Title: Pain Relief
Characters: Neal, Elizabeth, Satchmo
Summary: Pain relief comes in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes it's a pill, sometimes just the simple act of having friends there to care for you.
Author's Note: So, yeah, there is Neal whumpage involved, even though for the longest time I swore I wouldn't write that stuff. The poor man doesn't deserve to be put through this kind of suffering time and again. It's wrong on so many levels to enjoy him being in pain—and yet, here I am. But actually, this isn't so much Neal!Whump as it is more like post-whump tagged onto a triple-drabble I wrote for whitecollar100 a little while ago, called "Drop Your Weapons" (though it's not necessary to know that story, FFN story ID is 6657950). And Neal's nowhere near death, so maybe we're okay. ;o) FYI: AMA means 'against medical advice'.
This hasn't been beta'ed, so any mistakes you find are yours to keep. It'd still be nice if you'd let me know about them. Errors exist to be fixed, or at least in my fanfics they do.
Disclaimer: White Collar, its characters and its settings belong to Jeff Eastin and USA Network. And, guys? Your characters are not only welcome, they're wonderful. I'm just borrowing, I promise.
Neal never wants to move his body again. He sits on the Burkes' couch and ponders this, because rationally, he knows at some point he'll have to move again.
Still, it feels good not to move. The reasons for this aren't so much emotional as they are physical. Contusions are a bitch, and it's not the first time that Neal realizes this. It's just that he's forgotten how they sneak up on you and hold you hostage for days. And the longer you stay immobile, the more they punish you when you try to move again. Neal's ribcage hurts all over, and he can't even remember where exactly on his torso the blows had hit.
The job had sounded easy enough, but Peter always made it sound easy. Though Neal doesn't blame him. He knows that Peter tries to protect him as best as he can. He also knows that with every job, there are risks associated. Risks that not only Neal takes but the whole team. All things considered, they'd been lucky. It could have ended so much worse. So what were a few bruises and contusions in comparison to ending up dead on a warehouse floor?
Peter had dropped Neal off at their house and left again to take care of the FBI-sized follow-up. Of course Neal had protested, but Elizabeth knew how to make Neal stay without it looking too obvious.
Neal also knows to be quietly thankful, because in his rather fragile state, this beats lying in a hospital bed (where they had originally wanted him) or even being home alone. Secretly, he enjoys being pampered by Peter's lovely wife.
And then there's Satchmo. The sandy-furred dog likes it when Neal is on their couch. He tries to stay by his side to make sure "his" couch is well guarded. A cool, moist nose finds its way to nudge Neal's hand, a lower jaw is placed on his thigh with a soft thud, or, if Satchmo feels adventurous, a paw pats Neal's knee.
Neal leans back against the pillows and a groan escapes his lips he isn't quick enough to suppress. As if upon activation of some unseen canine radar, this prompts Satchmo to get up from the lying position next to the couch. He obediently sits in front of Neal's knees and gently places his snout on Neal's thigh, breathing out a long dog-sigh. Despite the soreness emitting from his ribs, Neal's hand finds the furry head and starts to softly knead the skin between the ears, which is cause for the dog to emit a rather self-satisfied dog sound.
Neal closes his eyes for a minute but opens them again when he hears Elizabeth approaching. She is carrying two steaming mugs, one of which she places on the couch table in front of him. She lovingly looks at the human/animal interaction as she sits down next to Neal, cradling her mug in both hands.
"He really likes you, you know?"
"Doesn't he like everybody?"
"No, not everybody. He's usually a pretty good judge of character."
"Oh," Neal says, and maybe he shouldn't even have been surprised. "How did he end up with you?"
"He's actually kind of a reject."
This piques Neal's interest and he looks at El questioningly, which prompts her to go on. "He was trained to be a seeing eye dog. Or at least that was the plan. We got him as a puppy, raised him until he was 18 months old. The deal was that he would go into seeing eye dog training after that time. If he made the cut, he'd be placed with a blind person. If he didn't, we would get him back if we wanted. Well, he didn't make the cut, and here he is."
Neal rubs the fur between Satch's ears again. "You didn't make it, buddy? You're a smart boy. How did that happen?"
"Oh, it's not that he's not smart. He's just not good with bicycles. We don't know why, but they scare him for some reason."
Neal pats Satchmo's head placatingly, addressing the dog. "You know, quite honestly, Satch? I don't like them much either."
El shifts on the couch, which makes one of the striped cushions bump against Neal's side. She watches him wince and immediately regrets her fidgetiness. As if the split lip and butterfly bandage on his temple aren't reminders enough of what he's been through. She realizes that the soreness must be hitting home now, so she leans forward and reaches for the mug she had placed on the table for Neal.
He accepts it with a grateful gaze and sips at the strong coffee. She can't help but watch him with concern. Peter had only given her the short version on the phone, but it's enough to make her mind flood with grueling images that she doesn't want to explore or fathom.
"Neal. Are you sure you shouldn't be in a hospital?"
He blinks, and Elizabeth already knows what his answer is going to be. She's heard it one too many times. Even before he can open his mouth, she lifts her hands warningly. "And I don't wanna hear that you're fine."
The left corner of his mouth curls up ever so slightly in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it lopsided smile. "They did a full workup. Chest x-ray, lab tests. Nothing's broken. They cleared me."
"You signed out AMA."
"Would you like to spend the night in a hospital bed if you didn't have to?"
Elizabeth nods. "Touché. Did they give you any painkillers?"
"And you've taken them?"
She gives him a petulant child kind of punitive look. "Why do you do this to yourself? There is no heroism in denying pain relief."
He fends it off with a casual wave of his hand.
But she gets it. He doesn't want to disappoint. "I'm going to tell you something that you cannot repeat to my husband. Ever. Do you understand?"
His eyes brighten. This should be good. "Scout's honor."
"Peter is the worst patient. He thinks he's dying when he gets a simple cold. He feigns complete immobility when he twists his ankle. He turns into a two-year-old child when he's sick. And he'll practically beg for medication."
"You're trying to tell me it's okay to take painkillers."
Her face lights up with a winning smile. "Now we're getting somewhere."
"Painkillers it is, then." And he has to admit to himself that he's actually relieved. The dull ache that accompanies every breath makes it difficult to think and impossible to relax.
Elizabeth gets up and comes back after a minute with a glass of water and a handful of pills, which Neal dutifully takes.
"So," she cheerfully smiles at Neal. "What am I going to do with you? Normally I'd suggest taking a walk with Satchmo, but I don't think that's a very good idea right now. How about... a movie?"
A movie sounds good. It doesn't involve moving. "What do you have in mind?" he asks.
She gets up to look at the DVDs on their shelf. She reads out a few titles, and then she pulls a DVD case out. "Oh, I think you might like this one. Have you seen 'Inside Man'?"
He shakes his head, and winces because, yes, there was movement involved.
"Do you want to see it?"
"Yeah, I've heard good things. Let's go for it."
She kneels down in front of the small entertainment center, inserting the DVD into the player. She adjusts the TV screen for optimized viewing range, dragging the armchair just a little closer to the couch.
Scrutinizing Neal for just a moment, she tells him, "You know, why don't you sit in the armchair? Peter had a broken rib a few years back, and I think he pretty much lived in that chair for weeks. I think you're going to be more comfortable there than on the couch."
Neal looks at the chair, and realizes Elizabeth might have a point. But, damn, that would involve moving again. He doesn't want to move, but maybe it would be the lesser of evils. So he clenches his teeth and bites his tongue as his bruised muscles protest, but he makes it into the armchair without too much discomfort. Satchmo settles quickly on the floor by his side with another satisfied dog sigh, licking his tongue along his paws.
Elizabeth holds out one of the couch pillows to Neal. "You want this?"
He only just in time remembers not to move his arm to wave it off. "No, thanks, I'm good."
She slips off her shoes, puts her legs up on the couch and arranges the pillows behind her back. "All right then."
A quick push of buttons on the remote control sets the movie into motion. The opening credits roll, and soon both of them are sucked into an excellently orchestrated bank heist.
And Neal is very content not to have to move for the next two or so hours.