Title: The Christmas Card

Author: SK Musings

Genre: Drama / Angst / Friendship

Status: One-Shot / Complete

Characters: Neal Caffrey, Bobby (Prison Guard)

Rating: T

Setting: Pre-series

Disclaimer: White Collar and the characters borrowed for this story are the creative property of Jeff Eastin. This story was written and shared solely for the enjoyment of other White Collar fans. No copyright infringement is intended.

Reposting: After rereading this story, I picked out some obvious errors so I have corrected them and reposted.

One perfectly straight cerulean blue line, purposefully drawn on the cold cider block wall, now joins rows of equally perfect and parallel sets. Every fourth line connected with a flawless smooth diagonal one. This simple routine marks the end of each day but why does this line seem so different? It is identical in every way to its adjacent partners. Neal raises his gaze to observe the progress of his prison chronicle. Master art forger, Neal Caffrey reduced to lonely days represented by perfect blue lines. Closing his eyes, he sniffs back a little self-indulgent pity, longing for the comfort of his lady's sweet kiss and warm caresses.

He softly speaks her name, "Kate". Devoid of any real conscious effort, the pencil in Neal's tight grasp snaps, dropping to the floor, his body releasing the stored tension with the audible cracking sound. Slouching forward on the edge of the smooth cold metal stool, his forehead contacts the dull cream-colored cell wall. Two hundred parallel lines, forty-nine diagonal lines and one precious broken Caran d'Ache colored pencil all tallied up to one irrefutable fact. Neal Caffrey was about to spend his first Christmas behind bars.

Neal exhaled with a huff moving away from the wall. Reaching downward, he deliberately wipes his hands up over the tops of his legs pausing at his hips to push upwards and stretch out his back. The vertebrae chattering as he twisted to the left. It was five steps from the stool to his bunk however, he was having difficulty convincing himself to put forth the physical effort required to walk across the floor and plunk down on the thin mattress.

It was nearly 11:00 pm and the prison was quieter than usual. There weren't even any shouts of "knock it off" at the seemingly loud sound of the pencil cracking. Neal rubbed his bare arms, hugging them close around his waist. It even seemed chiller somehow. Maybe it was just his mood.

Mozzie was in the Santiago Chili enjoying the warm weather and without a doubt drinking fine wines and exotic drinks until he was oblivious. Kate was visiting her Mother in California and Alexandra Hunter had been off his radar since the unfortunate sloppy mistake 249 days prior. And Neal … Neal was in an 8 X12 foot cell not looking forward to feasting on turkey roll, instant potatoes and cranberry gel served in a compartmentalized cold metal tray. He could just hear Mozzie. "Nothing says Merry Christmas like mechanically separated meat, amalgamated back into a cylinder and served, sliced with gravy."

Neal wiped at his eyes and ran his fingers back through his wavy hair in an attempt to slip back into the carefully crafted Caffrey veneer. He could hear the soft shuffling steps of Bobby, the night guard, as he made his way slowly down the long cell block passageway. Neal's cell door had become his usual stop before lights out. A nightly visit that the conman had come to expect. A companionship that meant more to the sullen young man than the guard would ever understand.

While, Bobby was not about to naively befriend a professional conman, he had come to respect Neal and enjoyed their engaging conversations. The past few days however, he had become concerned with the obvious change in the young man's behavior.

"Have you finished reading that book yet?" Bobby nodded toward the leather bound edition partially covered by the nonstandard issue, plump pillow at the head of the bunk. "You've been carrying it around with you all week but I haven't seen you crack it open once."

Glancing over at the guard, Neal forced himself to his feet and retrieved the book from its' resting place. "It's a classic… Charles Dickens. Kate always loved the classics. She dropped it off last week. Thought I might enjoy having it." Neal wrapped his arms around the beautiful antique volume and hugged it tight to his chest. "Kinda was our tradition on Christmas Eve. You know, reading it to one another." Neal's eyes started to well up and he quickly blinked the tears back. A masterful redirect with his left hand diverted Bobby's scrutiny to the broken pencil on the floor. "Think you could get that pencil sharpened for me? You wouldn't want to be the one responsible for me losing track of time in here."

Bobby scowled knowing it was breaking the rules but he knew in his heart that Neal wasn't one of the violent offenders. "Give it here." The soft-spoken guard extended his strong bulky hand through the door's narrow opening.

Neal stooped down, plucking up the two fragmented pieces from the floor and placed them into Bobby's large awaiting palm. Withdrawing his hand through the bars, Bobby looked at the splintered ends of expensive birch wood pencil. "Ah … Neal? … You usually take great care with these, growling if I grind away too much when I sharpen them."

With a raise of his eyebrows and a slight shrug, Neal tilted his head to the side as if to say, "Gee, got me?" "Guess I pressed to hard." Subtly he shifted his view upward, to see the perfect line that easily gave away the lie.

The guard pretended not to notice as he tucked the broken pieces into his shirt pocket and buttoned the flap. "Neal, could I ask a favor?"

Neal pointed to himself raising one eyebrow. "I'm sorry if you wanted to engage my services to steal a diamond pendant for your wife this Christmas. Unless you aren't telling me something, it will have to wait a few years."

Bobby widened his dark brown eyes and shook his head. "No, this favor is legal and you are the only person perfectly suited for the job."

"Me? According to a group of my peers, I am not fully trustworthy. You know the whole bond forgery thing."

"Well, I fully trust that you are more than capable of this favor. You know those angel sketches that you drew for me. Do you think you could make me another one?"

Neal nodded his head and smiled with all his Caffrey charm. "If you keep me in sharp pencils, I will gladly make you another sketch. By the way, what do you do with them? This has to be the fifth request for an angel."

"Oh, I share them with special friends."

Bobby looked through the cell door at the gentle creative soul bound by bars for the white-collar crime of forgery. He couldn't help but be saddened that the talented conman failed to see the worth of his honest talent as an artist. He didn't belong in a place like this and he feared that at some point in the next four years that Neal wouldn't fair well against some of the criminals that shared this cell block.

"Try to get some rest Neal. Kate will be back in town soon and you'll feel better." He looked into the thin young man's weary blue eyes, realizing that his words hadn't registered. "Your pencil is in good hands." He patted his pocket and turned to continue on his rounds.

Neal immediately dropped down onto the bunk, folding the pillow in half and tucking it under his arm. The over sized pillow complements of Mozzie was a luxury he didn't take for granted. Shifting onto his hip, he extended his legs and propped himself up on his elbow. Staring down at the gilt engraved title on the tooled leather cover, Neal convinced himself to open the book. As he turned past the silk moiré endpapers to the first page and flipped back the satin bookmark, a red envelope slipped from the pages and onto his bunk.

Neal's eyes softened as a sentimental smile crossed his face. She hadn't forgotten him. His thoughts rapidly dissolved back to their last Christmas together and the snowball fight in the park. Kate was winning until he cheated, sweeping her off her feet into a small snowdrift. He could still hear her giddy laughter as she quickly countered by rolling him onto his back, soaking them both from head to toe. How could he ever forget that passionate kiss or the cold chill of having a snowball stuffed up under the layers of warm clothing as Kate wriggled free from his embrace, laughing and running ahead of him.

Lifting the envelope to his nose, he hoped to catch a lingering hint of Kate's perfume. "Mmmm … Hmmm?" Neal drew his eyebrows together in a quizzical frown as he detected an unexpected aroma, the scent of crayon. Lowering the red paper envelope into his view, he read the neatly printed green crayon words. "To: Mr. Neal Caffrey … Merry Christmas"

"Mr. Caffrey?" Neal spoke aloud. All signs of dignity afforded the title of mister had been surrendered at the gate over nine months ago. Even if Kate was being silly, he doubted that she would use crayon. Flipping the envelope over, he carefully slipped his finger under the loose edge and pulled the card out revealing a child's drawing of a Christmas tree with an angel on top. Laying the handmade card open in his hands, he began to read.

Dear Mr. Caffrey- My name is Darla and I am nine years old. This is my second Christmas in the hospital. I hope it is the last one. See I got two of the best Christmas presents ever and they came early. First, I got a new heart and then I got an angel to watch over me.

My friend Bobby comes every week to visit with us in the hospital. He reads and plays games but the best part is when he plays the piano and sings. One time I told him I get scared at night. Last week he gave me a drawing of a beautiful angel. He said that she would keep me safe when I sleep. He told me a special artist friend made it just for me.

I told him I wanted to say thank you. So, he said I could write you a note and he would deliver it. I'm not allowed to go outside yet. Maybe sometime you can come along and do some art with us. I hope you have a very Merry Christmas.

Love; Darla XO

Neal stared endlessly at the neatly printed words. He hadn't been forgotten this year. His very own special angel had seen to it. Wiping a tear from his cheek, he placed the Christmas card on the desk and clicked the light off. It was past midnight … Christmas Eve. "I guess there really are angels among us and they come from unexpected places and in all shapes and sizes."