Fandom: White Collar
Characters/Pairings: Neal Caffrey (Danny Brooks), mention of Ellen and Neal’s mom
Word Count: 789
Beta Credit: miri_thompson, elrhiarhodan
Summary: What happened on Neal’s eighteenth birthday…
Written for the absolutely wonderful embroiderama’s birthday.
Birthdays aren’t supposed to hurt.
Danny swiped the tears from his face as he shoved clothes into a duffle bag. Jeans, socks, underwear, shirts – essentials. No more, no less. Nothing to remind him of…here. Of her.
Don’t think about how she lied. Don’t think about what Ellen told you. Just pack.
He grabbed a sweatshirt and tossed it on top of the duffle bag. Moving to his closet, he pulled down a shoebox, opening it to reveal several envelopes full of tens and twenties.
Danny made a harsh noise. So much for the car he was planning to buy with the cash inside. He emptied the envelopes and shoved the money in his front pocket.
Zipping up the duffle bag, he pulled on the sweatshirt, stepped into his tennis shoes and grabbed the bag and his jacket.
Danny looked around the room, knowing once he left he would never see it again. Books on the shelves. His favorites – Catcher in the Rye, The Agony and the Ecstasy, The Carpetbaggers (which he “borrowed” from Ellen), the Hobbit.
Pictures of his mom, Ellen, friends from school. Textbooks with half-done homework on the desk. CDs of REM, the Beatles, Blues Traveler, Robert Johnson and Buddy Guy, Bach and Beethoven. Posters of the plays he’d done at school, plaques for academic achievement. The police hat that he’d gotten for his third birthday.
The pieces of his life.
He took a deep breath and tilted his head up, willing the tightness in his chest to ease enough so he wouldn’t break down sobbing.
Making his way down the stairs, Danny snuck past the dimly lit living room where his mother was asleep – passed out – her tearstained face shimmering in the flickering shadows of the television. Pausing, he watched her breathe, her chest rising and falling.
He loved her and hated her. And because of that, he couldn’t stay.
Danny stood in the doorway, memorizing her face, before he slipped out the front entrance. The lock clicked with a quiet finality that reverberated throughout his body. He put his hand on the door – a last goodbye – then pushed off to start walking toward the bus station under the spotlights of the brightly glowing Arch.
Two hours later he was on a Greyhound headed to New York City.
Staring blindly out the window as the bus ate up the miles, Danny tried to wrap his mind around how the events of the past several hours had gotten him to this point. Flashes of the evening emerged as the sounds of the tires on the pavement created a staccato soundtrack to his thoughts.
Ellen cooking his favorite meal – spaghetti and Bolognese sauce. His mom in tune to the here and now for once. A birthday cake with the number eighteen on the top. A small pile of presents on the counter.
He and Ellen laughing about one of his teachers, his mom smiling like she knew what they were talking about. Crusty garlic bread with just the hint of parmesan sprinkled on it. A new Depeche Mode CD to add to his music collection. Chocolate cake.
His mom in the living room as he and Ellen clean up. A quick turn to put a glass in the cabinet that knocks the mail to the floor. Ellen picking up the letters. Holding the one from the Metropolitan Police Academy in Washington, DC.
The questions. The truth. The tears.
His feet pounding up the stairs as he yells that Ellen is wrong. Doors slamming. Shouts from downstairs as Ellen and his mother argue. The cold, sick feeling in his stomach at the realization that Ellen is telling the truth - his father is not a hero but a murderer. And his mother is a liar.
His mother knocking on his door, begging him to let her in. Sobbing, justifying – her voice muffled by the pillow he puts over his ears to drown her out.
Eventually – silence.
Danny closed his eyes against the memories. He felt raw and didn’t want to think anymore. Clutching his duffle bag tightly, he slipped into exhausted slumber, tear tracks reflected by the headlights of the passing cars.
Springfield, Decatur, Champaign – traveling across Illinois gave him time to collect himself. To begin to figure out his new life.
At the transfer in Chicago, he wound up sitting next to an elderly woman with her knitting. He let the clicking of the needles and the soothing sound of her voice as she talked about her grandchildren wash over him while he planned what to do when he got to New York.
He was startled out of his musings when she asked his name.
He turned to her with a dazzling smile.