Christmas ornament

White Collar fic: Fairytale of New York

Title: Fairytale of New York
Fandom: White Collar
Word Count: 3700
Pairings: canon ones
Summary: Three views of Christmas, on the first Christmas after the series finale. For my h/c bingo "begging" square. Huge finale spoilers.
Cross-posted: http://archiveofourown.org/works/2813135

Just FYI, although I didn't want to say so outside the cut because spoilers, this is possibly the most depressing Christmas story ever written. Just remind yourself that their next Christmas is going to be much better! The title, appropriately, is from the Pogues' depressing Christmas song of the same name. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j9jbdgZidu8)


---

1. Paris

He was in La Ville-Lumière, the City of Light, at Christmastime. It was as gorgeous as he remembered from the last time he was here around this time of year, a decade ago with Alex on his arm and the world spread out at his feet. He and Alex had wandered the Christmas markets, sampling different kinds of gingerbread and chocolate, and sipping cups of vin chaud -- a new experience for them, coming from America where wine was rarely served hot. They'd made love in a luxury hotel room with the drapes open to let in the glittering night lights of Paris. For a Christmas present he'd given her a necklace stolen from a Spanish contessa two weeks earlier in a daring high-altitude cat burglary from a hotel tower above the white-sand shores of Saint-Tropez, and he'd clasped it around her long glorious neck before having a private meal served by the hotel staff.

Today he was staying in a hotel room just as nice, living flush off the proceeds from an easy, no-challenge jewel heist he'd run a month or so ago. It hadn't been much fun, more like going to the office than anything else -- lift some rubies, fence them, have enough money for nice hotels and good restaurants. And a voice in the back of his mind kept quietly scolding him: What if Peter knew you were living like this? What would he say, if everything he tried to teach you came to this?

He'd wandered the Christmas markets, but everything he saw reminded him of someone else. Elizabeth would love those handmade ornaments, he thought; they'd look beautiful on the tastefully decorated tree she put up every year. Their baby would be born by now, wouldn't he? Neal trailed his fingers over some carved wooden blocks and then snatched his hand away. He couldn't be sending packages overseas, even anonymously. He was dead. Dead men didn't have families. That was the whole point.

Mozzie would like this, he thought as he browsed a booth stocked with gorgeous antique glassware, and then turned away. Was Mozzie having Christmas at June's this year? He hoped they'd stayed in touch -- hoped, for that matter, that Mozzie and the Burkes still saw each other as well.

He was in the most beautiful city in the world at the loveliest time of year, and all he could think was that he'd trade it in a heartbeat to sit in front of June's fireplace and share a glass of aged port, or watch It's a Wonderful Life in front of the Burkes' Christmas tree with Peter and El on the other couch and Satchmo tucked under his feet.

Now it was a quarter past midnight and he was leaning out the window, open despite the hard chill of the December air. He had a glass of wine in hand, an excellent vintage, but he'd already had enough of it not to notice the taste anymore. He couldn't remember exactly why he'd opened the window -- something about listening to the church bells at midnight, but the echoes had faded away and now he was leaning far enough out that he frightened himself and had to pull himself back in, over the sill into the warm and well-lit room. He spilled some wine over his hand. It fell down, down, to the street six stories below.

Neal closed his window and set the wine glass down sloppily on an end table, and went into the bathroom to wash his hands. The lights seemed too bright, washing out his complexion as he stared at himself in the mirror. Earlier today he'd been perfectly put together, his hair neatly swept back in a stylish wave, his suit trim and tailored (courtesy of the proceeds from someone else's rubies). He'd examined himself in the mirror before going out for the evening and had found himself impressive. Now it just looked false to him, his face too white, his eyes hollow.

Half past midnight in Paris would be 6:30 p.m. in New York. What was Mozzie doing now? he wondered. Were Peter and Elizabeth busy with their baby? It would be a very small baby, and babies were a lot of work. Maybe they'd be too tired to do anything. But surely they'd have the tree up. Did they have Mozzie over? Or was he at June's?

He didn't realize he'd started to cry until the world blurred and he dropped his eyes to his hands clenching the edge of the sink and it was stupid, stupid, he had everything he wanted, everything he'd always wanted -- money and freedom and the whole world open to him. He'd spent four years in prison and nearly four years afterwards in a different kind of prison, trapped in a two-mile radius with the whole world just beyond his reach.

But still he couldn't stop crying. He staggered away from his reflection -- perfect, plastic, everything he'd ever wanted to be and everything he wasn't -- until he hit the wall and sank down to huddle on the immaculate tile floor. He pressed his palms to his eyes and willed it to stop, stop, stop.

"I want to go home," he whispered, choking on a grief he couldn't even explain. "Please, please, please, I want to go home."

But there was no one to hear and no one to care, and eventually he dragged himself up off the floor, washed his face, and went to bed. The pillow was cold and smelled of unfamiliar soap, and if he closed his eyes and rolled to the side, he could almost imagine he might open them and find the lights of a New York morning streaming through June's skylight.

Almost.






2. New York

The one good thing about Christmas Eve this year, Peter thought, was that they'd been too busy to think.

With little Neal Robert Burke just three weeks old, El's parents had come out from Illinois to meet their grandchild, and were now staying in the former guest room, recently refitted as baby Neal's bedroom. On top of that, Peter's cousin Sylvia had come down from Syracuse along with her husband and their two kids. It had been one hell of a Christmas Eve, culminating in a family quarrel when Sylvia and Joe wanted Peter to come with them to Mass, while El's parents thought the whole family should be together around the Christmas tree, and El was running on about three hours of sleep in the last two days and was clearly one thread away from snapping her rope.

Sylvia's clan ended up going to Mass on their own (with many reproachful glares at Peter), and then trooped in at about 1 a.m. just as Peter and El had gotten little Neal down for bed. El's parents were already asleep, and El had turned in at Peter's urging, leaving him to take advantage of the solitude to have a beer or ... possibly more like a 12-pack underneath the flashing lights of the Christmas tree, on top of the eggnog and the wine for the family toast at dinner (he might have drunk quite a bit of that, considering the looks El kept giving him). He'd tried watching a half-dozen different Christmas movies from the Elizabeth section of their DVD collection, but the hell of it was that she liked old movies and anything older than about 1960 reminded him of ... people he wasn't thinking about. It's a Wonderful Life, their go-to staple for the last decade -- forget it. They'd watched it for the last three Christmases with ... people ... and in the end he had a fit of Scrooge-ism, thought "screw Christmas" and put in the least Christmasy technically-Christmas movie in their collection: Die Hard.

Then Sylvia and family came trooping in, and baby Neal sent up a thin wail from upstairs. Peter pointed his in-laws at their accommodations -- the fold-out couch and his and El's camping equipment on the floor -- and hurried upstairs before El could be roused from the only sound sleep she'd gotten in the last day and a half. (Let alone waking up her parents; hopefully, Peter thought, they'd sleep until noon.)

El was half awake and sitting up in bed with baby Neal tucked partway under her nightgown. They were breast feeding until she started working again, they'd decided, and then they'd go to bottle feeding and Peter would take over half the feeding chores. Unfortunately this meant that El was doing 100% of the feeding chores right now.

They were illuminated only by the night-light plugged into the power outlet beside the crib they'd moved in from Neal's regular bedroom, but they were gorgeous, his own little Madonna and Child tableau. Peter sank down on the edge of the bed because his legs stopped holding him.

"Awww, hon," El said, reaching out to pat his knee. "You're drunk, aren't you?"

"Not that drunk," Peter said. He fumbled with his tie before realizing he wasn't wearing one; he was wearing one of El's mom's stupid scratchy sweaters instead. He peeled it off, leaving himself in his undershirt, and then rested his elbows on his knees. The room was spinning slowly. Okay, this had been a bad idea. He'd be popping aspirin in the morning.

"Honey," Elizabeth said, prodding at his knee. "You should drink a glass of water."

"Mmmm." Sitting here felt better.

She squirmed a bit until she could tilt herself against him. Baby Neal suckled busily, eyes open, gazing at whatever thoughts and dreams little babies had. Downstairs, Sylvia and her brood thumped around and made far more noise than four people ought to make getting ready for bed.

"Peter," El said quietly, her voice vibrating against him. "You should go drink some water. You know you'll feel better in the morning."

And even in the state he was in, he thought he could hear a tone of faint reproach -- maybe just his imagination, but he'd been doing this a lot, and it was getting harder to hide it from El. She wasn't stupid; she knew how often he'd been using alcohol as the poor man's sleeping pill to drug himself into a state where he could sleep without dreaming -- sleep without the Technicolor red-and-white show that played across the backs of his retinas every time he closed his eyes.

If he'd been just five minutes faster ...

"You're right," he said, and kissed the top of her head. "As usual."

He got up and managed to do a credible job of walking without weaving too much, down the hall to the bathroom. He flicked on the dim light over the mirror and filled his toothbrush cup to drink from. He could've gone downstairs for an actual glass of water, but it would've meant running the risk of getting Sylvia and her brood stirred up again.

Had he cleaned up his beer can collection from the coffee table? He couldn't remember. Well, Sylvia had grown up along with Peter and Jimmy and the rest of the cousins, and she'd married a guy from the same construction yard where his dad used to work; she wasn't going to be shocked at one of the men in her family having a few beers too many.

He drank two cups of water while leaning on the sink. He was getting past the floaty-happy part of being drunk and into the aching-sad part, which meant he needed to get to bed soon. But he wasn't sure if he could sleep yet, and being wide awake and drunk was a guaranteed road to ... things. Things he didn't think about.

He was staring at nothing, mostly, which brought his eyes down to the countertop beside the sink and El's collection of toiletry items. Last Christmas, Neal had given her a pretty little shell-inlaid box -- Peter remembered joking about his CI buying his wife fancy gifts, but he knew Neal had gotten it from one of the little shops inside his radius, and El still used it to store her favorite pieces of jewelry and --

-- and --

And for some reason that was what did it, that stupid little box. He wasn't normally a maudlin drunk. At least, he never used to be. But now he folded up like he'd lost whatever held him together, collapsed into a huddled heap on the floor, and just tried to --

-- tried to cry quietly, damn it, if he had to cry at all, only too aware that El's parents were right on the other side of one wall, and El and baby Neal were on the other side of the other wall, and he didn't want to wake them or bother them, he really didn't. He just wanted -- he just wanted --

"I just want my friend back," he whispered, grinding his knuckles into his eyes, trying to make it stop, stop, stop. "I want to go back, I want to do things right, I just want to fix this, I want to see what I never saw in time -- I want to not fuck up this time --"

"Oh, hon."

El's quiet voice came from the doorway. He looked up sharply, then turned his face away into the shadows, embarrassed and ashamed. He hadn't meant to bother her. It wasn't even the first time he'd gone on a drunken sobbing jag in the bathroom in the last half-year -- that was the worst part. But he'd never gotten caught before. In retrospect, maybe he could have been quieter.

"The baby," he whispered, still not looking at her. But he could hear the silken whisper of her nightgown as she crouched down beside him.

"Asleep," she murmured, putting her arms around him.

"Your parents?"

"Still asleep." She tilted her head against his. "And your cousin too, I think."

He tried to laugh. It came out choked and miserable. "How'd we end up with a houseful of people --"

"On the one day out of the year that we'd really like to be alone?" she asked, soft and sad, reading his thoughts as always. "Just lucky, I guess."

He would have laughed but something twisted up and it came out a sob instead.

"Oh, hon," she whispered, pulling him against her. "I'm so sorry."

"I just want him back, El," he managed to say against her shoulder, because he couldn't say it anywhere else but somehow, in this quiet little lamplit space, it was almost okay to admit it. "I just want to fix it, I just want to do it right this time, I just -- I'd do anything, El, anything at all, I'd give anything at all, please --"

"Shhhh, shhhh." She ran her hand through his hair. "It'll get easier, Peter, I swear to you it will. This time next year, it won't be like this. I promise you."

He wished he could believe her. But eventually she got him up off the floor and walked him down the hall and put him to bed. He rolled over and draped an arm across the rounded mass of her hip and spooned around her, and she leaned back into him.

Some god damn Christmas, he thought, with a bitter edge of sacrilege, and finally, face buried in El's dark wavy hair, he managed to find refuge in sleep.






3. New York (2)

It was long after midnight when the cab pulled up outside the Riverside Drive mansion. The driver leaped out to hold the door for June, then offered her a hand onto the icy sidewalk.

"Thank you, dear." She pressed three crisp hundreds into his hand.

He looked at the money, then at her. "It's a twenty-dollar cab ride, ma'am -- not that I don't appreciate --"

"And you're working on Christmas," June said. "Buy something nice for the kids."

He smiled. "To tell you the truth, ma'am, Christmas is just another day for me and my family."

"Then put it forward toward the next holiday." She patted his shoulder and turned toward the house. As she did so, she glanced up at the window of the loft apartment -- a habit, one she hadn't been able to break in all the previous months when the window had remained obstinately dark. And it was dark as expected, of course, the windows like empty eyes behind the glittering decorations draped over the balcony that she'd had her maintenance man put up, as always.

Believing in Christmas miracles is something for young girls with stars in their eyes, not women who have raised four children and buried a husband. So she reminded herself as she fumbled in her handbag for the key.

Still, if there ever was a time of year that would bring him out -- if it was a con, and there was a part of her that still wanted to believe, even after all this time.

She let herself into the dark, empty house. The staff had the day off, so it would be just her rattling around in the big house until she went over to Angela and Mike's house for the big family gathering in early afternoon.

She hadn't realized how used to having company she'd gotten.

Foolish old woman, she scolded herself, and reached into her handbag for a tissue.

Then she became aware of ... she couldn't even put her finger on what it was, exactly. Just a sense that she wasn't alone in the house.

Neal? she almost said, but then the person in the living room made some small sound, an accidental little throat-clearing noise, and she knew who it was.

"Hello, Mozzie," she said quietly. "Do you want a light on?"

"Kind of enjoying drinking in the dark, actually," Mozzie said thickly. There was some rustling. "I'm sorry. I'll go."

She closed the distance between them before he could gather himself, and put a hand on his arm. "Sit down. Please. You know you're always welcome here. I haven't seen as much of you lately as I used to. I miss my old Parcheesi partner."

Mozzie gave a small, choked laugh. "Haven't felt much like Parcheesi lately, I guess. I thought you'd be gone all night. Didn't mean for you to catch me here."

He must be drunk if he was being this honest about it. June patted his hand. "Well, I can't tell you how glad I was to come in the door and find out I had company. Do you mind if I get a second glass? I'd ask what you're drinking, but I know you have impeccable taste, and I'm sure it came from my wine cellar anyway."

This time his laugh was a little more genuine and less miserable.

June took a detour by her bedroom to put away her handbag and change into slippers. When she got back with a second wine glass, she was half expecting him to be gone, but instead the light was on in the living room and he'd cleaned himself up a bit; he no longer looked quite so much like he'd been crying alone in the dark. Also, he'd laid out the Parcheesi board.

"I think I may have a certain advantage," June remarked, pouring herself a glass of wine. It was, indeed, from her cellars, and he'd picked a good vintage.

"I wouldn't be so sure of that," Mozzie said, accepting the bottle when she passed it back to him. "I'll have you know these hands are as steady as the hands of an Amish carpenter. Which, by the way, I happen to know from personal experience -- did I ever tell you I worked with an Amish safecracker once? His name was Elijah, I think, but we called him Eli the Hammer ..." He paused as she set up her pieces on the board. "June, you don't have to stay up on my account. You've been out all night ..."

"Sweetheart, my days of dancing through the night are not that far behind me. I'm not sleepy at all, and I'm glad you showed up." She smiled and passed him the little bag of pieces. "Pick a color."

"You know," Mozzie said, rolling one of the pawns over his knuckles, "I didn't come here intending to ... I know it's stupid, I know, but I guess there's a part of me ..."

"You thought if he was going to show up, he'd do it on Christmas," June said. "Yes. I was thinking the same thing."

"But he didn't," Mozzie said, and crumpled a little more.

June reached across to squeeze his hand. "You should go to the Burkes' for Christmas dinner," she said gently. "Not that you wouldn't be welcome with my family, but I think they'd like to see you. Their son was born on the first, you know. Seven pounds, twelve ounces. A perfect baby boy. Peter stopped by personally to tell me, and asked me how you were doing. He said Elizabeth misses you."

Mozzie gave his head a short, hard shake. "That's not -- I should never have let myself get drawn into their world as deeply as I did. It's all an illusion and I knew that, but I let myself believe it. People like us -- like me -- don't get family holidays and happy endings. It's the trade-off for being free. Unattached. Those happy little holiday gatherings in the candlelight --" His voice shook. "That's not for us."

"You know, when I was a girl," June said contemplatively, "everyone told me that fairy tale endings weren't for girls like me. A poor colored girl who was running around with a boy from the wrong side of the tracks? Preposterous! My mother scrubbed rich white people's floors for a living. That was the closest by far I would ever get to a beautiful mansion with servants to do for me. Or so everyone said. And so ..." She waved a hand around them, at the opulent room with its tasteful and expensive furnishings. "I decided to write my own happy ending."

"It's ..." Mozzie began, and broke off.

"I hope you weren't going to imply that anything in my life has been easy or simple," June said, but she smiled then, to soften the sting in her sharp tone. "Mozzie, don't ever let anyone tell you that something is impossible. Even if the person saying so is you. And now," she added, picking up the dice. "Let's play this game. And darling, I play to win."

~


This entry is also posted at http://sholio.dreamwidth.org/988928.html with comment count unavailable comments.
OH. OH. ALL MY BABIES. OHHHH.

You broke my heart so brilliantly that I'm not even mad. Neal just really needs a hug (and a conk on the head, but that's another matter). Peter. OH. PETER. I don't know who could help him any more than El does. And JUUUNE! She is so, so kind that it's ridiculous. And Mozzie! And that last line, OMG. I literally heard Diahann Carroll's voice.

Loved this. So much.
Thank you so much! :) I'm absolutely delighted the character voices came through!
Thank you for this!
I guess what I love the most is that you may helped me to get rid of that image of Neal being all happy and shiny in Paris show left us with. It was nice to see some REAL emotions from him, the realisation - again, after 3x08 "doing something that's meaningful, being surrounded by people I care about and respect" - that he wants most not the money and freedom, but his home and family. I loved his breakdown. it's what make him Neal I loved, not a guy who threw away everyone and everything to have his freedom.
I really loved June with Mozzie, too, especially when she calls him on "happy endings" stuff. And aww, poor Peter, I just wanna hug him (and hit Neal, a little).

But you won't leave them all so sad and alone, right? What about the sequel about next year's Christmas, with Neal back in NY and everyone happy and together? Pretty please? :)

Edited at 2014-12-21 04:39 am (UTC)
I'm glad this helped. :) I really do think Neal is suffering too -- he has to be, I just can't believe that the Neal we got to know on the show would be able to turn his back on everyone and forget about them. So yeah, my headcanon is that he tries living free and alone, pulling off cons, but it's just not fun anymore, because he misses everyone he left behind. (AND THEN HE GOES HOME.)

I need to write some happier tags, now that I've gotten most of the angst out of my system ...
Heart wrenching and beautifully written. Like sapphire2309 said, I could hear Diahann Carrolls voice especially in that last line.
I enjoyed reading that. Neal deserves to spend a painful Christmas, but I feel for the others!
This is so sad and beautiful at the same time.*hugs* all of them. In my heart I see them all as spending the next Christmas together in Paris.
This? Perfect! Though you made me cry a little and I don't cry often when reading fic, I'm a hard woman... *sniffles*

So sad and beautiful and angsty, and totally how I see that first Christmas for them all *hugs them*
Oh three unhappy boys. Atleast Mozzie and Peter have June and El resp two wise and kind women. Hoping for a happier time soon.
Oh that was sad. I imagine that first Christmas was going to be a hard one. Yes those back in NY had it worse but I feel that Neal was also grieving the loss of his family.

Next year it could be Christmas in Paris with Neal. : ) : )
Thank you! Yeah, I think I broke my own heart writing this. But yeah, next Christmas will be better!
June is so right! And I'm glad she said it to Mozzie! Mozzie and Neal spent much of the past couple of years arguing about, and ultimately convincing themselves that, they can't change and can't have happy endings.

And I'm crying again. I feel ridiculous. I cried for Peter and Mozzie knowing full well that Neal had faked it and that Peter would know before the end of the episode! And now I'm crying again, because they're mourning, even if they don't really have reason. They think they do, and it feels just the same as if it were me.

(And this is why I don't get drunk. I'm quite capable of being maudlin while perfectly sober. I just know I'd be an even more maudlin drunk!)

But one Christmas later, things are different, right? RIGHT?!
Aaargh, I KNOW! Even if the death is fake, their feelings are real, and their mourning is real. *sobs into keyboard*

... but yes, next Christmas will be much better. MUCH!
Oh, God, yes, I am desperately clinging to the thought that the next Xmas is gonna be so much better *clings, clings, clings and tries not to cry*

I think Peter begging for a chance to fix it is the ultimate heartbreak *tacklehugs Peter and never lets go*