sparsenicjade
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Warnings: discussion of wounds/infection/medical procedures

AN: This story presumes that a) Moz doesn't immediately return to New York, and b) Peter takes a little longer to be reinstated. It's also medically unlikely. And I don't even know what happens in the last half the season, so if there's something in here that totally contradicts that, well. That's why.

Thank you to egelantier for the alpha read, and paper_tzipporah for the beta and awesome turn around time. This is written specifically for ivorysilk for being fantastic and helping me reach my training goal. It is doubling as a fill for my "hiding an injury" square on hc_bingo.

***


At first, Neal is just too busy trying not to be recaptured to notice the problem. Peter isn't acting like the bullet wound might be more than an inconvenience, and Moz isn't freaking out, and he can usually trust one of them to have more caution than he does, so he figures it's probably fine. He'll get to a doctor when he's not running from a nutjob FBI agent who might actually have a god complex. Neal, for all the risks he takes, is a planner, and prefers it when he can take things one step at a time. Right now, on the island, Peter having turned his life upside down for Neal, the first step is just getting things back to Not Completely Screwed.

*


Since Neal is put under house arrest when they return, he takes care of the medical stuff himself. This is not the first time he's been shot. It's not even the second, actually. There are good reasons—now three of them—why he hates guns. He has to drink half a bottle of scotch and bite down on the handle of a kitchen knife in order to make sure no parts of the bullet are left. He disinfects the wound with most of a bottle of rubbing alcohol, which stings so bad he pukes in the bathtub, where he's sitting at the time.

Once he's gotten himself cleaned up, he bandages it, takes a few more Tylenol than the directions suggest and sleeps for a good thirteen hours. He's not worried, a few days of rest while he waits to hear what happens to him and he'll be fine.

*


Peter gets pulled off White Collar, and suddenly, despite Neal's return to status quo, nothing is right at all, and he doesn't have time to concentrate on anything other than getting Peter back. The Cook case presents a chance, and he's not giving that up, not for anything. It turns out he doesn't have to, really, since Peter is perfectly willing to throw all of their combined efforts out the window.

Neal would like to be mad, but he kind of understands. He doesn't understand in the way where it is something he would have done himself, but if he has learned nothing else in his life, he has learned to see the patterns behind Peter's moral code. Placed inside that pattern, Peter's move makes perfect sense.

After Cook, though, the determination doesn't go away. It's just that Neal starts to notice that his leg is hurting more than it should be at this point in the healing process. For a while, admittedly, he purposely doesn't look, just works to keep the area clean as best he can and starts living on a diet of Tylenol and anything that will coat his stomach. He absolutely does not limp.

The hospital is not in his radius, and with Jones and Diana not actually speaking to him outside of necessity at the moment, Neal doesn't feel like asking for pity. He's definitely not going to ask Peter, who's already spending his days in an actual cage with no natural light because of Neal. It's hard even walking into the evidence locker, sitting with Peter in the yard—picnic area Neal's ass—while they eat, trying not to let memories of being locked up, away from color and touch and anything worth tasting, overtake him. But he does it because he owes Peter that much, and Neal knows it. He's not going to take the time Peter has free of that place away from him, not in a million years. The wound will heal if he stays off of it, he's sure, so he spends his weekend with his leg up, ice over the hurt area. It feels as if it is on fire, the heat being given off comparable to a furnace.

He drinks a lot of water, eats vegetables and protein, and does everything he can ever remember being told to do to make his body heal faster. By Monday, he thinks he might have it under control. The Tylenol isn't working anymore, but that's okay. Neal's been in worse pain than this and gotten through situations. There was that time in Cairo with his collarbone being broken and needing to get out of the country. That had been excruciating. This is just agonizing. It's two points down, at least, on the pain scale.

Basically, Neal is fine. Peter will be back, and if it's still a problem then, Neal will ask to be taken to the hospital, and they will clear it up. No problem.

*


Elizabeth asks Neal to dinner. No, that's not right. Elizabeth says, "You will come to dinner tomorrow?"

Neal can hear the rise in her pitch, but he knows it's not a question. He tips his hat and smiles at her. In truth, he wants to go home and curl up with an icepack and at least five or six Excedrin. He wants to not have to worry about whether he's favoring the injured leg or not. He's messed up a few times at the office, and he's caught Diana looking at him in consideration more than once, but although they've warmed up since his attempts with the Cook case, neither she nor Jones are precisely friendly these days. Neal can't even tell if he's relieved that makes hiding easier, or if he wishes, desperately, that someone would notice, would help. He's pretty sure he needs a doctor.

He's had to clean the wound out a couple of times now, draining it. In a few days, if it doesn't start healing up, he'll ask June for help. She'll be back from her vacation, then. He imagines she probably knows a doctor who would make house calls. He needs to get to some of his funds to pay for it, so until he can manage that, he's not going to ask.

He puts his game face on, and goes over to the Burke's. He pets Satchmo, and drinks wine with Elizabeth. He eats what he can; he hasn't been very hungry for a few days. On his third glass of water, Peter's eyes narrow, and Neal can just see the glimpses and glances Peter's been throwing at him all day on and off coalescing into thought. Peter asks, "Are you all right? You look a bit peaked."

"Careful," Neal says, "You'll sound like you went to Harvard, or something."

"Heaven forbid," Peter responds dryly. "And stop deflecting."

Neal smiles, but not with his usual charm, that will only put Peter further onto him. Instead, Neal goes with his real smile of the moment, which is a little tired. "Think I might be a bit under the weather. Nothing some chicken soup and Nyquil won't fix. I didn't want to say in case my invitation got rescinded. Sorry."

Peter rolls his eyes, but Neal can tell he's not completely convinced. Which is fair, since Peter knows how good Neal is at half-truths. This is more like a one-quarter truth, but it's not a complete lie, so Neal's willing to let himself off the hook. It keeps Peter from worrying too much, and from having to take time to sit in the hospital—which he hates—instead of relaxing at home, with Elizabeth.

Peter narrows his gaze and asks, "Have you been to a doctor, since the island?"

There's no good way to obfuscate on that, so Neal goes with the theory of 'what Peter doesn't know won't hurt him'." This has not panned out on several occasions, but Neal is not a quitter, so he says, "Yeah," and Peter lets it go.

Neal takes off early, pleading exhaustion, which is true. He makes it home just in time to vomit up everything he's eaten. He falls asleep on the bathroom floor and when he wakes there, in the middle of the night, his leg hurts too much for him to think about getting himself up and to bed. He closes his eyes, and falls back into something that is more unconsciousness than actual rest.

*


He drags himself to work the next morning with a combination of sheer willpower, the determination not to disappoint Peter, and the certainty that if he doesn't, all his chances will be up and he will be back in prison. The fever he's been managing with Tylenol is raging through him, but the thought of swallowing anything aside from water makes his stomach flip over in warning.

He takes a cab, too disoriented to manage the train, and too sore to walk. He sits down as soon as he gets to the office. The words on the case file he's been looking at, trying to find an angle on, swim in front of him. He needs more water, but all the agents in the bullpen have been scared by Diana and Jones into not giving in to the Famous Caffrey Charm. He holds out as long as he can, knowing that putting pressure on the wound is probably going to bring tears to his eyes, no matter how hard he tries to avoid it.

In the end, though, he needs the water. So he pushes his palms to his desk and stands up. Only to immediately crumple to the ground with a sound of pain he absolutely cannot contain. He finds himself on the floor, and is confused by how he got there for a moment, blinking back the fuzziness the fever keeps causing.

When his vision has cleared he notices Diana in front of him and says, "Oh. Hi Special Agent Barrigan." He gives her his goofiest smile, the one she responds to the best. She likes Silly Caffrey, not Charming Caffrey. She's frowning at him, though, and he remembers, right. "You're mad at me."

Jones is standing behind her, also frowning. Neal remembers, "You're mad, too."

The thought is tiring, and Neal is already so, so tired. He closes his eyes and starts to lie down. Diana grabs his arm and keeps him in a sitting position. Neal tells her honestly, "I'm tired."

"You're running a fever, Caffrey. A pretty serious one," she says.

He nods. He knows. He's known for a while. "Think I need a doctor."

Diana looks up at Jones who is still frowning, but he says, "Go. I've got things here."

She sighs, then takes both of Neal's hands in hers and hauls him to his feet. Neal bites his tongue trying to keep silent as well as keep himself from puking, again. Thankfully, she gives him a second, saying, "Easy."

She slides Neal's arm around her shoulders and takes almost all of his weight. He says, quietly, gratefully, "You're so strong."

She just repeats, "Easy."

*


By dint of being Diana, she gets Neal into a room and being seen pretty much immediately. At least Neal thinks she does. Things are a little fuzzy. He tells her, very seriously, "Don't tell Peter."

He can't remember why it's so important that she not do that, but he knows it is. "Don't. Please."

"Just relax, Caffrey," she tells him, which is not the same as agreeing. Diana is slippery; they're alike in that way, and Neal wants to follow it up, but then the physician's assistant is there. Neal puts on what he thinks is his charming smile. Everything's a little messed up in his brain.

It must work, because the PA, a tall, good–looking Hispanic man, smiles back after glancing at the chart. "Morning, Mr. Caffrey, let's figure out what's wrong."

Oh. Neal knows what's wrong. He says, "Leg."

Diana's eyes widen. "Your leg? Caffrey—"

He wishes she'd yell at him later, when there isn't an audience. As it turns out, the PA must not want to be in there while that happens, either, because he says, "Agent, I know you're responsible for him, but could you step outside, please?"

She runs a hand over her face and glares at Neal. "Peter is going to kill both of us, you realize?"

Neal blinks at her. He says, "I didn't mean—I kept thinking I would get better."

Diana turns on her heel and leaves. The PA says, "Lovely coworker you've got there."

Without thinking, Neal says, "She's just loyal," and manages not to voice the thought that follows: unlike me.

*


Once he's out of his pants, the PA takes a look, walks to the phone on the wall and says, "I need a doctor in room seven, STAT."

Neal says, "I need antibiotics, huh?"

The PA looks at him blankly for a moment and then says, "You need surgery, Mr. Caffrey."

Neal looks down at his leg, the first time he's really allowed himself to in about a week. The green fluid he's cleaned out before is back, and the skin that's been red and puffy is now taking on a darker tint. It's disgusting. Faintly, Neal says, "Oh."

Then the doctor is in the room, checking him out and almost immediately ordering an OR to be prepped. Neal kind of just lets things happen from there.

*


Neal wakes up to the sound of a heart monitor, and the faint whispers of two voices he would know anywhere. He forces his eyes open and takes a second to focus in on Peter and Elizabeth. He tries to say, "Diana wasn't supposed to call," but his tongue is twice the size of his mouth, so it doesn't really work out.

Elizabeth looks relieved. "Hey, sleepyhead."

She takes the cup sitting on the side table and tips an ice chip out, placing it between his lips. He dares to look over at Peter as he lets it melt. Peter's expression is hard to read, which is unusual, especially for Neal. Elizabeth asks, "Another?"

Neal nods. He needs the time to think as much as he needs the moisture. His mind isn't floating in the same way it was before, from the fever, but the drugs are even worse in some ways. He's stupid when on drugs. When he's swallowed down the last of it, he repeats, "I told Diana not to call."

"She didn't," Peter says, his tone restrained, but Neal puts the pieces together. Peter's pretty pissed. "The hospital did. Evidently Reese never bothered changing over the paperwork which gives me power of attorney."

Neal feels impossibly comforted by this fact. He hates that it means Peter had to be disturbed by this incident, but it also means Hughes has every intention of putting Peter right back where he was, where he belongs. "Sorry."

"For which part?" Peter asks, his voice deceptively casual.

Neal hates playing this game, but he's luckily fairly good at it, at least when he's not drugged to the gills. Still, he thinks he can make a decent go of it. He decides, "The part where you had to spend the day in an uncomfortable chair and the Evidence Gremlin is probably going to bitch you out for leaving The Cage."

Elizabeth laughs, the way she does when she doesn't find anything about the situation funny. Neal says, "Okay. The part where I—didn't want Diana to tell you. Because you believe in honesty."

Peter stands up and turns to face the window. "Sometimes, Neal, I swear."

Neal wants to do this when he's sharp, when he can read Peter and know what's right and wrong. He tries, "Sorry," again, because it's hard to go wrong with a non-descript apology.

Except evidently that's not what either Peter or Elizabeth wants to hear, because they both frown at him, Peter turning back around to do so. Peter says, tightly, in the too-controlled way he gets when he's terribly upset, "They were worried they were going to have to take your leg, Neal. As it is, you're going to have months and months of phsyio to be able to support weight on that leg again."

"Hospital was outside my radius," Neal explains.

"Diana or Jones could have taken you at any time. Since Reese hadn't redone the papers, I could have. All you had to do was ask!" Peter runs a hand through his hair and looks over at Elizabeth, who makes a "calm down" motion with her hands.

Neal would really like to go back to sleep, but he's afraid if he does he will wake up and they won't be there. He knows he should be glad, he should want them to go back home, but he doesn't. He feels safe with them here, feels as though they care, despite their anger.

"Didn't wanna bother anyone," he slurs, the drugs making it hard to enunciate, let alone focus. Elizabeth makes a sound that reminds Neal of nothing so much as a whimper. Neal hates making her sound like that, so he tells her, earnestly, "I was takin' care. Took the Tylenol an' cleaned it an'…an' stuff."

Her lower lip gets wobbly and he says, "Sorry," tacking on, "for making you sad."

Peter sighs, "Well, I suppose that's closer than the other apologies were." Then, "Sleep, Neal."

Neal really has to. He asks, "You goin' home?"

"No," Elizabeth tells him. "No, sweetie, we're not going anywhere without you."

Neal looks to Peter for confirmation and Peter nods, somber and honest. Neal says, "Tha's nice," and passes out.

*


Peter's not there when Neal wakes back up, but Elizabeth is. She kisses his forehead and says, "He went for coffee and donuts. I threatened to smuggle you out of here and steal drugs from the pharmacy if I didn't get some fried sugar."

Neal grins. He tells her, "I like plain glazed."

"A never-ending source of surprise, you are," Peter says from the doorway. He comes over and hands Elizabeth a bag and a Styrofoam cup, keeping the other cup for himself. He looks at Neal. "I would've figured something more exotic."

Neal stares at Peter for a long moment before saying, "Sometimes I like small things, little, normal things."

Peter grabs a donut—plain cake with white frosting on top—and takes a bite. He says, "They're releasing you tomorrow, assuming you make it through the night okay. You can't stay on your own, though. You'll need help getting around for a while."

Neal sighs. He was afraid of that. "I'll talk with June. Some of the staff—"

"Like hell," Elizabeth says mildly, in between sipping her coffee.

Peter snorts. "What she said."

Neal may be high as a kite, but he's not dead. "You guys are not—"

"Not what?" Elizabeth inquires, all sweetness and smiles. "Not taking you home with us? Think again, babe."

"Home," Neal echoes stupidly.

"That place where we live," Peter responds, oh-so-helpfully.

"I don't…what?" Neal asks, feeling slow and as if something has happened that he should understand, but doesn't.

"Basically, we're not letting you out of sight. Probably ever again," Elizabeth tells him, only partially mocking.

"Maybe in a few thousand years," Peter says, like this is a gesture of lenience.

Neal starts, "You don't have to—"

"No," Peter agrees. "No, we don't. We want to. We want you to be happy and healthy and remember that there are people who care about you. That's what we want, and you've done enough of taking that away while letting your leg become gangrenous, so now it's our turn."

Neal considers all of that. Finally he says, "I didn't mean to take that away. I'm sorry."

"I'll be happier," Peter tells him, "when you're sorry that you didn't ask for what you needed, but for the moment, I'll take it."

"Generous," Neal murmurs.

"That I am," Peter agrees.

*


At some point, Elizabeth has clearly gone home, because she arrives the next morning as Peter is checking Neal out, and helps the orderlies get him into the wheelchair. She wraps Neal's favorite throw from their place around his shoulders, ruffles his hair and says, "Let's get you home, babe."

Neal repeats the word home silently, and agrees with a small hum.


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Skin by egelantier, photo by microbophile