AN: I fudged most of this but I like the idea. Neal part of the Burke family will never get old for me. And he's so easy to infantize.
"Why are we in here again?" Neal looked around the room like a caged animal inspecting its new and unfamiliar surroundings. "Why can't we do this stuff in the kitchen?" He looked at Peter who was going through several papers and hadn't registered he'd heard the ex-con until the sound of the front door opening and closing could be heard, along with sounds of heels on hardwood.
"That's why," the FBI agent replied, gesturing to the door leading into the kitchen with his pen by way of explanation. "Elizabeth's book club."
Neal grinned. "Sounds fun."
Peter glanced up at him knowingly. "They could be your mother. Don't even try it."
Neal squinted. "Then why is Elizabeth—"
Peter shrugged. "I don't ask. This seemed important to her and I know work has been stressing her out lately so I agreed to let her have the meeting at our house today."
The other man sighed. "But we have work to do."
"No, I have work to do. You are a consultant so you are here to consult."
"Well, then ask me some questions," Neal insisted, impatient.
Peter looked up again, brown eyes peering up from the stack of papers. "Why? Do you have somewhere to be?"
Neal glanced to the left.
"That's what I thought." He lifted a mug to lips and then drew it away, grimacing. "Make yourself useful and go get me some coffee."
Blue eye's widened. "What? Peter, c'mon."
"I'm not going in there."
"I'm a consultant, not a servant."
"Neal, my coffee is cold. What is your professional opinion on this matter?" Peter grinned up at him, waving the mug in front of him.
Neal shook his head and finally grabbed it, standing up. "Fine. But if I'm not back in ten minutes…"
Peter waved him away, already back into the paperwork and evidence. "Yeah, yeah, I'll send a search party."
Neal grumbled in half-hearted annoyance as he inched his way into the kitchen. He was lucky and only Elizabeth looked up to give him an odd forced smile as he crept over to the coffee machine.
Neal sighed again to himself and opened the top of the machine, realizing he was going to have to make more coffee. Whatever. I'll probably have some later.
He rinsed Peter's mug and set it in the sink, withdrawing two more mugs and the coffee from the cupboard above him without a second thought. He was pressing the buttons to start the machine in a sort of state of blankness, the kind you get when you're only focused on the task at hand when he was startled by the voices of the women assembled at the table behind him. They weren't talking about books.
"My son got his first job yesterday!"
"Isn't that great, where does he work, Marge?"
"Sophia's wedding got changed to June. She's so happy it's a summer wedding!"
Neal stared at the coffee machine in concern. They were all talking about their children, their sons and daughters. He realized he hadn't heard Elizabeth's voice once. He turned slightly and saw the pained, forced look of happiness on her face.
That won't do.
The conversation stopped and they all turned as Neal sauntered over, playing up his charm and blue eyes and smile as much as he could. Elizabeth raised her eyebrows in question, but she already looked more amused than she had since Neal had walked in.
One of the girls turned to Elizabeth. "Who's this, Lizzy?"
Who in their right mind would call Elizabeth 'Lizzy'? Does she want her hand chopped off?
Elizabeth blinked, at a loss. "Um…well…"
He bent down next to her and leaned so their faces were side by side. "Can't you see the resemblance?"
The women's eyes skittered across the similarities in their features. One of the opened her mouth to speak, but Neal interrupted her by standing and swinging a leg over, foot slamming onto the table. The teacups shook dangerously and everyone but Elizabeth jumped. "Yep. Better get this checked soon, right, El?"
She finally looked up at him, distracted more by the nickname which he never used with her than the fact his foot was on her kitchen table during book club. "El?"
"Well," he grinned. "I know how you hate 'Lizzy'."
She rolled her eyes at him but smirked and he shrugged, stepping away from the table, knowing the other women were staring at him with bug eyes, wondering about the tracking anklet and why it had to be checked.
He faced away from them. "Yeah. I guess it's a good thing they have me on such a short leash after that second escape from prison. But like I told the FBI agent who finally caught me, there were people to see, art to forge."
He laughed softly at the sound of the front door clicking shut and spun around in satisfaction to see Elizabeth sitting at the kitchen table alone, a teacup saucer actually spinning its occupant had left so quickly. She shook her head and started picking up on instinct. "I didn't like that book anyway."
"Sorry, Elizabeth." He leaned against the counter.
"No, you're not." She smiled up at him. "But thanks."
"Anytime." He pushed away from the counter to fill up the mugs with the hot coffee and then paused.
I know where the mugs are in this house. He looked down. And the coffee machine. I know how to work the coffee machine. Actually, I know where everything in this house is. The remote to the television. The alcohol. The dogfood. I walk the dog. The people in this house…I am overly protective of the people in this house…
Why don't Peter and Elizabeth have children?
"Neal, are you alright?"
Neal shook himself out of his reverie and smiled up at her. "I'm fine." He had to tell himself it was because they were both too busy with work. Peter was an FBI agent and Elizabeth worked at a catering company. They could make it work. He had to tell himself that was the only reason there wasn't a little boy running around, flashing a pretend police badge or a little girl practicing pirouettes in the living room. The other reason was too impossible to think about.
He held up the steaming mugs. "Coffee. I'll go get Peter. It's okay if we use the kitchen?" The other reason made him want to scream or cry or laugh with incredulity, with the unfairness of it all. The fact that affected him so much scared the hell out of him.
I am overly protective of the people in this house.
Elizabeth looked up at him in confusion, searching his face and finding nothing behind the mask he could plaster on his face when little pieces of his world started to fall apart around me. "Yeah, that's fine."
Neal nodded robotically and went into the den, setting down the mugs and staring at Peter, pen poised above something, face drawn and tired. "What took you so long?" He murmured.
I had to make coffee since all of the mean old ladies drank it all, he wanted to say with a quirky grin and slight laugh but what came out was a shaky, child-like voice asking, "Peter, why don't you and Elizabeth have children?"
Peter dropped his pen in alarm and then looked up at him strangely and then resignedly.
I am overly protective of the people in this house.
And I'm tired of running.
AN: So I know that was way more serious than usual, but I still wonder. Let me know what you think, loves. Hotaru out.