Fandom: White Collar
Rating: PG for mild violence and reference to injuries, Gen.
Prompt(s): sholio 's prompt: Here.
Summary: Neal spends Christmas in the hospital - twice, then and now.
Disclaimer: Not Mine.
A lot of people assumed Neal had been horribly abused in prison. They usually guessed his good looks and youth would have made him a target. Neal rarely corrected them. No one needed to know that the Caffrey charm worked on inmates, too, or that the prison staff had been attentive to their jobs and didn’t tolerate much violence of any kind. Prison had been more boring than anything else. And it was nice to get some sympathy, since prison had sucked, if not for the reasons everyone had guessed.
He had only one really terrible memory – at least aside from the last time Kate had visited him.
As much as Neal prided himself on being a non-violent man, he was a rarity in prison. Especially in a maximum security prison. So many of Neal’s neighbors had a deep attachment to violence as a lifestyle and hadn’t let incarceration end that. Neal had found it easy, generally, to avoid making enemies. He made himself an uninteresting target. He hadn’t bought or dealt drugs, or been involved in any contraband trade. He didn’t join any gangs, didn’t piss off corrections’ officers…didn’t do anything bad ever. Peter would actually have been quite proud of him, but Neal never told him because the man would want to know why it was so impossibly hard for Neal behave once released. And that was because there was virtually nothing fun to do in prison, short of escaping and aside from short-term amusements which mostly boiled down to pranks. Peter probably wouldn’t understand.
So Neal had been the most boring inmate ever. And he’d been minding his own business when three members of the Aryan Nation tried to kill a black guy standing near Neal in the cafeteria. And while it’d be nice if Neal could claim heroic involvement, he really couldn’t. The three Aryans were two decades older than their intended victim, and one of them weighed about 400 pounds. That was the one elected to do the shanking, and to the utter surprise of no one else, the black inmate took two agile steps back and shoved. Porky the Aryan, arm already swinging, went pinwheeling sideways. In the chaos that followed, Porky ended up on top of Neal, his shiv embedded in Neal’s thigh.
Neal didn’t remember much else, though he liked to believe that he had kicked some Aryan ass somewhere in there. He’d been trying to get out of the way, though, so that seemed unlikely.
Porky not only stabbed Neal dangerously close to his femoral artery, all that weight had done a number on Neal’s knee.
And that was why Neal had spent a week in the hospital. Not the crappy prison clinic, either, because they didn’t have the machines need to look inside Neal’s knee.
And really, it should have been awesome. Out of prison! And even though he’d been planning on serving his sentence, escape was the first word on Neal’s mind once he woke up and determined he was mostly intact.
Mostly being the operative word. His legs hurt, a lot. His right thigh had ugly stitches in it and his left knee had turned unnatural colors. Rather than kicking Porky’s ass, Porky’s ass had definitely been the victor. There wasn’t going to be any escaping, because there wasn’t going to be any walking.
The prison staff member assigned to him also handcuffed him to his gurney. Protocol, but still demeaning and inconvenient. It wasn’t like Neal could run off. Although, he could have rolled off, if the nurses had brought him a wheelchair. But they wouldn’t, evidently preferring bedpan duty.
Neal didn’t prefer it.
He stayed for six days, getting minor comfort that his visit had to be costing the State of New York thousands of dollars. The holiday season meant a lot of the hospital staff were on vacation, and no one was around to read Neal’s test results.
It was a little nice to technically not be spending Christmas in prison, Neal comforted himself. He wasn’t sure that the bedpan situation didn’t cancel that out, though.
Most of the doctors and nurses around on Christmas, unsurprisingly, were Jewish, Muslim, or Hindu. None of them fell for Neal’s suggestion of a ‘Christmas miracle’ regarding his handcuff magically vanishing or Santa bringing him a wheelchair. Changing it to “Hannukah Miracle?” got laughs but nothing else.
The prison guard watching him was a deeply apathetic atheist, with no holiday cheer. He also didn’t like it when Neal started calling him “Officer Scrooge.” He moved his chair as well as his cheer and lack thereof outside of the room after the second day, and Neal couldn’t even be sure he was still there.
The hospital’s Christmas dinner was comparable to the prison’s. Neal checked the label on the tray, realized the same company served both institutions. That, plus the fact that the doctors were weaning him off the pain pills, effectively killed Neal’s efforts to pretend this wasn’t the worse Christmas yet.
The swelling went down on his knee by the 26th, and someone finally read the scans that said the state wasn’t paying for surgery, so Neal had better heal all by himself. That was that, and Neal was back in prison by New Year’s Eve, limping slightly. A smiling nurse gave him a Santa hat to wear as he boarded the prison bus. Neal was handcuffed, though, so he couldn’t even take it off.
Four years to the date that Porky the Aryan had stabbed Neal, Agent Peter Burke used his car as a speed bump in a high speed chase after three bank robbers who had just graduated from quiet embezzling to taking the money directly while holding guns. He crashed his car into theirs, on purpose, which would have been fine except Neal was in the passenger seat when he did it.
The last thing Neal saw was the car’s fender coming head on, followed by the white and red explosion of the passenger side airbag.
Neal woke up in the hospital, his entire body buzzing from pain and morphine. He turned his head, instantly discovered that was a bad, bad idea. Neal held still, locating Peter with only his eyes.
“Oh,” he said. “It’s okay…I wasn’t using my face, anyway.”
Peter moved closer to his bedside, pretending like he didn’t appreciate Neal’s humor.
“You are okay,” he said, firmly.
Neal tried to tilt his head back wanly, startled himself by moaning with how much that hurt. “Really don’t feel okay,” he said, honestly.
“That’s the concussion,” Peter said. “You hit your head.”
“I’m pretty sure you’re the one that got us hit head on,” Neal retorted, petulantly.
“I did,” Peter said. “We caught the bad guys, by the way.”
“Yay,” Neal said, flatly. He frowned at Peter. “How come you aren’t hurt?”
Peter turned sideways and pulled his suit jacket open, revealing his right arm in a blue plastic sling.
“Because they hit on your side,” Peter said. “And I am sorry. I wasn’t trying to do that.”
Neal ignored him, tentatively raising one hand – the one without the IV and pulse-ox – to touch his face.
Peter batted his hand down. “Don’t.”
“I need my face, Peter. For legal purposes.”
“Your face is fine. You had a couple cuts along your hairline. A plastic surgeon sewed them up. You can’t even see them.”
“A plastic surgeon?”
“On the FBI’s dime.”
Neal would have laughed, but it probably would have hurt. His head hurt the most, but there was also an all over soreness. “Why?” he asked.
“I didn’t want to listen to the whining,” Peter said. “Or have you turn in to some mutilated super villain.”
“Thanks,” Neal said. “I think.”
“I’m going to get the doctor.” Peter moved to the door.
Peter only got the doctor so it was a medical professional rather than a law enforcement officer who told Neal he’d be spending the next couple of days in the hospital under observation. Maybe Peter hoped Neal would be more obedient hearing it from the doctor, who told Neal that they had to monitor his head injury because it was about as bad as it felt.
“Okay,” Neal said, causing Peter to look suspicious.
“He’s not usually this cooperative,” Peter said.
“I just pushed the morphine,” the doctor said, and Neal fell asleep.
A day or so later, Neal felt a lot better. Still sore – especially his head – and unusually tired. Also unusually cranky, which the doctors attributed to the concussion and Neal attributed to having been in a head-on collision.
That was also the day he realized his anklet was missing.
“They cut it off,” Peter said, when he noticed Neal was staring at his own feet, two equal sized lumps under the sheets. “When you were brought in.”
“That’s why you haven’t gone home yet,” Neal realized.
Peter smirked, while Neal quietly moved his hands out of sight before the man got ideas about using his cuffs.
“You couldn’t run now if you tried,” Peter told him. “I’d like to see you try. In fact, I’d film it for one of those “America’s Stupidest Criminals” shows. Watch the concussed conman try to stand up and find his way out of the hospital.”
“I can stand up,” Neal said, since he could. The first few days had been iffy and Peter had had to help him lurch to the bathroom. “Are you also going to submit the video of your idea of how to catch bank robbers to “America’s Stupidest FBI Agents” show?”
“That’s not a real show,” Peter said.
El came to visit the next day. Neal slept through her arrival and when he woke up, the room was abruptly sparkly. She’d set up a miniature Christmas tree at the foot of his bed, and decorated it with lights and ornaments.
“I thought you went to your sister’s for Christmas,” Neal said, after she hugged him hello.
“I came back,” El said. “After the accident, as soon as I could. Of course I did.”
She looked at him gingerly and Neal abruptly wondered what his face really looked like.
“Technically, it’s not an accident if you do it on purpose,” Neal said.
“She already yelled,” Peter said, from his chair on the other side of Neal’s bed. “A lot.”
“Probably not done,” El said, a little sharply.
Peter slumped back down in his chair, pretending to watch some game on the TV, on mute.
“Am I hideously scarred?” Neal asked El. “Peter won’t tell me because I’ve been known to use my good looks for –”
“Evil,” interrupted Peter.
“Criminal purposes,” Neal finished.
“No, Neal,” El said, earnestly. “Not scarred. But you do have two big black eyes.” She turned to Peter.
“I told him no scars. Plastic surgeon,” Peter mumbled.
El patted Neal’s shoulder. “You just look like you lost a fight,” she said.
“I don’t even fight,” Neal said. “I run!”
“We know,” said Peter.
Peter had slept in Neal’s room since his admission to the hospital, but now that El was back, Neal expected him to cede guard duty to Jones and go home. Peter’s own dislocated shoulder and bruises didn’t warrant hospitalization.
“Shouldn’t you be driving to your sister-in-law’s for Christmas?” Neal asked him, as Peter bedded down in the chair after turning off the Christmas tree lights.
“We cancelled. Work emergency,” Peter said, trying to get comfortable.
That night, at 5am, Mozzie snuck into Neal’s room. Silently, Mozzie waved. He wore scrubs and was pushing a wheel chair. Neal grinned at him and slid out of bed.
Once they were out of Neal’s room, leaving Peter slumbering in the chair, Mozzie spoke. “You may have to develop actual professional skills now that the Suit has ruined your face.”
“Hardy har har,” Neal said. “Let’s go.”
“Where to?” Mozzie asked.
“I heard they have a Christmas tree display in the children’s wing,” Neal said. “There.”
“You want to stay-”
“I actually have a really bad concussion, Moz. I have to stay in the hospital.”
“And El is bringing Christmas dinner tonight. I’m not going to miss that.”
“Oh,” Mozzie said again, sounding interested.
“But I would like Peter to believe that I escaped. He challenged me, earlier.”
Mozzie wheeled Neal towards the elevator. “How many place settings is Mrs. Suit bringing?” he asked, idly.
“You can call her and ask,” Neal suggested.
“Before or after the Suit wakes up?”
“Doesn’t matter,” Neal said. “She won’t rat us out.”
The elevator doors opened and Mozzie pushed Neal out into the lobby of the children’s wing, which was filled with a dozen decorated Christmas trees.
“Christmas in the hospital with the Suits,” Mozzie muttered to himself
“Yep,” Neal agreed. “Mozzie, think you can find a Santa suit? And some pillows?”
“And some sunglasses,” Mozzie added.
“To hide your black eyes,” Mozzie said. “I assume you want the Suit to try to arrest Santa in front of the kids?”
“That’s exactly what I want.”
Mozzie swiped a Santa hat off a passing nurse. “Here’s the hat, I’ll be right back with everything else.”
“Thanks,” Neal said, gingerly setting the hat on his head. He wheeled himself under the shiniest tree to wait for what was going to be a very interesting Christmas.