A/N: So, this is a short fourshot I wrote around Mothers' Day, but forgot to post... I figured it doesn't matter that it's sort of out of season now, White Collar fiction is awesome anytime! I hope it's not cliche or too emotional or anything. Please enjoy!
It was still fairly early in the morning when Elizabeth heard a gentle noise from downstairs and stirred. She let out a quiet sigh, turning to face the window. Her eyes still closed, she let the cool, yellow morning sunlight rest on her eyelids, now only slightly obscured by clouds. For a moment, she was simply content to stay there quietly. Then she opened her eyes and they settled on the digital clock. 5/9. She let out another sigh, this time of weariness. Mothers' Day. It should've been a day of happiness, a day to rest in contentment.
But it wasn't.
Certainly, Peter made an effort each year to make it special for her- and he succeeded, even if it was only to make her smile at his attempts. (The year he'd attempted a cake had been very interesting.) She called her own mother each year, or sometimes they visited her. She and Peter had quiet candlelit dinners some years, and it was pleasant.
No matter what happened on the day, though, there was one thing she couldn't avoid. The ever-present feeling that was only escalated by the holiday. The thought that many of her friends (indeed, most of them) already had several children, and would be greeted by messily, lovingly compiled breakfasts and handmade cards and young, carefree grins.
She hated herself for feeling so empty, when she knew she had so much.
With a little shake of her head, she pushed herself up so that she was leaning against her pillows but sitting. Slightly louder noises came from the kitchen and Elizabeth smiled slightly, wondering what mischief Peter was getting into. She felt a surge of love toward the caring, noble man she had married.
Suddenly she heard someone begin to climb the stairs, and quickly laid back down, closing her eyes again. That was just what one did on Mothers' Day. The door opened and he stood silently for a moment before speaking.
"El?" Peter asked. She could hear the characteristic half-smile in his voice. She pretended to stretch. Peter stepped closer to the bed. "Happy Mothers' Day," he said quietly. She sat up.
"Oh, Peter," she said, her eyes lighting up. "This is perfect." He was carrying a tray with waffles, strawberries, and chocolate milk; her three favorite breakfast foods. It was simple but elegant. He leaned down to place it on her lap and she stretched to kiss him on the cheek.
"Thank you," she said softly.
"You deserve it," he said. She felt tears of mixed joy and sadness well up but blinked them away. Peter sat down on the bed next to her and she leaned her head on his shoulder for a moment.
"I love you."
"I love you, El."
As he sat on his couch early in the morning of May 9th, Peter Burke smiled.
"I love you, too, Mom," he said. "Bye." He hung up the phone and stood, listening briefly for any signs of movement from upstairs. It was still silent.
With a short sigh, Peter stood walked through the swinging door into his kitchen. He eyed the bowl on the counter, deciding that it had been long enough. The waffle recipe directed one to leave the batter undisturbed for around ten minutes. Humming quietly under his breath, he poured some batter onto the heated griddle.
Cold air from the fridge rushed out as he opened it to pull out a carton of strawberries. He pulled a cutting board from the shelf and began slicing some. He's noticed that strawberries had recently become one of Elizabeth's favorites, so he would include some in her breakfast. A soft hissing noise told him that the first waffle was done. Avoiding a burn, he removed it from the griddle and poured new batter on. As he stopped his preparations momentarily, thoughts rose unbidden to his mind.
Deep down, he realized that the holiday didn't really make Elizabeth happy. Well, he knew she was happy to be with him and appreciated what he did. She'd emphasized that repeatedly. But he also knew that the day reminded her more keenly that they still had no children. And that was hard for her.
The second waffle finished and Peter put it onto a decorative plate with whipped cream and the sliced strawberries. He quickly poured a glass of chocolate milk and put everything onto a tray. He hesitated for a moment, unsure that this was the right choice of action. He just wanted her to be happy. With a soft exhale he shook himself and walked up the stairs.
Peter opened the door to their bedroom a moment later and stepped inside. He hovered momentarily on the threshold, smiling gently at his wife's still form. The pale sunlight filtering in through the window made a hint of red appear in her hair, and her expression was serene.
He took the last step inside, half-smiling. "El? Happy Mothers' Day." He stepped closer to the bed and she pushed herself up.
"Oh, Peter." Her eyes brightened as she looked at him. "This is perfect." He smiled as he set it down on her lap and she leaned up to kiss him on the cheek.
"Thank you," she said quietly.
"You deserve it," he said sincerely. And she did. That and so much more. She indicated that he should next to her and he did. She glanced up at him for a moment, eyes shining, before leaning her head gently against his shoulder.
"I love you," she said.
"I love you, El," he replied, taking her hand in his. And they sat that way for a while, quietly content in their love for one another.
It was raining lightly when Neal Caffrey stepped out of the cab. Despite the late month, it was cold and gray. It seemed oddly fitting. He paid the driver and lifted his potted flowers from the back seat.
"Thanks," he murmured to the man. The cab drove away and Neal turned, walking across the slick, wet grass. He was both surprised at and grateful for the absence of people. Far in the distance a family stood, but aside from them it was deserted. Neal's destination was farther to the center, and he continued walking in silence.
After several minutes he stopped in front of a simple, flat gray stone. He knelt down in front of it gently, ignoring the cold moisture that soaked into his suit pants. Water wouldn't hurt them. Wordlessly he read the short inscription, as he had many times before.
Nicole Marie Caffrey, gone but not forgotten.
With slightly shaking hands he set the flowers on the grave stone. They were purple pansies, the flower that had been her favorite.
"Happy Mothers' Day, Mom," he said in a quiet voice. "I'm sorry I've missed a few." It was only thanks to Peter Burke that he hadn't missed this year as well, for the cemetery was a ways outside of his two-mile radius. He hadn't told the FBI Agent why he needed some time off his leash, but he knew Peter knew anyway, and the older man had consented.
"I miss you," Neal said, his voice even quieter. "Things- things have been confusing, and..." he trailed off, his throat tightening slightly. "I just wish you were here."
Memories of past holidays flashed through his mind, when he'd been too young to have his spirits dampened by life and had gone about preparations with childish enthusiasm. Cards, burnt breakfasts. Whatever he did she always smiled, pulling him into tight hugs. He missed those with an ache stronger than he could have ever imagined.
The rain intensified, soaking Neal's clothing and hair. But he didn't notice, remaining still and silent in his kneeling position.
Cold rain mixed with warm tears that were rapidly wiped away as he stood.
"I love you," he whispered. And he walked away from the cemetery in the dark morning, feeling terribly, horribly alone.
The weather brightened considerably over the course of the day, becoming almost cheery again by early afternoon. Elizabeth Burke walked into her dining room, her mind elsewhere. She set down a small vase of flowers in the center of the table, knocking over a glass. The noise startled her back to reality, grateful she hadn't knocked something worse over.
She looked over the table to make sure the setting was in order, and suddenly she noticed she had automatically set three places. With a slight smile of amusement, she began to lift the extra set of plates up, but after a moment of hesitation set them back down. Why shouldn't she keep it there? With a quick decision she picked up her home phone and dialed.
The phone rang several times, but no one picked up. She tried another number with the same result.
Leave a message!
Elizabeth hesitated briefly. "Hey, Neal, it's Elizabeth." She paused. "I was wondering if you wanted-"
"Hey Elizabeth," Neal said quietly, cutting her off. "Sorry I didn't get the phone in time."
"It's fine," Elizabeth said, slightly puzzled at the lack of his usual enthusiasm.
"So, what were you saying?" He asked, his voice more normal.
"Oh," Elizabeth said, smiling to herself. "I seem to have set an extra place for lunch. Would you like to come over?"
"Are you sure?" Neal asked, a hint of something unfamiliar behind his voice.
"Positive," she said.
"Then I would," he said. "Now?"
"As soon as you can."
"I'll see you soon then," he said, then added softly, "thank you."
"Bye, Neal," she said. They hung up and as she set the phone back on its charger Peter came downstairs.
"Who's the extra place for?" Peter asked curiously, redoing his tie. It then occurred to Elizabeth that she hadn't actually asked Peter if he minded.
"Neal," she said quickly, helping him with the tie. "I just called him. Is that alright with you?" For a moment he looked thrown, then shrugged.
"If you've already invited him," he said. Elizabeth smiled, kissing Peter on the cheek. She hadn't really thought that he would mind. The young man had sort of become a fixture in the household, and it was now considered odd for more than a few days to go by without him and Peter coming over to work, or Neal just dropping by now that his anklet had been modified slightly to include their home.
"Good," she murmured. "He should be here soon. Will you help me with this?" Peter nodded and they moved the food over to the table quickly. They had just set the final things down when the doorbell rang. Elizabeth walked to answer it and Neal smiled at her. Briefly she looked him over, noticing a slightly forced aspect to his smile. He stepped inside and she impulsively pulled him into a hug.
"Thanks for coming, Neal," she said. He returned her hug with a grateful expression and nodded silently. Then he released her and grinned at her husband.
"Peter," he said.
Elizabeth clapped her hands gently. "I hope you're both hungry." They agreed that they were and the three sat down at the table.
"This looks delicious," Neal said, flashing her a smile. She nodded.
"Thanks. I hope it tastes the way it looks, then," Elizabeth said jokingly. Peter took a bite.
"It does," he said. "Better, too." Elizabeth laughed gently and they talked and ate off and on. Elizabeth looked between the two men and smiled to herself. Though it was rather different than the usual practice, she decided she liked this. It was a good way to spend Mothers' Day. Happy and together.