The debrief meeting was going as well as expected. That is to say: dry, boring, and chalk-full of arrogance and tedium. A necessary debrief, but still boring as sin. Elizabeth could still hear the splash of the Stewmaker’s body hitting the chemical bath, and the hiss of the acid eagerly eating away at his skin. She didn’t need to relive the experience in a powerpoint presentation, for god’s sake. She was sick and exhausted to the point of dizziness, but this was her job, and she could feel the heavy judging gaze on her shoulders of at least half the agents in the room, just waiting for the rookie to screw up. She kept her posture as annoyingly straight as possible and faced the front. She even pretended to take notes for a while. Like she needed a reminder.
Agent Ressler studied her from the opposite end of the room, eyes half-lidded and not bothering to be subtle. She sighed internally. Was it time for another conflicted round of “I’m Not Sure if I Still Hate You, Or I’m Starting To Adjust to Your Role on My Team?” She was on her last nerve of the day, and seeing that goddamn crease in his brow and his face looking like a confused gorilla? Not conducive to keeping the peace. She forced herself to count backwards from 100 before she just got up and kicked him in the nuts. Liz smirked slightly at the thought. Sometimes the classics were classic for a reason.
“And now, Agent Ressler will explain the connection between…um...Agent Ressler?” The thin, nasally voice of the tech agent trailed off as the sound of shitty rock music blared angrily from Ressler’s corner of the room. He pushed off the wall hurriedly and glanced down at his ringing phone screen in obvious confusion, before flipping it open. The debrief room, filled with over 20 people, was silent as the surprise on his face bled into something darker. He signaled the commander through the glass as the skinny tech speaker opened his mouth to whine in complaint before Ressler blew passed him, knocking the smaller man into the pull-down screen at the front of the room. Cell phone already at his ear, his eyes briefly brushed over hers as he left, but he wasn’t looking at her. Liz had never seen that look in his eyes and before she even realized she was out of her seat, she was weaving through the crowd to the other door. She quietly slipped out of the room from the back as the whispering exploded in the crowd of agents. Meera, leaning comfortably on the back wall across from her, raised a brow as Liz snuck out, eyes dark with curiosity and a slight flicker of amusement. Liz shrugged helplessly before shutting the door. If this had something to do with Reddington, she was not letting Ressler try and shut her out again.
She turned the corner just in time to see the angry tail end of his jacket flair out as he whipped around into the back exit staircase. She waited a breath before following sliently. Her heels made tiny clicks on the floor as she heard a raised voice explode from the alcove.
“What do you mean, you—Christ, Jax, what did—“ she glanced around surreptitiously before turned the last corner. The door to the staircase was mostly shut, but the hinge had rusted enough to leave a sliver of space for the voices to flow through. Thank God for shitty government funding. The slim window in the door was dirtied with age, but she could still see Ressler clearly in the dim lighting. He was whisper-yelling furiously at the wall, one hand in his perfectly combed hair. He looked different, something in his expression, she thought distractedly. More…open. Emotional.
It was weird.
“You want me to—do you even know what youre asking me, man?” he whirled around and for a moment she panicked he’d seen her. She ducked quickly, but his hushed voiced still broke through. “So what, he’s creepin’ around your girl, that’s not my—“ he broke off and she faintly heard an angry voice over the phone rising gradually. It sounded like another man, and he sounded pissed. Ressler turned slightly towards the window again, and the look on his face made her step back.
“He’s stalking who?” The voice responded, sounding slightly calmer. The shock on the agent’s face was plain. “Tara’s back?” As Liz wondered who Tara was (sister? girlfriend? pet cat?), Ressler brushed an agitated hand through his hair again as he listened to the call intently. Then he broke into a smirk that made Liz keenly aware of how personal this conversation was. His postured slouched and for a moment, he looked so young and relaxed, Liz barely even recognized him.
“Damn, who’d you have to sell your soul to to bring her back in town, kid?” A muffled indignant reply buzzed over the cell and he barked a laugh. “Yeah, sure, okay, you didn’t even notice she was back, right.” His tone grew fond and teasing and Liz leaned so close to the window her breath fogged against it, blurring out his soft smile as he mumbled into the receiver. He kicked the wall lightly with his foot and she barely heard the following question, she was so distracted by the cuteness of the movement.
“...How’s Gemma? She stilled pissed?” the response was slow, and his expression fell slightly. Another ex? No, this had to be family. The tense line of his shoulders didnt lie. Another louder comment brought the tiny grin back and he chuckled slightly. “Tell Chibs he even thinks about touching that scotch under the shelf I’ll knife his bike with his own blades. I mean it. He could use some more scars.” Another muffled retort. Liz couldn’t help but hear the soft twang that bled into his voice as his spoke. It sounded vaguely…Southern? West Coast Southern, definitely. And not nearly as cultured or sharp as his usual tone. She was so lost. Scars? Bikes? His profile said he had no family, and he was from East Phili. Her mind whirled in confusion.
“Yeah, I heard Opie just got outta Stockton. Tell him and Donna to check the mail soon, I sent ‘em a gift….Jesus, Jax, not that kinda gift.” The disgust on his face was comical (even cute, her mind suggested unhelpfully) and even though Liz was fascinated by this alien version of her grim team leader, she knew she needed to back off. “Hey, youre a dad now, you gotta quit talkin’ like that…Hey, kids like me, okay?” He sounded…brotherly. He licked his lips distractedly and Liz had to refocus. “I know. Juice sent some pictures. He’s beautiful— You sure he’s your kid?” he joked with another blindingly white smile. This was way too personal. Liz already felt guilty for staying once she’d figured out it wasn’t another “Red” alert. His voiced sobered for a moment and as she stepped away lightly, he was nodding seriously again.
“Jax, I’m sure it’ll be fine. Tell Chief Hale—he should be chief now right? ...What? Unser’s still…whatever. Tell Hale anyway. Yeah. I’ll send you the files. Gimme the guys name….okay. And you’re sure the guy’s FBI?” Even backing away, Liz heard the answering exasperation over the phone. “Okay, how do you spell it? K-O-H-N. Got it. Okay, I’ll see what I can do.” She silently retreated back to the main bullpen, turning the corner quietly, but not before she heard the echo down the hall.
“Yeah, love you too, brother.”
Meera was waiting at her desk when she reentered. She raised a brow at the look Liz was sure was on her face.
“Not was you were expecting, it seems?” the smaller woman studied her silently, before nodding. Liz watched as Agent Ressler calmly made his way back to the main office before leaning into her doorway and addressing the two women. “We pull out in ten. We got a protection case. Keene, contact Reddington. We’re gonna need him.” He barked out the orders sharply, the slow comfortable drawl from his words on the phone nonexistent. His hair was back to its perfectly styled swoop, no sign of his earlier agitation, and for some reason that really, really bothered her. She pushed away the feeling as she grabbed her bag. Kohn. The name echoed ominously in her head. She pushed away that feeling, too.
It was probably nothing.