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White Collar Fic -Meme Fill (tag to "I'll Be Home for Christmas")
Vital Signs
It has been forever since I last posted a meme fill. Apologies to the lovely kanarek13 who has been waiting patiently (if she didn't forget her request entirely), for a tag to one of my whitecollarhc advent fics, I'll Be Home for Christmas. She asked for "a tiny timestamp, just one lovely scene of Neal spending Christmas with Peter and El," and I ended up writing ~3900 words (the original fic was about 2900). Oh, well. This fic will work better if you read the first one - much of it may stand on its own, but the first story sets the stage and there are definitely callbacks to it in this one. I had at least one more scene for this in my mind, but then the ending sort of wrote itself and I decided to just go with it. Takes place sometime in Season 2 (post-Fowler, pre-treasure). Sorry it took so long, kanarek13 my friend, and I hope you like it.

“Hon?” Elizabeth Burke said quietly.

“He’s out again,” Peter replied, looking up from where he was standing next to the couch on which his CI (and partner) was currently lying.

Thankfully Neal had been too tired and sore to put up much of a fight. He’d pointed out – again – that it wasn’t right that Peter and Elizabeth had left their family holiday to come home and take care of him. But he was clearly a hair’s breadth from falling asleep, and between that and the pain medication they’d given him at the hospital, he’d had no chance, especially not in the face of the force of nature that was Elizabeth Burke on a mission. For this Peter was glad, as he’d hoped not to have to remind Neal that he was short one anklet and therefore technically wasn’t allowed to go home by himself. But it hadn’t come to that. Neal had dozed off on the ride home, and after a bit of wrangling to get him out of the car and into the house, they’d installed him on the sofa with a couple of pillows to prop up his bad ankle. Elizabeth had gotten him an ice pack for his head then headed back to the kitchen to put the kettle on, sending Peter upstairs for an extra quilt. Peter had come back down in time to retrieve the ice pack from the floor next to the couch.

“Tea’s ready,” Elizabeth said, setting two mugs on the table and pulling open the refrigerator to grab the milk.

Peter carefully draped the extra bedding over his sleeping consultant and made his way to the kitchen, snagging the sugar bowl from the counter for himself and the honey for Elizabeth.

They met at the table, and Peter paused, just looking at El.

“Hon?” she asked with a hint of a frown.

“Have I told you lately how much I love you?”

The frown was quickly replaced by a smile. “Once or twice, I think,” she replied.

Peter smiled back, then leaned in to drop a kiss on El’s cheek before sitting down at the table. Elizabeth handed him a mug and for a moment they both just sat, sipping their tea and enjoying the calm quiet.

“So,” Elizabeth said several minutes later, “Operation unexpected Christmas in Brooklyn….”

Neal Caffrey woke to a throbbing in his head and something cold and wet nudging his hand. He took a deep breath, and was cautiously opening his eyes, trying to get his bearings, when Elizabeth Burke appeared next to him.

“Satchmo! No!” she said, pushing herself between the sofa where Neal was lying and the Burkes’ yellow Lab and nudging Satch toward his dog bed on the other side of the room. Unfortunately Satch didn’t seem at all interested in a nap, but Neal had to smile when Elizabeth switched tactics and offered him a chew toy instead.

“Did you just bribe your dog to stay away from me?” he asked, working his way up to sitting as she made her way back to over to him.

“Are you criticizing my tactics?”

“Not at all. Go with what works.”

“I hope he didn’t wake you.”

“I don’t think so,” Neal said.

He had a feeling that it was the pressure behind his right eye that was the likelier culprit, but he kept that to himself. Now that he was more fully awake, he was also remembering the events of the past twenty-four hours. The events which had ended with Peter and Elizabeth coming back to New York to babysit Peter’s concussed CI instead of spending the holiday with Elizabeth’s family. Maybe Neal could convince them that he was feeling better…wait…no…that wouldn’t work, would it? Not only would he have to convince both Peter and Elizabeth that he was making a rather miraculous recovery – and he had first-hand experience with how both of the Burkes reacted to being told that Neal was “fine” when they thought otherwise – but there was also the little detail of a broken anklet and the Marshal’s inability (or perhaps unwillingness) to deliver a new one for at least another day. Whether Neal agreed with it or not, he was quite certain that even if he were able to convince Peter and Elizabeth that he was well enough to be left to his own devices, they wouldn’t agree to him waiting out the Marshals in lock-up instead of at their house in Brooklyn. Part of him was immensely grateful for that fact, but another part of him just felt guilty. He didn’t want to spend the next day or two in a prison infirmary, but he also didn’t want to be responsible for ruining the Burkes’ holiday.

Neal sighed. It was probably too late for that. But he could at least try to make himself as unobtrusive as possible. Which meant not blaming Satchmo for waking him up, which might make Elizabeth feel guilty. And which also meant downplaying his discomfort. No need to have her – or Peter – feeling like they had to go out of their way to take care of him.

“Neal!” Elizabeth said, breaking him out of his ruminations. Her tone was just a bit sharp, and he blinked, surprised, but when he looked at her she didn’t look angry.

Cursing his injuries and any lingering effects of the pain medication they’d given him at the hospital for making him more than a little fuzzy-headed, he forced himself to concentrate as best he could and answer in as nonchalant a tone as he could muster.

“Elizabeth?” he said, going for slightly puzzled.

She frowned, but her look was more sad than angry.

“Elizabeth?” he tried again. “What’s wrong?” Neal hated being at less than his best. Reading people, giving them what they wanted, what they needed…that was who he was. Okay…if he were honest with himself he would have to admit that he had found himself letting his guard down a bit more of late, and that he didn’t necessarily want to feel like he was putting on a show for Elizabeth, but he’d disrupted her life more than enough in the past twenty-four hours…

”Neal,” she said…again. Damn it! He’d been lost in his thoughts…again.

“You’re thinking so loud I can almost hear you,” she said gently. Neal thought he might have blushed at that. And he became very interested in the quilt draped over his lap.

The sofa cushion next to him dipped as Elizabeth sat down next to him. “Neal?” she said in that same soft tone. “Look at me? Please?”

She gave him a smile when he raised his eyes to hers. Like he could refuse her.

“I won’t ask you to tell me what’s going on in that brain of yours. But I have a feeling at least part of it has something to do with why you’ve apologized so many times for ‘ruining’ our Christmas.”

Neal could hear the air quotes around the word ruining. He sighed again. It was only the truth. “Elizabeth,” he began, but she cut him off before he could say anything else.

“We had a lovely Christmas Eve with my sister and her family. Dinner was delicious. We exchanged gifts. We popped popcorn and watched ‘It’s a Wonderful Life.’ And we’ve made plans to visit them again in the spring.”

“But El.”

“Neal,” she cut him off again. “Did we plan to come home so soon? No. But that just means that the three of us will have our celebration a little early. And I’ll let you in on a secret. Peter may pretend otherwise, but he’ll never complain about an excuse to avoid my father.”

Neal frowned at that. What?

“Oh, it’s nothing bad. We both get along with our in-laws. But my dad is a psychologist and Peter is always convinced that he’s being analyzed when my parents come for a visit.”

Neal couldn’t help but smile at that revelation, which he would definitely have to tuck away for future use.

Elizabeth smiled back. That was good.

“Now I need you to do something for me,” she said. Even better. Neal was good at doing things for people.

“Of course, Elizabeth. Anything,” he replied.

“I need you to tell me how you’re feeling.”

Wait…what? That was decidedly not fair. And Neal, clearly not up to his usual standards, had walked right into it.

Neal hesitated for a moment, considering his approach. He knew that “I’m fine,” wouldn’t fly, but he didn’t want Elizabeth to worry over him either.

“The truth, Neal,” Elizabeth said before Neal had even started to answer.

“You play dirty, you know that Elizabeth?”

“Go with what works, right?” she said with shrug and a smile. But when Neal continued to hesitate, Elizabeth reached out and took one of his hands in hers.

“Neal, sweetie,” she said.

She kept calling him that. Why did she keep calling him that?

“I know you don’t want to be a bother.”

“You already had to cut your holiday short, Elizabeth. You shouldn’t have to spend your time babysitting your husband’s criminal informant.”

Elizabeth sighed. “How about you try letting me decide what I want to spend my time doing? I understand. I do. And I can try to give you some space, if that’s what you really need. But maybe you can try to let me, let us, take care of you?”

Neal wanted to argue, to say something else to make Elizabeth understand that she didn’t have to look after him. But he was so tired, still, and the throbbing in his head was getting worse, and he honestly didn’t know if he had the mental energy to stand against a truly determined Elizabeth Burke. And if he were honest with himself, there was also a part of him didn’t want to fight, that wanted to feel cared for. He was used to doing things on his own, for the most part, but maybe he could let someone else carry some of the load. Just for a little while. And if that really would make Elizabeth happy, well, who was he to stand in the way?

“I’m still really tired,” Neal finally said. “And my head hurts.”

“Thank you,” Elizabeth replied, and the smile she graced him with in return for those minor revelations made Neal question why he’d been so reluctant to let her in in the first place.

She went into the kitchen and returned a moment later with a glass of water and a pill bottle.

“Do you think you could eat a little something?” she asked. “You’re not supposed to take these on an empty stomach. Speaking of which,” she added with a frown, “how long has it been since you last ate?”

Neal actually had to think about that, which was probably not a good sign. One of the nurses had brought him soup the night before, when she’d realized he’d missed dinner. He’d eventually fallen into a restless, nightmare-plagued sleep, and woken the next morning to find Elizabeth Burke in his hospital room.

“Um…what time is it?” he asked, slightly disturbed that he didn’t know the answer, and reluctant to look Elizabeth in the eye.

“So I’m guessing not since sometime yesterday?”

Neal nodded.

“I’m sorry,” Elizabeth said. “We should have thought of that when we got home.”

“I think I needed the sleep more. And I’m not really that hungry,” Neal said. The last thing he wanted was Elizabeth feeling guilty. Unfortunately his stomach took that moment to let out a grumble, belying his words. “But maybe I could eat a little something,” he added sheepishly.

One small bowl of yogurt with strawberries, a pain pill, and an episode or two of some random home improvement show later, and Neal was drifting back to sleep.

The next time Neal woke up, it was to a hand gently nudging his shoulder.

“Neal, buddy,” Peter Burke’s voice was saying, and Neal blinked his eyes open to see his handler leaning over him.


“Hey,” Peter replied, an apologetic look on his face. “We didn’t want to wake you, but….”

“I’ve had a concussion before, Peter. I get it.”

“Oh, really? Do I want to know?

“Hey! No interrogating me while I’m impaired,” Neal replied, but he was smiling and so was Peter.

“That wouldn’t be very fair, would it?” Peter said, holding up his hands in surrender. “So, how are you feeling?”

Neal found himself actually pausing to think about it. “Better,” he said. And, he realized, it was true.

“Really,” Neal added when Peter didn’t respond. “I’m still sore, but I think that comes with the bruised ribs.”

“And the concussion?” Peter suggested.

“Actually, my head’s doing a lot better.”

“That’s good to hear. How’s the ankle?”

“Not throbbing, which I’ll take as a good sign.”

“You know, this new Neal Caffrey? The one who doesn’t just say ‘fine’ every time I ask how he’s doing? I like him. Maybe I should be interrogating you.”

“Very funny, Peter. Maybe we should ask Elizabeth what she thinks about that idea?”

“Not fair, Caffrey.”

“Pot, meet kettle,” Neal shot back, but there was no heat in his reply, and Peter just shrugged in defeat.

“Fair enough. So…we’ve established that we don’t have to go through the list of symptoms the doctor gave us to watch for?”

“I’m good,” Neal said. “Not ‘fine’,” he added quickly to head off any potential objections, “but nothing out of the ordinary.”

“Hopefully you’re also maybe a little bit hungry?”

Neal wasn’t sure where that sudden change of topic came from. Though, now that he thought about it, something smelled really good in the Burke household.

“Elizabeth’s stew?” he asked.

Peter nodded. “She’s a little worried – it’s Christmas Day and that usually means turkey and stuffing and cranberries, but….”

“It smells delicious,” Neal interrupted. “And it’s not like you were going to be able to run to the store today and pick up Christmas dinner. Besides, I’ve been waiting all week to try this recipe Elizabeth’s so excited about.”

The look on Peter’s face gave Neal pause. Something was up, and Neal had a feeling that if he were one hundred percent, he’d be able to tell what it was. But he was still just enough out of it that he found he didn’t really care. Plus, whatever ruminations he might have been about to engage in were interrupted by Peter telling him that dinner was almost ready, which caused Neal to briefly wonder how long he’d been asleep this time, and asking him if he wanted to wash up a bit first.

Neal was about to say no – he still wasn’t sure he wanted to move from the Burke’s sofa, let alone venture as far as the upstairs bathroom – and so he was a bit surprised when he realized, after a moment’s thought, that yes, he really did want to ‘freshen up.”

“Sounds good,” he said, and he slowly levered himself into a more upright position on the Burke’s sofa, his ribs protesting, but not unbearably so. Peter stepped closer to offer him a hand up. This was when Neal would usually wave him off and say he didn’t need the help. And he was fairly confident that he could have done it on his own, if he’d really needed to. But “not unbearable” and “no problem” weren’t the same thing, and even as part of him wanted to wave Peter off anyway, another part was thinking of Elizabeth’s voice, asking him to let them take care of him, assuring him that they wanted to take care of him.

Letting Peter help him, Neal decided a few moments later when he was leaning heavily on the other man as they made their way up the stairs to the Burke’s bathroom, was a good idea. So was a shower, Neal thought soon after, as he stood under the pulsing spray of water letting the heat and steam ease his sore muscles. He’d just finished toweling off when a knock on the bathroom door signaled Peter’s return. Neal dressed – someone had left another set of clothes, jeans and a sweater instead of the sweats he’d left the hospital in – being careful of his various injuries. It was a challenge with one good ankle and several bruised ribs, but some things he still needed to do on his own. Then he and Peter slowly navigated the stairs back the way they’d come not long before. The enticing aromas coming from the kitchen were even more evident now, and Neal was pleasantly surprised to find that he felt more than a little hungry.

He and Peter had just finished making their way to the table when Elizabeth came out of the kitchen carrying a basket of bread. There was a big bowl of colorful salad on the table.

“Neal!” she said, smiling brightly at him. “How are you feeling? I hope you’re hungry. There’s salad,” she said, gesturing at the table, “and Irish stew, and homemade onion bread.”

“You baked bread?” Neal asked, slightly flabbergasted. Had he been sleeping that long?

Elizabeth smiled at him. “Not quite. It’s a quick bread recipe.”

“Okay. Good. I was beginning to think I might need to ask how long I’d been asleep.”

“I wanted to make something more traditional for Christmas Day dinner,” Elizabeth continued with a frown.

“I’ll tell you what,” Neal interjected. “How about we make a deal? I’ll stop apologizing for ruining your holiday and you won’t apologize for not being able to pull a turkey dinner out of a hat in less than twenty-four hours. All right?”

That suggestion, thankfully, brought the smile back to Elizabeth’s face.

“Deal,” she said.

“Now that we’re all done apologizing, maybe we can eat?” Peter said hopefully. Elizabeth and Neal, who’d been caught up in their own conversation, turned as one to look at him. Elizabeth may have actually giggled (though she would later deny it). Neal coughed into his hand.

“Absolutely, hon,” Elizabeth said.

“I think Satchmo agrees,” Neal added, as Satch had taken that moment to vacate his dog bed and come investigate what all the humans were doing.

A few minutes later, the humans were all seated at the table, passing the salad bowl and the bread basket around, and Satchmo was happily chewing his one of his new “Christmas bones,” some sort of fancy alternative to rawhide that Neal was pretty sure Elizabeth had said had sweet potato in one of the layers (alas, no stew or bread for Satch – too much garlic and onion – but based on the way his tail was thumping, he didn’t seem to mind).

Almost an hour later the dinner dishes had been cleared away, with Neal for once not pushing to help in some way – he was far more tired than he felt he ought to be, considering he’d slept a decent amount of the afternoon away. Peter had just brought three mugs of tea to the table, and he was quickly followed by Elizabeth and a plate of artfully arranged and colorful Christmas cookies.

“I usually make a pumpkin pie, or sometimes pecan,” she said as she set the plate on the table.

“I think our deal extends to dessert as well,” Neal said before she could get any further.

Elizabeth actually ducked her head briefly at that, though she recovered quickly.

“Okay,” she said, “But I’m going to keep holding you to your end. And no spending the night on the couch. I’ve made up the guest room.”

Before Neal could reply, there was a knock at the door.

“I’ll get it, Hon,” Elizabeth said. “Oh, and pour another mug of tea?”

She was smiling, but Peter looked, well, more resigned than anything. He got up with a roll of his eyes and a shake of his head, then looked down at Neal. “You’re welcome,” he said with a smile, before heading back to the kitchen to fetch the requested tea.

Neal heard the sounds of Satchmo padding across the floor, then the door opening.

“Mrs. Suit!” Mozzie said enthusiastically. “And Suit’s Best Friend.”

Wait. What was Mozzie doing here? Neal knew that Moz and Elizabeth had a budding friendship. And this wasn’t the first time his old friend had been at “Casa Suit.” He’d checked the place for bugs during that mess with the corrupt judge who’d been working with Fowler, and had been there when they’d planned their con (or ‘sting,’ as Peter insisted on calling it) against Julian Larssen. And whatever the two of them thought, Neal was well aware that Peter and Mozzie had reached some sort of truce after Kate died, at least in terms of looking after Neal (as if he wasn’t an adult who could take care of himself, thank you very much). But none of that meant that Moz was inclined to pop in for social calls at the Burke home.

Apparently, it turned out, Mozzie was there to compliment Elizabeth Burke on her cookie-baking skills and criticize her husband’s apparently too pedestrian approach to Christmas light arrangement (which Peter rightfully called him out on, given that it was the middle of the afternoon and none of the lights were even on). Strangely, Mozzie didn’t criticize, let alone berate, Peter for having loaned Neal out to Organized Crime. Neal was still a bit fuzzy-headed, but not so much that he didn’t notice and find it odd, but he ultimately decided that no good could come from thinking about it too hard.

Moz was also there, it turned out, to deliver the small pile of gifts that Neal had thankfully already wrapped and stacked neatly on the table in his apartment at June’s. He’d also brought a selection of Oriental teas for Elizabeth and a six-pack of assorted micro-brew beers for Peter, though Neal, even in his somewhat impaired state, strongly suspected that the latter had come out of his own refrigerator. A glance at Peter, and Neal had the feeling that the other man had the same idea. Neither one of them was inclined to say anything though. Instead, Peter just smiled and thanked Moz, and the four of them retired to the living room to open the rest of the gifts. Moz stayed for another cup of tea after that, which somehow segued into a disturbingly high-spirited game of Monopoly. Neal was too tired to pay enough attention to the game and was cleaned out quickly, and Moz appeared oddly reluctant to cheat, at least against Elizabeth, who ended up owning Boardwalk and Park Place, as well as all of the railroads, and gleefully bankrupted first Peter and then Moz.

Partway through the game – after he’d been eliminated, and Peter was hanging on by a thread and accusing Mozzie of foul play even though it was his wife who was taking him to the cleaners, so to speak – Neal found himself watching the proceedings and marveling at the wonderful strangeness of it all. Probably it was the drugs, he told himself as he sat curled up at one end of the sofa absently petting Satchmo. And really, he shouldn’t be reading too much into what Elizabeth had said the day before. But he couldn’t help but think how this had gone from a pretty awful Christmas to one of the best he could recall, in the warm comfort of the Burkes home, sharing the day with his old family and his new one.

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I'm glad! Thanks for commenting!!

Edited at 2015-09-03 05:18 pm (UTC)

ZOMG, you have no idea how insanely happy this makes me !!! Squeeeeee \o/ I have sooooo much love for this, d'awwwww ♥ Poor injured Neal feeling all guilty *melts* And there's really no better team to take care of him than Peter and El :P Especially on Christmas, hee :D

Sweet and warm and fuzzy and absolutely perfect *tacklehugs* Thank you soooo much, I love it \o/

Awww. Your squee has made *me* very happy. :) I'm glad you liked it so much! Sorry it took *ages* to get to your prompt.

*hugs* Believe me, I never mind waiting, especially when it means such epic fill, hee :D

I do so love when Peter and El take care of Neal. Really enjoyed this story.

Great story. I love that Mozzie showed up for a visit and that "Peter looked, well, more resigned than anything". :) I also enjoyed Neal's thoughts on Mozzie's visit especially that he was oddly reluctant to cheat against El.

Lovely story, pushed all my hurt/comfort buttons. The Burkes and Mozzie playing monopoly and Neal watching is a beautiful image to end your story,

Awww... this was great! It was so very Elizabeth to know exactly how to handle Neal, but also Neal to flip it back on her, and make her stop apologizing too!

And hee! "You're welcome" - to tolerating Moz coming over! Perfect.

Awww, this is adorably wonderful! :D

Perfect in every way. Thanks.

This is too adorable for words. Love the deal that Neal and El made. And Moz - perfection. Loved the fic! :D

Aw! I loved all of this: some comfort for Neal from Peter & El, Elizabeth playing dirty for all the right reasons, Mozzie showing up and making himself at home. Perfect holiday fic. :)

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