nefhiriel: (WC - Con Man)
[personal profile] nefhiriel
This story was written in response to [livejournal.com profile] tj_teejay's prompt over at [livejournal.com profile] collarcorner.

Prompt: Peter is away for a few days (business trip, family emergency, ...) and El gets injured or sick or otherwise into a situation where she needs help. Neal to the rescue! Bonus points if you work in Satchmo as well. Mozzie's involvement would be welcome too.

To simplify things this story operates under the assumption that, even though it’s not officially within his radius, Neal's been cleared to visit the Burke's house because he's constantly winding up there, anyway. I hope you don't mind my blatant borrowing of the idea from you, [livejournal.com profile] kriadydragon. *bows to your genius* ;)

This is the first WC fic I've ever posted, so... Mercy, plz? :3

***

Elizabeth watched Neal hurry around to her side of the taxi to get the door open for her.

“Neal, this is really sweet of you...” she started to say.

“Here—why don't you just lean on me. It'll be easier getting up the stairs. I'll come back for the crutches.” Telling the cab driver to hold on a minute, he held out his arm for her.

She took it, using the leverage to pull herself up as she maneuvered her right leg—unwieldy ankle cast and all—out of the car.

This small feat accomplished, Neal kicked the door shut behind her. He was smiling gallantly, as pleasantly as if this were a gala and Elizabeth the queen of the event—instead of what she really was: the frazzled, bruised klutz who'd tripped on the edge of a rug and plummeted a full flight of stairs.

In her own defense, it was easily done in high-heels.

Not that Neal was scolding her. He'd arrived at the ER faster than El had thought possible—before she was ready to go, in fact. He'd listened to the doctor's instructions. He'd assured Elizabeth it had been no trouble for him to come. He'd asked her several times if she wanted him to call Peter. She hadn't, because Peter had been working himself into a state of exhaustion lately, and this extended weekend off with a few of his old college buddies had been her idea. What was worse, Peter hadn't even been gone a full day yet. She wanted him back Sunday night, rested and returned to a semblance of himself, not home within the hour, out of breath and concerned about her.

It was just a broken ankle, anyway. Truth be told, it was her pride that was still stinging the most—even if her client, a witness to the tumble (much to Elizabeth's further chagrin), was entirely sympathetic and understanding of the unforeseen accident.

“You okay?” Neal asked as they made their way to the door.

“Yeah... Yeah, I'm fine.” Elizabeth shook herself from her introspection. “You know, I'm good from here on, really. I'm sure you've got Hughes breathing down your neck for leaving so abruptly. I would've called my friend Samantha but she's—”

“—El,” Neal interrupted, tone good-humored, patient, “it's five o'clock on a Friday night. When I told Hughes that you were in the ER with a broken ankle he told me to 'get out of here,' and that Jones would be picking me up bright and early on Monday morning. He didn't even mention sending a keeper with to make sure I wasn't making the whole thing up.”

“As if you'd do that,” El teased. The steps were proving awkward indeed, even with Neal's support. At the door, Elizabeth wrestled with her purse. The fact that she still had her purse was a small triumph. After all, she'd had plenty of opportunity to lose it during the blur of events from Scene of the Fall, to ER, to taxi, and now, finally, home.

But, with one hand busy wrapped around Neal's neck, the successful retrieval of her keys from her purse was proving too much.

“Here, Neal—could you get the keys out? Just unzip the side pocket, there.” She held out her purse expectantly.

Neal looked blank at the suggestion. “You want me to go in your purse?”

“Neal, honey,” Elizabeth pointed out with gentle humor, “you and I both know that if you'd wanted to loot my purse you could've done it ages ago without waiting for me to hand you the opportunity on a golden platter.”

Neal tugged open the side pocket zipper, almost shyly producing the keys and unlocking the door before replacing them with a sort of grateful reverence.

“Here, take the money for the cab, too.”

“Elizabeth, it's not a big deal, I can—”

“—Oh no you won't,” she contradicted firmly, leaning against the wall and managing to fish out her billfold for herself. “I am not letting my knight in shining armor pay the tab, too.” She handed him a few bills, ample to cover the fare and tip.

She watched Neal all but jog to the cab, taking care of the tab and then jogging back with Elizabeth's crutches under his arm. He held out the change, rather painstakingly relaying the amount he'd paid the driver—which had left the exact amount he was giving back—in a sober way that made Elizabeth's mouth twitch with suppressed amusement as she accepted it back.

She limped to the couch with his further assistance, and Neal helped her prop her leg up on the coffee table. He leaned the crutches against the couch, easily within her reach.

“You want something to drink?” Neal didn't give her a chance to answer. “I'll go get you something to drink.” He disappeared before she could open her mouth.

When he returned with a glass of lemonade, she'd come to a decision.

Setting down the lemonade on the nearest coaster, Neal glanced at his watch.“You're probably getting hungry, too. Is there something in particular you're hungry for? I didn't see much in the fridge...”

“Neal, this is awfully sweet of you. But really, I'm okay now. I've got the pain pills in my purse, and you've got me all set to go.” She patted the crutches. “I'll do fine.”

“You're sure?” Neal had his hands shoved in his pockets in a casual way. Only it seemed to lack its normal nonchalance.

“I've got family I can call if something comes up,” she assured. “My sister...” She stopped, noting the ill-concealed look of disappointment that flashed across Neal's face. He hid it quickly, but Elizabeth saw, and thought she understood. She sighed inwardly. After all, she had no actual intentions of calling up family. Right now all she wanted was to be left alone to lick her wounds.

Well. her pride was just going to have to suffer a little. “You know what? I just remembered—my sister's got her hands completely full. She was telling me only last week how she couldn't possibly juggle another problem right now. Of course, I'm sure you have other plans, too...”

“Not unless you count a possible visit from Mozzie 'plans.'”

“You're sure it won't be a bother?”

“I make a pretty mean omelet,” Neal suggested brightly, clearly sure.

“An omelet would be perfect.”

Satchmo had been watching all these proceedings with concern. As if having Peter missing wasn't enough to upset the balance of his world. Somehow he always seemed to know when it was the weekend and Peter was supposed to be home. With Neal headed once more for the kitchen, Satchmo padded over to Elizabeth, giving a few hesitant wags of his tail and sniffing suspiciously at the cast while Elizabeth scratched behind his ears.

“Who says you can't con a con man?” she whispered to him conspiratorially.

Maybe she needed the help, and appreciated it, more than her pride would let her admit. She didn't generally shy away from situations that required coddling, she was simply more accustomed to it being herselfdoing the coddling.

But maybe Neal needed to be needed just a little—more than his pride would allow him to admit, either.

***

Neal did indeed make a mean omelet, and the pain pills Elizabeth took afterward packed a mean punch, too.

“Neal...” Elizabeth looked mournfully at the stairs. Her bladder was beginning to make demands, and she needed to change out of the knee-length dress skirt she was wearing into something warmer and more suited to sprawling on the couch with her foot propped up.

“Say no more.”

It took some maneuvering on the tight stairway, with Neal staying a step behind her, supporting her by an elbow while she gripped the rail with her other hand.

In the hall, Neal went awkward on her, avoiding eye contact and clearing his throat in way that was unstudied, unsure and adorably out of character. “I'll be...down there.” He gestured over his shoulder with a thumb. “Washing dishes. Just...call when you need help with the stairs again.”

“Thanks, Neal.”

Elizabeth winced at her own reflection as she entered the bathroom. She couldn't remember the last time she'd actually had an honest-to-God black eye. She couldn't help but laugh a bit looking at it, combining as it did with the bruising along her jaw to create a rather ghastly effect.

Peter had better rest while he could. He was in for all kinds of welcome-home surprises.

***

As soon as he heard the bathroom door shut, Neal retreated to the dining room, leaning a hip against the dining room table as he flipped open his cell and dialed. Mozzie answered on the second ring.

“You still on for six-thirty? I'll bring the Merlot.”

“I've had a little change of plans, Mozz.”

“Oh?” Mozzie's voice was full of open curiosity.

“Yeah.”

“You're going to have to give me more than that to get out of this.”

Neal snorted. “'Out of this,' Mozzie? Casual conversation over a glass of wine is hardly—”

“—Alright. Who is she, and how much trouble are you going to be in when the Suit gets back?”

“Mozzie, it's not like that.”

Maybe the sincerity in Neal's tone would've been more convincing if he Mozzie didn't know how good Neal was at sounding sincere. The irony of his own futile honesty was not lost on Neal.

“Neal...” Mozzie utilized his most sagacious and warning tone of voice.

“It's Elizabeth,” Neal hissed, peering around the free-standing bookshelf to make sure Elizabeth herself wasn't waiting at the top of stairs within earshot.

“The Suit's wife?” Mozzie hissed back. “You're a dead man.”

“It's not like that, either,” Neal added hastily. “She broke her ankle and called me to come get her at the ER. I'm just helping her out a bit.”

“It will never work, Neal. It's not worth it, even for a lady so lovely as the Mrs. Suit certainly is. He'll make you disappear without a trace, my friend. The Suits take care of their own, too, you know—they'll cover for each other. They have their ways. Officially, it'll be an 'accident,' but I'll know—”

“—she fell down a flight of stairs while talking to a client. Did quite a number on her face, too.”

There was a pause on the other end, possibly as Mozzie took the time to breath. “Is this on the level, Neal?”

“On the level,” Neal spoke calmly, realizing there was only one good antidote for Mozzie in the middle of a fit of paranoia. “I'll tell you what: bring ice cream. You can see for yourself.”

“Ice cream?”

“She likes strawberry—the kind with actual strawberries in it.” Neal heard the bathroom door opening. “Got to go, Mozz.” He flipped the cellphone shut just as Elizabeth called for him.

She was dressed in sweatpants and a baggy t-shirt, now, and looked much more relaxed despite the battered touch the bruises added.

“Did I hear something about strawberries?” she asked, taking his arm.

“Oh.” Neal faltered, and then decided it would be easiest just to continue with the whole honesty thing while he was on a roll. Elizabeth was too astute at reading people, anyway. “That was Mozzie. He'll be coming by to bring us some ice cream—and, you know, to check up on me and make sure I'm not trying to seduce the Suit's wife and thus ruin my chances at life. Or, really, at living at all.”

Elizabeth laughed—and laughed some more as she managed a controlled sit/flop onto the couch. It wasn't hysteria, exactly, but whatever it was, Neal was guessing the drugs were probably helping it along.

“Seduce me—when I look like this?” she gestured pointedly to her makeshift ensemble, and gave a last, tired chuckle as she laid her head back against the couch cushions. “How did you know my favorite ice cream, anyway?”

Neal sat down next to her running his fingers through the thick fur on Satchmo's back. The retriever was hovering, clearly torn between wondering if Elizabeth's bout of laughter meant she was dying—or maybe in a mood susceptible to big brown puppy eyes begging for biscuits.

“Peter told me.” Neal smiled at the memory. “It was when he was all panicked over missing your anniversary.”

“Panicked? He was actually panicked?”

“For a while there he was like a drowning man.”

She smiled fondly. “Tell me the trip wasn't your idea.”

“A Peter Burke original, one-hundred-percent,” Neal could say in all honesty. He really was on a roll tonight.

“Hmm,” she murmured, as if she'd never had any real doubts.

Neal tried not to wince when the doorbell rang several minutes later. Elizabeth had looked about ready to drift off.

“I'll go...shoo him off,” Neal assured.

But Mozzie made it unnecessary by being his usual to-the-point self. “Missus Suit—your ice cream.” He came forward, holding the carton out like a ceremonial offering. “Strawberry, with real strawberries.”

“Mozzie,” she said, accepting it, “you're an angel.”

Mozzie looked pleased, as if the compliment had thawed away his apprehensions.

“Why don't you stay and have some?” she suggested.

“Ah... No. Thank you.” Mozzie looked from Elizabeth to Neal and nodded, as if to himself, answering a question to his own satisfaction. “It would appear, my friend, you have the situation entirely in hand.”

***

Declining any ice cream for himself, Neal had brought Elizabeth a spoon and she was currently eating straight from the carton with unashamed bliss.

Neal stored the remainder in the freezer when she was finished. He half expected to come back and find her asleep; instead he found her frowning at her propped-up leg.

“I am such a klutz,” she lamented.

Neal could understand her frustration. He knew Elizabeth had to be mourning her lack of independence already. However minor it might be in comparison to, say, a broken neck, the impediment of being temporarily one-legged was going to chafe.

“We’ve all been there.” Neal sat down again.

You've been there?” Elizabeth raised an eyebrow. “I don't believe it. Not a smooth-operating criminal like Neal Caffrey.”

Neal made a palms up gesture. “Nonetheless. Definitely been there. Well... Tom has. And maybe one or two other less-graceful aliases. But I guess I have to take some of the blame, too.”

He'd done it now. Elizabeth's interest was clearly piqued. She stared at him expectantly—and looking as bruised and waif-like as she currently did, how was he supposed to say no to a look like that?

“This stays between us. Strictly between us.”

“Absolutely.”

“Not a hint to Peter.”

“Cross my heart.”

Neal nodded. “If you have to know... I wasn't really looking where I was fleeing. It was one of those industrial kitchens with mounted stainless steel cabinets. Someone opens one, turns around—and bam. Straight in the face.” Neal cringed at the memory. He wasn't still wasn't quite sure how he'd staggered out of that situation without passing out.

Elizabeth cringed, too. “Ouch. Not really your fault, though.”

Neal shrugged. “Well, I've done the stairs thing, too. While talking to a, ah...client, actually.”

“Was she pretty?”

“Drop-dead gorgeous,” Neal sighed. “I didn't fall the entire flight, but I still manage to do a classic face-plant on the floor. Gave myself a bloody nose and ruined my suit coat. My very expensive suit. In front of said drop-dead gorgeous client.” Neal hesitated, but decided Elizabeth might as well have the rest while he was at it—the real crème-de-la-crème. “At the time, I was posing as what you might call an...athlete.”

“Okay. That is pretty bad,” Elizabeth agreed sympathetically.

“I was so embarrassed I left right then and there and never finished the deal.” Neal smiled wistfully. “That was back before I understood about the whole sympathy-points system...”

“I see. Scored on that system often, have you?”

Neal smiled sweetly. “Not with Peter.”

“Ah, well, he's a hard case.” She patted his arm sleepily.

In a few minutes, she'd dozed off.

Neal surveyed the scene and realized that if he let her sleep sitting up with her head tilted back like that she'd have a major crick in the neck come morning.

She only protested faintly, without truly waking up, as Neal carefully supported the injured ankle, shifting her legs onto the couch. The rest of her, predictably, began to list sideways and downwards. He caught her shoulders, lowering her head onto one of the couch's decorative pillows. Snagging a blanket off the back of the couch, he draped it over her before standing back to survey his work with satisfaction.

Then he realized he really should've gotten her upstairs before she'd fallen asleep. If he left her like this she'd probably wind up needing the bathroom in the middle of the night and try climbing the stairs and fall, and maybe finish the job and break her neck this time. Which meant he would deserve it when Peter came home and broke Neal's neck.

Shrugging out of his suit coat, Neal made himself as comfortable as possible in one of the chairs—which is to say, not comfortable in the least. In the end, he decided it was better sitting on the floor, leaning against the chair. His butt would probably go numb around midnight. He wasn't dressed for a sleep-over, either. He'd be the one with a crick in his neck...

He glanced at the couch through half-closed lids. Elizabeth shifted onto her side with a sigh, an arm pillowing her head. She was dead to the world and clearly pain-free judging by the tranquil expression she wore under all the bruising.

Then Neal slept, too.

***

Peter pulled into the driveway at a little after five on Sunday evening, smirking to himself. El wouldn't be expecting him for hours yet. It was a golden opportunity to surprise her, something he rarely succeeded in doing.

Besides, in all honesty, it hadn't felt like real vacation without El there. He'd had fun knocking back a few beers and hanging out with his buddies, but he was more than ready to be home. An evening watching TV with El sounded like a perfect way to end the weekend. He wouldn't even complain when she picked the Hallmark channel.

Inserting the key into the lock, he swung the door open.

The last thing he was expecting to hear was laughter. The last thing he was expecting to see was Neal Caffrey on his couch—again—with his wife. The TV was on. Satchmo was wedged between them on the couch, catapulting up at sight of Peter to offer an excited welcome home.

Then Peter noticed that Elizabeth had a black eye. And a cast on her foot.

“Peter, you're early,” she exclaimed happily, using her hands to maneuver her cast-clad leg off the coffee table so she could stand when Peter made his (dazed) way towards her. She wrapped her arms around his waist and stretched up to kiss him affectionately on the lips.

When they parted, Peter put his hands on her shoulders, holding her gently at a distance for a more thorough examination. She looked awful. Sparing Neal a glance, still unsure what he was doing there, he demanded: “What happened?”

“I didn't do anything, Peter,” Neal defended in something of a hasty, strangled tone. He sat up straight, hands folded meekly in his lap. “Really.

The glare in Neal's direction had been more of a knee-jerk reaction than an actual accusation—though Neal was clearly taking it as such with his own knee-jerk reaction of instant claims to innocence. But although Peter might've been given plenty of reasons to doubt the safety of his wallet around Neal, he had to admit Neal had never given him any reasons to doubt Elizabeth's security around him.

“C'mon, honey. Sit down.” El snagged his arm and pulled him down onto the couch next to her. “The only thing Neal's done is behave like a perfect gentleman.” She muted the TV with the remote. “Friday night I...took a bit of a spill.” She smiled sheepishly. “Down an entire flight of stairs.”

Friday? El, you should've called, I would've—”

“—I know you would have. Which is why I didn't. You needed the time off, Peter.”

“But—”

She put a finger to his lips. “Neal arrived at the ER in record time, made sure I took my pain pills, and ordered a special delivery of my favorite ice cream. When I fell asleep on the couch, he spent Friday night sleeping on the floor to make sure I didn't sleep walk and kill myself trying to get upstairs to use the bathroom. He's spent the entire weekend taking taxis back and forth from June's to our house—going on grocery runs, keeping me company, making soup, and watching Hallmark specials. And not a word when I cried at the end.” She'd been smiling past Peter at Neal (who, Peter realized after a glance, was actually looking close to blushing at this steady stream of praise), and now she returned her attention to Peter, leaning contentedly against him and giving his arm a squeeze. “So, as you can see, I've been taken excellent care of.”

“Mmm.” Peter pretended to consider Neal's innocence, glancing with mock suspicion between the two of them. “Well, if I'm not needed in my own home anymore I'll just leave the suitcase in the car...”

El held on possessively to his arm with a laugh. “Oh no you don't. I just got you back.”

“I could get you some soup, too, Peter,” Neal offered more meekly still. He looked at his watch.“Oh, but you know what? I should actually probably be leaving now...”

Sit down, the both of you,” Elizabeth demanded. “We are going to watch a movie, all of us. Come on, it’s just about to start.”

Peter decided it was probably time to shoot Neal a look of gratitude to make up for his own knee-jerk reaction. And so he did—and Neal smiled back with self-satisfaction that was maybe just a touch more sheepishly happy than true to the usual Caffrey smugness.

“What're we watching?” Peter asked as the volume was turned back on.

Now Neal began to smile more like the Neal that Peter was used to. “'The Fugitive,'” he announced innocently.

***

Finis :)

A big thank you to [livejournal.com profile] imbecamiel for both editing and LJ-formatting this for me (how's that for an awesome editor?)! <3

(Whew. I had no clue it was going wind up being nearly four thousand words long. What can I say? Those rambling, shmoop-y plot bunnies grab me sometimes and won't let go. XD Hope it helps to satisfy your fic cravings, [livejournal.com profile] tj_teejay!)
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