Late afternoon light shone sluggishly through the colored glass of the bar door; it barely made it through the grimy windows at all. In the darkest corners, patrons and furniture blended in a dusty haze, but every nick, scratch and stain on the battered wooden bartop was picked out in stark relief.
Four men slumped at the bar, nursing warm bottles of beer. Three, clustered close to the door, looked like they’d come straight from the docks. The fourth, alone at the end, had been flagged on the Post Office’s surveillance feeds with so little effort that Don didn’t know whether to call it carelessness or a death wish.
As Keen was sitting with his back to the door, not even glancing at it when it opened, he was leaning towards the latter.
“I guess I should say thanks,” Don said. He leaned against the bar, then jerked back with a grimace when his sleeve caught against the sticky surface. “Nice.”
Keen turned his head just enough to make sure there were no cops surrounding the building and then looked morosely back down at his beer. “Thanks for stopping you, for helping you, or for making it this easy to find me?”
“First, you couldn’t have stopped me unless I wanted you to. I didn’t kill the people responsible for Audrey’s death, I wouldn’t have killed that piece of crap. Second, we both know you weren’t helping me, you were helping Liz. And I saved your ass at the cabin.”
“Then I guess your shoe leather is welcome.” Keen kept both hands wrapped loosely around his Coors. ”Can I at least finish my drink before I’m shot resisting arrest?”
Don resigned himself to yet another dry cleaning bill and settled his forearms back on whatever the hell was coating the bar. At least it wasn’t blood this time. He raised a finger to the bored-looking bartender, signalling for a beer of his own. “I get why you didn’t leave,” he said once it appeared.
“Didn’t take the first couple times.” Keen’s mouth twitched in a self-deprecating smirk. “The definition of madness is doing the same thing again and again, right?”
“But I wasn’t sure why you didn’t go to ground,” Don went on, ignoring him. “I’ve got a theory, though.”
“Yeah, you got me: I missed your smiling face.” Keen’s hands abandoned the beer bottle and retreated into the pockets of a stained and tattered blue hoodie. It wasn’t a move for a weapon, Don was pretty sure, but he tensed anyway.
The hands returned to plain sight, holding nothing.
“You don’t want to leave Liz,” Don said, relaxing again. “But I bet there’s this little voice at the back of your head that’s telling you she’ll get hurt if you stay.”
“Yeah, thanks for that, by the way.” The glance Keen shot him was unfriendly. “You know what’s worse than discovering you have a conscience? Discovering it sounds a lot like Cooper’s resident boy scout.”
“If I hadn’t come through the door, who would have? Russians? The Cabal? McCready? Maybe even one of Reddington’s people?” Don drank some of his beer. “You ever meet a bridge you didn’t burn?”
“Not since Liz.” Keen’s bitten-down nails worried at the label of his empty bottle. A minor tell of agitation and an obvious one: meaningless.
Whatever Keen’s plan was in allowing the FBI to catch up to him, it hadn’t gone anywhere he didn’t want it to yet.
“Death by cop, that it? Quicker than what anyone else has in mind, maybe, but you really think I’d come in here guns blazing? Even if I would - even if you deserve it - Liz would never forgive me.”
“She forgave you chasing her down,” Keen pointed out, tone mild to the point of inflectionless. “She’s pretty understanding.”
Don snorted, glad he wasn’t drinking. “Elizabeth Keen: poster girl for live and let live. That the problem? That she forgave me, but not you? Not that she needed to - I was doing my job.” A stray thought gave him a new thread to pull on. “Or is it that she might get passed it? Maybe even still loves you, and you know you’re toxic.”
Keen’s expression didn’t even flicker away from faintly bemused disinterest. “I’d say your theory’s good, but I’ve literally taught fourth graders with a better sense of character narrative. I can suggest some remedial worksheets?”
However indifferent he was trying to appear, Keen was on defense. Trouble was, Don hadn’t walked into the bar with a game plan - honestly, he hadn’t really expected his target to still be there. Then he’d been curious and now … now that thread was dangling right in front of him and the compulsion to tug on it was strong.
And a little unravelling was no less than Keen deserved.
“Personally, I don’t think you need to worry about Liz forgiving you,” Don said at last. “She might be understanding, but let’s review some of your highlights. There’s Meera, of course.” He paused to see if that provoked a response, some kind of denial: something to feed the slow-burning anger in his gut and make his decision for him.
“Lucy Brooks,” he went on, when Keen gave him nothing but silence. “Eugene Ames. Do you have a rough estimate of how many people you killed hunting down Karakurt? That would be helpful.”
“No one that wasn’t trying to kill me,” Keen muttered, and began to pick at the label again.
“The name Asher Sutton mean anything to you?”
“Like I said.”
“Rich kid playing amateur MMA versus a trained operative? Sure, I’d buy self-defense.” Don shook his head and pushed his beer away. The little stomach he’d had for it was gone; the lingering taste in the back of his throat had turned sour. “You know his fiancée, Gwen, she-”
“You really want to do this now? Fine.” Keen straightened and turned, holding Don’s gaze with something that might have been amusement, might have been a challenge.
“I killed Asher Sutton and Eugene Ames,” he murmured, tone level and easy. Just two guys, shooting the shit at the end of the day. “I gave Malik’s name to Berlin - along with several others. I took out Lucy Brooks, and shot some guy whose name I never found out. He had a great hat. I have no idea how many people I’ve put in the ground in the last week alone and we both know, sooner or later - probably sooner - I’ll do it again.
“And you’re right: the one person I care about is the one person I shouldn’t go near. So if you’re not going to shoot me or arrest me, maybe you can get the hell out of here and give someone else the chance.”
Don waited for that fire to flare, for the urge to punch Keen out and haul him in to become too overwhelming to resist. “Have you showered since the cabin?” He asked instead, on perverse impulse. “Have you even slept? Eaten?”
It was almost worth it to see Tom Keen to blink. “What?”
“Your safe houses were burned, where are you staying?”
“Why ... would I tell you that?”
“What’s the worst thing that could happen?” Abruptly done with this, Don peeled himself away from the bar and stood. “If I sent SWAT, you get what you want. And I’m pretty sure you’re not concerned about me being caught in the blast radius of whatever’s coming for you.”
“I figured if you kept going, you’d get something right eventually. Go home, Agent Ressler.”
The thread finally twisted free; Don caught the trailing end with more than a touch of morbid amusement. “But Liz would be concerned about me,” he said. “So you’re keeping away from everyone she cares about too. I thought you were joking about picking up a conscience.”
Keen flinched. Don wouldn’t have caught it if he hadn’t been looking, waiting, but he’d lay money that, for the first time in Tom Keen’s life, he was completely at a loss.
The temptation to keep pulling was even weaker this time; he blamed it on the shock. “Okay, you’re going to be stubborn and I wouldn’t sit in this bar for someone I liked, let alone for you.
“You know where I live, you stop feeling sorry for yourself and decide to grow a pair, come by and we’ll work out if you have a future.”
Less than twelve hours later, crouched next to an overflowing yellow dumpster and trying to stem the flow of blood from a shallow slice along his ribs, Jacob almost wished he’d taken Ressler up on his offer.
“Slow. Slow and stupid. You have no sight lines, no secondary exit, no situation awareness.” Gina stood before him, the knife she’d taken from him in their brief scuffle still in her hand. She gestured towards at the mouth of the alley and then waved the blade in front of his nose. “I could have killed you. Easily. With your own knife. Too embarrassing.”
“Yeah, that’s the worst part,” he agreed and slowly held out his hand.
“Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit,” she snapped, but rolled her eyes and dropped the knife into his waiting palm.
After sliding the blade into its sheathe at the small of his back, Jacob hauled himself to his feet. “So why am I still alive? If you want information, I’m out the loop - the best I can tell you is the Director of the Cabal’s really bad at skydiving.”
Gina shrugged. “You’re alive because you’re worth more in entertainment value than you are in coin. For now. Have you eaten?”
“Why do people keep asking me that?”
“I’m hungry,” she said. “If you’ve finished bleeding, find us a cab.”