neal! Don't you know they aren't bothered by it?

Alas, she was just a bit player in this particular story, but I'm glad you liked the character. I liked her too. :-)

Thanks for commenting.

ouch. and awwww, so sweet. i love peter and el all protective of neal. it's like touching home base.

Thanks for commenting. Go, Peter & El! :-)

Just came across this, and really loved it. A nice h/c fic without going to the extreme. And as some comments pointed out, McIntrye wasn't a bad guy - he just wasn't used to dealing with a CI and it was Christmas Eve, so you really can't blame the guy. But of course Peter and El would see it differently. ;-) Very sweet and I liked how Neal dealt with it all.

Glad you stumbled on this fic, and really glad you liked it so much. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

Dealing with the OC was one of the issues when I was working out the storyline, and I think making him not a bad guy worked well.

Love this one!

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