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Mercy

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       Watching Raymond from a distance, Dembe’s search for possible danger was interrupted by the vibrating phone in his pocket.  The screen told him it was Elizabeth.  For a split second, Dembe debated interrupting Raymond’s and the beautiful woman’s meeting to tell him of the call.  This is the first time in a while that he saw a genuine smile on Raymond’s face.  Did he want to ruin that for Raymond?

       “Elizabeth he is in a meeting.”  Dembe’s greeting was curt.  He wanted to ensure he kept an eye on Raymond, who was sitting in the open air café drinking a coffee with a mysterious woman they had just run into while leaving the hotel.  They were keeping up appearances trying to ensure everyone that despite the damage Isabella Stone had done, all was well in the Concierge of Crime’s world.  That the steadfast reliable services remained in place, and anyone considering of making a run at Raymond would meet a horrible ending. 

       “I need to speak to him it’s urgent Dembe.”  Liz pleaded on the other line. 

       Dembe thought it sounded like she had been crying, “What is wrong?”  Dembe asked getting up to his feet to approach Raymond with the phone.

       “Tom left.”  Liz answered, the sound of Agnes cries in the background. Tom had left long before then, but he had promised to come back.  This time she had kicked him out and told him never to come back.  She should have known, he had showed his true colors to her.  Standing in her destroyed apartment, stepping on the broken glass of their things caused by Tom throwing them, some almost hitting her.  That had been the straw that broke the camels back.

       Dembe stopped mid stride and turned around and sat back down.  This could wait, Raymond would likely be upset, but it could wait.  “I will let him know as soon as he is out of the meeting.”

       “Where are you guys?”

       “Chicago.”  Dembe responded, “We should be back this evening.  Will you be fine until then?”

       “Yes.”  Liz said trying to get ahold of herself.  Realizing once again that when her world was crumbling around her, she went running to Reddington for help. 

       “I can have Baz come by if you need help or maybe someone from work.”  Dembe spoke gently to her knowing that she was still upset, and he felt guilty for letting Raymond continue his meeting. 

       “I will be fine.  I should not have called.”  Liz said looking around her destroyed apartment.  If Baz came, Red would probably have Tom killed seeing the destruction Tom left behind.  Deciding she probably should not have called Red to tell him, “Don’t tell Red.  He doesn’t need to know.”

       “I will have him call you.”

       “Thank you Dembe.”  Liz hung the phone up embarrassed for herself.  What was Red going to do to help her?  Threaten Tom and make him come back or keep him away?  She honestly was not sure which she wanted.  She knew Red would probably celebrate that Tom was gone, and probably tell her he told her so when he found out why she had kicked Tom out.  People like Tom don’t change; he had warned her.  

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       Raymond could not believe the curveball the world just threw at him.  Taking in the beautiful brunette in front of him, he could not help but long for what might have been.  They had meant at a tumultuous time in both of their lives.  Her eyes, he noted, still shined with the greenish brown fire.  A little spec of black mixed into the iris here and there.  Her eyes always had the alluring way to them.  Drawing him in and making him almost forget that the world existed outside of their little bubble.  The pale hand she had put on his was soft and warm.  He could not help but think of the last time he felt that hand gently run across his cheek before she drew him into a kiss, all those years ago. 

       “I see that you have been keeping yourself very busy.”  Anna, the mysterious brunette spoke, smiling at the long-lost ghost of her past.  

       Raymond for his part smiled, “How have you been since we last spoke?”

       “You mean over a decade ago?”

       “Yes.”  Red chuckled, Anna had never been one to mince her words.  It was what he loved about her because she never hid her feelings or thoughts.  She said it and damn the consequences.

       “After I got back to the States, I finished college, got a job I loved, got married, lost my job when the state defunded the program, found my husband with one of the clients, and got divorced.  You know living the American Dream.”  She joked about it now, but it had taken years for her not to feel bitter.

       Red did not have the heart to tell her that he knew of her marriage.  That he had found himself standing outside the small church she and her husband were getting married in just 200 miles south of where they sat now. But he did not have the guts to go in and stop it or to watch it.  Instead he returned to his work, building his empire.  

       “I hope you at least took him for all he was worth.”  Red responded still not believing that this was happening.

       “Oh and then some.”  Anna said, “I was able to start my own business and now we have multiple locations all around the US.”

       “I saw your testimony about Human Trafficking in front of Congress.”  Red smiled, “You gave the senator from North Carolina hell.”

       “He was an ignorant dickhead.”  Anna responded, “He deserved it.  How have you been?”

       “Good.”  Red answered though despite his best efforts he knew she saw through his guise.  She could always see through the bullshit that was Raymond Reddington, as she called it. 

       “Well I’ll pretend to believe you.”  Anna said, “What brought you to Chicago?”

       “Business.”

       “AKA I don’t want to know.”

       “Nothing too bad.”

       “In your world that could be selling arms Syria rebels, or bribing some world leader or blackmailing another world leader.” 

       “Nothing of the sorts.  I was meeting with a business part to assuage some of his fears.”  He almost flinched when she mentioned blackmail, if she had only known what he had done not to long ago to get Lizzie re-instated at the FBI. 

       “I saw you on the news with that wanted FBI agent.”

       “It did go nationwide.”

       “You helped her, right?”

       “Of course.”  Red answered “She is back to being an FBI agent.”

       “She was the little girl, the one you saved from the fire.”  Anna said somewhere between a question and a statement.  She could tell she made Ray uncomfortable with it, and so she switched subjects, “How long will you be in Chicago for?”

       “We are supposed to leave this evening.”

       “We, you have someone with you?” 

       “The man you saw me with when we walked out of the Hilton.”  Red looked around for Dembe finding him sitting on a bench across the street, a phone to his ear. 

       “Is he your business associate?”

       “No that is Dembe.”  Red answered.

       “The Dembe?”

       “Yes.”  Red smiled at her surprise. 

       “I would like to meet him.”  Anna said.  She had only heard about Dembe when Red had first saved him from the hellish conditions.  Red had called her for advice on what to do with Dembe.  It had been one of the last times they spoke, even if it was only by phone. 

       “Of course.”  Red looked back across the street to see Dembe stand up and then suddenly stop and turn back to the bench and sit back down.  Red sensed something was going on and Dembe was not sure if he should interrupt. “He is across the street right now.”

       “Waiting on you?  He could have joined us.”

       “Dembe has become like a bodyguard in the past few years.”  Red said hating to admit that he kept Dembe in his life despite the danger.  The mounting danger, he thought bitterly, at the memory of the most recent losses and Dembe’s attempt to raise his concern for their welfare.  Red never did figure out what he could say to Dembes statement about the bodies dropping around them and his reckless disregard for his own safety. 

       “Well he should join us.”  Anna responded, “Call him over.”

       Red stood up and waved for Dembe to join them.  Dembe was putting the phone back in his pocket when he saw Red wave him over.

       When Dembe was in earshot Red said, “Anna insisted on meeting you.” 

       “Please join us Dembe.”  Anna said indicating Dembe should sit in one of the empty chairs at the table.  “Do you want anything to drink? The tea and coffee here are divine.”

       “A tea please.”  Dembe said to the waitress who rushed over when she saw a new patron join the party.

       There was a bit of awkwardness between them because Red was trying to figure out who Dembe was on the phone with, and what mess might be awaiting him.  Dembe was trying to figure out who Anna was because he was sure he knew everyone in Raymonds life.

       “How did you two meet?”  Dembe asked breaking the silence deciding to push through the awkwardness when Raymond seemed content to stew in it.

       Anna laughed, “It’s a long story.  I saved Raymond from being murdered on the Bougainville Island in the mid-90’s.“

       “That is in Papua New Guinea?”  Dembe asked.

       “Yes.”

       “She should tell you about how she ended up there.”  Raymond said, “And it was not near death.”

       “Pretty damn close.”  Anna responded.

       The waitress returned with two small ceramic teapot and ceramic cup. “I didn’t know if you took milk in your tea, so I brought you some just in case.”

       “Thank you.”  Dembe smiled at the waitress before she left them to their conversation.

       Anna began to speak again as Dembe fixed his tea, she noted that he did add milk to his tea.  “After my twenty-fourth birthday, I decided I wanted to travel abroad.  I was in the middle of graduate school and the farthest I had ever gone was Iowa, I’m originally from Illinois.  So I up and quit graduate school, took what little savings I had and booked a flight to New Zealand.”

       Red laughed, a genuine laugh.  Dembe could not help but realize how at ease Red seemed right now talking to the beautiful Anna.  She was beautiful, Dembe could not help but listen to her.  She had the ability to draw a person in, much like Raymond could when he told stories.  It was interesting to see the two big personalities draw upon each other. 

       Red spoke, “Tell him why New Zealand.”

       “It was the farthest I could think to go.”  Anna spoke, “Now stop interrupting me or you can tell the story.”

       Red raised his hands in capitulation.

       Anna continued, “Well the Kiwi farm did not work out.  But I started to enjoy photography and in graduate school, I was studying human trafficking before we knew much about it.  I hopped on a boat to Australia and eventually, I ended up in the Bougainville Islands taking pictures of the uprising there for various news outlets.  I had been accepted among the rebels during the civil war.  They knew I was the white-skin taking pictures of the conflict between them and the PNGDF.  I was a neutral party; therefore, I was relatively safe from either side.  Raymond had been seen meeting with the PM Julius Chan, and already had a bit of a reputation at the time.  So, the Bougainville Revolutionary Army made him a top priority while he was there.  I had been staying with a local family on neither side of the battle, a lot of the locals had fallen in that category.  Anyways, I was walking home one night when I saw a group of the BRA beating a white man unconscious.  I started taking photos of the incident, as I always had my camera with me at that time.  They rushed away when they saw my camera flash go off. When I got to the man he was covered in blood, it seems they had stabbed him.”

       “I did not see the knife until it was too late.”  Raymond defended his honor, “And there were like five of them.”

       “Now that Raymond has established he’s not a pussy,”  The statement drew a laugh from both Dembe and Raymond, “I dragged him away from there knowing if I left him they would come back to finish the job.  At that time, I had no idea who Raymond was or why the BRA were beating him.  I got him back to the house I was staying at.”

       “Shack is more like it.”

       “I’m telling a story here.”  Anna grumbled, “I had no idea what to do.  I had not been trained in medical aid. The town doctor would not come out at night during these times.  I did the best I could to staunch the bleeding and clean his wounds.” 

       Dembe wanted to say that Red had suffered worse, but he could tell there was more to the story.

       “I went to work taking photos and interviewing people the next day while I had this unconscious man in my bed, and not in a good way.  The family I was staying with assured me they’d get the doctor and have him looked after.  I trusted them completely because they had remained neutral through all of the turmoil.” 

       Anna stopped to take a sip of her coffee, “So I am out interview people about the events I saw the night before, trying to figure out who the man without ID was and why the BRA attacked him.  I did not get anywhere.  No one knew who the mysterious American was, at least no one admitted.  Though they knew he was American.  That was a start, a fellow American.  I had not seen another American in over a year at that point.” 

       Red interrupted, “Meanwhile, I’m waking up with the world’s worst headache in a strange place. My movement was limited due to the broken ribs I had suffered from the attack. I was in the process of searching for my clothes when three masked men barged into the room.  They had assault weapons this time, and I decided best not to fight them.  Instead, I let them lead me out of the shack.”

       “More like drag you out, by the way the neighbors described it.”  Anna interrupted him in jest.

       “Who was there during those events?”  Red said.

       “Again Ray would like the record to show he’s not a pussy.”  Anna said drawing glares from nearby patrons, of which she ignored.

       Continuing his side of the story Red was animated as he talked, “As I was being pushed into the backseat of a small hatchback, I saw Anna running up towards the car screaming at the men to let me be.  That I was with her and there was no need for this.”

       “They did not listen to me.  They turned their guns on me and told me to let this go because it was in my best interest if I wanted to remain safe.  I, of course, did not accept this not right away, but the husband and wife I had been staying with dragged me into the house while the men drove off with Raymond in the backseat.  It was then I found out the couple had turned him in for money.  The wife told me that the words on the street were that Raymond was in town brokering a deal between Halcyon Aegis and the PNGDF via the Prime Minister.  I was upset that the people, who I had thought were good people, had sold an injured man to the BRA. At the time, I thought the rumor was complete nonsense.  The Prime Minister was not a horrible man, and I did not think the Australian government would allow him to hire mercenaries to stop the BRA.”

       Anna stopped her story when the waitress returned to check on them.  As soon as the waitress was gone she started her story again, “I talked to everyone I knew remotely associated with the BRA over the next week trying to locate what happen to the nameless American. I was ready to give up hope, assume that he was likely buried in the mines.  It was the end of the week when I finally got more information from a young woman who was dating one of the leaders of the BRA.  It seems they had been trying to get the nameless American to broker a deal for more weapons.  He was being kept in one of the leader’s hideouts.”

       “The resistance had little money to get the arms, and at the time I was still building my empire.  There was no way I could get them the weapons without capital.  They did not seem to understand this.”  Red grumbled. 

       “Cause otherwise he’d never need to be saved by a girl.  So let the record show that Raymond is a strong one-man show.  John Wayne should take notes from him.”  Anna joked before continuing her story, “Eventually, I convinced the woman to take me to him.  That maybe I could help being American. The poor girl had very little education and just assumed because I was American, I was likely rich and could help with the money issues. When I got there, I found Raymond chained in a corner of a cement room.  One eye swollen shut and the other rapidly approaching.  The knife wounds both new and old were severely infected from lack of treatment, and he was severely dehydrated.  They had been withholding food and water in hopes of breaking him.”

She did not mention that part of his issue had been from withdrawal from opium. She did not want to out Raymond to Dembe if the other man did not know about Raymond’s past indiscretions. “I could not convince them to let him go, that he was in no shape to broker a deal for anyone.  Eventually, all I could do was offer them the money I had, which did not amount to much, if they would let me treat his wounds. The leader decided that if he could not broker the deal, then they could sell him as slave labor or possibly just sell him to the highest bidder.  A man like him had to have enemies.  That was how they were going to raise funds to get more weapons.  I convinced them I could help them get him healthy.  That I would stay quiet, and they had little reason not to believe me because the family I had been staying with had sold them the American and I had been known to be partial to the BRA.  The week before the BRA raided a PNGDF camp, where they would kill 12 soldiers and take five hostages. The PNGDF were out for blood. The PNGDF happened to raid the very house I found Raymond in while I was trying to treat him. I managed to slip out of the house, somehow dragging him with, into the car I had borrowed from a friend.  I got him to the local doctor.  The doctor was afraid to treat him, knowing he was the American everyone from the BRA to the PNGDF were after.  I convinced him to at least stabilize him so I could get him off the island.” 

         “How did you get him off the island?”  Dembe asked having never heard Raymond talk of this story, and wondering why someone would go to these great lengths for a stranger.

       “I had become close with one of the pilots for the local mine.  He flew in and out of the country with VIP’s all the time.  I begged him to fly us out to Kimbe on West New Britain. I knew someone who had a flat there that we could stay at, and I knew a doctor there too.  So it seemed like the best place to go because if Raymond was who they said he was, I knew I couldn’t drop him at the hospital.”

       “Why would you go through all of this for a stranger?”  Dembe asked the obvious question.

       “The day before, I had seen him take his watch off and give it to one of the orphans that begged along the street.  He returned ten minutes later with water in bottles and food from one of the restaurants.  He handed out the water and food out to the orphans.  I had taken pictures, but did not approach him because the PNGDF had been with him disapproving of his actions, but all the same doing nothing to stop him.  And like I said I didn’t believe the rumor that he was a big bad Westerner Outlaw.” 

       “Whatever the reason, I was extremely grateful at the time because I would not have lasted much longer with the BRA.”  Raymond said jumping in knowing that Anna’s main reason was she was just a good person and she saw another human in pain, and reached out to help. 

       “How long did you spend together?”  Dembe asked trying to place the timeline as to when Anna had entered Red’s life versus when Dembe had.

       “About a year.  It took me a month to recover from my time with the BRA.  Anna stayed with me the entire time taking care of me.”

       “Was he as bad a patient then as he is now?”

       “Yes.  It was a constant battle to get him to let me change bandages, wrap his ribs because the wrap felt restrictive, and never mind when he had to start walking to ensure pneumonia did not set in while his ribs healed.”

       Dembe and Anna shared a laugh over the great pains it took to get Raymond Reddington to do what the doctors ordered when he was injured 

       “After I finished convalescing, I convinced Anna to come with me.  We traveled all over Europe and South America for the next few months.”  Red did not mention that he had been working the entire time and that it was a struggle to keep her out of the business. 

       “But as all good things, eventually it had to end.” Anna picked up the story, “Raymond bought me a ticket back to the states, and dropped me at an airport in Brazil.”  Anna then spoke in a stage whisper to Dembe, “I think he got tired of traveling with me.”

       “Not true.”  Red stated, he could not tell her that she had become a liability.  That as he became more powerful, a target was being painted on her back.  That it needed to seem like he was getting rid of her, and moving on because they would come after her.  Like they did his family. 

       “I came back to the states, and used the knowledge I had gained while traveling to go back to school now with a focus of studying transnational crime, and I only kept up with Raymond via stories I heard on the news.” 

       Neither spoke about how the last few months together they had fought constantly.  Anna had become pregnant with Raymond’s child, and he did not want her to have the child.  He had only told her bits about his life before he became one of the most wanted criminals in the world.  She knew he had a family including a daughter, but he never spoke beyond that.  She sensed that he had not left them by choice, and that he missed them terribly.  She had also sensed his fear for her safety and the unborn child’s.  What would be the last week of her first trimester, she had a miscarriage. 

The loss of the baby, even when Raymond had wanted her to abort it, had gutted them both. He had pushed her away, cruelly, citing that it had been fun but nothing more than that.  It had taken her years to realize his cruel words for what they were, his pushing her away because he feared what could be, and what could happen to her.

 What she did not know was she was the first woman he had slept with since his wife. That she had helped him heal not just physically but mentally.  Before he had saved him, he moved from one reckless deal to the next trying to get as much information and money as he could to help him track down what happened to his family that night.

       But the lack of knowledge into the other was not a one-way street.  Anna had never told Raymond about his being her first love.  That every man she meant after he had been measured against him.  When she married the man who had been her husband for those seven years, had been her settling.  That to this day, her heart would flutter whenever she saw a picture of him on the TV asking for help in locating the fourth most wanted man in the world.  That seeing him today in the most improbable way had reminded her how much she cared for him.  It had been pure torture when he called her about Dembe and what to do with the boy.  She had been ready to drop everything just to go help him and be with him. 

       The unspoken words hung between them, Dembe ignorant to each of the other occupants of the tables thoughts. 

       “It has been a long time since then.”  Anna said pulling herself away from the past, “Raymond moved up in the most wanted list and the rumors I hear from colleagues is that he a major player in transnational crime.  What my colleagues would say or do just to get a few moments with him or to study him.”

       “So you are an academic?”  Dembe asked.

       “No.  I run not-for-profit helping victims of human trafficking.”

       “International justice mission?”  Dembe asked remembering that Raymond had donated large sums of money to that organization over the years.

       “Yes.  How did you know?”

       The subtle look from Raymond told Dembe to lie, “I read it on the tablet sticking out of your purse when I walked up.”  Dembe looked almost embarrassed, “Habit sorry.”

       “Nothing to be sorry about.”  Anna laughed having seen Raymond’s subtle look. 

       The bill came and Raymond insisted on paying and Anna noticed that he left more than a generous tip for the waitress. 

“It was nice to catch up.”  Red said wishing for more time with her, but he knew he needed to get back to D.C.

“Of all the gin joints in all of the world.”  She quoted the movie she had forced him to watch a few hundred times, “It was nice to see you again.”  She pulled him into a hug, feeling that despite the way he looked, he still had muscle mass. 

“We should catch up more often.” Red said not wanting to let this moment pass.

“If you are ever in the D.C. area you should look me up.”  Anna said.

“D.C?”  Red looked shocked at her statement.

“I just moved there a few months ago.  I was spending so much time on Capitol Hill that it seemed logical to just set up there.  So I bought a small townhouse there and I have a friend who lives in my flat here that doesn’t mind that I stay a few weeks in the year.”

“I actually am in DC a lot these days.”

“Really.”  Anna said truly surprised, “I would think it would be hard for you to move so easily in the United States.”

“Quite the contrary.”  Red said, “We should catch up in DC sometime.  I am heading back this evening.”

“I am on standby for a flight out tomorrow.”

Red seized the chance, “It just so happens I have a private jet.  I could easily fit one more if you wish to go back tonight.” 

“Are you sure?”  Anna said not even thinking twice about accepting a free flight from one of the most wanted men in the world.  He was her Ray. 

“Of course.  You can keep Dembe and I company.  We know each others stories already.”

“What time?  I still have a few more meetings…”

“Whatever time works for you.”  Red stopped her mid-sentence, “It’s one of the nice things about owning a private jet.  You can leave whenever you want.  Oh and no pesky security.”

“Will seven work for you?”

“Yes.”  Red said.  “Do you have a pen and paper?  I can give you my number for the day and you can call me when you are ready.  Dembe can pick you up and bring you to the plane.”

“I can take a lyft there.  It’s no big deal.”

“I insist.” 

She watched him as he scrawled the number for her. 

“I will also have dinner brought aboard.  Anything specific you would like?”

“Whatever.”  Anna said, “You know me.”

“I will see you this evening.”  Red smiled as he handed the paper and pen back to her.

 

Chapter Text

Red waited until he and Dembe got back to the car before he asked one question that had been nagging him, “Who called earlier?”

“Elizabeth.”  Dembe answered, “Tom Keen left her.”

Red did not say anything, he felt anger rise in his chest making a knot.  Honestly, he was not sure if was because Dembe had not told him sooner or if that was just his gut reaction to when Lizzie called these days. He was trying to forgive her for the betrayal.  He had forgiven her.  “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”

“You were talking with Anna.  Elizabeth just needed someone to talk to.  I handled it.”

“I would not have invited Anna to fly back.”

“I know you would have dropped everything and flown back sooner.”  Dembe said, “Elizabeth is fine without you, even for a few more hours.”

“How can you be so certain?”

“Raymond” Dembe looked in the rearview mirror to make sure he caught Red’s eye while they were stopped in rush hour traffic on the highway, “You were smiling and laughing today.  The first time I had seen you do so in a long time.”

“It is not your job to take care of me.”  Red snapped back.

“No, it is not my job, but you are my brother and I will do it anyways.”

“May I have the phone Dembe.”

“Are you going to call Elizabeth or Anna?”

“Elizabeth.”  Red answered holding his hand out for the phone.

Reds fingers quickly dialed the number knowing it by heart it took four rings before Lizzie answered, a crying baby screeching over the phone.

“Hello…”  Lizzie sounded overwhelmed.

“Lizzie is everything ok?”

“Agnes won’t stop crying,”  Liz said at her wit's end as Agnes woke up cranky from her nap and nothing seemed to soothe her.  Tom was always so good at soothing her.

“Walk across the street and get Baz. Take Agnes for a car ride.” 

“Why do I need Baz to do… Never mind why is Baz across the street?”

“Lizzie do you want Agnes to stop crying or do you want to argue with me?”

“Fine.” 

Red could hear the sound Lizzie grabbing key’s and the sound of Agnes cries grew louder. He heard a door close, and the sound of feet echoing in the hallway. Listening the entire way not sure if Lizzie remembered she had him on the phone, Red felt the familiar itch start to make itself known. He would need some time alone soon. Just an hour or so to cure the itch. He would have to send Dembe out to arrange for dinner anyways. 

Finally, after about ten minutes Agnes stopped crying, and Liz finally spoke to him in a hushed tone, “Red you still there?”

“yes.” Red answered.

“How did you know?”

“It always worked for Jennifer.” That statement stung when he said it. He knew it was because of the memories of Anna and the miscarriage.  It was just not the loss of his only living daughter but the loss of what could have been with Anna. Right before her miscarriage, he had been willing to give it a shot, almost ready to give up on searching for answers for his family.

“Where are you?”

“Chicago.  We will be back in later tonight.”

“I assume Dembe told you.”

“I’m sorry Lizzie.”  Red did not have any judgment in his tone.  He had hoped against hope that Tom would stay.  Even going so far as to offer the man a job, despite his hatred for Tom Keen.

“He might come back.”  Lizzie had been lying to herself all day.  She had kicked him out, and yet she still wanted him to come back.  If he came back and apologized. 

“If you need anything.”  Red knew he did not need to say it but he wanted her to know he would be there for her any way she wanted. “Do you want us to come by when we get back?”

“No it’s fine.”  Lizzie responded, “I know he’s not coming back Red.”

Red did not know what to say to that, so he said nothing.

“Why do you have a small team of armed men across the street from my apartment?”  Liz asked knowing the answer but she wanted to hear him say it.

“To keep you all safe.”  Red answered, “I thought you would not be too upset if they were across the street.”  He did not add that he is doing his best here to stay out of her life, to allow her to decide how much contact he had with her and Agnes.  Finally, he spoke again when there was only silence on the line, “I’m trying Lizzie. I need to know that you and Agnes are safe though.”

“Your trying is suspect.  You had no issue breaking into my apartment to meet with Tom.”  Liz snapped her raised voice, “Not more than two weeks later he leaves a note saying he’s sorry but he had to go. Did you threaten him?”

“No I did not.  You know I offered him a job.”  Red responded feeling that anger come back.

“So you could control him and me again.”  Lizzie was trying her best to find a way to blame Red for this because she needed someone to blame.  It nagged at her because Tom had told her Red held the answers to both of their questions about each of their separate past and refused to tell either of them.  Was it all a game to him?

“I already told you that I knew he would at least not be doubled crossed if he worked for me.”  Red contained his anger remember to breathe through it. 

“Whatever.  I got to go.”  Liz hung up.

“How much longer until we are at the safe house?”

“Ten to twenty minutes depending on traffic.”

“After you drop me off I need you to go arrange dinner.” 

Dembe knew why Red was sending him away. Red’s continued use of opium had gone unchecked by Dembe. He had tried to raise the subject a few times, but Red would just deny it. That he had it all under control. But Dembe was starting to wonder who controlled who in the relationship because Red had been sending him off on these little outing more and more often. Dembe also knew that Red had sought out an opium den after Lizzie’s faked death. Red had spent damn near a week inside wasting away on the drug. His usage after he found out Lizzie was alive had curtailed, or so Dembe had thought. He did not see any signs of Red’s using while they searched for Agnes. But the night after they returned to their safe house from visiting the reunited happy family, Red had locked himself in a room and Dembe knew he used. Dembe was confident that part of the reckless behaviors he had observed over the past month had been in part been due to the opium.

However, what Dembe did not know nor would he have guessed was Red had moved on from opium. Opium provided Red the wonderful oblivion he wanted to feel. The floating between here and there, that he craved.  However, it was not the most convenient drug to utilize while on the move. It took longer than most drugs to properly enter the system and provide the desired high. The euphoric feeling is a slow build, at least it was for Red. Euphoria and the floating between worlds were what he craved, and needed to deal with the world he found himself in. Then there were the hallucinations, that had not happened often since Cape May.

Heroin, while highly addictive, provided the punch in the gut euphoria almost instantly. The euphoria is different too, he had learned when he was unable to find someone with opium for sale.  The euphoria on heroin was all encompassing and this rush that cannot be described outside of feeling the best feelings you have ever felt. The first time the rush had lasted for twenty minutes. Then for the next 2 hours, he had just laid back in the chair he had sat down in to take the heroin. His arms and legs were heavy, but his mind had been light. Floating between here and there, and going nowhere really. It was comforting feeling to not have the weight of his guilt, self-hatred, and the world on his shoulders. It felt as if his mother was alive again, and she had pulled him into one of her hugs that always seemed to make the problems melt away. The warm, cozy, relaxed feeling maintained the rest of the high that was shorter each time. Now it only took 4 hours from start to finish. It was possible to avoid riding out the crashing phase or to make that phase end quicker by mixing in an amphetamine-like speed or cocaine. He preferred cocaine because the high was not as long as with speed. 

Red had been careful not to use every day. He knew he was playing with fire, and when he transitioned from opium to heroin he had made sure only to use when he knew he was in a safe environment and he had naloxone nearby ready to use in case of danger or overdose. The naloxone would quickly reverse the effects of the heroin he had injected, usually in his toes or between his fingers to avoid leaving noticeable track marks on his arms. Only once a week, did he allow himself to inject heroin directly into his veins, it was that injection that brought the instant high. 

The itch was stronger now and if Red could he would snort or injected right in the backseat of the car. The itch for the use started the previous week, and he had been successful at denying himself for a longer period of time each time the itch came. He already saw Dembe’s disapproving glance in the rearview mirror. It was almost as painful as the looks he got after killing Kate Kaplan. Doesn’t matter, Red reminded himself, within the next hour he would be floating on a fluffy cloud, and he had enough time to allow the heroin high to naturally run its course before he had to meet Anna to fly back to DC. 

Chapter Text

            When Anna arrived at the plane, Red was waiting in the doorway to greet her. “Come aboard,” Red said offering his hand to her to help her up the stairs.

            “Fancy.” Anna said taking in the lush interior, “Definitely a step up from how we used to travel.” 

            “It’s what having a criminal empire buys you,” Red said leading her inside. “Would you like dinner now or after takeoff?”

            “After takeoff is fine,” Anna said studying Red who was in a different 3-piece suit then she had seen him in previously that day.  “You changed.”

            “Yes. A bit of an accident earlier.” Red lied.

            “Do you always wear 3-piece suits?”

            “Most always yes.” Red said, “I have developed a more refined taste from back when we were running around the world.”

            “I can tell.” She responded enjoying the way he looked in the well-fitting suit.

            “Wine or Champagne? Or something stronger?” Red asked having given the stewardess the night off. 

            “White wine if you have it,”  Anna said knowing it was probably unlikely because Red preferred red wines.

            “I happen to have a bottle.”

            “You remembered.”

            “Naturally.” Red came out with a bottle that was already open and breathing.

            “Some things never change; you are still as cocky as ever.”

            Red’s response was to raise his eyebrows at her.

            “Don’t you say it.” Anna laughed, “I know I walked into that one.”

            Dembe came onboard, “Raymond everything is ready to go.”    

            “I guess that means we should take our seats,” Red said indicating for Anna to choose a spot. “I can join you unless you have work you like to finish.”

            “Work can wait.”  Anna said taking a seat on the comfortable leather couch, “Do you wine and dine all the ladies on your private jet.”

            “Not usually,” Red answered.

            “Where is Dembe going?” Anna asked as Dembe left the cabin and went into the cockpit, “He doesn’t also fly the plane.”

            “No.” Red laughed, “I think he wants to give us space. I can call him out if you wish.”

            “This is fine,” Anna said curling her legs under her. She was glad she wore the pants suit today because her usual skirts would have been too revealing. 

            “So tell me what you have really been up to all these years,” Anna asked taking Red’s hand feeling the callouses. She could tell that her former lover was not as well as he would like the world to think. There was a weariness in his eyes, much worse than she had ever seen it. The years had not been kind to him, she could tell. The mask he wore told the story more by the absences of the emotions she had once seen burning in those beautiful eyes.

            The shared past between them could not be forgotten. She would go back and do it all again if he asked her. The year they had spent together had been eventful and ended tragically too soon. During one of their fights, one of the fights she remembered because they had a lot at the end, he had accused her of trying to save him. That her only interest in their relationship was to save him from himself. It was not loving but her own selfish desire to be a savior. It stung at the time because it was true, and still true. As she looked into his weary eyes, all she wanted to do was pull him close and protect him from himself once again.

            The smile never reached Red’s eyes, but he tried none the less.  “I have been all around the world and back again.”

            “Did you ever sail the circumference?”

            “Yes. Twice now.” Red answered and he launched into tails of his travels, which would last them all through their meal. He then switched the burden of the conversation onto Anna, asking her to talk about her travels as part of her work in Human Trafficking. 

Chapter Text

       Red had felt at ease with her the entire flight. Truly enjoying the conversation and never feeling himself waiting for the moment it all would change. With Lizzie, their relationship would be moving along smoothly and it seemed almost out of nowhere something would happen. Lizzie would lash out and he would just take it. With Anna it was very different, at least in this short time, things just seemed to be working. He did not have to worry too much about what words he used to express himself or wait for the uncomfortable questions he could not answer. She was fine if he was uncomfortable answering a question, and would move onto the next subject. It was as if they had never separated for all those years as if what caused them to break up had never happened. It was all just so easy and refreshing.

During the flight, he realized he has missed having this connection with someone else. In the past, it would have terrified him to realize he missed connections with people. The man he was when he was with Anna the first time and when he first meant Lizzie was one terrified of connecting with others because connections bread weakness.  Everyman was to be an island, independent and self-sufficient, that is what his father tried to teach him as a child and what his life had taught him as an adult. Relying on someone else led to disappointment or pain for both parties. Just ask his ex-wife and estranged daughter. Yet, somewhere along the way, he had changed. The connection scared him to death. Anna was innocent and did not deserve any pain emotional or physical, just because she knew him. Nor did Lizzie. He was not confident he knew which would win out, his desire for connection or his fear of the connection. Either way, the only way to find out was to try, and one thing was true about Raymond Reddington he was not a quitter.

       These feelings of ease, he knew were not all directly associated with the heroin he had consumed hours earlier. By now that would have warned off, Anna brought the peace of mind. All of this motivated him to ask her as they were disembarking the flight on a small airstrip outside of Baltimore, “Can I see you again?”

       “Are you sure it’s safe for the Concierge of Crime to be seen with someone knew for making criminals lives difficult.”

       “You know I have never dealt with human traffickers.”

       “I was joking Raymond,” Anna said her hand resting on his chest as they stood outside of two waiting black BMWs. She enjoyed the feel of his chest under her hand, despite the years it still felt firm through the multiple layers of clothes. “Absolutely, you can see me again. Here is my business card with a cellphone number on it.”

       “How about dinner tomorrow?” Red asked not wanting to leave the plans open. “I could cook or we could go out wherever you wish.”

       “Is it really safe for you to be out in public eating?”

       “It is fine. I have been doing this for decades now. People are not very observant and I have a safety net to ensure that if we happen to come across one of those observant people nothing would happen.”

       “I have a better idea.” Anna said, “Why don’t you come to my place for a home cooked meal.”

       “You can cook now?” Red asked earning a playful slap on his chest from Anna.

       “Don’t be ridiculous, but I have a cook. A girls got to eat after all.” 

       “I would be delighted to join you for a home cooked meal by your chef.”

       “I will text you the details.” Anna said grabbing his hand, “Are you going to D.C. or staying in Baltimore?”

       “I have to go to a meeting tonight.” Red answered, “In D.C., but Dembe will ensure you get home safe.”

       “I guess I will see you tomorrow.” Anna kissed him on the cheek before heading towards to the awaiting car, she stopped and turned around before she got in, “Thank you for the free flight.”

       “Anytime,” Red responded a true smile on his face.

       “Don’t stand me up tomorrow Raymond Reddington.” Anna said, “You won’t like to see me when I’m angry.”

       “I remember well.” Red answered, “I will be there.”

       Anna got into the car, and Dembe drove them away.

       Red made his way to his own car, he actually did not have a driver tonight. He could have easily of arranged for someone, but he wanted to drive himself. He needed the time to think and plan his course of action with Lizzie. Everyday life with Lizzie had turned into a field of landmines, and Red needed time to prepare for any mines he might step on.

       However, instead of thinking about what he should do when he reached Lizzie’s apartment, all Red could think about was Anna. A cynical part of him was worried about their bumping into each other after all these years. Probability could finally be in his favor, or it could have been something different. He had kept track of Anna after they first broke up and there were no flags to indicate she was anything other than what she has always been. Her entire background held up regarding her parents and siblings. Her husband had also been a social worker. There was no reason for him to doubt her. It was not like she was some super-secret CIA operative sent to infiltrate his organization or just get close to him, or as if she was working with the cabal or someone else. She had no connections with any of the criminal organizations in his world, except for those she helped take down. There was no reason to suspect her, and yet a small part of him could not help but wonder about the improbability of their entire relationship.

       In his mind, he was jumping ahead to the end already. If he pursued Anna, it would end. The confidence he had felt earlier was clearly disappearing as the fear started to win the internal battle. His relationships always ended. And it would not be fair to Anna because just by talking to him she was in danger. If an enemy got wind of any relationship that was not strictly sex, they would exploit it. He could not go through life thinking he lost another person because of his choices. He did not want to be responsible for the harm that could befall Anna.

Also, she deserved better than him, she deserved a full life.  Anna was a good person, to her core. At least that is what he remembers of her, and what he saw today while they caught up. She did not deserve to be with a monster. Would he turn her dark, like it seemed he had done to Lizzie?

Years ago, it had been easy for him to decide to walk away from Anna. The decision had been easy but the actual action had been difficult, but he always knew he made the correct choice. He lied to himself back then and allowed himself to believe his own lies. They did not love each other; their relationship was fragile and going to end. Sometimes he wondered if he had unconsciously started the many fights with her at the end, just to get her to leave him. Lizzie had called it; he was too broken to be good for anyone. While those were not her exact words that is what broken meant to him. Here he was doubting that Anna was there because she wanted to be there, after their happenstance meeting. Here was something more dark and sinister going on. Who thinks like that? He did, always; it was what kept him alive all these years.

       He did not reach an answer regarding his future with Anna by the time he arrived outside of Lizzie’s apartment. Getting out of the car, he straightened his suit and walked the short distance to her door. Knocking softly, he waited. In the past, he would have just let himself in, but tonight he was knocking. Progress, at least he hoped that was how Lizzie saw it.

       The door opened a minute later. Liz looked ragged. But Red said nothing of the sorts. Suddenly self-conscious because she technically had not invited him over, and she had made it clear she did not want him around her place yet, “May I come in?”

       “Agnes is finally sleeping.” Liz’s short response, she was clearly annoyed with his presences.

       Yet he persisted because she looked like she needed a break, “I promise not to wake her.” 

       Liz stepped aside, Tom was not around anymore to start a fight about Red being there, she did not see the point of keeping him out. “Did you come to gloat?”

       “No.” Red responded, “I would never.”

       No, he wouldn’t, at least not with her, she knew that. She was just so damn tired. Agnes had been a pain all day, and without Tom to help take some the responsibility, it felt all too overwhelming.

       “I brought you a bottle of wine.” Red said handing her the bottle, “I think you could use it.”

       “I’m breastfeeding.”

       “I am sure like the responsible parent you are, you have already pumped and saved some for tomorrow. All you have to do is get rid of the next batch.” Red answered, “You could use the break.”

       “There is no break for me.” Liz snapped her voice rising as she spoke realizing the gravity of Tom leaving and her having to take care of Agnes on her own, “Not for the next 18 years now.”

       “It will be fine Lizzie,” Red said approaching her with caution. Flinching when she seemed to get more upset at his words, he knew that any little thing would set her off. “Why don’t you go draw yourself a nice bath, and drink a few glasses of wine.”

       “Agnes will wake up.”

       “I will be right there to take care of her.” Red responded gently, “I can handle it. Go take a break, Lizzie.”

       She realized that she smelled ripe. Agnes had thrown up, and Lizzie still had some on her shirt, and the mess from her attempt to make dinner was there too.

       “You will be right here to make sure everything is ok.”  Red encouraged her walking her gently towards where he assumed the bedroom was. “I’ll sit in the rocking chair in Agnes room and read.”

       “Are you sure you’re not going to snoop around, maybe buy me another couch.”

       “No, I won’t,” Red responded. “Just accept my help this once Lizzie. We won’t speak of it again and act like it never happened. You’ve had a hard day.”

       “Ok.” She gave in wanting to relax in a nice bubble bath and drink the wine Red had brought. She knew if he had picked it out, it was going to be a good bottle of wine. He always had the best taste in wine. “Can you see if your people know where Tom went?  If he is ok?”

       “I will make calls later and get them looking for him,” Red promised though he would rather poke his eyes out with a spoon, he would do it for Lizzie.

       “What is that smell?” Liz asked having been close to him and catching the whiff of a woman’s perfume. “Who were you with?”  It came out much more like a jealous girlfriend then she meant.

       “I offered a stranded passenger a flight back to D.C,” Red told her just enough that he did not feel like he was lying. He was not ready to tell her about Anna, it was likely nothing to tell. Plus, he expected a full on the explosion, if she thought he was with someone. He could already hear her asking him why he got to have someone, a monster like him, and she was left alone to raise her child.

       “Just a random stranger,”  Liz questioned like a jealous girlfriend.

       “No.  We are old friends.” Red answered preparing for the lashing.

       “It was a woman.”

       “Yes,”  Red said wondering why Lizzie cared so much.

       “Was it Madeline Pratt?”

       “No.”

       “The lipstick woman?”

       “No.  Lizzie you don’t know her.  She’s an old friend I have not talked to for decades and has nothing to do with my business.”

       Lizzie wanted to ask more questions, but she realized she was interrogating him when she had no right. “There is coffee in the kitchen still if you would like a cup.”

       “I’m fine thank you. I’ll be in the nursery.” Red took his leave to allow her the chance to get her bath going in private. To Red’s surprise, the couch he had bought Lizzie was in the nursery. He sat on it instead of the rocking chair. There were only kid’s books around. He opted for a people magazine he found sitting on the changing table. 

       He found himself flipping through the magazine not caring about what was inside. Instead, he was still in his head pondering Tom, Lizzie, and Anna. Soft music filtered in from the bathroom along with the sound of water filling the tub. 

       Agnes woke with a cry, that Red quickly silenced by picking her up out of the crib and gently rocking her. The smell hit him, and he realized it was not the music that woke the baby. 

“Smells like someone needs a diaper change.” Red said his nose wrinkled at the smell, “I’ve always wondered how such small things can make so much stink.” 

Setting Agnes on the changing table he spoke to the baby, “You must be patient with me Agnes. It has been a very long time since I’ve changed a diaper, and even back then I was not very good at it.”

Red undid the diaper, and the smell got worse, something he had not thought possible. Lifting the little girl up he pulled the poop filled diaper from under her, reaching for the baby wipes he pulled two out and wiped the poop away, it had managed to work its way up her back. 

“How did you manage that Agnes.”  Red chuckled, “It has been a very long time since I wiped someone else butt too. But I’m confident poop is not meant to go up your back.”

He found the powder and a clean diaper and made quick work of getting the new clean diaper on Agnes. He held her, just in her diaper, while he went to look for clothes. The onesie Lizzie had her also had poop on it. He found another one in the small dresser. Dressing Agnes, he could not help but marvel at the two little eyes studying him. It was as if Lizzie were looking up at him. Agnes definitely had her mother's eyes.

“Everything will be alright little one,” Red assured her, picking her up and rocking her gently back and forth. He smelled her head, the baby smell he missed so much. It was the smell of innocence. Part of him was afraid he would taint the smell just by holding her in his arms.

Walking her back to the crib, he set her down, “Time for you to get your beauty sleep.”

Agnes wanted none of it and started to cry. She was screaming her little lungs out. Red picked her back up and started to rock her again. “What’s wrong sweetie?” Red asked gently swaying. Agnes went to sleep in his arms, so he tried once again to lay her back down in the crib, but once again as soon as his arms were removed she cried again. Finally, he just gave in and kept her in his arms. Taking a seat on the couch he leaned back, realizing that he was exhausted. He had not slept properly in a very long time. The heroin induced sleep if you could call it that, had always left him feeling even more tired, but still unable to sleep. 

The little girl in his arms wormed around and then stopped as if she was suddenly comfortable. Running his rough hand against her cheek he looked down at her, and just watched her sleep. Once again he reminded himself of the promises he had made when she had been born. That he would protect her no matter what. But, holding the little girl, also caused his chest to tighten. Was it because it reminded him of his own lost child, one never born the other wanting anything to do with him. Or was it because Lizzie had gone to great lengths to ensure that he would never be in Agnes world. Lizzie's plans had backfired, costing everyone a lot of pain. Agnes was a living reminder of all of that, and of Mr. Kaplan’s betrayal and ultimate death. None of that was the little girl's fault, no Raymond knew he could take the blame for all of it. Either way, it made his chest tighten and that itch to rare its ugly head.  

=============

       Lizzie spent much longer than she had expected in the bath.  She finished half the bottle of wine and had refilled the tub twice to ensure the water was hot. Getting out she dried off and walked into the master bedroom naked. There was a large full-length mirror, and she stood before it studying herself. She had stretch marks and had yet to lose the baby weight. Was Tom no longer sexually attracted to her? Was that why he left the first time? They had only had sex twice since Agnes birth. Each time had been quick because they were afraid of Agnes waking up. If Tom didn’t want her, would anyone else ever want her? 

       Pushing the thoughts out of her mind, she found comfortable clothes to dress in. Realizing it had been two hours since Red sent her to bath, and she had only heard Agnes cry a couple of times in the first half hour. Had Red got her back to sleep?

       Leaving the bedroom she walked to the nursery. She found Raymond cradling Agnes, his head bowed with unshed tears in his eyes. When she entered he looked up, quickly moving to scratch the unshed tears away.

       “Everything alright?” Lizzie asked taking in the site.

       “Yeah.” Red’s voice was rough from disuse, “We had a change of diaper and a bit of a mess, so we also had a change in wardrobe.”

       “She finally pooped?” Liz said realizing she was too excited about poop.

       “Yes. It ran down her back some.”

       “Sorry about that,” Liz said honestly sorry that Red had to deal with her daughter's diaper. It was beyond anything she imagined he would or should have had to do while she was in the bath. “I gave her some prunes earlier as she has had issues.”

       “It’s quite alright Lizzie,” Red responded getting up slowly. His body was stiff from sitting too long. 

       “You could have let her sleep in her crib.”

       “She started to cry every time I put her in.” 

To prove his point, he moved over to the crib and gently placed Agnes back down, but the little girl stirred and started to whimper when he removed his arms. Shaking his head he grabbed her back from the crib. 

       “It seems she is attached.” Lizzie said, “I can take her if you need to leave.”

       The itch was there, but Red decided to deny it tonight. He could savor these little morsels Lizzie was giving him. It was a moment of weakness for her, he knew tomorrow it would be back to their tenuous relationship, but tonight in the wake of Tom’s exit, he would take what he could get. How pathetic he was, he knew it, but if it meant being around the two things he cherished most in life right now, he would take it.

       “No, it’s fine. I have no other plans tonight.” 

       “You cannot sit here and hold her all night,” Lizzie responded.

       “Agnes seems to think I can, and I can appease her.”

       “Red.” Lizzie was truly touched by his willingness to do anything for her daughter. She knew that to be true since the little girl was born, but it was times like these that reminded her. “Just another hour. Then she’s going to have to suck it up.”

Chapter Text

            Raymond felt something warm and wet on his chest, even in the twilight sleep; his brain knew he could not jump up off whatever uncomfortable thing he was sleeping on. It came back to him as he drifted towards the surface, he was at Lizzie’s. Agnes had a terrible day, and Tom had left. He stayed to ensure Lizzie had help, and he must have fallen asleep. What his brain could not deduce was why he felt wetness on his chest.

            Opening his eyes, he found a baby’s head on his chest. Agnes, he remembered now. No matter how many times he tried, Agnes refused to sleep in the crib. For a few hours, he and Lizzie switched off holding the infant until finally, Red demanded Lizzie get some rest. Justifying his decision that one of them had to work in the morning, and Red would only sleep a few hours anyways. Sometime between watching the sunrise and whatever time it was now, he must have fallen asleep. 

            Afraid to move in fear of waking up the infant, Red lay on the couch. His back ached, and there was that wetness, he was now confident was pee from Agnes. 

            Lizzie walked into the room with a cup of coffee. Quietly she made her way over to the couch and found Red awake staring up at her. 

            “I’ll take her.”

            “She needs a diaper change,” Red said not moving until Lizzie picked up Agnes.

            “How do you…” Lizzie stopped mid-sentence when she saw the wetness and yellow spot on Red’s rumpled white dress shirt, “Oh. Sorry. Tom bought the wrong diapers last week, and I haven’t had a chance to go pick up the right ones.”

            “It’s okay.” Red said, “Not the first time I’ve been peed on.”

            Lizzie looked at him shocked at his comment.

            “Jennifer,” Red added noting the mortification on Lizzie's face and chuckling a bit to himself because of what she thought he had meant. 

            “Yeah. Ok.” Lizzie was joking; Red realized that was a good sign.

            A knock on the door interrupted Red’s reply.

            “Can you get the door while I change her diaper?” Lizzie asked knowing it was likely Dembe who had called twenty minutes before looking for Red.

            Red nodded his head and walked out of the room. Red opened the door to find Dembe holding a white paper bag with the delicious smell of fresh croissants, and a tray of coffee. There was an overnight bag slung over his shoulder.

            “Please tell me you brought me a clean shirt,” Red said looking down at the pee on his rumpled dress shirt.

            “Yes,” Dembe said handing Red the coffees. “Elizabeth told me you may want a change of clothes.”

            Red set the coffees down on the table and took the bag from Dembe. Making his way back down the hallways, Red popped his head into the nursery, “Do you mind if I clean up in your bathroom real quick?”

            “Of course.” Lizzie said, “The towels and washrags are in the cabinet.”

            In the bathroom, Red insured both doors were locked before he stripped. He did not want to shower, but he needed to clean his chest off, so he grabbed a washcloth and wet it under the sink wiping the drying pee of his chest. The injection site from last week had already healed, he noted as he pulled on the clean t-shirt and dress shirt Dembe brought. Red tossed the old shirts into the bag and went to join Dembe and Lizzie in the dining room.

            “Will you be bringing a blacklister to the post office today?” Lizzie asked.

            “Unlikely,” Red answered, “But I will stop by to keep up appearances.”

            “Then I will see you there later.” Lizzie said, “I have to get ready for work you two can show yourself out when you’re done.”

            “What are you going to do with Agnes today?” Red asked knowing that Tom had been playing stay at home dad.

            “Aram has the day off and is going to watch her for me,” Lizzie answered.

            “You will need to find a more long-term plan,” Red said knowing instantly the goodwill had been used up, by Lizzie’s face.      

            “I will,” Lizzie said stressing the I. 

            “I could…”

            “No. I will find something Reddington. Just stay out of it.” Lizzie snapped, “I was grateful for your help last night, but I need to do this now.”

            “Then we will take our leave.” Red said not wanting to fight. 

================

            The ride to the safe house there in D.C. had been excruciating long. The itch had been back all morning. It was worse than before, beyond the itch and low-grade nausea. He knew from experience that they were early symptoms of withdrawal, but he was not ready to admit that he may have created a bigger problem than he had with the opium.

            Once at the safe house, Red excused himself stating that he needed to clean up and rest before they went to the black site. That he would be ready around noon. It would give him four hours.

Going to his room, he locked the door. Something he had started doing when he started using heroin. Quickly going through his suitcase Dembe must have dropped in his room, he found the small wooden box. It contained his entire kit and clean needles. He made quick work of preparing the heroin. Today he would inject it. Stripping down to his undershirt and boxers, he sat on the edge of the bed. Using the rubber tourniquet, he tied it around his bicep and waited for the vein to poke out. Once he saw the blue vein, he inserted the needle, feeling the sting that quickly went away the second he pressed the plunger down on the needle. Gasping, he pulled the needle out and lay it on the bed next to him. Crumpling onto the bed, he untied the tourniquet letting it fall to the bed as well. He would hold out longer next time, was his last coherent thought.

============

            Lizzie entered the Post Office feeling as if everyone was staring at her. It was just her own paranoia because none of them could have known Tom had left her.

            “You are late,” Samar stated.

            “Sorry, Agnes did not want to be left with Charlene today.”

            “Why isn’t Tom watching her?” Samar asked from her chair.

            “Tom left,” Lizzie said.

            “I’m sorry.” However, both women knew Samar did not mean it.

            “That son of a bitch.” Ressler said storming out of his office, “I’m going to kill him.”

            “Who are you killing?” Samar asked her attention on Ressler now.

            “Reddington.”

            “Why what did he do?” Lizzie asked wondering given the fact she knew Red had been in Chicago the entire previous day, and then her house after he got to town.

            “He stopped by the hospital to see my brother and gave him flowers. Offered to help pay for the medical bills.” Ressler snapped, “Told my mother and brother he was a friend and just wanted to do whatever he could to help.”

            “I’m sure he meant nothing by it.” Lizzie could not believe she was defending Reddington.

            “It’s bad enough that we are doing all of his dirty work, but now he is just making it obvious that we work for him.” Ressler snapped hating his job more each day as he realized that in the past few years he had gone from being a damn good FBI agent who was tracking one of the most wanted men in the world, to working with, and what felt more like working for, that very same man. The recent cases had all made it more obvious that Red was just using the FBI, and now he was fucking with Ressler family. 

            “If you tell him to back off he will,” Samar said knowing that Ressler was having issues with the job these days.

             Cooper walked into the room, “Anything from Reddington Agent Keen?”

            “No, but I spoke with him this morning, and he said he’d stop by later today. Unlikely to have a blacklister.”

            “You all still have paperwork to complete the previous case, use this time to get caught up then,” Harold started knowing he did not need to tell these agents, but it was his job to be the boss.

            “Sir, may I speak with you?” Donald asked.

            “Let’s go to my office,” Cooper said knowing that Donald was dealing with a family issue and expecting him to request time off.

            Once in the office Donald spoke before he lost his nerve, “I would like to transfer out of the team.”

            “Why?”

            “I feel that I would better serve the FBI somewhere else. I’m no longer the only expert on Reddington. Samar and Elizabeth both know him better than me these days.”

            “Donald, if it is about the recent course of events, I have warned Reddington he’s not going to use the FBI to further his criminal empire.”

            “But he has and will continue to Sir. I just need to put honest day's work in, and not feel like I’m working for him.”

            “I will speak with the higher ups about this. But Donald makes sure this is what you want.”

            “I’m confident sir.” Donald said, “Thank you.”

            “I’ll hate to see you leave us, you are a great agent, and have been a great mentor for Agent Keen.”

            That took Ressler by surprised, he never considered himself Elizabeth’s mentor. Partner yes, but he realized that when she joined the task force shew as a green agent, and now she was way more seasoned than anyone with her short time with the FBI should have been.

            “One more request,” Donald said before leaving the office deciding to push his luck.

            “What is it?”

            “May I take some my vacation time?” Donald said, “My brother is in the hospital, and I’d like to spend a few days with them.”

            “I don’t see how that could be a problem. We have some down time, and with Agent Keen, back we are no longer down an agent. I’ll process the paperwork today. When would you like to start your leave?”

            “This afternoon if possible.”

            “I’ll make it happen. I can probably get you three or four days?”

            “That’s fine sir. Thank you.”

 

Chapter Text

       When Red came around two hours later, he felt rough. The drug was still buzzing in his veins, but his mouth was dry as sandpaper. He had to get up, keep up appearance, and all that, he thought bitterly. Rolling to his side, he found the syringe, and quickly grabbed it off the bed, placing it back into his kit. Sitting up slowly, the world felt like he was on a tilt-a-world ride spinning endlessly. Hand on the nightstand he tried to pull himself up to his feet, but when his body seemed to give out, he tumbled to the floor. His shoulder connected with the nightstand making a racket as he knocked it over.

       On the ground, Red heard the sound of feet approaching him. When he looked up, he saw it was the new girl, Baz’s recommendation.

       “Are you OK Mr. Reddington?”

       “Just got a bit dizzy when I got out of bed,” Red said rubbing his shoulder, it felt ok, just tender.

       “How about we get you off the floor,” She said offering her hand and pulling him up to his feet.

       He took her offered hand only because he was not confident he’d be able to get up without the help.

       “Have a seat on the bed and let me check you over.” She said, “Don’t worry I have field medic experience.”

       “I’m sure it’s just low blood sugar,” Red said trying to cover the real cause.

       “Uh huh.” The woman said not wanting to call out the obvious sign that he had been using heroin. She had experience with the very drug and demon and lived to tell. Normally, with anyone else, she would have called his bullshit, but he was her employer and a dangerous one at that.  

       Red realized in he was in just an undershirt and boxers when he felt his new security guards hands checking his shoulder and range of motion. She caused him to grunt in pain a few times as she moved the injured appendage.

       “Good news is I don’t think you broke anything. But it’s going to be tender for awhile.”

       “I’m fine really.”

       “Sure.” She said, “You might want to put your kit up.” She said nodding towards the kit laying on the floor. “Watch how much you take too.”

       Red glared at her, but she did not seem to back down.

       “No judgment from me. I’ve fought that demon, still fighting it.” She said meaning it because it took everything in her not to take the kit and use it for herself. A meeting would be necessary tonight and a long talk with Baz. She would not narc out Reddington, what he did was his business, but Baz had a way of helping her fight off the cravings. “It just if you OD, I’ll be out of a job I enjoy.”

       Red chuckled at the comment. His brain catching up, “How’d you get in here?  I locked the door.”

       “About that, hope you have a good carpenter on the payroll.” She answered, “I heard the crash and thought you were in trouble.”

       Red looked to the door and saw that she had kicked it in. So much for the locked door. “I’ll get someone to fix it.”

       After a moment of awkward silence, Red spoke, “You cannot tell anyone what you saw in here.”

       “I didn’t see anything.” She said, “It’s your business.”

       Red nodded, “Glad you understand.”

       “You pay me for my discretion.” She said, then shifted gears remembering why she had initially been waiting for signs of life from him, “Dembe wanted me to remind you that you told Agent Keen you’d visit the Post Office today.”

       Red wanted to groan because he was in no shape to make it there today. But he knew if he did not show up, Lizzie would come looking and she would be angry. “Can you tell Dembe I should be ready to go within the hour?”

       “Of course.” She said, “Drink some OJ before you go, for the low blood sugar.”

       Red nodded waiting for her to leave before he got off the bed. IN the bathroom he found his stash of cocaine. The upper to get him through the end of his heroin high. He knew it was dangerous to mix the drugs, but he had to keep up appearances.

==================

Red called Lizzie’s phone a few times, but she sent him directly to voicemail. Everything had been going so well for the last 24 hours, but he knew something was wrong the moment he walked into the post office. Aram looked more nervous than usual, and Samar smiled at him, but it held tension in the smile.

       It was Lizzie who got the first chance to yell at him. He had his newest security team member, who came highly recommend from Baz, drop off a list of nannies that had already been vetted. Red knew that with Lizzie being a single mother and the requirement of her job, she would need help. In most cases, the infant could be put in daycare or sent to a family member. However, with Agnes having no grandparents and Liz’s work hours not able to match up with any daycare that is open, he thought it best she finds help. Help that he knew could be trusted. It had been an innocent gesture to help her out since she had been so overwhelmed since Tom left. A minute into her yelling at him for trying to control her life had told him it was a bad idea.

       As soon as she finished, Red had run into Ressler. Ressler was on his way out of the building carrying a gym bag. The Agent looked like he had when they first started working together, like every second he could not decide if he wanted to punch or arrest Red. “You son of a bitch.”

       Red looked confused because to his knowledge he had not done anything to piss Ressler off recently.

       “Did you think you could buy me off by paying for my brother’s medical expenses?  How could you even go near my family?” Dembe stepped between Ressler and Reddington as Ressler started to advance on Red. Dembe was protecting Ressler and Raymond’s interest. Given Raymond’s disregard for human life recently, Dembe was not sure what his friend would do if Ressler swung at him, and Dembe did not want to find out either.

       Red looked downright offended at Ressler's accusation. “Donald I would not waste a cent trying to buy you off.” In truth, Red had only a bit of grudging respect for the FBI agent, and he had been the closest any FBI agent had ever come to capturing Red, but he failed and continued to fail every step of the way. “I was merely trying to pay my respects and lessen the burden on your family.”

       “If you go near them again, I will kill you. The FBI might be all right with getting into bed with you, but I am not. I am not your lackey. If it were up to me, you’d be rotting in a prison cell waiting for your tribunal for treason, where you would be found guilty and hung.” Ressler pushed against Dembe, but Dembe was solid and did not move.

       Red glared at Ressler shaking his head, then smiled widely at him, “Well it seems that would never happen because the only way you could catch me was when I turned myself in. And if I’m not mistaken I quickly escaped your custody then.”

       Samar entered the fray walking up and grabbing Reddington and walking him away before either man came to blows. “You are quite the popular guy today.”

       Red laughed loudly, mostly just to piss Ressler off more, “So it seems. How have you been Samar?”

       “You know same old same old.” She said walking Red over to Aram’s computer station.

       Aram still fidgeted and looked nervous, “Can I do anything for you, Mr. Reddington?”

       “No. Just wondering why Samar felt the need to walk me over here.”

       “I need a favor.” Samar said, “Not for me of course, but for a friend.”

       “By friend you mean Levi,” Red said raising his eyebrows suggestively.

       “Aram and I need access to a place the FBI, NSA, and CIA do not have their hooks into,” Samar said.

       “And I just happen to have one of the only clean places that you know of.”

       “yes,” Samar said.

       “What for?”

       “I cannot say.” Samar answered, “But it would not harm you in any way.”

       “I’m not very trusting of this idea.” Red said, “It took a lot of work to ensure that area remained clean.”

       “I understand, but we would do nothing to jeopardize it.”

       “Does this have to do with a particular Hamas operative that may or may not be on US soil,” Red asked knowing it likely had to do with the operative as he was one of the Israelis unofficial most wanted. The gentleman helped raise funds to further support various incursions into Gaza strip.

       “Of course you know.” Samar said, “May we use your clean space?”

       “Will Levi be joining you, or is it just you and Aram?”

       “Just Aram and I.” Samar said, “And he will need access to your clean network connection that the FBI and others do not know about.”

       “I’m shocked Samar.” Red faked surprised, he was aware that she would likely have known that Leonard Caul would have established something in what had become his almost office during the work of taking down the Cabal and some of the other work he has done since working with Red.  “May I know why you need this access?  You know it’s almost impossible to establish such a secure entry point.”

       “I can tell you later.” Samar said, “But Aram assures me he can promise not to compromise it in any way.”

       Red thought about her request. It really did nothing for him but put his clean room in danger. However, he knew the reason Aram needed it was that the NSA, CIA, and FBI were all likely monitoring him since the debacle with his sort of girlfriend (who was now working for the NSA) and the secondary run in with the woman during his undercover mission. He would be on their radar as a potential hazard and would be a person of interest. So whatever Samar needed him to do, they needed to ensure no one could track it.

There were a few things Red needed to be done that Aram could do too, “Under a few conditions.”

“What are they?” Samar said trying to not to stare at Aram who looked nervous, and it was endearing to see him that anxious.

“I need Aram to research a person for me and track down what Tom Keen is up to.”

“Really that’s it?” Aram said surprised, “Who is the person?”

“Anna Higgins. I need to know what she has been up to for the last decade.”

“Will I be allowed to tell Agent Keen what I find about Tom?”

“Yes. She’s the reason I’m asking.” Red said seeing Cooper walking towards them apparently ready for round three of reading Red the riot act today.

“Yes,” Aram said returning to his computer.

“Dembe can set up a time for you all.” Red said, “And you will have to be escorted to the location, as the one we meant in earlier does not have the clean network anymore. Leonard removed it when he moved on.”

“Harold what can I do for you?” Red turned to the Assistant Director greeting him cheerily like he usually did.

“My office now.”

       Harold Cooper read him the riot act after that about using the task force for his own personal agenda and reminded him the terms of his deal with the US government. The Attorney General Panabaker did not feel Reddington was holding up his end of the deal and steps were being taken. If Reddington did not shape up soon, he would be left without the deal, and the task force would hunt him instead of his blacklisters.

       “You forget one thing Harold,” Red said as soon as the Director finished his rant. Generally, Red would have accepted it and moved on doing what he wanted, but right now he found himself unable to deal with the bullshit Harold was ranting about. In fact, Red’s patience was thin mostly because he was carving heroin. It was the very start of the itch, literally and figuratively, his arm itched where he would usually inject it.

       “What’s that Reddington?”

       “I do not need the FBI to continue.” Red said, “I made the deal only to help. I was the one who turned myself in, and I can slip away just as I have always done in the past. So if you want to take the immunity deal off the table, that is fine. I’ll slip away and continue my business, and you all will be in search of new reasons to remain a task force.”

       “Is that a threat?” Cooper was incensed by Red’s statement.

       “No more than your threat.” Red said, “It is up to you all whether this continues or not. But what worries me is why all of the sudden you all are caring about the results?  Have I not always provided you with a blacklister, as they arose in near proximity?  I have been more than helpful this entire process.”

       “We are not to serve your personal needs anymore,” Cooper replied.

       “How is your daughter doing?”

       Cooper glared at Red both of them remembering Cooper’s lecture about selfishness that Red exhibited. “She is fine.”

       “Glad to hear it. As always if there is anything I can do to help. Just please this time, don’t trust someone to help you so they can spy on the task force like last time.”

       As Red walked out of the black site, he could not help but think that the day had started off so well if you did not take into account the leaky diaper and pee wake up call, but it turned out to be shit.

       Therefore, later when he was in the car talking to Anna, after all of this, he could not help but agree that she come visit him tonight. In hopes that she would help turn the shitty day around. At the very least, he would like a chance to see her again.

=============

Raymond had called Anna from the car. He was exhausted from the day's events, and he actually could not remember the last time he had a proper sleep. The few hours he caught on Lizzie’s couch had not been enough, and the heroin-induced haze was not sleep.

       “Anna Higgins.” Apparently, she was distracted when she answered the phone, the sound of her typing filtered through the receiver.

       “It’s Raymond.” He said sighing he did not want to cancel on her, but he had a severe headache, “Can we reschedule?”

       “What’s wrong Ray?” She stopped typing changing her focus to him, and for a second it made him hopeful, “You sound tired.”

       “I am.” He was honest with her, and his hope soared. It had been awhile since he had someone look at him without disgust or disappointment filtering through their gaze. Anna never seemed to judge him for what he was or did, she accepted it, at least she used to, “It’s been a long day.”

       “How about I come around to your place tonight. We can eat there. That way you won’t have to travel.” Anna did not want to cancel either, she was afraid she’d lose this chance to reconnect with him. From the few stories on the plane ride back, she knew he was very much the same man she fell in love with all those years ago. If she was honest, he was the same man she continued to love despite wishing she did not. It was evident to her, having known him and being able to read him, that he was hurting over something. Yet, none of his people seemed to notice, at least Dembe did not notice.

       After a pause to contemplate, Red finally spoke, “Ok.”

       “Great. I was afraid you were canceling because you decided it was better to not have contact with me anymore.” Anna said knowing it was a possibility.

“Not at all.” Red answered quickly, “I enjoyed our conversation on the flight. It was nice catching up.” Switching gears he asked, “Is there anything specific you would like tonight, I can make something or have Dembe pick something up when he brings you to the safe house.”

       “Anything you want is fine with me,” Anna said knowing he had a much more refined taste than her. He used to get annoyed when she’d eat ravioli out of a can, he also gripped that it was not real food. “I could have my driver bring me to the safe house. Save Dembe the hassle, and I can also pick up the food.”

       “It is better if Dembe picks you up,” Red said and felt like shit for not trusting her to know the location. It was still early, way too early actually, in their rekindling their old friendship and maybe a relationship, and he was not sure he could trust her with the location.

       Anna realizing exactly what he meant, she made it easy on him and did not question his motives for not wanting her to know the address of the safe house, “I’ll see you this evening then.”

       “Ann you are needed in a meeting…” Red heard the sound of someone else’s voice over the line, “Sorry I didn’t know you were on the phone.” The same female voice could be heard.

       “It’s ok Michelle. I’ll be there in a few minutes.” Anna said smiling at Michelle, the intern that interrupted her call by walking through her office door without knocking. Anna had a policy of no knocking necessary. In fact, she often kept her office door open, but today she had closed it when she walked through because of the sensitive nature of a previous phone conference she had been on.

       “I got to go Raymond.” Anna said once the intern was gone, “Try to get some rest if you can.”

       “I will.” Red hung the phone up finding that he almost felt like smiling.

================

       Ressler felt slightly better after getting a chance to yell at Reddington. He still wanted to leave the task force because he did not want to be at Red’s beck and call anymore. Panabaker had called him earlier today, so there was hope he might have an out. She requested me to meet her, at her office before the day was up.

       Ressler had a flight first thing in the morning to head back to see his brother and mother. His brother was out of the hospital already, but Ressler still wanted to be there to help out for awhile. Plus it had been a long time since he had seen his family, and he was due for a visit.

       By the time he got to Panabaker's office, it was already late, and he was not even sure she would still be around. However, her assistant led him right through to Panabaker.

       “Hello, Agent Ressler. Thank you for coming to see me this evening. Would you like coffee, tea or water?” Panabaker greeted him in her rich Southern accent.

       “No thank you, ma’am,” Donald said shifting uncomfortably because he had no idea why Panabaker wanted to meet with him.

       “I hear from Harold that you are requesting to leave the task force.”

       “Yes, ma’am.”

       “May I ask why?” Panabaker indicated they should take a seat. She chooses to take a seat next to his so that the meeting felt less formal as it may have felt with her sitting on the other side of her desk.

       “I am just ready to move on ma’am.”

       “You are tired of Reddington running the show and walking all over the taskforce.” Panabaker said, “No need to mince words here Agent Ressler. What is said will remain strictly confidential.”

       “Yes, ma’am,” Ressler responded agreeing to her statement.

       “Donald, if I may, we need people like you on that task force.” Panabaker explained, “Agent Navabi has questionable allegiance, as we learned earlier this year. Agent Mojtabai has been known to work off the books with Reddington occasionally. And we still have no idea Agent Keen’s connection or why she is so important to Reddington other than her mother. You understand that with all of that in play, we need someone who’s loyalty cannot be questioned. Someone we know will do their very best to keep Reddington from going too far. Harold is trying, but he is not used to dealing with people like Reddington and has a lot of personal issues he’s dealing with. We need someone inside that can help us.”

       “And you want me to be that person?”

       “Yes.” Panabaker said, “You got the closest than anyone else has ever to capturing or killing Reddington while you were his case officer. I can only assume after multiple years of working with him you now know more about his operations and ways.”

       Ressler nodded to indicate that he had, in fact, learned more about Reddington.

       “So when this deal does fall apart, and it will be sooner rather than later, you will be able to use the knowledge you have gained to track Reddington down and ensure he gets the justice he deserves,” Panabaker stressed the justice.

       “What makes you so sure the deal is going to come apart?”

       “It’s already unraveling. Reddington has been in a downward spiral ever since Agent Keen faked her death, and he continues to add to the body count. The higher ups are starting to question if the deal is worth the damage it is causing. I have it on good authority that some are ready to pull the plug. Reddington, of course, knows this, and he is doing all he can to keep that connection.”

       “You want me to spy on my colleagues.” Ressler felt sick at the idea.

       “No.” Panabaker said, “I want you to report to me on Reddington and learn all you can talk about him, with the knowledge that one day you will be allowed to track him down and bring him to justice.”

       Ressler studied her for a few moments trying to decide if he should trust her. Finally, he asked, “May I know where this is coming from?  Who’s idea or order it would be to end the deal with Reddington and to allow me to bring him to justice?”

       “It’s coming from the President himself. He has been briefed on the top secret task forces in place and knows well about what you all are doing. He is not a fan of Raymond Reddington and wants him dealt with as soon as Reddington does enough to break the deal, and maybe before then given a number of deaths that have been attributed to Reddington recently.”

       “Can I think about it?”

       “Of course. I hear you will be leaving town for a few days. Let me know your answer when you get back. If you say no, the I will personally ensure you get transferred out of the task force.”

       Ressler knew that if he said no, the probability of him getting a transfer he actually wanted was low. He’d like to end up in Alaska or working in the background check department. At that moment, he wishes he could rescind his request for a transfer because it left him little other options. “I’ll do it.”

       “Great to have you on board Donald.” Panabaker said, “When you get back we’ll supply you with a secure phone that you can contact the director and me of the NSA with.”

       “The NSA?” Ressler was surprised at this revelation.

       “He is the man the President has tasked with keeping an eye on the task force.”

       “Oh,” Ressler said not sure how he felt about this because the director of the Cabal had happened to run the NSA as well.

       “That is all I have for you. Have a safe trip Donald.” Panabaker said dismissing him from her office.

======================

Red waited until Dembe had left to go get Anna before he called his contact. His order would be delivered to one of his couriers, who would drop it off at the safe house before Dembe got back. Red had used whatever heroin he had left hours ago. He made the calls and decisions that had to be made for the day while floating through his high. He might have a problem, but he was still functioning, so it wasn’t a problem. That is what he told himself.

       When the heroin showed up to his door, he quickly hid it in his kit and put it up in the closet where no one would find it. He next shifted to preparing for Anna to arrive. Anna was expecting food when she came over, and despite his lack of appetite, he knew he needed to keep up appearances.

=============

       Lizzie arrived home after picking Agnes up from Charlene. The little girl was still crying a lot, and Lizzie felt like joining her most of the time. Had she missed Tom as much as Lizzie had? Walking through the apartment, it felt empty and cold. The dream that was to be their first family apartment had turned into a nightmare overnight. Without Tom, it just felt wrong. She hoped against hope that he would return eventually. Lizzie would take him back, not because she loved him because she cared for Tom, but she never knew if she loved him. But they had a child together, and caring was enough in her world. Mostly he was familiar and a promise of the normal life she wanted. The husband walking hand in hand with her, and their little girl in the park. All of that was slipping away in Tom’s absences.

       She called his cell phone leaving more voicemails. Her last call of the night told her the voicemail box was full.

       Dinner was ordered in from a Chinese restaurant, and she finished off the bottle of wine Red had brought the previous night. She was still angry with him for butting in when she had asked him to stay out of it. Made it clear she would figure it out, but he couldn’t let it be. No matter how hard she tried to keep him within the boundaries of what she was comfortable with, he always pushed through. What he had done to Ressler too was unforgivable. Was nothing off limits to Red? 

       As the night continued to pass, and Agnes became fussier, she started to turn her attention to the woman Red had clearly been with the evening before. He had not denied it and told her the woman was someone he knew from the past and that Lizzie had never meant. Who was she?  Lizzie had wondered, and then, of course, she started to wonder why she cared. Maybe this woman would give Red something other than her to focus on, and that thought terrified her. It shouldn’t because it was what she wanted, right?

================

       After Anna had arrived, the stress of the day had seemed to melt away. She and Red had talked about everything and nothing while he finished preparing dinner, and the conversation flowed all through dinner and dessert. She had not questioned him about his bad day or pushed when he did not answer questions. It was all very relaxing, well besides her music taste. He had allowed her to connect her iPhone to the wireless speaker system in the house and had been subjected to multiple genres of music all night.

       They were still talking in the dining room. Their food having been consumed hours ago, and onto their second or maybe it was the third bottle of wine when Anna squealed.

       “Oh, you have to dance with me.” Anna said jumping up when Last Song by Edward Bear first few words came through the speakers, “This is my song.”

       Red stood up and obliged her. He pulled her close enjoying the feel of her silk blouse against his rough palms, her warmth radiating into him making him feel like she was hugging him with her warmth. It felt nice to have contact with someone else, he had not realized how much he missed something this simple as human contact. It made him feel weak and a bit sick because he did not need people, should not need people. Men did not need to be coddled, as his father used to tell him and his mother whenever his father thought Red’s mother was coddling him.

       “You know this is a sad song?” Red asked.

       “Yeah. I listened to it a million times after we broke up.” Anna replied resting her head on his shoulder like she was at her high school dance all over again.

       Red felt his heart clench he never allowed himself to think of what she felt when he abruptly ended their relationship.

       “Shit.” Anna said feeling Red tense in her arms, “I didn’t tell you that to make you feel like crap. I understand now, I did not back then, but now I understand why you had to break things off.”

       They both were silent for the rest of the song. Holding each other close while they danced slowly to the music. When the song ended Red tried to pull away, but Anna pulled him back. “One more dance sailor.”

       “I am sorry for how I ended things.” Was Red’s response to her request for one more dance, “I could have done it a nicer way.”

       “It’s in the past,” Anna said pulling her head off his shoulder. Smiling at him because she knew the voice filtering through the speakers was someone Reddington hated with a passion, “You hate the song don’t you?  To be more specific you hate Rod Stewart.”

       “Yes.” Red responded smiling, “I may have thought about having him killed a few times in my life.” Red joked, expecting that after he had said the words, Anna would pull away from him appalled, but all she did was pull him closer.

       “Well, I love the song.” Anna said, “Bryan Adams and Rod Stewart should sing together more often.”

       “You are a hopeless romantic.”

       “I am,” Anna said moving her head back so she could kiss Red on the lips.

       At first, Red was too surprised that she was kissing him to return it, but once he got over the initial shock, he responded in kind.

       “Glad some things have not changed,” Anna said after she pulled away from the kiss breathless.

       When the song finished, they did not separate. Anna’s cell phone continued to play music. Switching from All for Love to Kelly Clarkson singing about the Beautiful Disaster, yet another song that Anna had attributed to Red.

       Anna had not planned on kissing Ray when she asked him to dance. Holding this broken, beautiful man in her arms, she found herself moved to kiss him. Both starving for affection and love. The ghost of what could have been coming out to play.

       Red went to speak, as Anna pulled away ending their dance. She stopped him by lifting her hand to his mouth and covering.

       “Hold that thought and let’s just enjoy this moment at a time.” Anna said, “Stop thinking seven steps ahead. Just let it be tonight.”

       “As long as…”

       “Raymond shut up and take me to your bedroom.” She said grabbing his hand and pulling him towards where she expected his bedroom to be.

===============

 

Chapter Text

            After they had finished their first round of sex, Anna lay sprawled out over Red, her head resting on his shoulder, her fingers playing with the hairs on his chest and arm.  Running up and down gently enjoying the feeling of his flesh under her fingers. 

            She noticed he had quite a few more scars he had when they last had been together.  His back had just healed when they first meant.  The first time they had sex, he had refused to take his shirt off, back then.  She realized in the middle it was because he had severe scarring on his back.  She had felt it under her fingers all those years ago and had worried that she was hurting him when she had dug her nails into his flesh.  The next time they made love, she practically forced him to take his shirt off, and she kissed every single part of his back, gently afraid to hurt him.  Assuring him, she was not appalled at the damage to his body.  It would take another 6 months until he told her how he got those scars.  Saving a little girl from a fire.

            “Where did this come from?”  She asked indicating the fresh needle mark in his arm. 

            “B12 injection to help fight off exhaustion.”  Red lied to her because he could not tell her he had injected heroin. 

            She kissed his neck, “Where did this come from?”  She asked her fingers running over the scar from where he had been shot in the chest.

            “Sniper shot me, here in DC actually,”  Red said.

            “You got lucky there.”  She said feeling his chest under her warm hand. 

            “I did,”  Red said knowing he had been lucky to survive.  He remembered the horrible car ride trying to get Lizzie to hang her phone up and not tell the task force where they were.  The feeling of choking on his own blood while he struggled to get a breath, his lung collapsing.  Then there was the assault on Tom’s safe house, struggling to pull the gun out from under the dead man's body, too weak to get it free until the very last second.  He had looked up at the barrel of the masked commando’s weapon expecting it to be the last thing he saw until they turned away.  He had been confused then, why had they not killed him.  It was only later he found out that Lizzie had put herself in danger for him, yet another time she should have just allowed him to die.  A voice in his mind, sounding much like Lizzie, reminded him that she likely regretted each time now.

            “Hey.” Anna was speaking to him, grabbing his face, “What were you just thinking?”  She had seen the pain in his eyes and felt him tense under her after he had answered her.

            “Nothing,”  Red said running his hand down her arm.  “Any other questions?”

            “You have a lot more scars than you had before.”

            “The years have not always been kind.”  He said looking at her with a sad smile on his face.

            “Where did this one come from?”  She pointed out the thick scar on his upper thigh.

            “Machete to the leg in a Honduras prison,”  Red answered.

            “You were in prison in Honduras?”

            “Yes.  Horrible place.  They had 40 of us in a room smaller than this. I spent a month there.”

            “When?”

            “A few months after we broke up.”  Red answered, “I made the mistake of trusting one of my people.  He found better payment from a corrupt politician.”

            “So he threw you in prison and had someone chop at your leg with a machete?”

            “No, he threw me in prison.  My inability to let someone else command me and being an American got me the wound.” 

            “I heard prison in Honduras is horrible.”  Anna said, “That the prisoners pretty much run the show on the inside.”

            “Yes even back then.”  Red answered, “It was one of the coordinators who had the machete. I had to barter with my shoes and food for a week to get the needle and thread I needed to fix the wound.”

            “God that sounds horrible.  How did you get out of there?”

            “One of my people had found me, and with a few well-placed bribes I was out within a month and just a little worse for wear.”

            “And that worked?”

            “yes.”  Red said, “They did not know I was the Raymond Reddington. Otherwise, I’m sure they’d of barter to get aid from the US in exchange for me, but back then I still was not worth that much.  So if they had known, I probably could have out paid the US for my freedom.”

            “Was that the only time you were in prison?”

            “No.”  Red said, “A few more times.”

            “Jesus,”  Anna said nothing each scar on his body.  He was littered with them.  Kissing him again, she noticed the one on his neck, “How did you get this one?”

            “A pen.”

            “Someone stabbed you in the neck with a pen?  That would have severed your artery.”

            “It did,”  Red said remembering that moment.  It was the moment he realized that the young girl Sam had described to him was every bit like her mother.  The fierceness had turned him on, even as he sat there feeling his life bleed out of him, he had been aroused by Lizzie.  It was the first time he saw her as a desirable woman and not just Sam’s little girl. 

            “Why?”

            “I disregarded their concerns and refused to answer a question.”

            “Did you answer the question after they stabbed you?”

            “No.”  Red kissed the top of her head. “Are we going to go scar by scar?”

            “No, we can save some for another day,”  Anna said reaching down below Red’s waist. “I can think of better things to do for now.”

            Red smiled, “I’m not a young guy anymore.”

            “I’m sure you got another round in you,”  Anna said climbing on top of him, she slowly kissed each of his visible scars working up to his lips, and then back down to his hardening penis. 

            Red felt content to allow her to take charge, remembering from their earlier relationship that she sometimes like to be the dominant one in bed.  She confirmed he did have another round in him.   

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            The next morning, Anna woke up first and was content for a few minutes laying next to him on the bed. She took the time to study Raymond.  After all these years he was different and yet the same.  Currently, he was curled on his side softly snoring. His arm gently lay across her torso. Even in his sleep, he looked strained.  His face was scrunched in his sleep, the stress and worry lines showing clearly on his forehead.  What troubled him so much that it invaded his sleep?  It had been a battle for him to sleep the night before, and she knew he had to be exhausted after their activities.  Yet he had been up and down from the bed multiple times. 

He always returned, but he kept doing this well into the early hours of the morning.  Finally, around 6 am, she had curled onto him, to keep him there.  He drifted off to a fitful sleep at first, and then a deeper one later.

            When the call of nature finally pulled her from the bed, she felt the good type of sore that came after a beautiful night full of passionate love making.  Moving her pillow in her place, as she danced from foot to foot, the cold of the house making her need stronger, she hoped it would bring him comfort, and he would sleep longer.  Limping limped through the dark bedroom to the bathroom.  Gently she closed the door before turning the light on, ensuring to not turn the fan on afraid the noise would wake him up.

            A warm shower washed away the evidence and the soreness from the night before.  Climbing out, she realized she only had her clothes from the day before to put on.  Walking back out to the bedroom, she saw that he was still sleeping soundly, clutching her pillow tightly to him.  Grabbing her phone off the nightstand, she used the screen to light the dresser.  She found a pair of boxer shorts, and a crisp white shirt.  Those would do.  The boxers would be a bit too big for her, but she could manage to them for now. 

            Softly closing the door to the bedroom, she made her way to the kitchen finding a pot of coffee already having been brewed.  She jumped when Dembe walked in from a door off the kitchen.

            “Jesus Dembe you scared me.”

            “Sorry.”  Dembe smiled at her, “Would you like a cup of coffee?”

            “Yes.  I was just getting ready to search for the mugs.”

            “The maid will have your clothes ready within the next hour.”

            “My clothes?” Anna was confused, then she remembered that she and Red had shed their clothes on the way to the bedroom, and she had not found them on her trek to the kitchen.

            “She is dry cleaning them now.” 

            “Oh,”  Anna said feeling embarrassed because she had not thought of anyone else living with Raymond.  So she did not think twice about them leaving their clothes in the hallway.

            “Is he still sleeping?”  Dembe asked.

            “Yes,”  Anna answered thankful Dembe was changing the subject. “Does he have time to sleep in?”  Anna asked because she was not sure what hours a transnational criminal kept.

            “I cleared his morning schedule.  Would you like some breakfast?”

            “I was going to cook some as soon as I finished a cup of coffee.”

            “I can handle it if you wish to go relax,”  Dembe said moving to the fridge.

            “It’s actually the only meal I can cook, and I do enjoy cooking it.”

            “No problem.  I can leave you to it.”  Dembe said trying to take his leave.

            “You don’t have to leave on my account Dembe.   Maybe you can help me?”

            “Of course.”  Dembe smiled at her.  “What is the menu chef?”

            “Pancakes.”  Anna said, “After a good night of sex, I always crave pancakes.”  Realizing what she said, “Shit sorry.”

            Dembe just laughed, “No reason to be sorry.” 

            “If you have not noticed I lack a filter sometimes. Especially before I’ve had my first cup of coffee.”

            “It’s refreshing,”  Dembe said collecting the utensils they will need to make pancakes.  

            “Do you mind if I turn on some music?”  Anna asked, “I tend to listen to music all the time.”

            “be my guest.  There is a spot to connect your phone over there.”  Dembe said indicating over by the fridge.

            Anna plugged her cell phone in, happy to see that it would play music as well as charge her dying phone.  “Any request?”

            “Whatever you wish.”

            “Well, not Rod Stewart.  I think Raymond would wake up just because he’d realize it someone nearby was listening to it.”

            Dembe laughed, “He hates Rod Stewart?”

            “Yes.  Despises him.”

            “Good to know next time he is insufferable.”

            “You mean always.”

            They shared a laugh at Red’s expense.  Dembe knew he already liked Anna from when he first meant her. She seemed good for Raymond, maybe she could help him out of the funk he found himself in after Liz’s fake death and Kate Kaplan’s death.  But a small part of him still had this nagging feeling about her. He ignored it, for now, chalking it up to his own paranoia.  Raymond knew her and trusted her, and that should be enough.

            “I should warn you I have a weird musical taste.  My ex-husband uses to complain at my musical choices.”  Anna said as the music started to filter through the speakers.

            “Who is this?”  Dembe asked to keep the conversation going.

            “Halsey.” 

Anna continued started a conversation with Dembe, “How long have you been with Raymond?” 

            “I just started working with him again four years ago,”  Dembe answered setting a ceramic bowl on the counter. “I meant him about a decade ago, and he saw to my education and well-being for quite a few years.”

            “He is lucky to have you in his life.”  Anna responded, “What did you do when you weren’t working with him?”

            “I went to college, and after college, I went back to my motherland and fought in a civil war.”

            “I am sure Raymond was not happy about that.”

            “No, he was not.” Dembe responded, “He did not want me to work with him either.  I had to fight him to get him to agree to allow me around.”

            “How did you get him to change his mind?  It is my experience once Raymond makes up his mind, it’s impossible to get him to change it. He’s so fuckin stubborn.”

            “He is.”  Dembe agreed laughing, “I reminded him how helpful it would be to have someone else around who he could trust implicitly.”

            “Mr Kaplan is still around?”  Anna asked excited to see the woman again. 

            “no,”  Dembe said his face a mask giving nothing away.

            “Oh I’m sorry.”

            “How did you know Kate?”  Dembe asked knowing he should change the subject, but Anna was more than a fling if she got to meet Kate.

            “We ran into a medical emergency when we were in Edmonton.  Raymond called Kate, and she came with an entire team of doctors.”  Anna purposely did not tell Dembe it had been she who needed a doctor, but she refused to go to the hospital because she needed Raymond with her.  In his last ditch effort, he called an associate, Kate Kaplan, who had stuck by Anna and Raymond through the entire ordeal. 

            “Dembe I know you have not known me long, but is Raymond Ok?”  Anna asked worried about her lover. 

            “I am sure he’s fine.”  Dembe was less than confident about his answer.

            “What happened?”  Anna asked, “Is it all the years catching up to him or something more?”

            “You should ask him,”  Dembe said feeling uncomfortable with this subject.

            “I have tired, he just brushes it off.”  Anna responded, “I care about him, and something is different.  He seems sad and lost.  Was it because of Kate?”

            “You should ask Raymond,”  Dembe said with a finality in his voice that prevented Anna from asking any more questions. 

            Anna truly was worried about Raymond.  They had only been in each other lives for less than a few days, and yet she could tell he was not happy and he was carrying around more baggage than usual.  Had it just been changed over the years or was this something new?  She deduced that it had to be relatively new.  Some of his clothes were loose on him, indicating recent weight loss, and how he has sought her out, even after their random encounter.  It was not the usual Raymond.  After she had saved his life, he had studied her exhaustively before letting her in.  This time he just let her right in, opened the door and escorted her through it.  They had the shared past, but that was the past.  Raymond Reddington was anything, but no one would ever say he wasn’t cautious, and he threw caution to the wind when it came to her.  And then there were the other things, things she was not supposed to know about.  Those other things also indicated there was trouble, new trouble, in Raymond’s life. 

 

Chapter Text

The sound of a phone vibrating interrupted their conversation.

            “It must be you,”  Anna said looking at her phone on the counter as she mixed the flour and eggs together.

            Dembe frowned at the phone, and answered it, excusing himself as he walked out of the room.

            In Dembe’s absences, Anna started to sing and dance along to the music while she made pancakes.  She was belting out a verse of Colors when Dembe returned to the kitchen with a young thirty-something-year-old woman who looked a mess.  Dembe had a car seat in one hand, a sleeping infant inside it.

            The young woman looked shocked to see Anna dancing and sing around the kitchen.  It was then that Anna realized she was still wearing one of Raymond’s shirts and boxer shorts and she was using the spatula as a microphone.  Probably not the best introduction to this woman.   

            Elizabeth glared at the older woman in front of her who had been singing and dancing around the kitchen.  The first thing Liz noticed was her clothing, boxers, and a shirt, apparently not the woman’s clothes.  Liz took a guess that they were Reds.  It led her to another conclusion that this was the morning after.  Liz hated that the boxers made the woman’s legs look like they went on forever. The stranger's wet hair was pulled back in a messy ponytail.  Elizabeth instantly disliked her because even in what was clearly the morning after attire, she looked more put together than Elizabeth did. 

            “Elizabeth I’d like you to meet Anna.”

            “Nice to meet you, Elizabeth.” Anna cleaned her hand off with a towel and offered it for a handshake, but Elizabeth ignored it. Moving past the slight, Anna asked, “Who is this lovely little girl?”

            “Agnes,”  Dembe answered. 

            “Well hello, Agnes,”  Anna said to the little girl.

            “Where is Red?”  Elizabeth asked glaring at Anna.

            “Sleeping still,”  Anna responded before Dembe could.  “Would you like some pancakes? I just finished a batch.”

            “No.”  Elizabeth answered as an afterthought she added, “Thank you.”

            “It looks like you could use a cup of coffee,”  Anna said moving across the kitchen getting out a cup for Elizabeth before she could deny wanting one.  Anna did cringe when she realized she had called out the fact that Elizabeth looked exhausted. 

            Lizzie could not stand the fact that Anna seemed so at home in one of Red’s safe house.  Easily going about finding cups and offering food, that she clearly had cooked. 

            “Do you take cream or sugar in your coffee?”

            “I can make it.”  Liz snapped and to soften the blow followed up with, “Thank you.”

            Just as Liz was making stirring in sugar into her coffee, Red’s voice filled the room from the hallway, “Must we listen to this hullabaloo first thing in the morning.”

            Red entered the room in a pair of pajama pants, a white shirt, and no socks.  Liz started at him as he walked into the room clearly not expecting a company this early in the morning, and more than comfortable with this Anna woman.

            “Lizzie.”  Red stopped in his tracks and quickly recovered, “I did not know we were having a party in the kitchen.”

            “Guilty,”  Anna said leaning in and kissing Red good morning.  She was not too upset that it was a chaste kiss he returned with because she knew there was something between Ray and Elizabeth, given the glares she received from the young woman.

            “Can we please turn the music off or down?”  Red asked her moving away, “I see you have coffee already Lizzie.  Do you want something to eat?”

            “I’m good,”  Elizabeth said her voice much nicer than she had used with Anna.

            “I am ravished,”  Red said taking the plate, Dembe handed him. 

            “Fresh OJ or coffee?”  Anna asked walking up with a cup of OJ and a cup of coffee for Red.

            “Both” Red grabbed took the ring of the coffee cup in his thumb and pressed it against the OJ glass so he could walk with both cups and his plate of pancakes.  “Shall we talk here or in the dining room Lizzie?”

            Liz looked at Anna and decided it best to have this conversation in private, “Dining room.”

            “Just through there.”  Red said waiting for Lizzie to get through the door before he turned around, “Thank you, Anna, for the pancakes.”  He mouthed his apology.  Anna waved him off she was not worried about fighting for his affection. 

            “Who is that woman?”  Lizzie said as soon as Red entered the formal dining room.

            “Anna.”  Red said, “She is an old friend.”

            “Another Madeline Pratt?”

            “No.”  Red answered, “What can I do for you, Lizzie?”

            Lizzie wanted to know more, she felt the green monster inside of her battling to get out.  Why was she jealous of Red and this woman, it was not like it would last, and she didn’t want Red.  He repulsed her on the best of days.

            “I was wondering if you had heard anything from Tom.  It’s been a week.”

            “No, I’m sorry Lizzie.”  Red said, “Last I heard he had meant up with his mother and they were working together on something.” 

Seeing how tired she looked Red asked, “If you need help with Agnes I can help you find a nanny, or I am sure Dembe or Baz would be happy to help for a few days.”  He would have offered his own services, but he knew Lizzie did not want him around her that much. 

“Where did you meet Anna?” 

“We ran into each other when I was in Chicago on business.  She lives here in DC now, and we have been catching up.”

“Looks like you did a lot more than catch up,”  Liz said more bite in words then she meant.

Red knew he was on thin ice, Lizzie was going to explode with the wrong words.  “Did you only come to check on if I had heard anything else about Tom?”

“Do you have another blacklister?”

“No.  I thought you might like some time to settle.”  Red winced because he knew he just stepped on a landmine, he just hoped it wouldn’t blow his arm or leg off.

“I’m fine Reddington. I don’t need time to settle in taking care of my daughter.”

 Anna stood in the doorway, now dressed in her freshly dry cleaned clothes, “Sorry to interrupt. I have to go.  My office just informed me that Senator McConnell can only fit me in this morning.”

Red got up from his seat, “I’ll call you later.”

“We can grab dinner tonight if you are free.”  Anna said leaning in to kiss him, “That was fun to meet you, Elizabeth.”  She said taking her leave.

“Is she bribing senators for you?”

“She has nothing to do with my world, other than she knows me.”  Red said, “She actually runs the International Justice Mission, the non-for-profit that seeks to eradicate human trafficking and help the victims.”

Elizabeth had heard about the non-for-profit.  She had written about it some during her research into Floriana Campo. It was the second largest non-for-profit helping victims of human trafficking until Campo’s was found to be a front for human trafficking.  Was that why Reddington had put Campo’s on the blacklist?  Lizzie had assumed it was because of Debbie's past, but maybe it was to make his girlfriends non-for-profit the largest. 

“Is she as dirty as Campos’?

“no.”  Red said, “Anna is pure.  She has been helping people ever since the first day I meant her.” 

“Then why is she with you.”  Liz was just angry, and Red was an easy punching bag, “If she is so pure, you are nothing near that.”

“I know,”  Red said feeling uncomfortable with Liz’s statements.  He had thought the very thing years ago when he had pushed Anna away.  “but enough about Anna.  How about you go relax in one of the spare bedroom and Dembe and I can take care of Agnes.  I will see if my people can get more information on Tom while you rest.”

Lizzie was desperately tired.  Agnes seemed to understand Tom was gone and miss him because she had become almost insufferable.  She went from a quiet content baby to one that cried constantly. 

“Ok,”  Liz said giving in. 

“You will love the beds.  They are to die for.  So soft it feels like you are floating on a fluffy cloud. Each room is equipped with blackout curtains so the room will be pitch black by mid-day.  Probably why I slept so late today.”

Liz wanted to make a rude comment about she was sure he was exhausted after is a minute of bliss last night, but she stopped herself.  She did not want Red to know she thought about him in that way ever, and she did not want to hear how he responded to defend his manhood.  When they had first meant he had not been shy about sexual innuendo or crude comments around her.  She did not need him to start that again.

“Dembe, Lizzie will be resting for a few hours.  Can you watch Agnes for her?”

“I would be delighted too,”  Debme responded already having the little girl in his arms walking around feeding her a bottle he had pulled out of the diaper bag.

“Thank you Dembe.”  Lizzie said.

After Lizzie had disappeared, Dembe turned to Reddington, “Samar called for you earlier, she had a file you requested.  I sent Baz’s new team member to go pick up the file.”

“Thank you Dembe.”  Red responded having been comfortable with Baz’s new team member.  Not only had she come highly recommended by Baz who had worked with her previously, but their extensive check of her background only pulled up one red flag, a stint in rehab for a heroin addiction after she had been severely injured by an IED.  She recovered complete and had been clean for over five years.  There was nothing in her background to indicate she was anything other than what she claimed to be, someone in need of work and happy to be reunited with Baz.

 

Chapter Text

Red sought refuge in his room. The room smelled of sex still bringing a smile to his face. Having Anna overnight, though, meant he had not scratched the itch last night, and it was making itself known with his stomach that was rolling. Luckily no one had noticed he had only eaten a few bites of the pancakes and drank little of his coffee or orange juice.

Taking out his small kit, he sat on the bed. He would only use a little this time, he told himself as he used the spoon to heat up the drug to get it in liquid form. His hands trembled at the anticipation of floating away into the nothingness. Taking a clean needle, he drew a dose of the drug into the syringe. He paused listening for the sound of anyone, hearing nothing; he placed the needle on the bedside table. Stripping down to his undershirt and pants, he sat back down on the bed. The rubber tourniquet around his arm, he cleaned his skin with an alcohol wipe. Already breaking his own rule of not shooting up more than once a week, he pushed the needle into his arm, savoring the sting. The sting meant mental and physical numbness was coming soon.

Pushing the plunger down, he gasped as the drug moved into his system. What he found himself euphoric and nauseous at the same time. He managed to lean his head over into the small trashcan, and vomit up what little he had eaten that morning. Collapsing back onto the bed, he allowed himself to float away. He barely managed to fumble and pull the syringe out of his arm, and untying the tourniquet with his hands that felt too large and unresponsive. Leaving both at his side, he pulled his legs onto the bed and turned to his side. Pulling his knees up to his chest, he closed his eyes and drifted along the waves of consciousness.

Hearing the sounded of a muffled baby cry almost pulled him back into his body, which he felt like he was floating above, but he fought it. It was in his head he told himself. He needed to stay in the warm, safe cocoon. All of his problems, all of the guilt, all of the self-hatred, every negative thing floated just beyond him. They could not and would not touch him hear. Peace, this is what real peace felt like. He would feel guilty when the drug wore off, hating himself more, for craving the peace he knew he did not deserve. For now, though, none of that mattered.

A woman’s voice came through the fog. It was like a gnat trying to pull him out of his warm, safe place. Opening his eyes, he saw a torso in front of him. What felt like a blink, and when his eyes opened again the torso and body attached to it were gone.

He was covered in sweat again, looking at his watch, he saw hours had passed. Shit, he was only supposed to be down for an hour top. There was work to be done, his recent extracurricular activities had left him neglecting his empire at a time when it needed defending most thanks to Stone’s attack.

Stretching on the bed, he felt truly exhausted, he would need a bump to get through the day. Sitting up, slowly, as he felt a bit dizzy, he saw that the syringe and tourniquet had been moved to the nightstand. He did not remember moving them, but that was not too surprising he had done other things while under the influence he didn’t remember. Opening the drawer of the nightstand, he found a small baggy of cocaine. He carried it into the bathroom, where a small mirror to make a line of coke on the bathroom counter. Snorting the coke was the quickest method of getting it into his system. It helped break the blood-brain barrier faster. Snorting it off the counter with a straw he had fashioned for just that purpose. He found himself sniffing and wiping at his nose as the drug rushed into his system.

Turning the shower on as hot as he could stand, Red stripped out of his sweat-soaked clothes and climbed inside. As with every post-high, the weight of his problems slowly came crashing down on him. Each time it felt more unbearable. The memory of killing Kate, the look of disgust on Lizzie’s face, the disappointment on Dembe’s face, the damnation on his own face, all the other deaths. The harsh words from Cooper regarding his selfish ways. Everything was crashing into him. The cocaine only did so much to numb those feelings. Really, all it managed to do was keep him alert and moving.

The shower lasted much longer than usual, but he needed to wash away the drug. His arm was bruised, he noticed, from having ripped the needle out, he must have damaged the vein in the process. He would have to find a new vein for awhile or stick to his plan to only shoot up once a week. Tomorrow, he told himself as he let his head hang, letting the hot water wash over the back of his head, down his body, and to the floor of the shower, tomorrow he would fight the itch. He would not use tomorrow or the next day. He was still in charge and was not an addict.

Getting out of the shower, he dried off quickly with a big white fluffy soft towel. It made his gut clench at the memory of the warm cocoon heroin erected around him during his high. He wanted that all the time craved that, he told himself, and not the drug.

Entering the room naked he chooses a lightweight suit, as his skin still felt hot as if he was burning from the inside out. It took a bit longer to dress just because he felt himself dreading leaving the room. The room no longer smelt of sex, but his body odor. He would need to change the sheets. For now, he opened a window to allow the cool fresh air from outside filter in and air out the room.

Taking a deep breath, he gathered all his strength, it was time to face them all. Walking out of the room he heard the sound of Dembe’s voice coming from the living room. Walking down there, Red found his brother on the phone.

Dembe looked in Red’s direction with a deep look of disapproval.

Red instantly felt guilty, had Dembe been the one to move the syringe and tourniquet?

“He is awake now,” Dembe said thrusting the phone to Red, “It’s Marvin.”

Red took the phone, “Marvin what do you need?” Red was starting to get angry at the mixture of disappointment and anger aimed at him from Dembe.

“There has been a slight issue.” Marvin spoke, “Some of our people have asked to be allowed to seek out alternative employment. And one of our regulars has decided to no longer use our services.”

“He went to one of my competitors.”

“Yes,” Marvin said, “There is still a lot of unease in the ranks and among our buyers.” Marvin did not add, but thought, since the Isabella Stone incident and Red’s continued neglect of some of the significant business dealings.

“Offer raises to those who want to leave, and remind them that we do not allow for alternative employment. In addition, assure everyone all is fine. If all else fails, give me their names.”

“For what?” Marvin said having deduced what became of Mr. Kaplan after her disappearance. If Kaplan was killed by Raymond, no one was safe, not even him.

“So I can speak to them,” Red answered biting back his anger. “Anything else Marvin?”

“Some of the clients have demanded your presences instead of mine or Dembe’s at the negotiations.”

“Make a list, and I will see what I can do,” Red said, “Is that all Marvin?”

“Yes for now.”

Red hung the phone up without saying goodbye. Dembe was still standing there, he tossed the phone back to his friend. “Where is Lizzie?”

“Still sleeping,” Dembe said a deep look of disapproval.

It was then that Red saw that Agnes was in her playpen sound asleep. It was set off in the corner of the living room.

“Anna called for you too. I informed her you were in a meeting, you were in no shape to talk to her.” Dembe stated his anger coming through his voice.

“It was just this once Dembe,” Red lied to his friend.

Dembe just continued to glare at Red, knowing it was a lie. “When did you move onto heroin?”

“I have it under control,” Red answered in a hushed stern voice. It was none of their business what he did. If he chooses to burn the entire empire to the ground, that was his choice, he made the damn thing. If he wanted to use a little bit of heroin to help him forget for a few hours. Just a little bit of peace, it was none of their goddamn business.                                                                                                       

“No you don’t,” Dembe snapped his voice rising enough to wake Agnes.

“What doesn’t he have under control?” Lizzie asked walking into the room in her sleep-rumpled clothes.

“Nothing it’s fine,” Red said walking over to the playpen to pick up the sleeping Agnes.

Dembe grabbed his arm and stopped him, though, “I have her,”

Red glared at his friend, knowing that Dembe was afraid Red was not cognizant enough to deal with the baby. Yanking his arm away, “I have her,” Red responded marching over and picking Agnes out of the pen. He held her gently in his arms, rocking and shushing her.

Liz saw the display between the two men, and wonder what the hell was going on. She had never seen them fight or even show dissent against the other. Deciding not to raise the point because she told herself maybe this was their normal, and she was just now getting to see it because this was the first time she had spent a significant amount of time with both of them. When they were on the run, it was just her and Red, no Dembe.

“Was she fussy when I was asleep?” Liz said trying to lessen the tension in the room.

“No she was perfect,” Dembe answered, “Elizabeth are you staying here today or do you want me to drop you at home? I am leaving for a few hours.”

“Didn’t Lizzie drive herself here?” Red asked confused as to why Dembe would think she needed a ride.

“My car broke down on the way here,” Lizzie said, “Dembe has your mechanic looking at it.”

“Oh,” Red said in a jovial voice while bounding Agnes in his arms. It was as if the little fight between him and Dembe had never happened, “Well we can get you care to use in the meantime.”

“It’s fine,” Lizzie said, “I can wait for my car,” She did not want any more help from Red, “Did you hear anything about Tom?”

“No,” Red answered, his voice filling with tension again, he had not bothered to ask his people in awhile if they had heard anything. So technically he was not lying to her when he told her he had not heard anything yet.

“I’ll make us some lunch if you are sticking around,” Red offered to wait for Lizzie indicate if she was. When she indicated she would be staying, Red handed her Agnes on his way out ignoring Dembe glare.

“What is going on between you two?” Liz asked as soon as Red was out of earshot.

“Nothing to worry about Elizabeth,” Dembe said, “I left your bag in the hall closet. Your laptop is in there. Do you need anything before I leave?”

“No thank you Dembe.”

“It was my pleasure,” Dembe took his leave upset but knowing that at least Raymond would remain sober while Lizzie was around and awake.

Liz walked into the kitchen with Agnes in her arms. “What is the wifi password.”

“I have no idea,” Red said wearing an apron over his suit. His coat was resting on one of the stools in the kitchen.

“Where is the router?”

“Maybe in the office,” Red said, “It’s down the hallway from where you slept.”

“I’ll go look for it,” Liz said handing Agnes to Red.

She tried the last door on the left and found that she had entered the wrong room. She saw Red’s clothes hanging in the closet and realized she was in Red’s room. As she was turning to walk out of the room, she caught a glimpse of something that made her stop and check it was what she thought she had seen. Walking over to the nightstand, she found what looked like a kit for injecting drugs. A cotton ball that had been apparently soaked in something sitting in a water bottle cap, an almost full bottle of water, a syringe, rubber tourniquet, and a small baggie of some white powdered substance. There was a second baggie, she noticed inside the open drawer. There was also an open wooden box that contained a spoon and a lighter as well. Placing the drug paraphernalia into the box, she stormed out of the room with the box in hand.

She found Red in the kitchen juggling between cradling Agnes and stirring something in a pot.

“What is this?” She asked dropping the box on the counter.

Red looked like a deer caught in the headlights. He had forgotten to put everything up, he realized the second the box hit the counter.

“Give me my daughter,” Lizzie snapped reaching out and taking Agnes from Red.

“Why were you nosing in my room?” Red asked matching her anger because she had no right to pry into his personal business.

“I asked you first,” Liz said already knowing the answer but wanting to hear him. “Is this what you and Dembe were fighting over earlier?”

Red did not answer her. He just looked at her, his eyes almost pleading with her to let it be, but they quickly glossed over as if he was pulling a mask down over his face. Though his cheek did twitch, a good sign that he was upset.

“Did you use this while my daughter was in this house? Are you still high? Where you watching my child for me while you are high?”

“Lizzie,” Red murmured, “She is perfectly safe.”

“That’s not the point Reddington. I cannot believe you,” She was angry, and Agnes was screaming now having been woken by their argument. “You got high while my daughter was around.”

Red responded, “It is safe. She could never get to it,” Pausing to swallow as his throat suddenly felt dry, “it was just this once.”

“How often? Because Dembe seemed to think you had a problem.”

“I only use once in awhile,” It was his first lie to her, and it felt wrong, but he knew she’d up and leave right now if he told her the truth. “it is nothing serious.”

“Where you using with Anna? Did she give it to you.”

“No,” Red said suddenly fearful, “Anna does not know about it,” She would murder him if she found out he was using again, and not just opium this time. She had been the one to help him wean off it after his captivity at the hands of the BRA, and once again when he had started using a few months later. He had been clean until Lizzie’s fake death.

“I never knew you were that weak,” Lizzie spat out at him. She meant the last words to be a low blow. “What is it? Heroin or cocaine?”

Red knew better than to answer both because she would leave that instant and probably never speak to him again. Not that he deserved to have her in his life, but he needed it. “It was just this once, and I have not used it very often. It’s recreational.”

“So you were taking a break in the middle of a day when Dembe indicated you all had a lot of work to get done.”

Red did not answer her question. Instead, he just looked at her waiting for her to leave.

Lizzie did storm out of the room when she realized he was never going to answer her question.

Red watched her leave and said nothing. He felt relief when he heard a door in the hallway slam shut. She didn’t leave the safe house, just went to her room.

Lizzie had no choice but to storm to the room she had slept in because she had no way out of the house. It was raining outside so she could not walk home with Agnes, and she doubted Uber would come this far out to pick her up.

Inside she paced, with Agnes in her arms. How long had he been using? How could she miss the signs, she was trained FBI agent. They had taught them what to look for at Quantico. How could she have missed the signs? Then there were moments when her anger took over, how could he use with Agnes around? How could he use and then go hold Agnes? What if he was still high? He could hurt Agnes. How many times had he been high holding Agnes? Did Anna know about his drug usage? He had said she didn’t know, but that didn’t mean anything. He had lied to her, swore he never would, but he just did and admitted it seconds later when he told her he used the drug recreationally. How could Dembe stand by and let this happen?   

Red could hear her pacing in her room when about twenty minutes later he worked up the courage to walk down the hallway. He had faced his own death at least a hundred times, but he could not stand facing the look of disgust and disappointment from Lizzie. Knocking lightly on the door, in fear of waking Agnes, he spoke softly, “Lizzie, can we please talk?”

Liz opened the door glaring at him. Today had been too much. First, she found Red’s one-night stand dancing around the kitchen in Reds clothes, and then she learned Red was a drug addict.

“I set up a swing for Agnes in the living room, and lunch is ready. I also got the wifi password,” He handed her a sheet of paper, “You can take the living room. I need to make a few calls anyways from the office.”

“Are you sure you are not just going to use?”

Red flinched at her words, “No I’m not,”

“How long?”

“How long have I been?” Red asked.

“Using.” She snapped knowing he damn well knew what she asked.          

“Heroin, only occasionally since about a month ago.”

“Just heroin, what else have you used?” She asked daring him to lie to her because she would not back down this time.

“I went to an opium den after your death,” Red looked uncomfortable telling her about his drug use. “After a week, I left and got clean.”

It was a punch to the gut, it would have been better if he had punched her in the stomach. Of course, it made her go on the defensive, “So it’s my fault?”

“No,” Red said shaking his head because she never understood, “I made a choice to go to the opium den,”

“Why?”

“Sometimes I need a break,” Red answered honestly taking Lizzie by surprise at his honesty. He did not add that he had hoped to OD while he had been in the opium den.

“Where you using while we were looking for Agnes?”

“No I stopped when I found out you were alive and Kirk had you,” Red answered honestly.

“And what made you switch to heroin?” Lizzie could not believe the conversation she was having, “heroin Reddington,” She had to say it a second time because she could not believe he was this reckless.

“Just recently,” Red said, “I needed something quicker and easier to handle.”

“Heroin is easier to handle?” Her voice rose an octave causing Red to flinch. “Is this because of Anna?”

“No,” Red said anger in his voice, “I told you already she doesn’t know. And I’d like to keep it that way, please. It was only a few times. No reason for all of this. I have it under control,” He voice also got louder, he quickly stopped himself seeing Agnes asleep.

“Why?”

“I already told you,” Red snapped, “Sometimes I need a break from it all.”

“And heroin does it for you?”

“Yes,” Red answered.

Liz shook her head in disgust, “I do not want you anywhere near my daughter.”

“I’m not an addict Lizzie,” Red snapped, “It is no use then you drinking a bottle of wine.”

“It is heroin Reddington,” She snapped back, Agnes waking up but only looking up at her mother instead of crying. “Wine is nothing compared to heroin.”

“Same idea behind it,” Red said, “I just need something a bit more.”

“Do not go near my daughter,” Lizzie said, “I will find another place for us.”

“What’s wrong with your apartment?” Red asked knowing that the original reason Lizzie had given for sticking around was a lack of a car. It was easier on all if she just stayed at the safe house for the day.

“Nothing,” Lizzie did not want to admit she hated it because it reminded her of Tom and he was gone.

Red decided not to push it, he knew the cocaine was fucking with his thoughts, and he did not want to say or do something he could not take back later. Instead, he lowered his head, an apparent sign of surrender, “I’ll be in the study making calls if you need anything.”

“Are you sure you’re not just going to use?” Lizzie was clearly not ready to stop fighting.

Red walked away without answering. He knew any answer would just lead to angrier words between them. Suddenly, he was exhausted again, and all of the pain and anguish that had driven him to use heroin was back tenfold. It felt like it was crushing him, his chest ached, and his legs too weak to carry the weight of it all. He collapsed into the desk chair in the study tired of it all, and he felt himself carving the oblivion the drug could bring.

Before he could make his mind up on whether he would go inject himself again or not, a knock on the door alerted him to someone outside the room. Getting up he wearily made his way to the door expected it to be Lizzie or Dembe to discuss his heroin usage with him more. Both of them had looked at him with disgust and judgment in their eyes. He had it under control and could stop if he wanted to.

Instead of finding Liz or Dembe, he found the new security team member.

“I have the file from Agent Navabi, Mr. Reddington.”

 “Thank you,” Red said grabbing the manila folder from her. “Did Agent Navabi indicate if she found what she needed?”

“She said to say thank you for the help. That Levi owes you a favor.”

“Good to hear,” Red said, “Thank you for picking this up for me.”

“My pleasure Mr. Reddington,” The woman left leaving Red to close the door and go back to his desk.

Sitting down he glared at the file, it could have information about Anna, Tom, or both. He hoped just Anna, and he hoped it all checked out because it felt easy to fall back into his old pattern with her. He felt calm around her, something that he had been missing from his life for a very long time. He used to find that Lizzie help ground him, but that had been lost after she returned to Tom pregnant with Agnes. Everything had changed when she returned to Tom. Whatever ground they had gained when on the run together had been lost quickly, and Red was left confused as to why it happened. But she was back, albeit only because she needed him. It was their pattern, she’d let him near her until she no longer needed him, and then push him away again. Her love-hate relationship left him with emotional whiplash at times, not sure what Lizzie he would get with each sentence he spoke to her.

Anna wanted nothing from him, as far as he could tell, other than companionship. She cared, he at least thought he could see that she cared. But he found it hard to trust himself after Mr. Kaplan’s betrayal. He never saw it coming, not once, then Dembe turning on him, not betraying him but more annoyed and disgusted with him with each passing day. It felt like it was only a matter of time before Dembe returned to his family and left Red on his own. Years ago, it wouldn’t have mattered much, but he had learned to be content on his own, but after years of having Lizzie in his life reminding him what it was to care for someone other than yourself, and Dembe reminding him what it was liked to be cared for, it was hard to let go again.

Finally opening the file, he found that it, in fact, had two reports inside. The first was on Anna Higgins. He quickly read the dossier finding nothing out of place. Everything was as Anna had said. She returned from being with him and went back to graduate school. Right out of graduate school she was working at a non-for-profit and also doing some adjunct teaching. She became well known for her research on human trafficking, publishing in top tier journals with high impact factors for the field she worked in. There was the divorce decree, and it read as she had stated, and even the charter for her non-for-profit. She had a security clearance, but her non-for-profit worked closely with the government in tracking, collecting evidence against, and helping take down human traffickers. It was expected she’d have a security clearance as part of that work, she was highly connected in the government after all. It what made her organization so successful.

Everything appeared to be as she said, with one exception; she had a child with her first husband. But the child had died at a young age, a genetic defect. Why hadn’t she told him? Maybe it was too painful? It did not seem to suspect that she did not mention the loss of her child. But it might mean she was not ready to open up to him, and the previous night had just been sex.

Next, he moved to the second dossier, and it was about Tom Keen. There was little information there, other than he was likely working with Solomon at Halcyon Aegis and there had been a noise complaint called in on the Keen residence, but the police choose to never follow up on the call. It was the same night that Tom Keen had left Lizzie. That was suspect and made Red clench his fist in anger.

 

Chapter Text

Red had finished his last call of the day. He was annoyed with the state of affairs. Trying to recover from the damaged inflicted by Stone was consuming his time. He should be brokering deals or gathering more information, but instead, he was assuring everyone he was as powerful as he had always been. The itch came back, but it was because he was annoyed. The inner voice told him just a few hits would take the edge off.

Instead, of seeking out where the kit was left on the kitchen counter, he dialed Anna’s number.

Anna answered on the third ring, “Anna Higgins.”

“Is this the woman who let some old man ravish her last night?”

“Definitely not. An old man could not do to me what my lover did last night.”

Red chuckled, “How has your day been?”

“Is that why you called me to ask about my day.”

“Yes,” Red responded.

“What’s wrong?”

“Just a rough day is all,” Red said, “Business has been tiring, and Elizabeth has been here all day.”

 “She is not a fan of me,” Anna said, “I think she has a crush on you.”

“More like she wants to kill me,” Red said, “She barely tolerates me these days.”

“Oh I think you have it wrong,” Anna said, “She was clearly jealous today when she saw me.”

“When will you be finished with work?”

“A few more hours,” Anna said feeling sorry for him because he sounded exhausted still, “Has it really been that bad of a day?”

“Yes,” Red said closing his eyes, his head had ached ever since fighting with Lizzie.

“Is there any way you can send Dembe or someone to get me? Or I can have my driver bring me if you give me the address. I can finish work my way to you,” The sound of his voice was enough to tell Anna that he just needed comfort and it was another opportunity for her to spend time with him.

“I can arrange a ride for you. How long do you need to be in the office?” Again he was not sure why he did not just give her the address to the safe house, he’d be moving in a day, and there was nothing to indicate she was anything other than she claimed to be.

“I can be ready in twenty.”

“I’ll call you back with who will be picking you up,” Red hung the phone up smiling at it. He dialed Dembe’s number who answered on the second ring.

“What is it, Raymond?” Dembe asked still sounding annoyed with Red.

“Can you pick up Anna in twenty minutes at her office?”

“Yes,” Dembe said, “Am I bringing her to the safe house?”

“Yes please,” Red responded, “Thank you.”

“I will have her there in an hour and a half with traffic.”

“Did James get back to you about Lizzie’s car?” Red asked remembering that bit of information from earlier.

“Yes. It’s the transmission,” Dembe responded, “He can fix it but thinks it’s better just to junk it and get a new car.”

“I’ll let Lizzie know.”

“I already told her,” Dembe said, “I have to go. I’m getting into traffic.” Dembe hung up without saying goodbye.

That told Red his friend was still upset with him.

Red walked out into the living room and found Agnes crawling around in the giant playpen. “When did she start crawling?”

“Last week,” Lizzie said looking up from her laptop quickly flipping onto a word document so Red could not see what she was browsing. Her anger from earlier lessened and morphed into concern.

“Dembe and Anna are on their way over,” Red saw something in Lizzie that looked like jealousy. “I heard about your car.”

“If you offer to buy me a car I’m going to throw my laptop at you.”

Red raised his hands, “Fine I won’t. Would you like to stay here tonight or do you want Dembe to take you home?”

Liz had answered before she thought about it, “I can stay here tonight,” She did not want to tell him that her apartment felt like a safe house without Tom. Empty and void of anything, it was a sham just like her relationship with Tom Keen. However, the prospect of spending an evening seeing Red and Anna together was also unappealing.

Neither person talked about the elephant in the room. To Red’s relief, Lizzie seemed to have let it go. For now, he reminded himself, she would bring it up later, wield the knowledge as a weapon to inflict a wound when she needed too.

“Please be kind to Anna,” Red said, “She is a good person. Get to know her before you judge her.”

“I was nice this morning,” Liz defended herself wanting to question Red more about his drug usage, but based on her search of the internet, Red did not have any of the symptoms of heroin addiction. Yes, he had a kit, but she had never actually seen him high. Dembe seemed to know Red was high earlier, but this could be the occasional use, as Red indicated. He did not neglect himself. He still was groomed and dressed perfectly. She had seen him eat that morning, and he had cooked lunch. He did not eat any of it, but they had fought. His arms were always covered, but this morning she had seen him in a t-shirt, and there were no track marks she remembered seeing. Maybe it was true, and he was not addicted but occasionally used for recreation. He was a criminal, after all, it was not too far removed, especially given his epicurean way of life.

Instead of asking him what she really wanted she followed up with, “I’m not so sure how good she can be if she is with you.”

Oh, that had been a punch to the gut, but Red did not react Lizzie’s words. Instead, he took a breath to calm himself and changed the subject, just to keep the peace, “Anything specific you want for dinner?”

Lizzie glared at him when he didn’t take the bait, “No whatever will work.”

“Do you or Agnes need anything for the night?” Red was remaining calm, but a voice was raging in his head to bring up Tom Keen, to throw her glaring mistake in her face. To ask her about the noise complaint and what had transpired, but he knew she would only get even more defensive thinking he had been checking on her and not Tom.

“Dembe already offered to pick up clothes and toys for Agnes.”

“So everything is already handled. Great,” Red said leaving the room quickly to avoid saying something he knew he’d regret. He walked into the kitchen and found his wooden box. He grabbed it and took it back to the room, placing it back in the nightstand. Already he was trying to form an excuse for the bruise on his arm. If Anna saw it, she would ask, and he needed a reason for it. He could not claim another B12 shot. Maybe a vaccine for some tropical climate he might have to go to shortly?  

Returning to the kitchen, he searched the fridge and decided to make a simple pasta dish with chicken for dinner. The sauce would need an hour or so to truly get the proper flavoring, so he started on it to keep himself busy.

Lizzie eventually joined him in the kitchen, “I am sorry about before.” She said, “It was a low blow,”

Her statement had shocked Red. He was already suspect of what she was doing. She needed or wanted something from him. If he had been thinking clearly, he would have seen that their relationship was one of emotional abuse. A constant cycle. Starting with a honeymoon phase, turning into her lashing out at him for something and treating him like dirt, then the phase where she let him back in, and then it would morph into the start of the cycle, and so on and so on, over and over.

Liz was the one to break the silence again, “Where did you and Anna meet?”

Red studied her and did not see anything sinister in her question, but he still asked, “Are you sure this is what you want to talk about?”

“It’s this or heroin,” Liz said knowing he would choose to talk about Anna. She did not want Red, at all. But she didn’t trust Anna either. The best way to get information about her was to start with Red. Red would have done his due diligence to check her over, and if Lizzie pretended to want to get to know the woman, it might be enough to get Red to tell her.

“Anna it is,” Red said not feeling like another fight, “We meant during the Bougainville Civil War.”

“Where was that?”

“Papua New Guinea. A small island that was of no use except that it was rich in natural resources to be mined. The locals were not happy with their treatment, or the fact that the “red-skins” and “white-skins” were invading their home for profit.”

“What were you doing there?”

“Trying to broker a deal.”

“Which side?”

“The governments,” Red answered adding details, “It was not completely by choice. I was still establishing myself and only had a handful of clients. At the time it was my largest client that wished to make the deal. So I went.”

“What was Anna doing there?”

“She was taking a break from graduate school traveling the world. She happened to land there and started taking pictures of the conflict.”

“And how did you two meet? She snaps a picture of you making the deal.”

“No,” Red chuckled at the movie type meeting Lizzie suggested, “Word had gotten out to the resistance that a new player was coming to broker a deal between the government and a security agency full of mercenaries. The government was struggling to maintain order and keep mine operations going with the resistance attacks. I was still establishing myself and did not have the security nor the contacts I have today. I had no idea what I was walking into. I was also a lot more devil may care back then about my own security. The resistance needed for the deal not to go through. If it did, it meant the end of the civil war. The resistance was not military trained, and mercenaries would quickly stop any fuss they made.  The American government knew I was a threat, even starting out, and had managed to leak to the resistance my military photos and with it the knowledge that it was I who would be there to broker the deal. I was leaving my hotel to meet with the government officials to start negations when a group of six or seven men surrounded me. Even back then, in the peak of my physical health and strength, I knew I would not be able to fend them off. I fought anyways, did not want to go down without a fight. They beat me unconscious,” Red said, “Anna stopped them from killing me. She even managed to drag me back to where she was staying. She tended to my wounds and left me, in what she thought were safe hands, while she went away for a bit.”

“She did all of that for a stranger?”

“Yes, and more,” Red answered, “The people she was staying with sold me to the resistance for a large sum of money. The opposition took me and tortured me for weeks. It was one of the first times I experienced torture on the other side of the law,” Red eyes were far away as he remembered the pain. It had been shortly after the skin grafts had completely healed. The BRA had taken to burning him, bringing back memories of the fire, and the feeling of cooking alive. “She somehow got me out of there,” Red smiled as he continued, “She is a good person if you give her a chance I think you would like her.”

“Did you finance the start of her non-for-profit?”

“Of course not. She would not have taken my money if I offered it to her. She got a sizeable sum from her husband when they divorced. He came from a well-off family.”

“Why did they divorce?”

“I don’t know,” Red answered, “I did not know they were divorced until we bumped into each other in Chicago.”

“You don’t find it a coincidence that you bump into her twice in one lifetime. She had to be the only other American in Papua New Guinea, and then you bump into her a second time when your business is at its weakest, and you are at your weakest. In a random US city?”

“It seems highly improbable, but I do not think she has an alternative agenda if that is what you are hinting at,” Red said trying to not get defensive. “WE did spend quite a lot of time together after leaving that damn island, and she never once cared about my business.”

“What makes you so sure?” Lizzie sad, “You are not one to trust people that easily.”

“I’ve known Anna for a long time,” Red answered.

“If you say so,” Lizzie said stretching on the stool.

Red felt his blood pressure increase, he wanted to call Lizzie out. To point out just because her husband had used her, it did not mean that was what Anna was doing to him. But Red knew it would just be a fight he did not want, and he knew the anger he felt was likely a symptom of the heroin and cocaine. The mood swings could be a bitch.

“Will she be spending the night again?” Liz asked trying to keep the judgment out of her voice. There was something she did not trust about Anna.

“I do not know. It is up to her,” Red answered.

“I better go check on Agnes,” Lizzie was forming a plan in her mind, it started with more recon on Anna. So far she had found very little about the mysterious woman on the internet. “Oh Red.”

“Yes Lizzie,” Red said lifting his head to look at her in the entryway.

“Can I borrow a car tomorrow?” Lizzie asked, “I need to run some errands before work and start looking for a daycare for Agnes.”

“Yes. I can get Dembe to give you keys to one of the cars,” Red said, “you could just…”

“I just want to borrow,” Liz stopped him from offering her a car.

 

Chapter Text

Anna jumped into the front seat of the car with Dembe. 

“You could sit in the back.” Dembe offered, “It would not offend me.”

“No, I’m good up here,”  Anna responded she wanted to get to know Dembe more.  He was important to Raymond, and she knew the two worked closely together.  “Do you have a family?”

“Besides Raymond?”  Dembe asked checking his mirrors before he merged onto the highway that would lead them to Anna’s house.

“Yes.”

Dembe was not entirely comfortable with the line of questioning.  He liked to keep his daughter and granddaughters existence quiet.  “How about you?”

“Not really.  Both my parents are dead, and I’m estranged from my older siblings.”  Anna said noting how Dembe evaded her question. 

Most people thought Dembe was quiet, and he was, but he also knew how to hold a conversation.  He just chooses most of the time to listen instead of talk.  There was a lot you could learn from a person by listening. 

“How long has Raymond been working with Elizabeth?”

“You should ask Raymond,”  Dembe said clearly uncomfortable with Anna’s questions.

“I will later,”  Anna said feeling like Dembe was shutting down every avenue for conversation.  “How long will you and Raymond be in the States?  I remember moving around the country to country a lot with him when we were together.”

“I do not know,”  Dembe answered honestly.

“He should be moving safe houses soon thought, right.  He moves every few days.”

“How do you know about that?”  Dembe asked knowing that early in Raymond’s career when he had fewer resources, he moved safe houses less often.  There was not as big of a target on him.  It was only about ten years ago, well after Anna, that Raymond started to move every other day at least.

“He said something about it last night,”  Anna said as if she was ignorant of Dembe’s suspicion.

            They did not speak again until Dembe pulled up in front of Anna’s flat. 

            “I’ll only be a minute,”  Anna said rushing out of the car into her townhouse to gather clothes. 

            It took her ten minutes to find clothes and grab a few items she would need, in case she stayed the night at Raymonds again.

When Anna got back into the car, she gave up on starting a conversation with Dembe. Instead, she pulled out her iPad and started reading documents and briefings she had received about her organization's ongoing work. 

“Would you find it extremely rude if I plugged my headphones in while I work?”

“No.”  Dembe responded, “If you wish we could play the music over the radio.”

“I actually need the headphones to help block out the background noises.  It’s weird but listening to the music loud on headphones helps me focus.”  Anna plugged her expensive headphones into her iPad and choose to play Adele’s 21.  The CD contained bittersweet memories for her because she had listened to it after her divorce.  The divorce sucked, to begin with, but it also brought up the memories of her time with Raymond.  The good and the bad.  There was something about Adele’s ability to capture the sadness of breaking up that seemed to transcend time and make every important breakup seem like it was just yesterday.

            Dembe kept an eye on Anna while he drove.  She seemed innocent enough, but her questions today just seemed off.  Maybe she was just trying to make conversation.  What ordinary people do?  She did not seem dubious sitting in her seat reading her iPad while her feet were tapping some unknown beat. 

==============

            Raymond was not sure the house was ready for both women.  He briefly contemplated moving to another safe house so that Anna and Lizzie would not have to be under the same roof, but he did not want to pass up a chance to be near Agnes even now that Lizzie was pissed at him over his use of heroin earlier.  However, as usual, though with a much shorter frame of time, they seem to be back to ignoring the issues between them. 

            Leaving the kitchen, as the dinner was simmering, Red found Lizzie sitting on the floor playing with her daughter.

            Red just stood there his head tilted to the side studying her, thinking she did not know he was in the room. 

            However, she was cognizant of him, and asked, “Were you using when we were looking for Agnes?”

            “No,”  Red answered.

            “Why then?  Why now?”

            “Lizzie we already discussed this,”  Red answered trying to stop her from questioning him more about it.  He felt irritated.  Not her fault per say, but she was adding to the annoyance.  She always had to make everything so difficult.  If she did not want to be around him, why didn’t she just go and stay at her house?

            “Then let’s talk about your people searching for Tom.”

            Red raised a hand, pinching the bridge of his nose between his eyes.  A headache was starting.  “He left you.”  Red said, “If he comes back he’ll come back on his own.  My people have better things to do than tracking him down.”

            Lizzie was surprised by his outburst of anger.  He had never aimed his anger at her.  Oh, he’d been angry with her, but he always hid it. 

            “I’m going to go check on dinner,”  Red said leaving the room before the situation turned into a full on screaming match.  He was not in the mood to back down today.

            Lizzie could hear him banging around in the kitchen.  Drawers and cabinets being slammed shut.  Picking up Agnes, she placed her in the playpen for safe keeping and walked into the kitchen.  She was looking for a fight, and she was not going to let him escape that easily. “How about we talk about Anna and how I’m pretty sure she’s just using you for something.”

            “Besides the happenstance of us reconnecting what other evidence do you have?”  Red knew he should not humor her, it would not end well.

            “Because someone as successful as she is in helping people would never want anything to do with a monster like you.”  Lizzie said, “You take from people, ruin lives, and destroy everything in your path.  She helps people, at least if that is her real job.”

            The words stung more than he would like to admit.  After everything she still only saw him as a monster.  “So what you are saying is someone like me does not deserve someone like that?”

            “Yes.  If she is what you think she is.”

            “Well, we agree on Lizzie,”  Red said slamming the steak’s he pulled out of the fridge onto the counter.  “I do not deserve her, and she definitely deserves better than me.”

            Anna was standing in the doorway of the kitchen, she had entered the house moments before hearing the loud voices coming from the kitchen.  She heard every word Elizabeth and Raymond had said to each other starting with Elizabeth calling Raymond a monster.

            Anna had a decision to make, she could make it awkward and answer Elizabeth’s question as to why she wanted Raymond, she could act like she just walked in and heard nothing, or she could just leave now and let them fight.

Never one to back one to back down from awkwardness, “I am with him because I care about him.”  Anna said interrupting the fight.  Both occupants of the kitchen turned to see her.  Elizabeth looked shocked, and Ray was clearly trying to contain his anger.  “I am with him because he is one of the most generous and loyal people I know.  He would do anything for the people he loves.  Raymond is not a monster.  I have seen monsters, and he is far from it.”

Elizabeth tried to interrupt Anna, but Anna persisted over her, “He has done horrible things.  I am not blind to them.  But I know when he did those things he had little choice.  It was not his choice to become a criminal.  He saved…”

“Enough,”  Raymond said stopping Anna before she gave too much away to Lizzie. 

            Elizabeth looked surprised, Anna knew what happened all those years ago that made Red abandon his family.  She just said as much, and Red had stopped her from saying more. Who did Red save?  Why did the bastard interrupt Anna before she could finish her sentence? Why had Red shared this information with Anna and never with Liz? 

            Dembe walked into the room, instantly noting the awkwardness.  He handed Lizzie the bag of clothes and toys he had picked up from her apartment before he went to pick up Anna. 

            “Thank you Dembe.”  Lizzie said taking the bag but still glaring at Red.

            “Dinner will be ready soon,”  Red said turning away he was suddenly physically and emotionally tired again.  It was not the cocaine wearing off, as it had warned off hours ago.  It was his new state of being, but he often could push through it.  Right not it felt like if he went and laid down, he would sleep the rest of the week.  He knew that wouldn’t’ happen.  He’d lay awake in the bed replaying everything.  From killing Kate to Kirk’s torturing him.

            “How about I help you,”  Anna said walking over to him and pulling him to face her so she could kiss him on the lips. 

            Lizzie wanted to vomit seeing that woman with Raymond.  Either Anna had an ulterior motive, or she was a stupid woman.  Elizabeth was confident it was the former, but she did not have evidence. She left the kitchen deciding it was better for her to spend time with Agnes in their room.

            Anna moved around Raymond, ignoring Lizzie staring at them.  Anna plugged her phone into the sound system and cued up the album she had bought for Raymond and even deleted some of her music to allow it space on her phone. 

            “I bought this off iTunes for you today.”  She turned the song on.

            Van Morrison voice filled the house sing I’ll Be your Lover, too.

            “Do you remember when I found this record in London.” 

            “Yes.”  Raymond said trying to sound jovial, “You made me dance with you that entire night.  Our host was annoyed that we were up all night listening to the same song over and over.”

            Anna grabbed him into a hug, kissing him again, she whispered into his ear, “She didn’t mean it, Ray.  You know that.  She’s just upset.”

            Red tensed in her arms and did not respond to her.  Anna did not know Elizabeth.  Elizabeth meant it, at that moment she meant every word she said.  Later, when things were going well, she would take those words back.  It was who she was. 

Chapter Text

After that night, Red had to travel to repair his empire. Two weeks of non-stop flying around the world and taking meetings to ensure that everyone knew the Concierge of Crime and his empire was alive and doing well.  One tedious meeting after another, it felt almost like when he first established his name, only this time he need not worry about the client trying to double cross him.  Even in what appeared like a weakened state, he has had enough men to prevent a successful double cross. 

            Everything was going well in the first week of traveling the globe.  Everyone seemed to be cooperative, and his show of strength was working with all the clients and contacts.  He had his heroin use down to one time a day. The ability to limit the heroin usage made him feel like he had it all under control, he was not an addict after all.  It was just a little better living through chemicals to help him through this rough patch.  Of course, there was a small distant voice that reminded him he had gone through difficult patches before and he never needed the additional chemical help, especially at a once a day usage rate.  But that voice was quickly ignored. 

            It was the second week of traveling that everything started to fall apart. It began in a brothel of all places. An arms dealer, who needed an introduction to a new client that Raymond knew from having helped launder some money, had invited Red to a night out on the town.  The dealer took Red to a brothel, of all places.  Thinking that Red would enjoy a night with a woman or man.  At the brothel, Red had seen both males and females ranging from pre-teen to middle age.  The Arms Dealer bragged that he was part owner of the establishment, and enjoyed breaking in the new young women.  At that point in the evening, Red had just wanted to return to his hotel room and get his daily dose of heroin.  The itch had been there, reminding him that it was time for his daily break from reality.  Red would justify his actions as being caused by the impatience and stupidity of the Arms Dealer.  Upon the Arms Dealer bragging about being the one who broke in the young teenage girl who walked over to offer her services, Red felt his arm move almost of its own volition.  The cold metal of the gun did not register until he found he was pointing it at the dealer.  The man raised his hands and started to apologize, not sure what he was apologizing for, but the words tumbled out of his mouth.  Red saw the poor girl cringe and felt his finger squeeze the trigger.  The first bullet went into the Arms Dealers chest, the second into his head.  Red glared at the dead body on the floor.

            The girl had screamed and was now cowering in the corner with a few other workers.  Red walked over to them, keeping his gun at his side in case anyone came to investigate the sound of gunshots.  Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out the money he had kept on him in case of emergencies, “Get out of here and go start a new life with this.” 

            He handed the money to the young girls.  “Go now.”  He said when they did not move from the corner of the room. 

            When they still did not move, he grabbed one of them by the arm, gently and pulled her towards the door.  The other followed, walking them out of the building with customers waiting their turn looking on confused and scared by the man with the weapon at his side walking out of the building with two of the prostitutes.  Red stood in front of the brothel, glaring at it.  It took less than a minute to decide he was going to deal with the owners.  Dembe was at his side as soon as Red came outside.  Red had asked Dembe to stay outside not knowing what he would find in the brothel when he first entered.

            “Raymond?”  Dembe called to him confused as to why Red had his weapon at his side.

            “Go get the car ready, and do not come inside,”  Red said not wanting Dembe to help him on this task.  Walking back inside one of the men who acted as security started walking up to Red yelling at him in a language Red did not recognize.  The guard sealed his fate when he began to reach for his weapon, Red opened fire, killing the guard with a single shot to the head.

            Continuing on his path, he came across two more security guards, that he killed with single shots to the head.  He finally made it to a reinforced door.  Using his gun, he shot at the locks and then hinges.  Slamming his foot into the door, it splintered as it flew off, and into the room.

            “What the fuck.”  A rotund man behind the desk called out in Russian.    

            “Are you the owner of this establishment?”  Red asked his voice cold as he kept the gun trained on the Russian.

            “Yeah.  What the fuck?”  The man responded switching to English.  “Wait, you are Raymond Reddington.”

            “I am,”  Red said before opening fire, his first bullet going through the man's kneecap. Turning at the sound of approaching feet, Red aimed and shot at a man rushing into the room.  He caught the man in the chest, sending him flat on the ground dead before his body hit due to the bullet that tore through his heart leaving a large exit wound in his back. 

            “Why…what…”  The Russian said groaning in pain between words.

            “You have two choices, as I see it.”  Red said, “You help all of the workers you have here against their will, including those too young to make these decisions, you free them and assist them to go back to wherever you stole them from.  Or you die.”

            “I have no idea what you are talking about.”  The Russian called back, ducking behind his desk the best he could while grasping his bleeding ruined knee.

            “I will take that as your decision,”  Red said, but before he could get a good angle to shoot the Russian, a huge linebacker of a man came rushing into the room, smashing into Red who was taken by surprise.

            Red felt his body slam first into the wall, and then to the floor.  Trying to get to his feet quickly, Red was only able to block the kick to his abdomen, but he still felt pain in his arm he used to block it, as it was a powerful kick.  He had not lost his gun, having held tightly to it, even as he slammed into the wall, and then the floor, Red was able to get it out from underneath himself and fired at the linebacker of a man before he managed to kick out at Red a second time.

            The bullet went through the linebacker of a man’s chin and came out through the top of his skull. Getting up Red moved over to the desk and found the Russian was gone.  Following the blood trail out of the room, Red tracked the Russian to the entrance of the brothel.  The Russian owner had his own weapon, now aimed at Red. 

            Dembe had heard the commotion when he had rushed to get the car.  He wanted to go check on Raymond but decided to follow Raymond's directions about getting the car ready.  If they needed to leave in a hurry, it was best to have the vehicle available.  Dembe was waiting at the driver side door when he saw an injured man come out, leaning heavily on the wall and door as he moved towards the exit.

            Pulling his gun, Dembe trained it on the man and waited to see what would happen before he pulled the trigger.

            From inside the sound of gunfire filtered outside, and the injured man dropped o the ground dead.  Dembe watched as Red walked out of the brothel, he had blood splatter on his shirt but did not appear to be seriously injured.  “Raymond?”

            “Get in the car and let’s go,”  Red spoke as he stepped over the dead Russian and walked briskly to the car.  He knew he would have to explain to Dembe why he just turned the brothel into a blood bath.  But first they needed to get out of there before any of the local police showed up, the Dutch would happily arrest the Concierge of Crime. 

            In the car, Red grabbed a full clip of ammo and reloaded his gun.  Putting the safety on he slipped back into his holster. He could feel Dembe’s glances towards him as they drove through the quiet streets.  “They were forcing underage girls and boys into prostitution.  Carolus (the Arms Dealer) bragged about personally breaking in one of the juvenile females.”

            “So you killed everyone inside?”  Dembe asked not judging his friend, but wanting to know for sure.

            “I gave the Russian a choice to let them go or die.  He chose death.”

            “Raymond.” 

            “Not now Dembe.”  Red said starting to fill stiff from having been slammed into the wall.  His arm ached from the kick he blocked, too.  “I did what I thought was best at the time.”

            “We don’t have a cleaner over here, with…”  Dembe could not bring himself to finish the sentence.

            “We are leaving tomorrow, we should be fine for the night.”  Red said, “The cops won’t be able to trace it to me that quickly or possibly at all.  I gave the girls that saw me the money I had to leave, and they are likely on their way to freedom by now.” 

            “What about the others?”

            “The Dutch government will help them.”  Red thought again, “Or I could ask Anna to have her group step in.”

            Dembe did not want to bring Anna into the mix, and if Raymond thought clearly he would not want to either, so Dembe spoke up, “Maybe just leave it to the government.”

            Red nodded in agreement.  As they drove through the city, Red could not help but feel like he was dead inside.  He had just opened fire and killed multiple people for something he would have just walked away from before.  They were sick people, he told himself, but Liz’s voice in his mind called him a monster for how easy it was to just kill all those people.  NO matter what his motives were. 

            Following the brothel incident, was the start of Red’s increased usage.  That night he found himself injecting heroin by inserting the needle between his fingers, to hide the track marks.  He also found himself using later that evening when the euphoria had warned off.  The numbness he felt while on the drug was better than the anger or nothingness he felt without the drug.  The only saving grace over his next week of multiple uses was he was somehow managed to only inject in spots where it would be hard to detect. Anna had been skeptical when he explain the booster shot for one of the deadly disease prevalent in the tropical region he’d be traveling to so if with his increased usage he had to hide the track marks better. Otherwise, she would question him about the obvious marks.  

            Red had managed to share the names of blacklisters to keep the task force off his back while traveling both weeks.  By the end of the second week, Dembe had tried to bring up Red’s heroin use, but Red had waved him off, stating he did not have a problem.  That he had everything under control.  When Dembe pushed him some more, Red snapped at his friend in anger.  Red had stopped short of striking out at Dembe. Instead, he walked away in anger, his fist clenched in anger.

            It was the third week that life finally settled, down and Red had plans to see Anna that night. Dembe was driving him to meet Martin when the phone rang. 

            Dembe handed him the phone, “It’s Elizabeth.” The two had barely spoken since Dembe unsuccessful attempt to address Red’s drug issues.

            “I need you to come to the post office,”  Lizzie demanded over the phone as soon as Red had greeted her. 

            “I will see what I can do,”  Red said.

            “Now Red.  It’s important.”  Lizzie was in no mood to play games. 

            “I was just on my way to a meeting.”  Red responded, “Is it vital?”

            “Your meeting has to wait,”  Lizzie said her voice serious.

            “If this is imperative I can meet with Marvin later tonight.  Is everything ok?  Is Agnes ok?”  Red asked realizing that if Lizzie was claiming a meeting could not wait it could be something with her or her daughter.

            “It is really important, and Agnes and I are fine,”  Lizzie said not telling him she had followed Anna multiple times over the past week.  On numerous occasions, Anna had breakfast with someone who Lizzie could not track.  Even Aram failed to pull anything up on the man using facial recognition software and the picture Lizzie had managed to take.  That was highly suspect.  There were a handful of people who were not in any of the known databases or the unknown ones Aram had access too.  But that was not why she needed Red to come to the post office.  She had been prepared to ask Anna about it tonight in front of Red. 

            She heard Red’s tell Dembe, “Dembe turn around and take us to the post office.  Lizzie requests our presences.”

            “Is that all?”  Red asked not being short with Lizzie.

            “I will see you when you get here.”

            Red made a call to Marvin asking him to meet that evening. Marvin was not happy with Red’s request but was at least relieved Red had been taking better care of the empire over the last few weeks.  Everything was almost back on track, except for the rumor of what happened at the brothel.  However, the rumor had helped fuel the knowledge that Red was back and it struck fear into the hearts of his enemies.  The stories of Red killing multiple armed men were not just stories, Marvin knew that, but the reasoning’s all changed.  The major rumor was the Arms Dealer had tried to double cross Red and paid dearly for it.  Marvin knew better, but he still did not know Red’s reasoning for killing the owners of the brothel.

            When they arrived at the post office, he saw his picture on the screen. 

            “As flattering as the picture is, why am I on the screen?”

            “We received a credible threat on your life,”  Cooper said approaching Raymond.

            “This again.”  Red said clearly bored, “I told you there is a revolving price on my head at any given moment.  What is it now?  And who is the fool who thinks he can collect?”

            “Alexander Solnik.  AKA Alexander The Great”  Aram stated helpfully.

            Red’s carefree smile faded slightly before the mask went back up.

            “I believe he’s an old friend of yours,”  Ressler said.  “If I am not mistaken you helped him get his start when he left his job as a wet man for the Russian Mafia.”

            Ignoring Ressler’s comment, Red asked, “Where does this intel come from?” 

            “The NSA and CIA both have confirmed reports.”  Cooper stated, “Attorney General Panabaker happen to get news of it during a briefing.”

            “Is he already in the United States?”

            “We believe he landed sometime yesterday,”  Lizzie said walking over to Red.  “It would probably be safest for you to stay here.”

            “If he landed yesterday he already knows where this place is.”  Red had let himself relax too much.  He should have had this warning well in advance.  Kate had always been the best at getting wind of any impending real threats.  Kate who he had shot in the face and left her dead body in the middle of nowhere, anger and self-resentment filled him.  “You and Agnes need to stay somewhere safe.  Alexander has been so successful on his own because he has no rules.  He will use whoever he can to get to his target.”

            “You can stay with me”  Donald offered.

            Cooper spoke, “Reddington you need to be secured.”

            “Not in the damn box again.”  Red said, “It won’t stop him.  Dembe I need the phone.”

            Dembe handed Red the phone and Red stormed away from the group to make a call.

            It took three rings for Anna to answer the phone.

            “Anna Higgins.”

            “You need to leave town right now,”  Red said urgently.

            “Why?”   Anna’s heard the urgency in his voice and felt the fear rush over her. 

            “There is a credible threat against me.  He has been known to use anyone close to his target to get to them.”  Red answered, “If you leave town tonight he will not follow you.”

            Anna wanted to ask how Red missed that information.  He had always, even in the early days, known well in advance when there was a real threat against his life.

            “I can go visit my brother.”  Anna said, “But I’d rather stay with you.”

            “Dembe will be by to pick you up and take you to the airport.  You can use my plane to fly to your brothers.”

            “Couldn’t he just…”

            “No.”  Red interrupted, “He won't.  He prefers to kill his target face to face.  He gets a sick pleasure out of seeing them die.” 

            “For how long?”

            “I do not know.”  Red said, “Until we capture him or he succeeds.” 

            Cooper was walking towards Red, and he knew he needed to get off the phone before the Director reached him.  “I need to go Anna.  Just please do this for me.”

            “Ok.  I will.  Tell Dembe to call me when he’s outside.”

            “He will come in and get you.  Let the front desk downstairs know that no one is to come in without your approval and don’t approve anyone until Dembe calls you.”

            “Raymond you be safe.  I will kill you if you let him kill you.”

            Red chuckled, “I have faced worse.  This is just a precaution.”  But it was a lie to comfort her because while he had faced other threats on his life, none were as deadly as Alexander the Great. 

            “Dembe keeps her safe,”  Red stated knowing he did not need to ask his brother.  Whatever tension between them, Dembe would protect Anna.

            “Wait here until I get back.”  Dembe said, “I will make the appropriate calls on my way and get a safe house ready.”

            “No.”  Red said glancing over at Cooper, “I need you to make sure Lizzie is safe at Donald’s.” 

            Dembe went to protest, but Red stopped him, “I’ll be fine.  I will get Baz and the team together.”  Red had already planned on sending Baz with Anna, but he knew he had to lie to Dembe to get him to ensure Lizzie was safe.

            The itch was present, had been since Lizzie's call, but Red knew he would not get to scratch it today.  That could be a problem, he thought bitterly.  At least Dembe would be far away from him.  It lessened the probability of him getting hurt.

            “What can you tell us about Alexander Solnik?”  Cooper asked standing next to Red.  “I believe he would be your next blacklister.”

            No one seemed to have an issue with tracking down this blacklister, despite what Red had to gain from it. 

“Yes.”  Red launched off into the story of how he had meant Alexander.  He was animated despite the cramp he felt in his stomach.

When he finished sharing what he knew about the Hitman, Red walked to Lizzie’s and Donald’s office, closing the door so he could make calls in private.  His first call was to Marvin, informing him of the threat on his life.  The second call was to Baz inform him he was to accompany Anna, and Red would need a secondary team with him. 

Lizzie walked into the office when Red was in the middle of his conversation with Baz. 

She waited for him to hang up the phone, “Where are you going to stay if not here?”

“I have to keep business as usual,”  Red said having formed a plan mid conversation with Marvin.

“He will kill you.”

“He can get to me in here or out there.”  Red responded, “It does not matter where I am at.  You all can use me as bait to get him.”

“That is unacceptable.  He will kill you.”

“Yes he could, but if Baz and the team are nearby, they can stop it.”  Red said, “Plus it is the best way to keep everyone safe.  As long as I’m out there, he won’t need to get to anyone I care about.”

“How will he know?”

“He will have been studying me for months now.  He has been in and out of the US multiple times already.”

“How do you know?”

“That is his MO.  He would have made sure to stay under the radar while he was studying my movements, and the people surrounding me.  Looking for weaknesses and routines, he can exploit. Right before he goes in for the kill, he wants his prey to know they are being hunted.  He’d have made sure I found out somehow.  I would not be surprised if he or his people were not the ones to tip off the NSA and CIA.”

“I still do not think you being bait is a good idea.  I am sure there is somewhere you can hide until we can track him down.”  Lizzie said thinking of Red’s apartment in Bethesda but not mentioning it.

“He will just exploit one of my weaknesses.  This is the best option.  If we take him alive, I can figure out who hired him, and ensure that person or group is no longer a threat.”

Lizzie had an awful feeling about Red’s plan, but something else was nagging her, had been since she heard the threat on Red’s life.  “What does Solnik look like?”

“It has been years since I have seen him.”  Red answered, “Russian, dark hair, light eyes, pale skin.  Why?”

“Nothing.”  The guy did not fit the description of the man she had seen with Anna.  At least she could rule out Anna meant with Solnik, but that did not mean she wasn’t meeting with one of his people. 

Red wanted to ask her for more details but decided to let it go for now. 

“How long do you think you have before he tries to kill you.”

“A day or two,”  Red said closing his eyes as his stomach cramped again.  He pushed through it, “Dembe will be with you the entire time.”

“I’m not worried about me,”  Lizzie answered honestly.  Not matter how mad she was at Red, she did not want him to die.

“I’ll be fine Lizzie.”  Red said gently taking her hand into his surprised when she did not pull away, “You need not worry.  This isn’t the first time I’ve dealt with something like this.” 

And he thought bitterly, it would not be the last unless he failed.  Part of him wondered if he wanted to fail if he wanted to let Solnik take him out.  It would be so easy, and all of the problems in his world would be gone.  He wouldn’t have to deal with the pain anymore.  The look of disgust and anger often found in Lizzie’s eyes, the weariness he found in Dembe’s eyes more often these days and the fact that he hated himself for what he did to Kate.  Hated himself for a lot of things.  Death would be easy, all of that would go away.  Dembe would move on, Lizzie would be fine because Dembe would make sure she was safe. 

But alas, it went against everything that was Raymond to not continue to fight the good fight.  So here he was once again facing down an unknown enemy.  First, he needed to figure out who hired Solnik to kill him, and from there he could plot a path forwards.  For now, Red had to get away from those he cared about so they would not be in danger.  That meant sending Dembe to stay with Lizzie, and ensuring that Baz got Anna out of town. 

 “What are you going to do?”  Liz asked, once again seeming to remember she cared about Red because his life was in danger.  Liz appeared to be the walking embodiment of the clichéd you never know what you have until it is gone.  She only seems to remember she cares about Red when she needs him, or he is likely to go away. 

“I am going to figure out who hired Solnik, so I know who I am up against,”  Red answered as if it were that easy. 

===============

The young Dark Hair Man hated getting his hands dirty.  He views the world as one big game of Risk, the board game.  He moved his pieces about, but never once getting into the real dirt of war or battle.  It would have stayed that way if Reddington had not thrown the Director out of an airplane.  The young dark haired man would have kept his game of risk, and allowed the Director to deal with Reddington.

So here he was, sitting in a hotel bar, how clichéd, he thought bitterly.  Waiting on the assassin to show up for a status update.  Typically, Solnik would have told him to fuck off, but the young dark haired man had powerful friends.  Powerful friends that were willing to help him in his mission to take out Reddington because the man had failed at the game of Risk.  Reddington had been stupid enough to blackmail the president-elect to get a pardon for some woman.  Some woman who did not even like Reddington, at least that is how her ex- described the relationship when questioned about it by his new team member Solomon. 

Solnik appeared in the middle of his second Scotch.

“You’re late.”

“The package has been tipped off,”  Solnik responded to the cold greeting.

“I know.”  Finishing off the scotch before speaking again, “He still has allies.  They are being dealt with.”

“Do you have the new intel on his latest safe house?  He seems to be circling the wagons.”

“My informant has not been in contact recently.”  The dark haired man responded.

“Should I count on the information?”

“If my informant cannot help, I have another team tracking his movements via satellite.  You will have his location.  How long will it take?”

“As soon as I know, I can form a plan and go in.”  Solnik answered, “It would be easier if you would just let me kill him there.”

“I want to see him die.”  The man said making sure that no one was within listening distance. 

“You know this won’t be easy,” Solnik responded.

“That is why you are being paid very well for your services.  Three times what you usually ask for and that was just the down payment.  If you succeed more is coming, and so is your new identity.  You’ll be free of your contract with the agency.”

“Why do you want him dead so badly?”

“That is my business.”  The Dark Haired man responded, “Time for me to go.  Someone will be in contact.  I assume you have all of his usual locations scoped and ready to go.  So as soon as you know the location, you can act.”

“Yes.  I have details on all of his possible safe houses and the team he will likely have with him.”

“Are you confident that he will send his best people with the women?”

“Yes.”  Solnik answered, “He knows I like to go after my targets weak points.  He will ensure those are safe, and open himself to attack.”

“Are you confident in this plan?”

“Yes.  He made be a great tactician, but he has been slipping recently.”  Solnik smiled, “A heroin addiction can do that to anyone.”

“Just do not underestimate him.”

“I won’t, or I’ll be dead.”

“Or he will have the old decrepitude man interrogate you.”

“You are safe either way.”  Solnik responded, “I don’t know your name or who you work for.”

“But you can describe me.”

“No offense but you look like you came from a stock photo.  Even a basic description will not differentiate you from millions of others.”

“Just get the job done.”  The dark haired man threw money on the counter and left leaving Solnik to glare at him as he walked out of the small hotel bar. 

===================

Ressler excused himself, citing the need for food and coffee as a reason to leave the black site.  No one questioned it because they knew Ressler had issues with helping Red more and more so recently.  Once he was outside in his SUV, he grabbed the burner phone out of his glove compartment box.  Panabaker had asked him to update her on the task force and Reddington’s movements after they told Red about Solnik’s latest contract target.

“Donald, is he staying at the black site?”

“No,”  Donald said.

“Do you know where he’s sending his girlfriend?”  Panabaker asked.

“Reddington has a girlfriend?”

Panabaker rolled her eyes on the other end of the line, “Yes.”

“I did not know.  We don’t discuss personal lives.”  Donald responded.  “Are we going to let Solnik sort him out?”

“We don’t know yet.” Panabaker said, “We are waiting to see what happens.” 

In other words, she had yet to hear from the person who was running the case, the head of the NSA.  It was a young man with dark hair, Ressler had meant him face to face once weeks ago when Red had started the blacklist up again.  The man gave him a fake name of John Smith, and it was his official name, but Ressler knew it to be false.  The man looked familiar, and Ressler was not sure where he had seen him before.

“I need to get back.”  Ressler said, “I’m not sure how much longer I’m willing to do this.  You promised me Red would be brought to justice, but all I’ve been doing is spying on the taskforce for you.”

“Donald, that information you gave me regarding the Assistant Secretary of State Laurel Hitchens, will end her career in a few days.  We are going to charge her with the murder of the death of Reven Wright.”

“You don’t have a body.”

“No, but we have enough evidence and hope she’ll crack under pressure and give up others.  If not, the charges are sufficient to ensure she does not work again.”

Donald was not complete placated, but it gave him enough to trust that Panabaker was trying to do the right thing.  “Ok.” 

“Good.  You won’t have much longer doing this.  I know it’s hard, but you are not spying your fellow team members, just Reddington.“

================

“Ok everyone Baz gave us marching orders before he had to leave.”  The woman Baz had left in charge spoke to the team.  “We are to protect Raymond Reddington at all cost.  We are going to set up two teams.  One outside the perimeter of the latest safe house and another inside.  You will only be given the location after everyone turns in their electronic devices.  Solnik is the man we are looking for, you all have been sent his picture.  If you see him or anyone resembling him, you are to take them out.” 

The team listened to her briefing each knowing that Baz trusted her with his life, and that was enough for them.  Before she could finish, she saw a familiar number come up on the screen of her phone.  She had warned them to only call in case of an emergency, that her position required she has limited contact. 

“I need to take this.”  She said, “Take over for me.”  She said to Baz’s third in command. 

Rushing outside she answered her phone.

“Are you free to talk?”

“No. I ‘m in the middle of work right now.”

“It’s critical.  Can you get away.”

“No.  Is it an emergency?”

“Yes.  Wouldn’t call if it were not.”

“I can get away for a bit.”  She said closing her eyes, Baz would be upset with her for leaving her post, but this was important.

“Ok.  Call me once you are clear from work.”

“Will do.” 

===================

Cooper dialed the number from memory in his office.  After the person on the other end had answered he spoke, “It’s going to be awhile.  We have an issue here.”

“Raymond.”

“Yes.  He refused our security and left to a safe house.”

“Thank you for letting us know.” 

Cooper said goodbye and hung up the phone glaring at it. 

===================

Liz’s phone rang as she looked over the file on Solnik.  It was Tom calling her.  She answered the phone, “Where are you?”

“I’m sorry I disappeared like that babe.”  Tom said, “And for the fight.”

“Where are you?”

“I’m away.”

“I do not have time now Tom,”  Liz said annoyed with him for just leaving.

“Liz, please understand, I wanted to call sooner and apologize.”

“Then why didn’t you?”

“After I left our apartment that night, I got a call from my father.”

“Your father’s dead Tom.”

“He faked his death.  I saw him, spoke to him.”

“And?”

“And he asked me to help him.  Starting with taking a job at Halcyon Aegis and keep an eye on Scottie.”

“He asks you to spy on your mother?”

“Yes.”

“This is ridiculous Tom.”

“I know Lizzie. I just need to do this.  I hope you understand.”

“I really need to go Tom.”

“What Reddington need you like usual?”  Tom asked his voiced filled with venom.

“He has a hit man after him, one that is good.”

“Just put him in your little box until it blows over,”  Tom said referencing the box he had seen on many occasions in the post office.

“He refused our help.”

“Where is Agnes?”  It felt almost as if Tom was trying to pick a fight with the way he said it.

“She’s safe.  Where are you?”

“Are you keeping her away from Reddington?” 

Liz was now confident that Tom was trying to pick a fight with that question, “Tom you left, I don’t think that’s any of your business.”

“It's my daughter, it is my business.”

“Your daughter you have not seen in almost a month.  Some father.”  She couldn’t help herself, her sense of abandonment from her mother and father, all adding up and being transferred onto him for abandoning her and Agnes.

“I already told…”

“Tom I’m tired of fighting with you.”  Liz said, “You said your family was enough for you.  That you didn’t need the excitement anymore.  Then you up a left us, after breaking all of our glassware.  You threw a fucking cup at my head.” 

“I said I’m sorry Liz what more do you want?”

“For you to step up and be a dad to our daughter.”

“you mean as you have been.  How many hours does Agnes spend with a babysitter a day?  How much time did you spend with her when I was there.”

“One of use had to work,”  Liz said defensively.

“Case and point.”  Tom said, “I will see my daughter whenever the damn well I please, and you are still my wife.”

“We aren’t technically married,”  Liz said.

“Oh yeah because your not father-father had my mother raid our wedding, and you almost died.  Then Reddington almost killed you by making you have our child in a fucking nightclub.”

“He’s not the only one to blame about this Tom.”

“No, but he’s done a lot of horrible things,”  Tom responded almost screaming over the phone at her.

“Don’t bother calling Tom again.  You are not going to see Agnes.  Not now not ever.  You gave up that right when you walked out.”   Liz missed him, but she did not want him near Agnes if he was in the mess that was Halcyon Aegis and Scottie Hargrave. 

=========================

 

Chapter Text

            Red walked into his latest safe house, he had no plans of staying there overnight. He just needed a small time to take the edge off. Just a small dose to make the tremor in his hand go away, and the gut pain to disappear.

            Logically, he knew he should have sought out a different treatment for now. He was handicapping himself in a time when he needed to have all of his senses about him, but not taking the drug would be worse. He could not easily fight off Solnik and whoever hired him, and withdrawal at the same time. Red was confident that Solnik was still a day or two away from the attack, so he had time.

            In the privacy of the bedroom, Red stripped his coat and vest off. Sitting on the bed, he pulled the kit out of his travel bag. As soon as he plunged the needle into his skin, he felt instant relief. The euphoric feeling was lasting less and less, but this time he savored it. Leaning back on the bed, he chanced it and left the needle in. He would just rest his eyes for a bit.

==========

            “Aram do you have that information I asked for?”  Liz asked having got herself under control after her call with Tom. Dembe had entered her office shortly after with a knowing look, he had heard some of the conversation Liz realized. After the phone call with Tom, Dembe had become her new shadow, even at the post office.

            “Um…”  Aram was uncomfortable because he did not know Dembe had been in on the plan. “Yes,”

            Lizzie noticed Aram’s hesitation, “Dembe helped. He was the one who planted the chip in Red’s phone,”

            “Oh ok,” Aram said feeling slightly better about having helped Liz track Reddington. He doubted Reddington would appreciate it, but Liz had made a great case that it was just an insurance policy, and at the rate that Red gets rid of phones, it would not be an issue once the Solnik case was over.

            Aram pulled up the tracking program and showed Liz and Dembe the screen.

            Dembe spoke, “He’s at one of the safe houses,”

            “How long has he been there?” Liz questioned.   

            “About an hour now,” Aram responded.

            “What about the other information?”

            “There is not much on Anna Higgins,” Aram said, “She was married, and changed her last name to Deming, her former husband's last name. They divorced years ago, and she reverted back to her maiden name. She runs the non-for-profit you mentioned, actually started it. I sent what I had to you securely. No flags, other than she has taken a few meetings at Langley, but they were always briefing regarding human trafficking. She testified in front of Congress about the subject, and is believed to be one of the experts,”

            “Any connection with the NSA or anyone shady?”  Liz asked seeing Dembe deep frown, well deeper frown, it was all disapproving, she knew. But she needed to know more about Anna, Liz felt in her gut that the woman was in this somehow.

            “No. Not even donors,” Aram said, “One of Mr. Reddington’s shell companies donated money,”

            “How do you know that?” Dembe asked mostly out of interest.

            “I um…”  Aram was not sure if he should answer the question.

            Liz answered for him, “Cooper had Aram track a lot of Red’s finical information. Nothing we can actually touch, but we wanted to know more about where his money was,”

            “We don’t have much,” Aram said, “And what we do have seems outdated. It was why Director Cooper told me to stop. What we had, Mr. Reddington fed us pretty much, when he gave us his alias when he turned himself in,”

             “Let me know when he moves from there,” Lizzie said, “Good Job Aram,”

            Aram smiled and watched the two take off. He hoped Mr. Reddington was safe, he really liked the man, even if he scared the crap out of him.

============

            “Have you heard from Raymond?”  Anna asked somewhere between Chicago and DC.

            “No,” Baz answered having kept his distance to give her room. He was looking out the window of the plane wondering why he was babysitting when his employer was in danger.

            “Will you hear from him soon?”  Anna asked when Baz looked annoyed she quickly apologized, “I’m sorry. I’m just worried about him. He seems off recently,”

            “He will be fine ma’am,” Baz said trying to check his emotion, he was annoyed to be taken out of the action. It was not Anna’s fault he was with her and not Raymond.

            “How can you be so sure?”

            “My other men are with him, and I trust them with my life. So I trust them with his,”

            “But you aren’t happy to be here with me. If you are so sure he’s safe, then why are you annoyed with being assigned to stay with me,”

            Baz frowned, he hated that his annoyance was that easy to detect. “I’m just not used to not being near to help if necessary,”

            “Do you know what’s wrong with Raymond?”

            Baz laughed, “I believe that is above my pay grade,”

            “I used to know him, and he is so different these days,”

            “He has been through a lot, I’m sure since you all knew each other. Things that change people,”

            “I guess,” Anna said, “Do you know much about Agent Keen?”

            Baz looked at Anna suspicious at first, but he realized that the woman would have had occasion to interact with Liz. “She is a new mother,”

            “I saw her daughter,” Anna said, “Where is her husband?”

            “He is not in the picture anymore,” Baz responded deciding that Anna was just trying to make polite conversation, but he was still careful what he said.

            “Oh,” Anna said, “So Raymond isn’t the father?”

            That caused Baz to chuckle, “No. He is not the father,”

            “It's just Agent Keen seems to rely on him more than I would suspect any FBI agent should,”

            “They have a non-sexual past together,” Baz said, “You need not worry about her,”

            “I’m not jealous. She’s too immature for Raymond to form a relationship with. Too hot and cold with him,”

            “How did you and Raymond meet?”  Baz changed the subject deciding he had said enough about Elizabeth Keen.

            Anna had more questions she wanted to ask, but it was clear that Baz was not going to answer them, at least regarding Liz and Raymond. “How long have you worked with Raymond?”

            “Awhile,” Baz responded.

            “You were former military?”

            “Yes at one time,”

            “Which branch?”

            “Navy,”

            “Like Raymond. Were you in Intelligence as well,”

            “No,” Baz answered, “I was a Navy Seal,”

            “What made you quit?”

            “I was recruited during the first Gulf War,” Baz responded.

            “By Raymond?”

            “I ended my tour with the Navy and got out,” Baz responded, “I worked for a few years with others, and meant Raymond when I was being held in an Iranian prison. He was a fellow prisoner,”

            “Wow,” Anna said shocked by the information. She never expected that Raymond had been caught by anyone. “How did you all get out?”

            “He had been in the prison a few weeks before I got injured during a mission for the firm I was working for at the time,” Baz said, “He was weak from torture, but still had his charm,” Baz remembered the jokes at the expensive of the tortures who barely spoke English. Raymond and Baz had been the only prisoners who could speak English. They bonded quickly inside watching each other's backs while they slept or were dragged back passed out from torture. Raymond had already had to kill one of the other prisoners to get his shoes back, or so he had claimed. At first, Baz had not believed him because Raymond looked a bit soft and well worn by time Baz showed up. They barely fed them or gave them enough water to survive. Raymond seemed to get the worse of the torture too. But all doubt Baz had about Raymond’s strength and abilities disappeared when a team showed up in the middle of the night to extract Raymond. Red made Baz come with them, and Baz watched Red snap a man’s neck despite his weakened state. Baz himself was not sure if he could have mustered the energy to snap a man's neck after only a week in prison. He left the neck snapping portion out of his story and stuck to the PG version.

            “And you worked for him ever since?”  Anna asked her eyes wide with surprise.

            “No,” Baz said, “I found him a year later and asked him for a job,”

            “Why not right after?” 

            “He did not want to hire me. Did not want me to work for him out of some misguided need to repay him,”

            Anna smiled because she knew beneath the hard outer shell that was Raymond was a decent man. Anna started to tell Baz stories of her times with Red, asking innocent sounding questions when she came upon parallels with the present day knowledge she had of Raymond.

==============

 

Chapter Text

 

       “We have his location,”  the enthusiastic deep male voice in Solnik ear informed, “The man in charge wishes for a team to go with you. Reddington has two teams of men guarding him.  One team of ten in the house, and another ten men stationed around the neighborhood. The team will brief you on your role in the siege.”

       “I work alone.”

       “Normally, but you took the job with strings attached.” 

       “Where do I meet up with them?” Solnik asked annoyed that he had to sink this low to get free of the grasp of the organization. He wished it had been anyone but Reddington. He had no ill will towards the eccentric criminal, hell he enjoyed sharing a good bottle of scotch with the man on occasion. Reddington had often spoken of how easy it was for friends to become enemies in this business. There was a thin line, Reddington had warned him when he first started, between enemy and friend. What decided on which side each person fell was fluid and ever changing. Today, the decision came down to Solnik wanting to walk away from the life and retire to a beautiful tropical island with his soon to be wife and unborn child.

       The voice over the phone gave him a location to meet the tactical team that would help him.  It warned him that the meeting was a little over a mile away from Reddington’s current location, and he should take caution when traveling to the meetup point.

       Solnik  provided his ETA, “I’ll be there in five.” 

       On the way to the meeting, Solnik drove by Red’s safe house on the way, scoping it out for himself. He only saw a few of the supposed outside team, but it was because he was trained he saw them. Reddington’s men were good; he knew that from experience.

       Arriving at the location, he slipped his mask on and climbed into the waiting SUV. The leader had a map on an iPad of all things.  The leader's face was obscured by a tactical mask, but what Solnik could see told him it was a white male, approximately in his thirties. The skin around the eyes at least appeared to fit that description.  Solnik paid attention to the briefing memorizing the location of each of Reddington’s team members both inside the house (which somehow they had the schematic for) and around the neighborhood.  The team leader handed him a small clear case that contained an ear piece for him, “We get real-time updates via the man in the sky.”

       Solnik studied the leader closer, what he could see with the man in the dark outfit with a black tactical mask on. He could see from the hair on the man’s hands that he was likely a brunette, blue eyes, athletic build, and when he greeted him in the garage, he was around 6 feet tall. 

       The other team members were all quiet, except for one, the driver, who seemed to talk a lot on the drive over to the safe house.

       The plan was discussed in depth on the short drive over. It was simple, the team would take out the people outside, Solnik had his own man to take out. Each man had his own target, and it should take seconds to take out Reddington’s outer perimeter team. Then they would move to the one inside the house, with the real-time updates they could quickly locate the men inside and take them out. Solnik would be the one responsible for capturing Reddington. Once he secured Reddington, Solnik would take the second SUV and go to his meeting point with the man that hired him. Reddington would be killed there, and they already had a cleaning team to dispose of the body. It all seemed easy, but Solnik new better than to trust it. Reddington had a way of making plans go sideways. 

       They pulled up in the quiet suburban neighborhood; the second SUV was on the other side. Each man keeping their distance, so that they could sneak up on Red’s team and take them out. They moved between and through yards, the sniper having taken his spot on the roof of a house. He would be responsible for taking out anyone who the team did not get. It was important they move fast because Red would have reinforcements ready if necessary, and was known for being able to put up a good fight even when surrounded. They had two evils to contend with Red’s people (and the cavalry) and the local police that would be called the minute it started, possibly sooner if a noisy neighbor happens to notice the men with guns running through their lawns.

       On the signal of the man in the sky, as they called him, they started their assault. Solnik took his man out and hauled ass to the house. He did not want to be the reason this plan failed if it did. 

======x=======

       Raymond Reddington was passed out on his bed. What was supposed to only be a short while in the safe house had turned into hours due to his incapacitated state? It did not take his team long to realize they were under attack.  The warning came when one of the assault team members had been mortality injured but had not died right away. His warning rang through the ear pieces of the ten men inside. The man in charge rushed to Reddington’s room to warn him of the impending assault.  Reinforcements were called, but by the lack of response of the outside assault team, the reinforcements would not make it in time. Whoever was attacking would be inside within seconds at the least and minutes at the most. 

       “Sir,”  the man who had never expected to be in charge of Reddington’s safety called out to his boss.  There was a chain of command, Dembe, Baz, the new girl, and then him. Yet here he was in charge of it all. Reddington was not responding despite his calling out to him. It appeared as if he was passed out. The next thought was one filled with profane language when he saw the needle sticking out of his boss’s arm. Reaching out he shook the passed-out man.

       Red opened his eyes with some difficult, “What?”

       “We are under attack.”  The man said the sound of gunfire filling the house now. 

       Red tried to sit up but struggled, the man had to help him to a sitting position.  Red blindly reached over to the nightstand, finding the cocaine supply. 

       “Go help the others,” Red said his voice weak even to his own ears, so weak he was not sure the man in front of him had heard his words.

       Finding the cocaine, Red quickly tipped some out, spilling more than he had managed to get on the skin between his thumb and forefinger.  Lowering his head, he sniffed the bit of coke he managed to get on his hand. Sitting on the bed, he finally realized the needle was still in his arm. Pulling it out he tossed it to the floor. The cocaine was now kicking in, the stimulant fighting the depressant. It was an incredible feeling, a delayed speedball really is what he had done, mixing heroin and cocaine. He felt like he was Iron Man or Super Man.  Invincible, and ready to take on the entire world, and at the moment it would not be the best feeling to have because some sense of the possibility of death was healthy in any battle.

========x========

       “You know this little assault on Reddington is not the best of ideas,” the older gray haired lady said into the phone to her the man she had felt was closest to being a mentee. She had never wanted to mentor anyone, for the longest time all she wanted was the quiet life. However, for people like her, the quiet life was rarely possible. First came Alan Finch, ruining any chance she had at a normal life. He wanted to know information about Reddington, of course. Every bad thing in her life seemed to stem from having been introduced to Reddington. 

With Alan Finch came others, who she had known from her previous life, and they had formed a plan. A backup plan for when the Cabal would fall. She knew Reddington well enough to know he would eventually win against the Cabal. They would be ended, and in their wake, a power vacuum would come. The Cabal death knell had been sounded when Tom Connolly was killed. The power vacuum had not come, simply because Plan B had been in place. Four individuals all coming to the table with different ideas for what the new organization would do, but all agreeing that it was necessary the organization exists. It was the agreement that kept them going. It was decided the circle would remain small. That was the problem with the Cabal, too many members, with too many dirty secrets waiting to be brought out in the light of day.

These four members understood there was a higher purpose to the organization beyond their own monetary success. They were all true world citizens, none of them particularly allegiant to any government, at least not anymore. The world was theirs to be taken. They would be the puppeteers pulling strings in the background. The first step was to get a president of the United States of America in their pocket. That had been ridiculously easy, and even then Reddington had almost screwed that up.  The organization had collectively held their breath when Reddington had gone after their candidate. Had Reddington known of them? But soon they discovered it just happened stance.

       The Dark Haired man responded, “I cannot simply let this be.”

       “I understand your desire. But you have to know it’s a long shot.”

       “I know,” He said, “But Solnik is one of the best, and this time it’s a real assassin.  Not one Tom Keen can fake for Reddington.”

       “Tom Keen,”  The woman said looking out at the lake behind the place she called home.  It was a calm night, and she could hear the sound of the water gently filter through the open window, “What is he up to these days?”

       “Working with his mommy.”  The Dark Haired man said sarcastically.

       “I really wish I could have just taken him out,” the Grey Haired woman said, but one of the organization members was against it because of allegiance to their offspring. 

       “You have not told the others about this?”  The Dark Hair man asked he and his mentor had an understanding. They both came to the table with some of their own agenda. His was vengeance’s, at least when it came to Reddington. He was not sure what her agenda was exactly. He knew one of her objectives, but there was more there. 

       “No, I have not.  Just like you have not told them about the accident I’m waiting to happen to Tom Keen.” 

       “Of course not.  But I had to ask.”

       “I know I trained you.  But remember my rule, trust no one but me.  Everyone else will eventually give you up, but I would never and I expect the same from you.”

       “I have given you that.”

       “I know.”  She said, “I trust you.”

       “But not enough to tell me why you are willing to let me go after Reddington, despite the others still wanting him to be a player a bit longer.”

       “Yes.”  She smiled at the phone, he exceeding her expectations.

       “I still cannot believe that they thought it was a bright idea to ask Reddington to join.  The make the circle five instead of four.”

       “He is a powerful man.  His business alone is enough to propel our Organization to the level we all want it to be.  And don’t forget he has managed to survive this world despite not having been trained to live in it.”  The Grey Haired Woman said knowing very well the improbability of Reddington surviving this long. Raymond was after all just the son of a man who only managed to rise to the rank of Staff Sergeant in the Army. An army grunt that was more often intoxicated then he was sober.

Yet, Reddington had been an exceptional candidate at Annapolis, choosing the Navy instead of the Army because of his love of the ocean and dream to be a captain of a large vessel. That was never going to happen. Those in power realized quickly that Army grunts son was gifted especially when it came to game theory, strategy, languages, and many other essential characteristics of a spy. Raymond Reddington would have been a great Admiral if he had been allowed to rise that high in the ranks. If had not been a casualty of the Cold War between the USSR and the US. Hell, if his father had been only slightly more ambitious, there would have been more debate amongst the Cabal members about taking out someone they had assumed could one day join their ranks. But the son of an Army grunt was the outsider and an unknown variable. Would he be willing to fall on his sword for the Rostova mess, which he was partly responsible for, to ensure that one of the more connected members of the team would remain unscathed? Falling on his sword likely meant a discharge from the Navy, but the promise of a future working with the up and coming Senator Alan Finch. The same Alan Finch whose son had been weighed as the alternative sacrificial lamb, and also happen to be Reddington’s good friend from boot camp. The son of Alan Finch had made sure to introduce Reddington to the important people and brought him to the attention of the Cabal. Reddington’s moral gray areas were large enough to entice the Cabal. None of that was to be. Reddington was too much of a risk as the unknown variable. He had to be taken out, and the Cabal had formed what they thought was the perfect plan.   

The Cabal, mostly Alan Finch, had expected Reddington to collapse in grief after finding his family gone and his house covered in blood, but Reddington had surprised them all. Instead of collapsing in grief, Reddington had reached out to his friend. Reached out to get information as to what could have happened to his family, knowing his good friend and colleague from boot camp had a powerful father in a powerful organization. Alan Finch would know who had targeted Reddington’s family and what had become of them.  At the time of his family disappearance, Reddington had assumed Russians were the likely candidates.  He, after all, had helped one of their priced spy’s defect to the US.  The powerful organization Alan Finch worked with would not go after an American soldier like himself, they knew he was loyal to them, right?  It was not until Reddington had actually spoken with Alan Finch’s son in person, that he had learned the Cabal had been the ones to go after his family.  Alan Finch’s son had no idea what had happened to Reddington’s family and never got the chance to ask his father. 

Reddington continued to surprise those that were alive and knew exactly what had happened all those years ago. Up until his death, Alan Finch had a healthy respect and for Reddington. His own son had joked that Reddington was the son Alan Finch always wanted, and there was some truth to that.  Reddington had not been a fuck up like his son, the primary cause of the Rostova mess.  But it was his son. Therefore, Alan Finch had ensured his safety.

       “I know.”  The Dark Hair man responded, “I know very well you’ve told me a million times not to underestimate him.”

       “You know what happens.”

       “I know very well.”  The man said bitterness seeping into his voice.

       “Where are we with our informant?”

       “Clear of Reddington, so collateral damage is unlikely there.”

       “What about the others?” 

       “Still no idea they are helping us.”  The Dark Hair man could not believe the incompetence of some of the folks Reddington had surrounded himself with because that was what was putting him in danger. That and the nasty habit they knew Reddington had picked up after Agent Keen’s faked death.

Someone should give the woman a gold medal for being the impetus for bringing the organization into action. It started when she made herself a target of the Cabal, saving Reddington’s life. At the time, those in the Cabal and the Organization who knew who Elizabeth Keen really was, had assumed she was not a threat to them. The Organization would not go after her even if she were a threat. They had waited for her to be the one to help Reddington take down the Cabal so the Organization could be born. When she had shown her hand against the Cabal and made herself a target, the Cabal chooses to act, despite the warning that it could and would very likely not end well for them. It was arrogance that sounded the death knell.

However, that was not why she deserved a gold medal.  Not it was when she chose to fake her death. It had been the chink in Reddington’s armor that the Organization needed to set their plan in motion. It would have been easier to capture her and use her to get to Reddington, but there were members against that idea for a good reason. 

The universal screw-up that had been her faked death and Alexander’s Kirk’s distraction had further allowed the Organization to set their plans into motion.  The mess from Kirk had been enough to convince the other members of the Organization that Reddington would not be a viable member. Reddington had been so distracted with getting Keen and her child back that he did not see the attack coming his way.  When the first strikes were launched, he had not understood them to attack.  It was not well into the battle plan that Reddington realized his organization, specifically he, was under attack from outsiders and now insiders.  All thanks to Elizabeth Keen.

========x========

       Solnik and the team found that getting to the house had been a bit more challenging than they had expected.  Reddington’s inside team had been tipped off and fought with everything they had.  Both sides knew the attackers would get inside, but Reddington’s team seemed to be trying to buy enough time, probably in hopes that reinforcements would arrive and help defend their charge. However, eventually, they had made their way inside. They attackers had the man in the sky helping them locate the inside defenders via infrared satellite updates in real time. It was easy to locate them and fire through walls taking them out thanks to the large caliber bullets and weapons. The primary concern was making sure Reddington was not killed by accident. Accidentally killing Reddington would piss off the man who hired them all. It was another stipulation of the deal Solnik had made, and yet another action that went against his normal way of taking out a target.   

       Solnik was the first through the front door, the second team was going to the back door of the house. He shot one of Red’s men, and continued on, the man in the sky had reported that Reddington was likely in the back bedroom.  Up the stairs of the entry, and to the right, last door on the left. The man in the sky called out that his path was clear, and that Reddington appeared to be on his feet, but not leaving the room.

       Solnik rushed to the back bedroom, slamming through the door with his foot, and rushing into the room.

       Reddington had his gun out and fired, but the bullet went just a bit wide, splintering the frame of the doorway Solnik just rushed through. He was on Reddington before he could get another shot off. Lashing out with his weapon, the butt of his gun smashing into Red’s shoulder as Reddington had attempted to move away from Solniks attack.

       The hit was hard enough to send a shockwave of pain through Red’s gun arm, making him loosen his grip on the weapon, and not be able to get the second shot off.

       Solnik attacked again, this time using his knee, aiming right for Reddington’s groin.  It may be a low blow, but the man was a decent fighter, and the last thing Solnik wanted was a fist fight with him. Not with the police sirens in the distance and the probability of reinforcements arriving growing with each passing second.

       Red went down, unable to move his body fast enough to shield himself from the knee to his groin. The drugs were the causal factor in Red’s inability to shield himself. His nervous system was off-kilter with the mixture of stimulate and depressant, it left him less sharp than he normally would have been. 

       Once Red started to go down to his knees, Solnik attacked again, this time his gun finding its target, smashing down against Red’s head, sending him to heap on the floor. Blood dripped from the wound on his scalp down the side of his face. Scalp wounds had a tendency to bleed a lot, so it made it look like there was more damage than a cut that would likely need a few stitches. Red blinked trying to fight off the impending darkness, but he knew he would lose the battle when the foot connected with the side of his head, sending him unconscious with a grunt of pain.

       Solnik used the zip ties to secure Red’s hands behind his back, and as well as Red’s legs. Then he used the duct tape he carried in his cargo pants pocket, to tape Reddington’s mouth shut.  Solnik did not want to hear from Red when he woke, he felt guilty enough about what he was doing. Getting Reddington’s dead weight off the ground would be difficult had Solnik not been trained in martial arts. It was a  grappling move that would allow Solnik to use the momentum of his body movement to move Reddington into a fireman’s carry within seconds.  Grabbing Reddington’s leg, Solnik swung his body into the man on the floor, feeling Red’s chest depress as he landed hard on the unconscious body. The movement was fluid, as Solnik continued his spin, pulling Reddington onto his shoulder, and then up on his feet again.  The initial roll momentum enough to bring Solnik to his feet even with Red now on his shoulder.  It took only seconds to complete, and Solnik was out the door rushing down the hallway, gun in one hand ready to fire on anyone that got in his way. His other hand ensuring Reddington’s deadweight remained in place on his shoulders.

       The route to the SUV was not obstructed by any of Red’s team, the lack of gunfire left Solnik to assume that all of Reddington’s team were dead.  At the SUV, Solnik found someone in the driver seat, having brought the car closer once they got word the siege had been successful, and the package was secured.

       The driver jumped out of the SUV and opened passenger front door.

       “No, I want him in the backseat,”  Solnik said grunting again. 

       The driver rushed and opened the backseat passenger door, then moved to help Solnik drop Reddington onto the backseat floorboard.

       Using the second pair of zip ties, Solnik secured Red’s leg ties to the under seat track, to ensure he could not lift or move them much during the drive. They would be on the road for about an hour or two to reach the out of the way location the man that hired him requested. 

       “Good luck. Let the man in the sky know if you need anything.”  The driver said walking away to the other waiting SUV.

       Once inside Solnik pulled away, once he was out of site of the house, he pulled his mask off, and hid it in the center console along with his weapon. Multiple unmarked cars came streaming past him minutes later, and then a few moments after that cop car followed, as he drove slowly towards the interstate. He would only stay on it for a short time and then switch to more secluded roads.  The last thing he wanted was for some noisy truck driver to see he had a man tied in the backseat. 

       Once they were off the interstate, Solnik stopped at a gas station. He wanted to change out of his clothes and into something different just in case someone gave a description of what the men were wearing. Looking in the back seat, he found Reddington still unconscious. Per his instructions, his go bag was sitting in the passenger seat.  Grabbing the clothes out of it, he made his way to the outside bathroom.  He quickly changed into a suit and tie, the outfit chose on purpose, so he looked like a businessman returning home after a long day from work.  It was at that time of day.  No cop would look twice at him as he drove through the country roads.

       Going inside the gas station, he bought couple bottles of water, and a bag of gummy worms, his personal favorite candy.  When he got back in the SUV, Reddington was still unconscious. 

       “You still with me.”  He asked out loud feeling like an idiot speaking to himself.

       The man in his ear piece spoke, “Yeap. Just you and me now.  Your path seems clear all the way to the meeting point.  I’ll let you know if any trouble arises.”

       “Did the others make it clear?”

       “Already back to their safe house. You have nothing to worry about.”

       Solnik started the SUV and put it into gear. He turned the radio on, a local classic rock station, to fill in the silence of the car. 

       It was another thirty minutes until there were signs of life in the backseat.  The first was a muffled groan.  Then a few minutes later a sound that Solnik could not make out.  But Reddington suddenly was restless, struggling in the backseat, his knees slamming into the backseat the best he could with the way he had been secured.  Solnik looked back and saw that Red’s face was red, and he knew exactly what had happened.  Checking all of his mirrors, he saw no one else was around.  Pulling over to the side of the road, he jumped out and moved to the passenger rear door, the side Red’s head would be on.

       Opening it, he moved quickly pulling Red’s torso out of the car, and using his knife to slice away the duct tape from Reddington’s mouth.

       Red spit out vomit, onto Solnik’s boots. Red gagged again and the second round of vomit came up and onto the ground, as Solnik had moved back away from Reddington and was checking to ensure no traffic was coming.  The last thing he needed was some bystander stopping to help. 

The man in his ear piece was asking why he stopped.  Then demanding to know when Solnik had not answered.

“Reddington was choking on his own vomit.”  He finally snapped getting a look from Red.

For Red’s part, he was struggling to focus his eyes. When he had started to come to in the backseat, he felt extremely nauseous, his head felt like someone had it in a vice, and could not get enough oxygen. He tried to fight off nausea, but when he opened his eyes the world felt like it was moving under him, and that trigger his stomach. First, he was gagging, but then he felt the contents of his stomach coming up. He had tried to swallow it when the driver seemed to ignore his attempts to get help. But that only caused him to gag again. 

“Finished?” Solnik asked standing over Red again glaring down at him.

Red looked up at him, but the light from inside the car hurt his eyes, and the way he had to hold his head made it the pounding vice like pain worse. 

Solnik offered him some water, screwing off the cap and pushing it to his lips.  “Clean your mouth out.”

Red allowed him to pour the water into his mouth.  Swishing it around, he spits it back out, this time purposely aiming for Solniks boots.

“Asshole,”  Solnik said, but allowed Red another drink and then another when he seemed to keep it down. Putting the cap on the bottle, he tossed it into the passenger seat.  Grabbing the duct tape, he pulled a strip off to tape Red’s mouth again.

“Don’t.”  Red croaked, “I am still nauseous, cannot guarantee I won’t vomit again.”

Solnik seemed to study Red, Reddington was pale, and he had walloped the man twice in the head, it was likely he had a concussion.  “Fine but no talking. If I hear a peep out of you, I’m cutting your tongue out. The guy who hired me said nothing about caring if you could talk.”

As if he was not even listening, “Why haven’t you killed me?”

“What did I just say,” Solnik said pulling his knife out and moving to grab Red’s head.

“Come on for old times sake. I’ll shut up once you answer my question,”  Red spoke fast trying to shirk away from Solnik.

“The guy that hired me wants to see you die,”  Solnik explained, “He offered me an excellent price for it too.”

“Who is it?”

“Nope.”  Solnik said, “I answered your question for old time sake.  Now if you speak again, I will cut your tongue out.”

Red nodded, laying his head against the cold window. Solnik had let him sit on the seat this time. Closing his eyes, he tried to block out the feeling of the moving car. He had never been one to get motion sickness, but he suspected he had a severe concussion. 

All he needed to do was stay conscious long enough for the Calvary. One of his tactical teams would have alerted the backup team of the raid. The backup team would find him, between Aram and the FBI resources, and his own resources, he hoped they would find him. Despite his earlier feelings of thinking Solnik killing him would make life easier, he found when confronted with his death, he was not quite ready to give up.

Within minutes of Solnik driving again, Reddington was once again dry heaving.  Solnik rolled the window down and ordered, “Try to aim outside the car. We are going to be on the road for awhile I don’t want to smell your vomit the entire time.”

Simply because Red did not want to vomit on himself, he complied, the fresh air helping to calm his raging stomach preventing him from vomiting again. As soon as he sat back in the seat, his legs left at a weird angle due to how they were secured to the seat, Solnik pressed a button and sent the window back up, not saying a single word to Red.

=======X========

Ressler had been able to slip back inside of the Post Office.  His absences had not gone unnoticed. 

       “Hey, Ressler where did you go?”  Samar asked with Aram hovering behind her typing away on his keyboard.

       “Get some fresh air and coffee,” Ressler answered.

       “Where is the coffee?”  Samar asked noticing there was no coffee in sight.

       “Finished it on my way back.” 

       “Where did you get it from?”

       “Why are you asking so many questions,”  Ressler said annoyed with Samar’s interrogation.

       “Just wondering,”  Samar said suspecting Ressler was up to something. They were all at their battle stations trying to find Solnik and Ressler had disappeared for an hour. He was not following up any leads because they did not have any leads to follow up. Yet, Aram had seen something suspicious.  Ressler had used Agent Keens computer in their office. It was odd because why would he use Keen’s computer when his own was right across the way. Aram only noticed when he went to update Agent Keen on Reddington’s location, but she was not in the office. Aram later realized she and Dembe had disappeared to the interrogation room to talk in private. Aram had asked Samar about the suspicious activity, and she told him to wait, and she’d handle it. Aram being a careful person, found that Ressler had pulled up blueprints on a series of residential and commercial properties. At least that had been the last activity on Agent Keen’s computer.

       “Do we have anything on Solnik?” Ressler asked noticing that Aram was watching their conversation closely.

       “Not yet,”  Samar said studying Ressler. She did not know what to believe.  She knew he was tired of working with Reddington.  He had gone so far as to ask for a transfer, which after he had returned from being with his brother, he had rescinded the request.  Samar just assumed the couple of days he took, instead of the full week he had been granted, was because he cleared his head and realized they were doing a lot of good with the work with Reddington.  The benefit outweighed the cost.  Now she doubted that assumption.  Could he be actively working as a mole inside the task force? 

       “Then we better get back to work.”  Ressler was annoyed with his co-workers. 

       “Just one thing Ressler.”

       “What?” 

       “Why were you looking up the schematics of various places on Liz’s computer?”  Samar finally asked the direct question when her indirect line of questioning got her nowhere.

       “Oh, that.”  Ressler said, “Is this what all of that’s about?”

       “Yes.”

       “I logged out of my computer before I went to get coffee.”  Ressler said, “Then I got a call from Cooper asking me to pull up some schematics and email them to him.  I did not want to take the time to log back into my system and look up the information.  I saw Liz was still logged in, and I just used her computer to save time.”

       Aram quickly checked, berating himself for not thinking about looking to see if Ressler had in fact logged out of his computer.  A few key strokes later and Aram wanted to smash his head into the desk. Nodding his head at Samar, who frowned at him.

       “Seriously, what do you think I was doing? Sharing the schematics with Solnik.  As far as I know none of those places are Reddington safe houses.”

       “We had to ask,”  Aram said feeling sheepish for making it a big deal. 

       Samar was not so sheepish.  Part of her wanted to walk upstairs and ask Cooper if he had directed Ressler to send him the schematics.  Ressler was not stupid, and he would know how to cover his tracks.

========X=======

Red found himself passing out again and waking up when he was being dragged from the back of the SUV.  The zip ties on his hands had cut into his flesh, he felt blood trickling down his hands as he was dragged to his feet.

Solnik did not remove the ankle restraints.  Instead, he grabbed Red and once again, and tossed Red up onto his shoulders, causing the older man to grunt in pain, as he was fireman carried into the empty church.  Once inside, Red realized it was an abandoned church due state of the inside. Most of the pews were broken, the walls covered in graffiti, and the floor covered in dust and other muck. 

Solnik set Red onto the floor, sitting him up, and using another zip tie to secure Red’s already secured hands to the armrest of one of the intact pews. 

“Stay here.”  Solnik joked patting Red’s shoulder because he knew the Concierge of Crime had little hope of getting free.  Going back outside Solnik pulled the SUV behind the church out of site, grabbing his go bag he returned to the church from the back entrance. 

Setting his bag on the alter he took a seat, taking a gulp from his water.  “Should not be much longer,” Solnik said.

“Out of curiously, how much did your employer pay you to kidnap and deliver me.  Not your MO after all.”

“It will amount to six times my going rate, freedom from the organization, and a new life away from all of this.”

“How can you be so sure he’s just not going to kill you too?” 

“Because he doesn’t hate me like he hates you.”

“Who is it?”  Red asked, “I’ll know soon enough he’ll show up.”

“I honestly don’t know Raymond.”  Solnik answered wiping the dust off his pants, “I have never seen the guy before, but he comes with a lot of references willing to vouch for him. I know he’s part of the organization.”

“I work with the Cabal now, I doubt they hired you.”

“Not the Cabal, it’s well known you’ve chopped all the heads off that monster.  No this is a different group just forming, at least that’s what this guy says.  But he could just be bullshit.  I haven’t heard anything about a new organization.”

“I could have gotten you free of the Cabal.”

“I know, and you could have gotten me a new life, and probably the money too.  It’s my Jon Wick, my impossible task to be completed to know I’ll truly be free.  And he seemed to be the man with the plan, I’d rather hitch my horse to a winner.”

“I hate we are on separate sides.”  Red said, “You had so much promise when I first meant you.”

“I’m getting old.  I want the beautiful quiet life.”

“Men like us don’t get the nice quiet life,” Red said shifting uncomfortably.  His groin hurt where he had been kneed, and he had a raging headache that threatened to liquefy his brain, and there was that familiar itch slowly coming back.  Where the fuck was the cavalry? 

 

Chapter Text

            “Elizabeth, I need to know Raymond’s location right now,”  Dembe said having taken a call minutes before. 

            Liz wanted to ask why, but resisted when she saw Dembe’s face, she knew he would explain as soon as he knew where his friend was.

            They both rushed over to Aram’s desk, “Where’s Red now?”

            Aram pulled the appropriate screen up, “That’s weird.”

            “Where is he?”

            “On the move, likely in a car.”  Aram showed them the location.  “Did he say he was leaving town?”

            Dembe pulled his phone out making a call and informing someone on the other line that Red was on the move.  Fear clenched Dembe, as Solnik was known to kill his victims, not kidnap them.  Why had they taken Red from the safe house?  At least that is what the one severely injured tact team member had told the Calvary when they finally showed up. 

            “Can you keep me apprised of his movements?”  Dembe asked making an executive decision.

            “What’s going on Dembe?”  Liz asked grabbing his arm so he could not rush away from her.

            “The safe house was stormed by a team.  Everyone is dead, and Red is missing.”

            “Solnik?  I thought he killed his victims.”

            “One of the team members was still alive when the backup team arrived, he informed them he saw one of the attackers carrying Red out of the house.” 

            “Why would he take him out to kill him?”

            “I am hoping he has not killed him yet.” 

            “They just stopped,”  Aram said all eyes turned the screen.  Within a few minutes, they were on the move again. 

            “I’ll get a tact team together to help.”

            “No.”  Dembe said, “No time.  I need to go now.  Aram, can you call me with updates?”

            “Yeah. Of course Mr. Zuma.”

            Dembe tried to rush away, but Liz grabbed his arm again.

“I’m going.”  She informed him, “Ressler and Samar can help too.  If they have an entire team, you can use all the help you can get.  You have to have been low on people with Red sending people with Anna and what he likely had around him.” 

            “No.”  Dembe said, “Raymond asked me to keep you safe.”

            “Then do that, but I’m going.”

            “What are we doing?”  Samar asked from her spot having heard her name being offered up as help.

            “Red’s been taken.”

            “I’ll get Ressler and meet you all out there,”  Samar said shocking Liz at how easy it was to get the Israeli to agree to help. Samar had been distant and angry at Liz ever since she faked her death.  But Liz realized this wasn’t about her, it was about Red, who she knew Samar had a soft spot for. 

            Dembe decided it was better to get on the road now, instead of fighting with Liz more, so he gave in, “Let’s go.”

=================

            The dark haired man was downright ecstatic.  He loved it when a planned came to fruition.  He was in the middle of rush-hour traffic, but soon enough he would be outside of the city and on his way to watch Raymond Reddington die.  Of course, he would not be the one to pull the trigger, that was what Solnik was hired for.  The dark haired man would not get his hands dirty, not even for revenge. 

            Driving through the traffic, it did not seem as annoying as usual.  He drummed his fingers on the steering wheel to the music on the radio.  When he initially proposed the plan to his partners, they had thought him insane.  It was a waste of time and resources they said.  They could continue to build, and keep quiet enough that someone like Reddington and that annoying FBI task force he had wrapped around his pinky would not interfere.  But that was not sufficient for the dark haired man, he needed to see the life leave Reddington’s eyes knowing who had caused it, and why.  It took a lot of work, but he eventually got the others to agree that this was the best way forward. 

            He felt like the king of the world, he was going to conquer it all.  Starting with taking Reddington out, and then moving onto nations.  With Reddington’s death would come a power vacuum, the spaces Reddington had filled would need replacements, and the dark haired man was a great risk player and knew how to plan his attacks in advance.  This meant he already had plans in place to replace each of Reddington's services with separate loyal figureheads.  They do what he wanted, not only does he get to see Reddington die, but he gets to complete a hostile takeover of Reddington’s business.  There would be nothing left of the Concierge of Crime or his legacy.  As soon as he breathed his last breath, word would get out about him working with the FBI.  The only reason the dark haired man had not made that information public yet was that it was the easiest way to keep tabs on Reddington.  At least that was true now, he had always been plan B in case Plan A failed.  Plan A was failing his informant provided less and less information about Reddington and his business.  According to the informant, there just was not much information to be given.  Reddington had not allowed them into the business, and there was little chance of overhearing Reddington business either.  The knowledge the informant had before had paid off though, it was what help set this trap, and it worked.

=================

            The itch was annoying Reddington, he knew soon his stomach would be cramping onto of nausea he already felt, it would make this situation even more unbearable.  To help ignore the itch, he tried to engage Solnik in conversation.  Talking about old times, in part to, to remind the man they were once close allies.  It wouldn’t matter, Solnik was a professional, but it couldn’t hurt either. 

            Solnik engaged in conversation for a bit, ignoring the man in his ear’s updates.  It was until the man in his ear informed him that the boss was twenty minutes out that Solnik stopped the conversation.  “Enough talk for now.”

            “Oh come on.”  Red said, “I have more stories to tell.  Indulge, a dying man.”

            “Shut up Reddington,”  Solnik said preparing himself to be able to kill Reddington.  He knew it was not going to be as simple as a bullet to the head.  The hatred he had seen in the bosses eyes was an indicator that he would want Reddington to die slowly and painfully.  A quick death would not do. Otherwise, he’d of had Solnik just video record Red’s death.

            When Red continued to talk despite Solnik’s orders, Solnik walked over lashing out with his foot, catching Red squarely in the chest.  Red gasped unable to catch his breath and also in pain.  It took a full minute before he could draw a proper breath.  When he was back to breathing steadily, Solnik placed tape over his mouth, to avoid any further conversation.  Red protested but eventually became silent. 

==============

            The Dark haired man was not that far off, he could feel the excitement building with each passing mile.  That was until the computer whiz, also known as the man in the sky, working for Halcyon Aegis.  The dark haired man had purposely placed him there to keep tabs on what was going on within the agency, at the request of one of his partners.

            “You have company.  Looks like the cavalry found Reddington.”

            “How?”

            “They must have tracked him via satellite as well.  Or your guy failed to check him for tracking devices.”

            “Reddington would never agree to a tracking device, not after what happened with Anslo Garrick.”   

            “Either way they are on their way.  His bodyguard and Elizabeth Keen are in the lead car, about fifteen minutes behind you, another car has three FBI agents, and two more about thirty minutes out with his tact team.”

            “Fuck.”  The dark hair man screamed he had been so close.

            “What should I tell Solnik?”

            “Nothing.  Let them kill him or do whatever they are going to do.  I want them to think this is over for now.  Keep an eye on what happens.  If they take him alive, we may need to kill him.  I hate to burn my person on the inside but if he talks it will be unavoidable.”

            “I recommend just driving past the location sir.”  The man over the phone said, “I can provide you with an alternate route home if you need.”

            “No, it’s fine.”  Shit so much for having Reddington.  He was turning out to be a formable risk player.  Time for plan C, once again somehow Reddington managed to fuck up his plans.

=========

            “Elizabeth you should wait here,”  Dembe said parking down the road from the abandoned church.  There was no sign anyone was there, except for the soft glow of light coming through the cracks in one of the boarded-up windows. 

            “Like hell, I’m going to wait here,”  Liz said pulling her gun out of its holster.  “Samar and Ressler are not too far behind.  We should wait for them then go in.”

            “Stay here.”  Dembe said, “I’m going to see if I can see what is going on inside.”

            “NO.  I’m…” 

            Dembe interrupted her, “We need to know if he’s even inside.  I know how to walk up on a building quietly without alerting anyone inside that I’m there.  Are you confident you can do that too?  Because Solnik may just cut his losses and kill Raymond if he knows we are here.”  Dembe thought to himself if he has not already killed Red. 

            “Fine.  But as soon as Samar and Ressler show up, we are going in.”

            “We will see,”  Dembe said leaving Liz by the car and slowly making his way towards the church.  There was an air conditioner underneath one of the higher windows.  If he could climb up on that, he might be able to see inside and get a comprehensive view of the church.  Looking back he could not see Lizzie, night had fallen, and the street lamp only illuminated the parking lot. 

            Slowly and quietly he climbed onto the air conditioner.  There was a board on the window, but large enough gap at the bottom that he could fit inside the church.

            Battery operated lamps illuminated the inside of the church, allowing the occupants and Dembe to see.  He scanned the room, there was little sound coming from inside.  When Dembe finally found Raymond in the room, his heart felt like it froze in his chest.  The visible half of Raymond's face was streaked with blood.  His eyes were closed, and if it were not for the slow rise and fall of his chest, Dembe would have thought him dead.  Red was in pain, Dembe could tell by how he held himself and the shallow breaths.  He was alive though, that was something. The way he was retrained would make it difficult for him to seek cover once Dembe and others came into rescuing him.  They would need to take Solnik out upon entry before he got a chance to fire on Red who was a sitting duck. 

            Solnik was nowhere to be seen, but Dembe’s view was obscured by the board on the window as well as what appeared to be paint.  Dembe held his breath and listened for any sound that might indicate where Solnik was, but there was nothing. 

            Slowly he climbed down off the air conditioner and slowly made his way towards the back of the church.  He reached the corner when he heard someone speaking. 

            “Hey, you there?  Where the fuck is this guy at?  It’s past when he said he’d show up. Reddington’s people are idiots, they will locate us sooner rather than later.”

            The man seemed to get agitated as he continued to ask if anyone was there.

            Dembe had his body pressed against the building so he would be concealed.  When the man turned Dembe saw it was Solnik.  He could take him out right now, but he was not sure if anyone else was inside and he did not have a silencer on him.  To air on the side of caution, Dembe, watched as Solnik stormed back inside.

            Moving quickly, Dembe climbed onto the air conditioning again and watched as Solnik approached Raymond.  His steps loudly echoing through the abandoned broken down the church. 

            “I should just kill you now and cut my losses,”  Solnik said aiming his gun at Red, who finally opened his eyes.  Solnik was a bit blurry in Red’s vision. 

            Dembe pulled his gun and aimed it at Solnik through the gap of the window but waited to pull the trigger.  He doubted he could hit the man given the obstacles in the way, and how he had to aim, but if he had to Dembe would fire his weapon in hopes of distracting Solnik long enough to allow him to get a clean shot on him before Solnik shot Reddington.

            “How’s the head?”  Solnik asked sarcastically, “Looks like it hurts.”  He pressed the gun to Red’s head, “How long do you think we have until your people track you?”

            Red just looked up the man clearly annoyed.  Red was displeased because he was unable to respond because of the tape on his mouth.  He had a lot to say to Solnik, but the words would go unsaid. 

            Solnik pulled the gun back, wiping it on Red’s shirt to get any blood off the barrel from where Solnik had pressed into his head. 

            Dembe let out a breath when Solnik holstered the weapon and walked away from Red.

            Red though never one to sit quietly and make things easy tried to talk through the tape. 

            Solnik approached him and pulled the tape back, “What was that?”

            Red used what strength he had, and swung his restrained legs up into Solniks thigh, as Solnik had moved to shield himself from being hit in the groin.

            Solnik grunted in pain and stepped back, rubbing his thigh, it would bruise, and Red’s kick had hurt. 

            Red was talking, but Dembe could not hear him.  

            Solnik ended the conversation when he lashed out with his foot, connecting with Red’s abdomen, sending the man smashing into the pew behind him, and a second kick to the chest silenced Red who’s mouth opened in a silent scream, reminding Dembe of Edvard Munch’s The Scream. 

            Solnik replaced the tape on Red’s mouth while the other still struggled to draw a breath.  He then lashed out a second time stamping on Red’s thigh, causing the unshed tears in Red’s eyes to stream down his face.  Another scream muffled by the tape.  A second stamp on the leg and Solnik walked away rubbing his own thigh. 

            Dembe climbed down from the air conditioner and made his way back to Elizabeth.  Anger causing his blood to pump faster through his veins.  They needed to rescue Raymond soon before Solnik got tired of waiting for whoever was coming, and before whoever was coming arrived. 

Chapter Text

            “Where is Dembe?”  Ressler asked when he and Samar pulled up to where Liz was standing by the side of the road. Samar still did not trust Ressler, but she knew they needed all hands-on deck.  Red’s forces were depleted.  It was why Aram came along, though he would wait by the cars.

            “Checking to see if they are here,”  Liz responded noticing there was tension between Samar and Ressler. Well more tension than there had been of late.

            As if on cue, Dembe came back everyone trying to read him, but no one knowing exactly what Dembe had seen.  The man was virtually unreadable. 

            “Raymond is inside, and Solnik is waiting for someone.  There may be others.”  Dembe said.  “I do not think we can wait for the backup team to show up.”

            “How are we going to do this?”  Liz asked.

            “We will need to take Solnik out when we enter the building.  Raymond is secured so that he will be unable to move for cover. Solnik will not hesitate to kill him.”  Dembe responded, “I think it best if we take both sides.  Elizabeth and I through the front, and Agent Ressler and Navabi through the back door.”  Dembe had contemplated this, the front door he knew would give him the quickest access to Solnik and Red.  He was unable to scope out the back door, but he knew it was not in direct view of where Red was. The downside was that he and Liz would have to wait for Ressler and Samar to get in place.  The chance those two could tip off Solnik was small but a possibility.  Dembe also contemplated sending Elizabeth and Ressler to the back, so that Liz would be out of danger, but two reasons against that idea.  The first was he knew Samar would have similar training as he had in sneaking into places, and she would help keep Reslser quiet, whereas Elizabeth would like just go right in and possibly screw up the plan in her eagerness to get to Raymond.  The second reason was that he wanted to be able to protect Elizabeth, and that meant having her with him.  It gave him the most control to ensure her safety. 

            “Sounds good to me,” Samar said.

            Aram spoke up, “here are some coms for everyone.”  He handed Dembe and Liz each an earpiece, “I can feed you real time information as you enter.  I almost have a satellite overhead. Just a few more minutes.”  Aram checked his laptop to ensure he was giving them an accurate time.

            “Let’s go,”  Liz said eager to get to Reddington.  She was worried about him, especially given Dembe’s reluctance to wait for backup.  It hinted that Red might be injured enough to require immediate extraction.  Either way, she wanted him out of danger.  She felt a strong desire to ensure his safety, and it scared her to think of what Solnik has done or will do to him.  The fear was as intense as she felt when Zumani had stabbed Tom.  Right now she could not ask herself why she always felt that same level of concern when Red was in danger, or why she always felt the need to protect him, despite her anger towards him.

======================

            The Dark-Haired man was well on his way home when he received a coded text message.  It meant his Reddington informant wanted to contact him. They had a particular schedule, and the informant had missed multiple previous appointments.  The Dark-Haired man began to wonder if Reddington had figured out there was an informant, or if the informant had chosen to not work for their side anymore. 

            Pulling over at a rest stop, he grabbed the burner phone out of his glove compartment box.  It was a clean phone; he could make contact with it and not have it traced back to him.

            When the informant answered the phone the dark hair man demanded, “Why have you missed our scheduled contact times?”

            “I have been busy.”  The voice on the other end of the line stated, “I do not have information on Red right now.  He has been distant recently and not open about his operations yet.”

            “Where are you?”

            “Close enough to know that your man has Red.”  The voice on the line stated.

            “Well, that plan has backfired.”  The Dark-Haired man said, “The FBI have found him somehow.  Do you know if he has a tracker?”  Thinking it highly improbable, and willing to rule it out when the hacker had suggested it, the Dark-Haired man asked simply to ensure he was correct in ruling out the possibility.

            “I’ve seen nor heard any evidence of a tracker.” 

            “We need to be careful.  Just in case you are blown.  I doubt it, but for awhile you need to be more distant while we regroup.”

            “You said you wouldn’t kill him.”

            “I had no plan of killing him, but he is making a nuisance of himself and his recent actions have made it difficult for me to justify to the partners that he should be left unchecked.  They wanted him dead, to ensure, he does not kill other innocent people in his current state of uninhibited violence.”  It was a lie, but the informant needed their hand held through this process.  They would never agree to have Reddington killed, but the Dark-Haired man would stop short of nothing less. 

            “Tell them to give me time.  I am confident I can talk him back to playing in his court.”  The voice on the other line requested.

            “I will do what I can.  If he survives this failed plan, then we will have to come up with a different way of getting him off the streets and back on the path.” 

            “I do not think he is past the point of no return. I just need more time.” 

            “I am trying to get you that time.  I cannot help what the partners want.”  The dark haired man was lying, but the voice on the other end of the line was not in contact with the partners in the organization, except his mentor the grey-haired lady.  She would never give up his plans to anyone inside the organization or the informant.  She detested the informant for being so weak, but in time of war, you had to make do with what you could get. 

=========

            Red was in agony, pure agony, as he sat on the floor his legs before him.  The leg Solnik had stomped on radiated pain, and his headache was trying to out pain that pain. His stomach hurt, and not just from withdrawal, and he was confident he had a nasty bruise on his chest and stomach. Luckily, he thought bitterly; he did not have any broken or bruised ribs, they were just tender right now. 

            The Calvary may not be coming, but neither was the person who hired Solnik to kill him.  This was going to end badly if the Calvary did not arrive.  Solnik would shot him soon, and call it a day.  Leave his corpse to rot in the abandoned church.  Red had to give him credit for the irony.  He was a monster, a devil, and not only would he die in a church, but it happened to be the church he had turned his back on in his late teens.  But the most ironic of all was that his corpse would slowly rot in the church until some juvenile delinquent stumbled upon his rotting corpse.

            Solnik was agitated and pacing back and forth in the back of the open church room.  He kept glancing at his watch, then at Reddington who remained quiet struggling to get enough oxygen in through his stuffy nose.

            Both men looked in the same direction when the barely audible sound of the door opening in the back reached their ears.  Both were trained to listen for the barely audible sound because it often meant danger.  Red assumed it was the person who hired Solnik finally arriving, and Solnik knew better of it because the man in the sky disappeared from the earpiece, meaning the mission was blown in some way.  He should have followed his initial gut reaction to shot Reddington and leave, but he had spent the last few minutes figuring out if he should just take Reddington with him and hold up somewhere and try to contact the employer later.  It was greed and the desire to be free of the organization that kept him here this long debating.  He knew he was about ready to pay for it.

            In a few quick steps, he was on Reddington.  Pulling out a knife, he quickly cut the zip tie holding Red’s arms to the pew and then the ties around his ankles.  Dragging Red up to his unstable feet, Solnik realized he was much taller than Reddington, and it would require some work to ensure Reddington shielded him from the impending danger.  Dragging Red with him, Solnik wedged himself in the corner between the wall and the confessional.  It would give the incoming tact team trouble finding the position that would provide them with a clean shot, even with Solniks height difference.  He held Red around the neck dragging him up onto his tiptoes, pressing his gun into Red’s temple.  He could use Red as a bargaining chip to get out of here, or at least die to try. 

            The firm arm around his neck was strangling Red.  He had to struggle to stay on his feet, his right leg refused to hold his weight, and it is hard to balance his weight on one leg while struggling to stay up high enough so that Solnik was not strangling him. 

            “Whoever is here show yourself now or I’m afraid Raymond will not be with us much longer,”  Solnik yelled out, his voice echoing in the church.

            Dembe heard it from the front door and cursed under his breath.  He should have had the others go through the front. 

            Solnik caught sight of Liz through one of the windows in the front of the church and frowned; they had him surrounded.  How did he miss the arrival of an entire fucking team? 

            “I see you.”  He said, “In the window, come through the front door, or I’m going to put a bullet in Raymond’s leg.” 

            Dembe looked over and saw that the top of Liz’s head was just above the window sill.   Opening the door, Dembe walked in his gun trained on Solnik who was doing a good job of staying behind Raymond, and securing himself partially behind a confessional. 

            “We have you surrounded.”  Dembe said, “Let him go and we can make a deal.”

            “Raymond is never going to let me walk out of here alive,”  Solnik responded turning his gaze from Dembe to the two others who emerged from the back room yelling for him to drop his gun.

            “Raymond does not look like he’s able to make demands.”  Dembe answered, “I can make the decision to let you walk out of here.  I cannot promise he won’t hunt you down and kill you, but at least you’ll have a fighting chance.”

            Red tried to protest, but his taped mouth and the arm cutting off his oxygen was limiting his ability to make a sound.

            “But he has to be alive for you to walk out of here.”  Dembe said his voice was showing no emotion; it was so dead that it sent chills down Lizzie’s spine, “By the looks of it, Raymond is a few minutes from passing out.  You are strangling him with your arm.”

            Solnik looked down and saw that in fact, Raymond’s face was turning red.  Pulling tightly he dragged Red back up to his feet he knew there were two more people coming through the back door, “All the more reason these two need to walk over to you all and drop their guns along the way.”

            “We can’t do that,”  Samar said trying to get an angle where she could get a clean shot on Solnik without hitting Reddington. 

            “Then what we have here is an impasse.”  Solnik said, “I have all the time in the world, but I don’t think Reddington does.”  Solnik said moving further back to shield himself. 

            Liz watched in horror as the scene quickly played out before her eyes.  Solnik moved his arm from around Red’s neck, so quick no one had time to process it, and then the hand returned the metal of a knife glinting in the lantern light.  Solnik slammed the knife into Reddington’s thigh, twisting it once it was inside the meaty flesh. 

            Red’s muffled screamed was snuffed out when Solniks arm returned holding him tightly around his neck, leaving the knife in Red’s thigh.  Blood was already dripping down Red’s leg.  He felt woozy, and his heart raced in fear that Solnik had severed his femoral artery. 

            Dembe had fired but missed his both men, that is what caused Solnik to twist the knife, as revenge for firing on him. 

            “Now we have a time clock on our impasse.  I figured we got five minutes before Raymond passes out, and at that point, I’ll have to kill him.” 

            “You son of a bitch,”  Liz shouted starting to approach Solnik, Dembe tried to grab her but couldn’t stop. 

            Closer to Solnik Liz was a sitting duck he could shoot her where she stood from his location with ease. 

            “This is the girl you care about right Raymond?”  Solnik said into Red’s ear, “She’s got some balls I can give you that.  Back of miss or I’m going to have to kill you just to get to him.” 

            Red started to struggle in Solniks arms.  He seemed to scream no, but it was hard to hear him through the tapped mouth, and his hoarse voice. 

            “What was that Raymond?”  Solnik asked using his hand from the arm around Raymond’s neck to pull back the tape.

            “Let him out of here,”  Red said struggling to keep on his feet; both legs were trembling in pain.

            Dembe nodded, “Ok.  You heard him.” 

            Solnik smiled, “That was easy.  If you two would not mind joining Dembe and Elizabeth, drop your guns along the way onto the altar there.”

            “We cannot relinquish our weapons.”  Ressler said, “We will holster them, but we cannot set them down.”

            “Is Raymond’s and Elizabeth’s life worth that technicality.”

            Ressler glared at the man if it had just been Reddington’s life Ressler would have pushed the point, but Liz had to go and screw up.  Ressler dropped his gun on the alter and did Samar. 

            “Now Agent Keen drop your gun on the ground and step back, with your hands up.” 

            Liz did as she was ordered moving back towards Dembe.

            “Dembe, grab Elizabeth’s gun and bring it up front here for me,”  Solnik said struggling to keep hold of Red who seemed to go dead in his arms, the man was still conscious but clearly unable to stay standing. 

            Dembe grabbed Lizzie's gun and walked to the alter dropping it.

            “Yours as well Dembe.” 

            Dembe set his gun down and looked at his friend who was pale, blood covered the front of Red’s trousers. 

            “OK step back towards the others please.”

            Red blinked slowly looking at Dembe, as Dembe moved back away from him. 

            Solnik moved out from his spot as soon as he felt Dembe was at a comfortable distance, “Well it’s been fun.”

            Solnik kept his back to the rear entrance slowly moving backward towards it keeping his gun trained on Red.

            Dembe waited for the perfect moment, and it came when Solnik glanced behind him to ensure they were on track to reach the doorway.  Dembe rapid movement was caught just in time for Solnik to move his finger from the trigger guard to the trigger, anyone trained on firearms would tell you that you always kept your finger on the trigger guard when moving and not firing to ensure you did not accidently apply pressure to the trigger.  At the same time, Red saw Dembes movement and used what little energy he had left to raise himself up, smashing his head into Solnik’s face as he pushed back against the man to break his grip. 

            The sound of multiple shots filled the old abandoned church, and everyone watched in horror as both Raymond and Solnik collapsed to the ground at the same time. 

            Liz stood frozen for a second before she found herself rushing to Reddington who was laying unusually still on the ground.

            Dembe was in front of her and already advancing on Solnik, aiming so that he could fire again if necessary, but he was confident he had killed Solnik. 

 

Chapter Text

When Liz got to Reddington his eyes were squeezed shut, the backup tactical team, Red’s stood in the doorway weapons aimed at Solnik.

            “He’s dead,”  Dembe said referring to Solnik who’s pulse he just checked.  Solnik had two bullet holes, one in the middle of his forehead, and the other went through his neck.  Both Dembe and one of the tactical team members had fired as Red made his move, Dembe getting Solnik in the head, while the tact team member had been unable to adjust his aim in time and got Solnik in the neck.

            “Reddington,”  Lizzie said searching his body for any signs of bullet wounds.

            “Lizzie.”  He croaked his voice rougher than usual. “Don’t touch the knife.”

            Liz frowned and looked down at the knife in Red’s leg. 

            Dembe was kneeling down next to Red checking his leg wound. 

“It’s Dembe touching it,”  Liz said worried that Red seemed to not be cognizant enough to know she had her hands on his chest searching for the wound.

“Oh,”  Red said struggling to draw a breath in. Between pants, Red asked,  “Dembe I …need …you …to free… my …hands.”

“In a moment Raymond,”  Dembe said checking the leg wound, it looked as if Solnik had missed the artery, but the knife was close enough to make him worry about pulling it out without someone holding Reddington down to ensure he didn’t move during the removal.

“Agent Ressler and Navibi, I need you to come hold him down.”  Dembe said, “Raymond I need to pull the knife out, it is close to your federal artery, but has not severed it yet.”

Red knew what Dembe wanted to do, this was going to hurt.  He knew better than to promise he would stay still when Dembe removed it.  “Do it.”

Dembe pulled his belt off, wrapping it around Raymond’s thigh just above the knife wound.  “Elizabeth help them.”

Ressler held Raymond's legs down, while Samar and Liz held his torso. 

Dembe knew better than to warn Red, and so he just nodded his head at the agents and then pulled the knife out slowly.  Blood began to freely flow out of Red’s leg, but the belt seemed to be working as a tourniquet slowing the blood flow some. 

“Son of a bitch.”  Red groaned proud that he avoided screaming in pain.  He already had shown weakness in front of the FBI agents screaming in pain when Solnik had stabbed him and then turned the knife.

“Elizabeth applies pressure please,”  Dembe said, a tactical team member offering up gauze pads for them to use. 

“Raymond I need to turn you on your side to cut the ties.  How are your chest and abdomen?”

“Nothing is broken.  Just tender.”  Red said grunting when Liz pressed down on his leg.

Dembe turned Red, holding him up with one hand and the help of Ressler and Samar.  Dembe cut the zip ties around Red’s hands, noting the deep bruising and cuts.  Nothing life threatening but it would be painful, especially for the next few minutes when blood flow was restored to Red’s hands. 

Dembe moved to slice away Red’s pant leg getting a glare from his friend who was rubbing his wrist.

Red asked,  “Was that necessary.”

“Yes.” Dembe said smiling at him, “I need to dress this until we get you to a doctor.”

Rolling his eyes, Red let Dembe do his work.  Reds theatric had Liz convinced he was going to be ok. 

Once Dembe had the wound packed and wrapped tightly, he helped Raymond sit up.  Then helped his friend to his feet, Red was unsteady at first, and Dembe kept a grip on Red’s elbow to provide extra stability. Dembe knew Red would want to walk out of this place on his own accord to show he was not weak.  It would be a waste of effort to try to stop him.  Therefore, Dembe stayed near him as Raymond made his way out of the building, albeit slower than usual.  Each step was agonizing, the knife wound burned, and his other thigh ached. 

“Wait here while I go get the car,”  Dembe said once Red got outside.

Liz, Ressler, and Samara stood around Reddington. 

Samar was the first to speak, “I assume your people are disposing of Solnik, and this never happened.”

“You would assume correctly,”  Red said rubbing his hands to dull the pins and needles pain from the restoration of blood flow. 

“Then I guess we are done here,”  Samar said glaring at Ressler who was about ready to speak up and argue with Red.  “You need to get to a doctor, and we need to update Director Cooper.”

“I’m going to stay with him.”  Liz said, “Tell Cooper I’ll write my report tomorrow.”

“What about Agnes Liz?”  Red said not wanting Lizzie with him.  He wanted to yell at her right now for advancing on Solnik, making the situation much worse than it had been. 

            “She is with Charlene.”          

            “Wouldn’t you like to get home to see her?”  Red was doing his best to rid himself of her.  He did not have the energy to argue with her.

            “I will try once I am sure you are OK.”  She said, “It’s my job, after all, you are a valuable informant.”  She knew she should not have added the second part, but she really had no reason to need to know he was OK.  That he got the medical treatment he needed and listened to the doctor.  At least no good reason to, other than she had cared for him, but she refused to acknowledge that in front of Samar and Ressler.

            Dembe pulled up ending any debate about Liz coming with as she just walked over the passenger side of the SUV and climbed into the back.

            Red made his way to the closest side of the SUV, driver side rear door.  He slowly climbed in, using his arms to pull himself up causing the bruise on his abdomen to flare up with pain.

            “I already called the on call doctor, and she will meet us at the safe house.”

             Red frowned looking at Lizzie. Unable to contain his anger at her anymore now that the adrenalin was wearing off, and he feeling every bit of pain, “What was that back there.”

            “You mean me saving your life.”

            “No, I saw you moving out of cover when Solnik stabbed me.”

            “I was trying to get a better angle on him before he killed you,”  Liz said her anger matching Reds.

            “Putting yourself in danger and making the situation all that much worse.”  Red said, “Is that FBI training 101?”

            “It worked.”  Liz said, “You are alive.”

            “Because I made Dembe cave into him.  Not because of your inexperienced move that could have gotten you killed.  I told you Solnik went after the people closest to his targets to ensure he was able to complete his mission. And you played right into his hands.”

            “It worked didn’t it,”  Liz said trying to calm herself as she saw Red was upset enough his body was shaking.

 “Dembe can you turn the heat up please.”  She was sure he was going into shock.

Dembe turned the heat up, despite it being warm already in the car. 

“We can keep yelling at each other, or you can just relax until we get to the safe house and you get treatment,”  Liz said seeing Red’s rage in the light of the moon.  He looked a mess with half his face and neck covered in blood from a wound on the top of his head. 

Red leaned back into the seat, he wanted to keep yelling at her, but he honestly did not have the strength, and it felt like his head was going to implode upon itself.  His voice was much softer when he spoke again,  “Lizzie you have to think about Agnes.  You cannot keep putting yourself in danger.” 

“How did he get to you?” 

“Not now.”  Red said feeling the nausea return when it became apparent he was going to be sick again Red ordered, “Dembe stop the car.”

Dembe stopped the car, jumping out and opening the back door.  He grabbed his friend's shoulders to keep him from tumbling to the ground.  Red vomited onto the ground below doing his best to avoid Dembe shoes. Arguing with Lizzie was not the wisest thing to do with the concussion and pain he was in, and he knew it, but he could not stop himself.  She seemed to do the opposite of whatever he wanted her to do just to spite him.  

After a few dry heaves, Red sat back up, “Thank you.”  He spoke to Dembe who offered him a bottle of water.

“Are you ok?” Lizzie asked fear in her voice again.

“Yes.”  Red said, “Concussion from when he knocked me out.” 

“You should go to the hospital for a scan.” Liz's voice ratcheted up a few decibels making Red’s head ache more.

“If the doctor believes I need a scan, she will have me go to the clinic.  Till then, please let’s just enjoy the ride.”  Red took another sip of the cool water. 

When he closed his eyes, he felt Lizzie grab his hand, her voice softened, “You probably shouldn’t sleep.”

Red opened his eyes and turned his head, “I’m fine.  This is nothing.  I’ve had worse.”

“I know, but it doesn’t make it ok.”  She said holding his hand and surprised when he did not pull it back.  He had limited his contact with her ever since she came back from faking her death.  But he seemed to let her comfort her.  “Do you want me to call Anna to let her know you are ok?”

“Not tonight.”  Red said, “She’s probably sleeping already.”

Despite Liz’s distaste for the woman, she knew Red cared about her, and for tonight that would be enough, “If someone I cared about were in danger, I would want to know when it’s over.”

“Fine.  Dembe gives me a phone.”  Red said giving in only because of the sincerity in Liz’s voice.  Maybe she was warming up to Anna, after all, that would make his life easier in the long run. 

Anna answered on the third ring, “Hello?”

Red joked so that she would not know he was injured, “Do you always respond to the phone when strange numbers call you in the wee hours of the morning.”

“I do when my boyfriend is a wanted criminal who has an assassin after him.”  Anna quipped back, “Are you ok?  You sound like you are in pain.”

“Peachy.”  Red answered, “So I’m your boyfriend.”  HE saw a look of disgust on Lizzie's face, well she asked him to call Anna.  “Makes me feel like a teenager again.”

“Manfriend seems wrong.”  Anna said, “So yes boyfriend.  But you did not answer my question.”

“I’m fine.”  Red said, “A few bumps and bruises, nothing to worry about.”

“Does this mean you took care of the danger?”

“Yes.”

“Good.”  Anna said, “I don’t think I can come back to DC right away though.”

“Oh,”  Red said surprised by her statement.

“I got a call tonight, and I’m needed overseas for a few weeks.  Are you sure you are ok?  I can postpone or get someone else to handle it.”

“If you could do that you would have already.”  Red said, “I’ll be okay.  You go take care of your business, and if there is anything I can do to help.”

“I will let you know,”  Anna said.

“If you wish to take my plane wherever you are going, and I prefer you take Baz with you.  Just in case there are residual issues.”

“I have my own security team were I’m going, and I think Baz is upset you sent him away with me.”  Anna said, “I already have a first class ticket booked for a flight leaving tomorrow.”

Red was surprised she already had made plans, despite his insistence she was in danger.  Why did the women in his life run towards danger?  

“Call me when you land?”  He asked.

“You mean call Dembe because you better be resting.  You sound horrible Ray.”  Anna said, “Maybe I should postpone.”

“I’m fine.  Ask Dembe.”  Red held the phone for Dembe to speak when he didn’t Red glared at him, “Fine ask Lizzie.”

Lizzie was all too happy to lie to Anna because she found the woman’s behavior suspect.  When Tom had been injured Lizzie put everything off to make sure he was ok.  Anna was already planning on flying to another country when Red had an assassin after him. 

            “He will be okay after a few days of rest,”  Liz said.

            “See.  She’s an FBI agent it goes against her very nature to lie to people.”

            “Fine.  But I want to hear from you after you see a doctor.”

            “Yes, ma’am.”  Red said, “Be safe wherever you are going.”

            “I will.”  Anna said, “You listen to the doctor and give yourself time to recover.  I expect you back to full health when I get back.  I have some naughty things planned for you.”

            “I cannot wait.”  Red said, “Now get some rest.”  In truth Red had little energy left to keep the charade up, he was actually exhausted, and the pain was intensifying.  He knew it was a mental thing, he needed a fix. 

            “See you later Ray,”  Anna said hanging up the phone.

            Red handed the phone back to Dembe and then leaned back in the seat, resting his head on the headrest.  Liz for once was actually silent, from the looks he had seen on her face he expected her to say something the second he hung the phone up.  But to her credit, she just watched him as he rested. 

==================

            Liz had stayed with Red until the doctor kicked her out of his bedroom at his new safehouse.  She waited until the doctor came out with orders that Red rest for the next two weeks.  Rest included minimum cognitive activity due to a severe concussion.  The doctor had none of Liz’s questions about Red’s other injuries and left with acknowledgment she would return for a follow-up the following day. 

For now Red was resting comfortably, and she had skipped ahead and gave him morphine despite the concussion.  She did not explain to them that she choose to give him the drug because it was better than providing him with a dose of heroin.  She had seen the track marks on his arm, there were only a couple, but it was enough in conjunction with some of his symptoms that she was able to deduce that he had an issue with heroin and was entering the early stages of withdrawal.  Many of her patients on the other side of the law had similar limitations, and she was not one to judge as long as she got paid. 

With the doctor gone Liz let herself into Red’s room.  Dembe was already inside updating him on relevant news. 

“Baz’s team member would like to speak with you,”  Dembe informed him she had been the only one who had not been with Red at the safehouse.  She had not taken the news of her team's death lightly.  “Make sure that all of the dead men's families are well taken care of, and their burials are paid for.”

Dembe nodded already having set all of that into motion. 

“Send in Sheryl, right?”  Red asked his brain foggy from the morphine which he was grateful for, and the concussion.

“Yes,”  Dembe confirmed the girl's name turning to see Liz in the doorway.

Red looked where Dembe’s eyes had settled, “Lizzie, you are still here?”

“I just wanted to check in and make sure you were ok before I left to go get Agnes.”

“Will you be returning?”

“If you do not mind.”  Liz said, “I can return home tomorrow.  I have the line on a car, thanks to Baz.”

“A friend of a friend deal,”  Red said stifling a yawn, the pain had receded with the morphine in his system, and it was enough to hold off the pains of withdrawal too. 

After an awkward moment of silence, Red spoke again, “As you can see I am fine.” 

“I’ll tell Cooper it will be a few weeks before you are mobile and can give us the next blacklister.”

“Nonsense.  I’ll be right as rain in a few days.”

“The doctor ordered bed rest.   You shouldn’t mess around with severe concussions Red.” 

“Oh excuse me.  Dembe said to come back.”

“No Sheryl come on in, Lizzie and I were just finishing our discussion.” 

Liz knew she was being dismissed and she needed to get to Agnes anyways.  After the night she had she really just wanted to hold her baby girl in her arms. 

Sheryl waited for Lizzie to leave before she fully entered the room, “I’m sorry Mr. Reddington to disturb you when you are resting.”

“Nonsense Sheryl.  I regret the fact about your team members.  I will make sure their families are taken care of, I know in no way does it compensate for the loss, nor will the revenge I seek for them.”

            Sheryl nodded her response, she seemed a bit nervous to be around Reddington, “That is not why I came to speak with you.”

            “Then what can I do for you?”

            “The reason I wasn’t with the team earlier was that I had a bit of a family emergency.  My sister got news that she has terminal cancer, a brain tumor that is inoperable.” 

            “I thought you were an only child.”

            “You of all people I would think would understand that not all relatives have to be blood relatives.  She was my best friend growing up, and her family took me in when my parents died in the plane crash.” 

            “I’m sorry.  You must understand my position.”

            “I do.”  Sheryl said, “Baz warned me you did an extensive background on everyone that worked with him.”

            “You should know you came highly recommended by him.”

            “Well, he is a good mentor.  Helped me when I was transitioning out of my joint army-CIA post.” 

            “I am guessing you are asking if you can take a leave of absence,”  Red said cutting to the chase because he was tired and he knew Dembe would listen to the damn doctor and wake him every couple of hours, so he better sleep while he could.

            “Yes.  I know it’s a bad time with the two teams being taken out, but I was hoping you might understand.  I know I’m new still and it’s asking a lot, but…”

            “I do understand, and you are not asking too much. I mean it too, when I say, if you need any help, including finical help, or even getting access to the best doctors, do not hesitate to ask.” 

            “Thank you, Mr. Reddington.”  Sheryl said, “I am grateful.  It should only be a few weeks.  She doesn’t have that much longer left.”

            “Take as much time as you need.  Your position will be waiting for you when you get back.”  Red answered.

            Sheryl left thanking him again before exiting the room.  The next person to enter was Dembe, “You rest now.”  Dembe said turning the bedside lamp on the lowest setting before taking his seat in the chair next to Reds bed.

            “Is it necessary you stay in here with me?”  Red asked, annoyed at all of this unwanted attention. 

            “Yes.  The doctor was worried about your breathing on the morphine is given your injuries.”

            “Will you at least let me sleep through the every few hour checks.”

            “Nope.”

            “Make sure Lizzie get settled when she shows back up,”  Red said yawning again.

            “Already have her room set up.  Now rest.” 

            Red closed his eyes and found it was rather easy to drift off to sleep, thanks to the morphine.

================

It was late when Lizzie left Red’s safe house, she decided to call Director Cooper's cell phone directly to see if the trip into the office was required or if she could just meet him at his house when she went to pick up Agnes.

            “Agent Keen is everything ok with Reddington?”  Director Coopers greeted her with a question.

            “Um Yes.  Sorry, I was just wondering if it was possible to meet you at your house when I picked up Agnes.  It’s late, and I’d rather get home with her sooner rather than later.”

            “Of course.  I already have gone home for the night.”  Cooper said, “I already told the others, but I will be leaving for a couple of weeks.  I have been ordered to attend joint meetings with the Interpol.”

            “Oh ok.”  Lizzie said, “Reddington will be out of commission for a few weeks anyways.”

            “Agent Ressler will take over while I’m gone, and already has a few cases the FBI would like us to clear up if possible.”  Cooper said, “Charlene is going to travel with me since the meetings are in the UK.”

            Great, Liz thought, her most reliable babysitter was leaving too.  “I hope you all enjoy the trip.”

            “I’m sure we will.”  Cooper said, “I’ll see you when you get here.”

======================

            Finally home, the Dark Haired Man switched the sim card in his drop phone, a simple, cheap flip phone.  From memory, he dialed the number of one of the members of the organization.  Today had been trying.  He had been so close to having his revenge finally. 

            A female voice answered on the other line, “Let me guess, he weaseled out of it.” 

            “Yes.”  The Dark-Haired Man said, “Is that and I told you so.”

            “Sort of.”  The woman’s on the other end responded.  “Besides this little extra activity, is everything else in place?”

            “Yes.”  The Dark-Haired Man responded to the woman who was a mentor of sorts for him.  “I already got into motion the next plan.  We just have to wait a few weeks before we can activate it. Our person close to Reddington needs to leave for a few weeks.”

            “Good.”  The woman answered, “I did warn you it will be difficult to take Ray down.  The man is a survivor.”

            Annoyed because he had heard this a thousand times from her, he often wondered if she had feelings for Reddington, “I know he lost his family, friends, life, and everything multiple times and always comes back swinging.”

            “He took down the cabal.  No one thought that was possible.”  The woman warned, “I just don’t want you to end up like your father.”

            “I know.”  He said feeling the pit of rage in his stomach, he had learned from an early age to push it down, to keep it in a box, he would let it out later.  “How are you doing?”

            “I’m fine.”  She responded, “Do not worry about me.  Are the other partners in line?”

            “Yes.”  The Dark-Haired man responded, “They do not know about today's failed attempt.”

            “As they shouldn’t.  One of them is an old friend of Ray's.  Very likely would warn him if he was in danger.  We don’t want that.”

            “Nasty business between them.”  The Dark-Haired man responded, “You were right that we could exploit it.”

            “Ray has a way of dealing with those who he thinks crossed him, and he is often callous and severe.  It leaves hard feelings.”

            “Your strategy seems to be working.”  The Dark-Haired man stated, “The FBI and the AG are becoming increasingly annoyed with Reddington’s hidden motives.  The Assistant Director has been limiting Reddington’s power, as much as he can.” 

            “I am meeting with him again.”  The woman on the line smiled, “He agreed to meet with me when he’s in town.  I believe the AG will be there too.  I will get them questioning him more.  There are a few strings to pull yet.”

            “I know this is none of my business, but you and Reddington have a history together that...”

            She interrupted him, “That was not that bad, so why am I doing this?”

            “Yes.”

            “Those are my motives, for me to know.  Maybe when we are celebrating his downfall, I will tell you.”

            “But you don’t care if he lives or dies.”

            “That’s correct, he can rot in prison or die, either option works.”

            “You would be just as content if he retired and moved away.”

            “That would work too.”

            “So why?”

            “Again, maybe after we have finished I may let you know why.”  With that statement, the Grey-Haired Lady closed her phone ending the call. 

            The Dark-Haired man had another ace up his sleeve, one that he kept close so as to not let anyone else know about his secret weapon against Reddington.  Dailing the secret weapon’s number, he waited tapped his fingers while he waited for her to answer.

            “What do you want now?”  The annoyed woman’s voice came over the phone.  She was not happy with their arrangement, the Dark-Haired man knew this, but he didn’t care.  Kate Kaplan needed him right now to help protect her from Raymond Reddington.

            “Where are you?”  In his last call, Kaplan had refused to tell him her location.  Sighting that she was safe as long as Red could not find her.  He put up with her because her knowledge of Raymond Reddington’s empire was valuable and would allow for a smooth transition after the takeover.  She also happens to know Raymond’s weaknesses, though those were less helpful.  The Grey-Haired Woman and others in the Organization would not let him use Raymond’s weaknesses against him.  The woman and baby were safe for now.

            “They are fine.  What do you want?”

            “I need something other than Elizabeth Keen and her daughter I can use against Reddington.”

            “I told you I do not know of any other weaknesses.  In the past, I would have said Dembe, but after she shot me, I cannot be so sure he would not let the same happen to Dembe.  The only thing Raymond cares about right now is Elizabeth and Agnes.” 

            “What about his operations?  Do you have any more information on what he has been up too?  He has not been traveling much.”

            Kate closed her eyes, she did not want to share this information, but she needed to stay on the Dark-Haired man’s good side, “My source inside of Raymond’s organization told me he is addicted to heroin.  That is why he is not traveling as much, he spends many of afternoons stoned.”   Raymond would never forgive her if she gave them Anna.  The source had told Kate Anna was back in Raymond’s life and she would do anything in her power to protect the poor woman.  She did not deserve the pain that would come if the Dark-Haired man had learned that Raymond’s other weakness was Anna.  Kate knew that Elizabeth and Agnes would be safe from the Dark-Haired man because Tom Keen’s father would never want to see either hurt. 

            “Interesting.”  The Dark-Haired man was not sure how he could use that to exploit Reddington.  “Who’s his dealer?”

            “I do not know, and I doubt my source can help me find who.”  Kate paused, “Does this mean your plan failed?”

            “Yes.  Reddington is alive.”

            “You know you could keep him that way.  He is a survivor, he would work with you for the right price.”

            “I already told you the partners don’t want that.” 

            Kate wanted to call BS, but she did not have enough information on the organization yet to be completely confident.  There was one member she had yet to learn the identity of, but she knew it was a woman.  “Did you call me again just to annoy me or is there something else you want?”

            “No that’s all I need, for now.”

=========

            “Agent Ressler come on in.”  Panabaker’s rich southern voice filled the outer office area of her office suite. 

            “Reddington was attacked today.”

            “Did he survive?”

            “Yes.”  Ressler answered, “He knows I’m working with you all.  I need guarantees that he will be taken down.  Not out, but down.”

            “I thought you wanted him dead.”

            “No I want justice.”  Ressler said blown away that the new Attorney General spoke of killing a man simply because he was a criminal.  Not judge, no jury, no trial, just guilty and straight to death penalty.  Was there anyone left who believed in the criminal justice system? 

            “And you will get it.  You just have to keep me informed of what Raymond has you all doing.  Who he has you going after, what information he is trying to get his hands on.”  Panabaker said, “I don’t need to remind you that Reddington has to be stopped.  He already has the taskforce you work for working for him.  Do you really want to continue to be one of his minions?  Because that is what will happen.  While he continues to feed your team morsels, few will want to end his reign as the Concierge of Crime.  The man you meant with last time, has plans in motion to stop his reign, and allow us to do more good.  But we have to make sure Raymond Reddington can not interfere.”

            “We can arrest him.  Anytime we want really.  All it takes is having him meet with Agent Keen.”  Ressler said, “He would be a much better asset if we put him under control.  We had him under control at the start of the deal.  In prison where he belonged, and he fed us information.  He will do that now, especially now, because he does not want to leave Agent Keens life.” 

 

Chapter Text

            The world for Raymond Reddington had been quiet over the week he allowed himself to recover.  Technically, it was the week that Dembe and Lizzie, confined him to minimum work until the doctor finally declared him fit enough.  Lizzie had employed an especially devious method by asking him and Dembe to help take care of Agnes and even admitted that she would likely need help hiring a nanny for future use.  She loathed the idea of another person helping her, but she needed to have childcare when she could not be there. 

            The presences of Agnes in his life had been enough to make Red more cooperative than he had been in the past when he was sick or injured.  Dembe was grateful.  It also helped that Red and Anna spoke on the phone most nights and that seemed to have a calming effect on Red. 

            The morphine he was on initially helped lessen the cravings, but as they were weaning him off it, he realized he needed more.  The constant absence of any pain thanks to the morphine for the first few days he was recovering had acerbated his addiction. As soon as he was off the morphine, he switched back to heroin, and this time the space between doses had shortened to an almost unmanageable level.  Each time he promised himself he would wait longer between treatments.  But the lack of being allowed to work, the infants cries that went right to the core of his sore brain, and his own self-loathing exacerbated by the constant looks of judgement from Dembe and Lizzie, in conjunction with the absences of Anna who made him at least feel human, had given him just enough reasons for his continued unchecked usage of the drug.  The cocaine was helping him stay somewhat straight around Dembe and Lizzie.  It had worked, at least that is what he thought, when he occasionally nodded off, he assumed the two assumed it was his concussion. 

            It was a week before Anna was due back, at least that is what she had promised in their last conversation on the phone the night before.  He missed her, truly missed having her unjudging gaze settle on him and make him feel almost human.  She calmed the demons inside just by looking at him, her touch felt like it made the pain go away.  Without her around it was hard to curb the cravings. 

            Once again alone in his room, he dragged the plunger back on the syringe sucking up the heroin dose for the day from the cotton ball.  His mouth watered and body ached for the feeling of bliss that would come as soon has he injected himself.  He had taken to injecting between his toes and fingers and on his feet where the vein was noticeable without a tourniquet.  The change in injection site was to make it more difficult for Dembe and Lizzie to see the signs of his use.

            Checking the door was closed, he pushed the syringe in between his toes, finding the vein in his barefoot, he pushed the syringe through his skin, savoring the burning sensation as he pushed the syringe plunger down.  Closing his eyes, he dropped back onto the bed, sprawled out.  The world melted away as bliss overtook him. 

==========X=======

            A furious Donald Ressler strode towards the location that Elizabeth had told him Raymond Reddington most likely was calling home for the next 24 hours.  Furious did not describe the emotion Ressler felt, it was an all-encompassing hatred for the Concierge of Crime. 

            “Where the fuck is Reddington?”  Donald snapped at Baz who had answered the door to the hotel suite.

            “Agent Ressler, He’s inside resting.”  A man who Ressler had not seen before answered.

            “I need to talk to him now.”

            “You will have to come back.  Mr. Reddington is resting.”

            Ressler threw a cheap shot, landing squarely in man's solar plexus knocking the wind out of the bodyguard.  Ressler followed up by smashing the butt of his gun into the back of guards head.  After checking the guard's pulse and then securing his hands with his handcuffs, Ressler moved to search for Reddington.

            Starting with the room closest to him, Ressler found it empty.  It meant Red was on the other side of the suite.  Ressler crossed the floor pushing into the other room of the suite.  It was dark inside, finding the light switch the room filled with light.

            Reddington was sprawled on the bed, and Ressler got no reaction when he yelled out Reddington’s name to try to rouse him.

            Walking over to the bed, Ressler studied what looked like a sleeping Reddington.  Within minutes, Ressler realized Reddington was breathing slow and shallowly.  Reddington was breathing once every twenty seconds, so only 3 breaths a minute.  His skin was pale and covered in a fine sheath of sweat.  Reaching out, Ressler checked for a pulse founding that the Reddington's heart rate was less than 60 beats per minute.  The basic training he had received indicated to a drug overdose.  The FBI and local law enforcement agencies had all undergone required heroin overdose training due to the rising epidemic of heroin use in the United States.  Even on the task force, he had been required to attend the training session.

            Trying to remember the training session, Ressler searched the room to find evidence of the needle.  He found one at the foot of the bed on the floor.  There was a kit on the nightstand.  Walking up to it, he looked inside.  He saw a fold out a paper that read in bold red letters, “Respond to an Opioid Overdose.  You can Save a Life!” 

            For a split second, that Ressler would feel guilty about for a long time, he wondered if he should just walk out of the room and leave Reddington to die.  But he couldn’t, so he pulled the fold out paper out and read the instructions. 

Step 1: Shake shoulder

Step 2:  Call their name

He tried both and got no response.

            Step 3:  Inject 1cc of Naloxone into the shoulder or leg muscle.

 

Reading the bottle of the chemical in the kit, it was labeled Naloxone.  Twisting off the top, Ressler grabbed a syringe off the nightstand, a clean one by the looks of it.  He drew 1cc from the vile,  Reddington had the leg wound from Solnik, Ressler remembered, so he opted for the man’s shoulder.  Dragging his coat, vest, and ripping his shirt open, Ressler pushed the needle into the meaty part of Red’s shoulder.

What now?  He thought shaking Red and calling his name to try to rouse him.  After two minutes of no response, Ressler grabbed Reddington, dragging his dead weight off the bed.  He had seen in movies that they often took the overdosing person to the shower with cold water.  He did not remember them talking about it in training, but he knew he could not call an ambulance.  There would be too many questions about an FBI agent hanging around the 4th most wanted criminal, and there was the guard he had attacked out in the living room. 

Getting Red to the shower was difficult, as Red’s deadweight was heavy and Ressler was trying not to harm him worse.  Getting him into the bathtub, Ressler turned the water on freezing cold, turned Red’s head to the side so he wouldn’t drown in the water pouring down on him, and then stood back and waited.

It was another minute and a half before the first deep breath followed by a cough came out of Reddington.  Ressler reached in and turned the water off.  “You with me Reddington?”

Red opened his eyes looking up at a fuzzy Ressler.  Why was he soaking wet in the bathtub freezing cold?  Shivering he moved to stand up, but Ressler stopped him.

“Hey give it a minute.”  Ressler said, “You just overdosed.  I gave you 1cc of Naloxone.  Who should I call?”

Red did not answer but continued to draw breaths into his exhausted body. 

“Hey stay with me,”  Ressler said shaking Red’s shoulder. 

The next time Red tried to stand Ressler moved to help him. 

“Why are you here?”  Red asked his voice sounding weak.

“I came to tell you to go fuck yourself.”  Ressler said, “But I found you barely breathing.”

Red closed his eyes, fuck, he had OD’d.  The carrier had warned him the mix he got was more potent than usual, and he needed to be careful.  Dembe would kill him for sure.

“Let’s get you into the room,”  Ressler said half helping and half dragging Red back to the bedroom.

Once he got Red on the bed, he asked again, “Who can I call to come help you?  You need medical attention.”

“I'll be all right,”  Red said looking at Ressler.  It was an another two minutes of silence between the two before Red spoke, “Why were you coming to tell me to go fuck myself?”

“you paid my brother's medical bills.”

“No.”  Red said rubbing his arm, trying to force himself to take deep breaths, “I did not.  You told me to stay away.”

Ressler studied him, “Someone did, and you were the only one I knew who offered.”

“Was not me Agent Ressler,”  Red said moving to stand up.

“Hey what are you doing?”

“Need to get out of these clothes,”  Red said stumbling a bit as he walked to the closet.

“Maybe you should just sit down.”

“Cannot stand the wet clothes,”  Red said almost dropping, but Ressler grabbed his arm.

“Go sit on the bed, I’ll get you some dry clothes.”  Ressler moved Red back to the bed before going to the closet himself.  Did the man not have comfortable clothes?  Grabbing clean trousers and a clean shirt he returned to Red dropping them on the bed.

“Thank you,”  Red said struggling to pull the wet shirts off.  Ressler had only handed him an undershirt and not a button up, it would do for now.

Ressler moved over to help Reddington, to pull the wet undershirt up over his head.  It was then Ressler saw the extensive scarring on Reddington’s back.  A sharp inhaled from Ressler told Reddington that the FBI agent had seen the damage caused by the fire. 

Ressler for his part did not ask about it, but he made a mental note to update Red’s file to note the extensive scarring.

“You need to tell me who to call.”  Ressler said, “Should I contact Dembe?”

“no,”  Red said getting agitated.  “Leave him out of this.”

“Ok.”  Ressler said, “You probably should have someone watch you for the next ninety minutes.”

“I’m fine Agent Ressler.”  Red said, “It was a one-time stupid decision.”

“What OD’ing or using heroin, that’s what you are on, right?”

Red glared at him, for being almost dead a few minutes ago he had some life in him still.  They had told Ressler at the training that naloxone was fast working, but he had never seen it in action before.  “You can leave.  I did not pay your brothers medical bills.”

“I believe you.”  Ressler said, “But you need someone to check on you.  The naloxone I gave you may not be enough to completely remove the opioid overdose from your blood.  It lasts at max 90 mins, and you could easily fall back into the OD.”

“I will be fine.  Where is the guard anyways?”

“He’s taking a nap,”  Ressler said.

Red saw the look in Ressler's eyes, “Don’t start on the AA bullshit.”

“Wasn’t going to,”  Ressler said wondering if he had been wrong to help Red, maybe he should have let him die.  Sure would fix a lot of problems.  It made working with him that much worse because now Ressler knew he could not trust Red because the drugs would not have him thinking clearly. The question became did he inform Panabaker, the NSA, Cooper, Elizabeth, and/or Dembe or any of them for that matter.

The drugs definitely explained the rash decisions Reddington has been making, but why all of the sudden?  Ressler remembered him discussing his opium addiction, why did he graduate to stronger more addicting drugs? 

“Please don’t tell Agent Keen,”  Red said pulling the dry pants on over his damp boxers. 

“She should know.”

“Donald, please.  It was just this one time.  Do you see any other signs of me having injected heroin before?”  Red knew they weren’t there because he had barely used, it had only been four or five days since he stopped the morphine, and the IV site was still open, but Ressler would know it was from an IV. 

“Not really  no.”  Ressler said, “But I didn’t see where  you injected this one time dose.”

“It was just this once.”  Red said, “I just wanted to rest for a bit.” Red purposely let the desperation sound through his voice, he needed to get Ressler to agree to keep his secret.  Who knew what Dembe and Lizzie’s reaction would be if they found out he was still using and had OD. 

Ressler studied Red again, the man looked ragged and worn out.  “Fine.  I will not tell anyone.  But that still does not change the fact someone needs to sit with you for the next 90 mins.”

Red signed, “I will be all right.”

“Yeah, you keep saying that.”  Ressler offered his hand, “Let’s go out to the living room and watch some TV.

Red made a point to stand on his own, and walk slowly to the living room.  He saw his security guard on the floor unconscious, hands cuffed behind his back.  “I need to hire someone new if you got the drop on him.”

“Give the guy a break.  I doubted he expected an FBI agent to swing on him.”

Red sat on the couch, “Happy  now.”

“I will be if you could give me a name and number of someone who could come sit with you.”

“Call Marvin,”  Red said reciting Marvin’s number for this week. 

Ressler informed the attorney that Red had an episode and would require someone to sit with him for a few hours to make sure he did not have a relapse.  Ressler was purposely vague to keep Red’s secret.  When he finished the call, he sat down next to Red.

“you know I hate you.”

“Yes.”  Red said, “I hear you are trying to get transferred.  Panabaker stopped it.”

“Yeah.”

“What have you told her and the NSA?”

That questioned shocked Ressler, how did Red know about that.  Of course, he knew, the man seemed to know everything.  “Not much.  I don’t have much to tell them.”

“You going to tell them about this.”

“Don’t know yet.”  Ressler said, “I still want a transfer.”

“I understand.”  Red surprised Ressler with his comment. 

“What are you going…”

“Agen Ressler, you are not one of my people, and I fully expected you to run off and tattle at some point.  I’m going to do nothing.  You just better hope your fellow FBI agents never find out.  I don’t think they’d take too kindly to knowing you were spying on them.  What did they promise you?”

“That as soon as the deal with you fell through I’d be allowed to go back to tracking you down and ensuring you stood trial for all of your crimes.”

Red nodded, “What else?”

“A spot in the NSA, if I wanted it.”

“Never really saw you as the secret agent.”

“I just want out of the task force.”  Ressler said, “Away from you.”

“You aren’t the only one.”  Red smiled sadly it felt like everyone who he had to manage to worm their way into his heart wanted the same thing.  Dembe was becoming more and more distant and judging him from a distance.  Lizzie had faked her death to get away from him.  Anna had been away for over a week on business, and their nightly phone calls just did not seem to fill the void.  He was starting to suspect she was pulling away and would leave again soon.  It was great while it lasted.

“You know I never did thank you for helping me after Audrey’s death.”

“Don’t mention it.”  Red said, “I think we’re even anyways.” 

Before Ressler could respond there was a knock on the door. 

“That would be Marvin.”

“Where the hell was he, a few floors up.”

“Actually yes,”  Red said stretching on the couch.

While Red let Marvin in, Ressler went and uncuffed Red’s bodyguard. 

“Thank you, Agent Ressler.”  Red said with sincerity in his eyes, “If you need help figuring out who paid for your brother's medical bills, Aram is a great source, or I am sure Marvin would be willing to help.”

“I” ll figure it out on my own.”  Ressler said not wanting to take help from Reddington.”

“You ok Raymond?”  Marvin asked walking up to his boss and friend.

“yeah.  Just a little accident.  Agent Ressler is too cautious.”

“With your injuries probably best to be cautious.”  Marvin responded, “I thought I could update you on the business while I’m here.” 

“Let’s take a seat,”  Red said moving over to the small kitchen area where there was a table to sit at. 

Chapter Text

            While many thought the Concierge of Crime spent most of his days planning nefarious adventures, that could not be further from the truth recently.  The sober part of the day had been spent preparing for Anna’s return.  He had let himself into her apartment earlier in the day and prepared everything for her arrival.  She was due back that morning and had called him from her apartment before heading off to a lunch meeting.  The plans for the evening were open, but they had agreed to see each other. 

After his accidental overdose, a few days before, he avoided seeing Lizzie and Dembe.  He wanted nothing to do with the disappointed look on Dembes face or the angry rant from Lizzie.  It helped he had them both after a blacklister, and they had been too busy to find time to locate him at one of the many safe houses he had been moving around since after his OD.  Word would have gotten to both, and there had been calls that he refused to take.    

He had remained sober most of the afternoon.  Only needing a little jolt to help him get out of bed today. It helped he had been busy all day.  First shopping for supplies, then working on transforming Anna’s apartment for their date that evening.  She did not know it was at her apartment, but he thought she would enjoy some down time in her own place for once. 

Thirty minutes before Anna was due home, he lit the candles and put the finishing touches dinner. On time, Anna walked through the front door of her apartment almost screeching when she saw him standing there waiting for her.  He held a glass of wine for her.

“Raymond you scared the crap out of me.”  She smiled at him taking the wine and kissing him on the cheek.

“I thought I would surprise you.”  He responded a genuine smile on his face.  When he was around her, he felt calm, as if he did not need to worry about what he said or did.  She would not judge him for his faults.  She seemed to care for him despite them.

“You did.”  She said seeing his smile falter, “It’s a good surprise though.  What smells so good?”

“I cooked dinner.  We can eat now or later.”

“I need to talk to you about something.”  She said hating to ruin this moment, but something happened at her lunch meeting she needed to address with him.

“Why don’t we go sit down then.”  Red said worriedly because of the words ‘need to talk’ never ended in anything good. Had he been wrong about how she felt about him?  Had Dembe told her about his accident? 

When Red went to sit in a chair next to the couch, she pulled his arm so he would come sit next to her on the sofa.  She loved this man.  She wanted to tell him for at least a week now, but she was afraid of how he would react.  The uncertainty he was showing was even more endearing because this was Raymond she saw and not the Concierge of Crime.  Guilt crept up inside of her as she held his hand looking at the warm, calloused skin. 

“Elizabeth Keen spoke to me today.” 

“What when?”  Red was surprised by this statement.  No one had known Anna was coming back, not Dembe or his team. 

“She has been following me.”  Anna said, “She interrupted my lunch meeting with one of my contacts from the NSA.”

“I’m sorry.  I do not know why she is so interested in you.”  Red said feeling anger creep up inside of him.  What the hell was Lizzie up to, stalking Anna.

“it’s fine.  Stephen, my contact, actually found it entertaining.  Luckily, he already knew about our history and swore to keep quiet about it.” 

“What did she want?”

“She thinks I’m spying on you for the NSA or some group she called the Cabal.”

Red closed his eyes trying to calm the angry monster inside. “I’m sorry.”

“She cares about you.  That is a good thing.”  Anna said, “You deserve to have people who care about you.  No matter what you think.”  Anna spoke quickly at the end knowing Red would tell her otherwise.  “But I cannot have this happening again.  It looks bad.”

“I will leave,”  Red said getting up from the couch trying to hide the storm of emotions overtaking him.

Anna grabbed his arm, “I’m not breaking up with you over this.  You need to talk to her about it.  Maybe both of us.  She is worried that you are trusting me too much, and she’s jealous.”

“Of what?”  Red said, “She told me she was over Tom Keen.”

“She loves you.  Or at least she thinks she's doing.”  Anna said running her hand up his soft shirt sleeve.

“Lizzie cannot stand me on the best of days.  I doubt she loves me.”

“She does Raymond.”  Anna said, “And I’m fine with that because I know you want a woman and not a girl.  I’m not jealous of your relationship with her.  I know she is not emotionally mature enough for you.  I just want us to talk about this to have it out in the open.  Maybe speak to her.  I can’t have her barging into every meeting I have demanding to know who or why I’m meeting with people.  I have access to the NSA and CIA because of the work I do, and I need to maintain that.  It’s a mutually beneficial relationship.”

“I will try to talk to her about it.”  Red replied, “But Lizzie 's hard to get through too.”

“I know.  She’s stubborn just like you.”  Anna said pulling him towards her for a kiss.

Red smiled and kissed her back, feeling the anger wash away as he felt her warm, soft lips on his.  Her tongue making its way into his mouth.  They did not break until they both needed oxygen.

“Ok enough of our teenage make-out session.”  Anna said, “I’m starving, and you said there was food.”

“In the kitchen.  Go have a seat, and I will bring it out.”

“I can…”

“Go sit,”  Red said pointing her towards the dining room. 

Red felt unease creep over him. Donald Ressler would have informed the entire team about the state he had found Red in the other day.  Lizzie had not brought it up to Anna, why?  Or had she and Anna was saving that for later?  Either way, the track marks on his arm would give him away then.  He would have to find a way to keep his shirt on to avoid the uncomfortable conversation.  Another awkward conversation, he corrected himself.

===========

 “Elizabeth this is not a good idea,”  Dembe warned as he parked outside of Anna’s flat.  Originally, he refused to take Elizabeth there, knowing that were Raymond was for the night thanks to Baz.  Raymond had successfully avoided Dembe for days now.  Dembe wanted to approach his friend and talk to him about his issues, but he knew tonight was not a good time.  But Lizzie insisted, to the point she had said she’d take a taxi there if necessary and make a scene if Raymond refused to let her in. 

“If she cares for him as much as she claims, then she will help us.”

“Raymond will not like this intervention.”

“He needed it.  Ressler said he found Red near death, overdosing from heroin.  That Red acted like it was nothing.”  Ressler actually had kept it to himself until that afternoon when Lizzie came back upset after confronting Anna. 

When Lizzie told Dembe, the other already knew, having been told by Marvin.  Lizzie was pissed at them all for keeping it from her.  She had every right to know.  While Red had been recovering from the injuries he sustained during the Solnik’s  debacle, she had let him near her daughter.  Let him watch her on his own, and he had been high the entire time.  It was all she needed was for Tom, who had called a few times requesting the chance to see his daughter, to find out.  Most of all, she had felt her heart skip when she knew Red had almost died again, and no one seemed to do anything about it.  Anna had to know, she was his lover, after all, it was hard to keep a heroin addiction secret. 

“You can stay out here if you want.”  Lizzie said, “But someone needs to stop him before he overdoses and there is no one there to help.”

“There are other ways Elizabeth.”

“Oh, I’ve thought about it already.”   Lizzie said, “Arresting him and locking him in the box until he was done detoxing.  But I know he would not want his problems public.  But if he refuses to seek treatment, that is what I’ll do Dembe.”

Lizzie jumped out of the car as soon as Dembe had it in the park.  She was at the door as Dembe was climbing out of the car.

The occupants of the house were in the middle of dinner when the pounding on the door alerted them to someone wanting to visit.

“Where you expecting anyone?”  Red asked getting up from his chair. 

“No.”  Anna said, “I’ll go see who it is.”

When Anna opened the door to see who was there, Lizzie pushed her way inside. 

“Where is he?”  Lizzie demand Dembe on her heels apologizing for barging in.

“Whatever are you all doing,”  Red said standing in the living room of the

the entrance of the flat.

            “Ressler told me about the other day.”  Lizzie said, “I knew you were avoiding me, but I did not know why.”

            Red matched her anger, “Did he.  Why don’t you tell me about why you were following Anna?  Interrupting her meeting today.”

            Anna and Dembe both stood awkwardly off to the side as Red and Lizzie squared off.  Neither of them willing to back down from the confrontation that had bee mounting.

            “I was looking out for you.”  Lizzie said, “But apparently I shouldn’t have bothered since you are trying to kill yourself all on your own.  You don’t need her to help.”

            “What I do in my free time is none of your business Agent Keen.  I give you the names, and you arrest them.  That was the deal.”

            “How long have you been using?  How many times have you been high when holding my daughter?  You told me it was just that once before, but you lied.”

            Red had lied, something he had promised never to do,  “I never put Agnes in danger.”

            “you put her at risk just by being in her life.  I used to think the threat came from the outside, but I know better now.”  Lizzie said, “I cannot believe you lied to me about this.”

            “Wait what the hell is going on?”  Anna said coming between the two finally.  “What are you talking about.  What is Raymond using?”

            Anna had expected it to be opium.  Raymond had been an addict when she first meant him.  He had gotten addicted while recovering from wounds sustained in a fire. When neither answered, she turned to face Red,  “Raymond you are using again aren’t you.”  It was a statement more than a question.  Anna was standing in her living room, her hands on her hips. 

            Red did not know what to say.  He could deny it, but Anna would have already read it on him.  Both Dembe and Lizzie would confirm it, but it was so much worse because he wasn’t just using opium.  He had moved on, and this would end whatever they had.  The one good thing in his life, and while he knew he did not deserve it, he wanted to keep it.  Anna had soothed the monster inside of him, made him feel less like a criminal, and more like what he once had been.  She made him forget the horrible things he had done in his life. The twitch in his cheek had been enough to give him away.

            “How long?”

            “A few months.”  Red said not looking at anyone, but he could hear Lizzie breathing, “I have it under control.”

            “Really.”  Lizzie interrupted the conversation, “Because he overdosed just a few days ago.  If one of my colleagues had not found him, and given him the naloxone, he’d have died.”     

Anna glared at Red because she hated that he was lying to her when he knew she could tell. It took a few seconds for her brain to register that Elizabeth had said naloxone.  Naloxone was the drug utilized to treat heroin overdoses.  It was something she had learned to work with because a significant portion of the victims of human sexual trafficking had been forced to become addicted to drugs like heroin.  They had trained to use the drug in case they had come across an overdose.  It was one of the many things she often kept in her travel bag. 

“You are using heroin?”  Anna said trying to keep the anger out of her voice.  Elizabeth was angry enough for the both of them, and right now Raymond needed someone to not judge him.  She saw it even in Dembe’s gaze that both of the intruders were judging the man before them. 

Red looked up at her, and she finally saw that he was exhausted and much skinnier than when they had run into each other in Chicago.  “Anna, what do you want me to say?”  When she did not respond, Red lowered his head, “I’ll just leave.” 

            Anna had grabbed his arm before he moved, “I don’t want you to leave Ray.  I want you to talk to me.”  She said, “Please stay.”

            Red opened his mouth to speak, but then closed it again.  He did not know what he was going to say. 

            Lizzie spoke, “You need to go into a treatment program.”

            “He can’t.”  Anna said and before Elizabeth could argue, “He’s a wanted fugitive.  There are few good programs that he can go into.  Maybe Crossroads, but there would be too many people there.”

            “He needs treatment,”  Lizzie said now both women talking as if Raymond was not there, but Anna kept ahold of his arm so he could not walk away.

            “We can treat him here.”  Anna said, “Dembe you can get a doctor right?”

            “Yes,”  Dembe said studying his friend who seemed to sink into himself.  He had never seen Red look this defeated before, except after Liz’s faked death.  That was the last and only time he had seen Red so broken down.

            “We can treat him here.”  Anna said looking at Lizzie, “I can take some time off.” 

            Lizzie did not like the idea of leaving Red in Anna’s care.  She still did not trust the woman. There had also been Anna’s reaction when Lizzie walked into the lunch, it was fright.  Why would seeing Lizzie scare Anna?  When Lizzie had brought that up with Dembe, he had reminded her that Red was a wanted fugitive and Anna’s connection with him was not known by any of the agencies.  If they found out, they may not be too happy with her history with a traitor.  That it could ruin Anna’s connections, she needed to ensure her non-for-profit continued to work successfully overseas freeing human trafficking victims. 

            “What happens when he wants to leave.  You can’t stop him?”

            “We can have Baz or Dembe on standby ready to help.”  Anna said, “I’ve done this before.”

            “What?”  Lizzie said turning to glare at Red who seemed to have checked out.  “When?”

            “A long time ago.”  Anna said, “And if Ray wants to tell you he can later.” 

            “I don’t like this idea.”  Lizzie said trying to get Red’s attention, “You need proper supervision and help.  She cannot provide it to you.”

            Red turned his eyes dull, “We can handle it, Agent Keen.  And you need not worry I’ll make sure you continue to get blacklisters.”

            “I’m not worried about the fucking task force.”  Liz snapped, “I’m concerned about you.”

            “Then it’s settled.”  Anna said, “Ray will be staying with me for awhile.”  Anna stated, “Can you bring him some comfortable clothes, lots of them.”

            “Yes and I’ll contact a doctor,”  Dembe said.  

            “I don’t trust her.”  Lizzie said, “Aram finally tracked down who she has been having all of those breakfasts with.  It’s an NSA case officer.”

              “I already told you t hat he was de-briefing me after my trip overseas.  I work with them, and they cooperate with me to help my organization take down human traffickers.”  Anna said getting angry with the childish FBI agent.

              “Or it’s just a nice cover to help you worm her way back into Red’s life.”  Liz said, “What normal human goes after an armed militia to save a stranger?  Then fly’s all around the world with them.”

            “I never claimed to be normal.”  Anna defended herself, “And I did not know who he was back then.  Just that he was someone in need of help.”

            Red interrupted them, “Agent Keen you get no say in what I do. I will detox here, and here only.”

            Lizzie wanted to arrest him right there and drag his ass back to the post-office just to make a point.  But she knew Red would not listen to reason until he is thinking more clearly.

            “Elizabeth, wherever he is willing to try is a good place.”  Dembe said, “I can ensure it’s safe for awhile.”

Seeing that she was not buying his words, but knowing more pressing matters were at hand, “I need to go make arrangements for a doctor.” Dembe had a few idea on who he could call, but Red’s network was tapped out at the moment.  With Nic running off scared, and Red killing Kaplan it left them with almost no network.  The *77 network was Mr. Kaplan’s responsibility, and Red helped maintain it, but between killing her and his addiction, he had not kept up with the necessary network.  “You should get home to Agnes.” 

 “We will get him better,”  Anna said stepping up rubbing Red’s back gently. 

Anger flashed through Lizzie’s eyes.  But she had no reason to demand to stay, at least no legitimate reason.  Dembe was right she needed to get home to Agnes.  Tom had called already and appeared once or twice now at the old apartment.  She needed to be with her daughter. 

“Ok, let's go.”  Lizzie said turning to Red letting the anger in her dissipate, “I need you to get better.”

Red nodded, “Don’t worry I will make sure you get the next blacklisters name.”

Lizzie did not know what to say to that comment.  Was that all he thought she cared about? 

As soon as Dembe and Liz were gone, Anna turned back to Red, “Why did you start using again?”  Running her hand up his muscular arm, as a gesture of comfort.

            “I killed Kate Kaplan,”  Red said wanting to be absolved of his sin.  Wanting someone to not be angry with him for that decision.  Kate in the past had been the one to absolve him of his crimes, making them disappear.  He had always felt a pang after killing someone, but with Kate, it was an all-encompassing guilt that threatened to overtake him.

            That shocked Anna, she remembered Dembe’s reaction when she asked about the woman, but she never expected Red. “Why?”

            Red had to make a decision at that moment.  He wanted to talk about it all, as much as he wanted to continue to ignore it all.  Ignoring it had been consuming him, slowly.  But talking about it meant opening up to Anna.  Both Dembe and Lizzie were suspicious of Anna, and bits of Red wondered too about her real motives.  The way he had treated her all those years ago were forgiven just like that?  She was willing to pick up like nothing had ever happened. 

            “If you don’t want to talk about it Ray at least let me help you.”  Anna said paused, “We beat it once, we can do it again.”

            “What if I don’t want to give it up?”  Red was honest because the only moment of true peace he felt was either on heroin or when he was with Anna.  It had only been a few days, but she had crept back inside him.  All those feelings from the past rearing their head again. 

            Anna did not have an answer to that question other than, “You have to.  It’s not good for you.  You will eventually die and who will be there to protect Lizzie and her darling little girl?” 

            “Dembe would make sure they’re both safe.”  Red laughed sadly, “She would probably be happy to have me out of her life permanently.”

            “I doubt that.”  Anna knew in part it was the drugs talking, “She cares for you. Anyone but you two can see it.  She’s extremely protective of you, going so far as to follow me today. She is also extremely jealous of our relationship. That seems like a lot for someone who doesn’t want you in her life.  She’s just young and confused.  She has been through a lot.”

            “How do you know?”  Red lifted his hung head instantly on guard.

            “I can google people too.  Don’t forget the entire world was looking for you two just late last year.”

            “Sorry.”  Red wiped his hands over his face.  “I’m just tired. I failed them.”

            “Failed who?”

            “Lizzie, Agnes, Dembe, Kate, Luli, Karla, Jennifer, You, our unborn child.”  Red could continue with the list, but he stopped the guilt he felt in just those names was enough. 

            “You did not fail me Ray or our unborn child,”  Anna said grabbing his hands and leading him to the couch because he looked like he was about ready to fall out.  “Our breaking up was the kick in the ass I needed.  I don’t regret it.  Yes, I missed you and thought about you often.  But if I had stayed, I would never have gone back to school nor started the agency.  I have been lucky to get a job doing what I love, and I get to help hundreds of people a year.  You did not fail me.  And miscarriages happen.  There was nothing either of us could do.  It took me years to realize that.”

            Anna pulled Red into a side hug, “Lizzie and Agnes are both alive, so I am not sure how you failed them.”

            “They both almost died.”  Red answered, “I thought Lizzie had died. I lost it when I thought she was dead. I never got it back either.  I realized when she faked her death, that nothing mattered in the world if she was not in it.  That her being in the world made it a better place.  She was my chance to right some of the wrongs, and I failed at every step of the way.”

            Anna knew there was much more to the story then she had been told.  She had no idea about Lizzie faked death.  She hugged Red harder.  “Is that why you started using again?  After her fake death?”

            “I stopped.”  Red answered, “I managed to stop while we searched for Agnes. But as soon as Agnes was back, it was just easier.  I needed to silence the memories and the voices.”

            There was a lot more to this story Anna thought, like how Ray had graduated to heroin from opium.  She was rubbing circles on Raymond’s back feeling the scar tissue through his shirt.  “You can stop again.  You must.  If you want to be in their lives. You are in no shape to keep them safe if you are high.”

            “I know,”  Red responded leaning into her touch.  How long had it been since someone touched him to comfort him? 

            Knowing that after sharing that much, Red needed some time alone, Anna started to move away, “I need to make a few calls will you be ok on your own?”

            “Yeah,”  Red said scratching the tears from his eyes. 

            “I will just be down in the bedroom if you need me.  Why don’t you lay on the couch and try to get some rest.” 

            The fact that he didn’t fight her over it made Anna worry about his mental health. 

            In her bedroom, she called her personal assistant.

            “Jane I’m sorry to call so late, but I need you to cancel all of my appointments this week.  I am going to take some personal time.”

            “What about your meeting at Langley?”

            “Let them know I will send them a report later this week.  I need some more time to finalize some details.”

            “What should I tell the others?” 

            “Just tell them I’m taking some personal time.  If anything comes up that you or the others cannot handle, feel free to call me.”

            “Anna be careful whatever you are doing.”  Jane said knowing that her boss had been hanging around some unsavory people recently based on who she had seen pick Anna up at the office.

            “I’ll be fine.  Thank you Jane.”

================

            Lizzie did not speak again until they were in the car, “Thanks for backing me up in there.”  It was sarcastic.

            “Elizabeth, Raymond would never agree to seek treatment at a center.” 

            “You know she’s up to no good Dembe.”  Lizzie said, “She is going to hurt him.”

            “I need to go pack some clothes for him.  Will you and Agnes be ok?  Baz and his team are keeping guard outside in case Tom comes around.”

            “We’ll be fine.”  Lizzie said, “You cannot tell Red about Tom.”

            “I won’t.”  Dembe felt guilty, but he knew he had to keep it from Raymond to ensure Raymond put his effort into getting sober.  If he were aware that Tom was in the picture again, he would claim the need to delay to ensure Agnes and Lizzie were safe.

            “We have to keep him safe; from himself and her.” 

==============

It had already been over 14 hours since Red had lasted used.  The symptoms had started earlier that day, first the stomach cramps, followed by profuse sweating.  He lay on Anna’s couch curled up, his knees almost to his chest.  His resolve was quickly fading away, he was not ready to face the demons 24/7.  In a few hours, he knew he had muscle and bone acts to look forward to, likely with chills and a runny nose to accompany it. 

            By tomorrow, the vomiting, tremors, and diarrhea would start.  He would be both fatigued and restless at the same time.  The possibility of hypertension, muscle spasm, impaired respiration, and increased heart rate along with anxiety was also likely in a day or so. 

            What had he gotten himself into?  Maybe he could just wait 24 more hours and use.  Slowly wean himself off the drugs.  But the voice in his head, the little reason he had left when it came to the drugs, told him he would never wean himself off.  It would only get worse. 

            Anna walked into the room seeing Red so helpless broke her heart.  “Lift your head up.”  She said standing over him, she sat down and pulled his head down into her lap.  She gently massaged his temple with one hand, while the other played with the fine hairs on his head.  “We’ll get through this like last time.”

            “It’s going to be worse,”  Red said feeling the first onset of chills coming. 

            “Pausing to choose her words carefully, “You do not have to do this cold turkey.  They have methadone…”

            “No.”  Red stated, “I need to do this and feel it all.”  It would stop him in the future, the reminder of the pain of withdrawal.

            “We have to be careful.”  She stated, “You can die from it you know.”

            “Yes.”  Red replied, “You need to get handcuffs from Dembe when he arrives.”

            Joking Anna said, “I doubt you’ll be in the mood for any playtime.”

            “If the craving gets bad enough, I fear you won’t be able to stop me,”  Red murmured, his head still resting in her lap.  It was comforting having her there with him, knowing she’d be by his side, judgment free. 

            “I will see what we can do.”  She said having not thought of that.  “Maybe you should take a shower while we wait for the Doctor,”  Anna suggested knowing it would at least help with some of his aches and pains.  “Or Do you want to move to the bedroom and get more comfortable?  You can rest in your boxers for now.  No one else is coming but Dembe and a doctor.  I’m sure the doctor will want to examine you, but it’s better to rest while you still can.” 

            “A shower now would be best, and then rest,”  Red said feeling his legs tremble as he stood up.  He could do this, would do this because he needed to get back on track. 

            Anna was genuinely worried for him.  Tonight had been too easy.  How could his friends and those who claim to care about him, not see how broken he was right now?  She saw it from when she first re-entered his life.  There had been something off about him, craving her attention and kindness.  Lizzie, who she was sure had feelings for Raymond that extended beyond paternal feelings, had inflicted damage upon him multiple times since Anna had been back in his life.  Having heard his story about Lizzie faking her death, she knew how much it would have torn Raymond up.  Anyone could see he clearly cared for the girl and her daughter, he loved them.  Yet no one had seemed to notice that while he was there for them, he was crumbling around them.  They all had failed Ray, including herself.

            In the bedroom, Anna stripped the duvet off the bed.  She knew Raymond’s preference for multiple light blankets.  While she listened to ensure he was ok in the shower, she gathered more blankets and a heating pad.  Both would help him be more comfortable in her bed.  Quickly she put fresh sheets on the bed and then started to make it with multiple layers of thin blankets.  She learned when she was traveling with him, the reason he preferred multiple layers of thick blankets was in part due to the burns on his back.  He had just healed from them when she first meant him, and some of the scar tissue had still been sensitive in spots that he had feeling left.  Also, he hated the weight of a heavy blanket on him, said it made him feel trapped. 

            When he came out of the shower in just his boxer shorts, she smiled at him, “Now get under the covers, and there is a heating pad to help with the cramps if you need it.” 

            She had kept many blankets aside because she knew there would be accidents so he would have something to cover up in while she washed the others.  Like a mother caring for her sick child, she climbed onto the bed and cradled him for a second.  She felt his body trembling me her arms.  She kissed his sweaty forehead and said, “Rest now.  I’ll be right here next to you.” 

            He had wrapped his arms around her torso, and his head rested on her thighs.  She grabbed her iPad off the table and turned the light off.  Switching the iPad to night mode, allowed her to read in the dark with ease, while the light was a weird orange color as to not bother Raymond who was drifting off to sleep. 

===============

            Anna must have fallen asleep reading because when she woke up, Raymond was snoring softly into her abdomen, and someone was banging on the front door.  It was a small miracle she was able to extract herself from the bed and Raymond’s grasp without waking him.  Getting to the door, she checked the peephole, seeing Dembe and someone else.  She opened the door and greeted him, “Raymond is sleeping.”

            “Good.”  The man next to Dembe said, “He will get little rest over the next few days.”

            Dembe walked into the house carrying a duffle bag full of comfortable clothes for Raymond.  “A few of the men are stationed around outside.  I would prefer someone stay inside, but if you do not wish…”

            “It is up to Raymond.”  Anna said, “I am not sure how many people he wants seeing him over the next few days.”

            “It could be a week.”  The man next to Dembe said, “Sorry, I’m Greg one of the doctors employed by Mr. Reddington.”

            “Hello, Greg.”  Anna greeted him.

            “Where is Mr. Reddington?  I’d like to examine him.”

            “Just through the door on the left at the end of the hallway.”

            Greg left with his doctor bag in one hand. 

            “He said to ask you for handcuffs,”  Anna said shifting uncomfortably.

            “I will get some zip ties from the security detail.”  Dembe said, “But it would be better to get something padded so he won’t hurt himself worse.  I will send one of the team out.”

            Anna just nodded, “I assume you are not staying since you have a security detail outside.”

            “No.  I have to help Marvin keep the business going, and Raymond has not wanted me around much recently.”

            “Dembe you know it was the drugs.”

            “Yes, I know,”  Dembe responded.  “The doctor is on call 24/7 and nearby if you need him.”  Dembe handed her a sheet of paper with the physician's number on it, “And I will be a phone call away if you require anything.”  He did not want to tell Anna that he would also be keeping Lizzie safe from Tom who was back.  He did not want to risk her mentioning it to Raymond.

            “I will keep you updated,”  Anna said knowing Dembe would want to know but would never ask. 

            “Thank you.”

            “I better go check and make sure he’s not giving the doctor hell.”  Anna said, “You know how he is when someone wakes him.”

===========

            The first night was by far the easiest of the week.  Red had only had to get up a few times and still had enough strength to make it to the bathroom.  It was in the middle of the first day at Anna’s that it became apparent to Raymond this was a terrible idea.  He was weak, more nervous than he has ever felt.  Water and food did not stay down, and his entire body trembled and ached.  His bones hurt worse than if he had broken them.  And sometimes it felt like they would break when a cramp came on.  The first time he had messed the bed, was embarrassing.  Anna had been out in the kitchen making broth for him to try to eat, and he had tried to get up but found himself dropping back down, turning his body, so he fell onto the bed instead of the floor. 

            The bile, as that was all that was left in his stomach came up onto the pillows and blankets.  It was after he finished dry-heaving that he realized he had also lost control of his bodily functions. 

            Anna returned to the room and stilled her expression.  She did feel pity for him, but she knew showing him even empathy would result in an outburst.  It had early that morning when she tried to help him to the bathroom.  It was the drugs, she knew, and not his true feelings, but it still hurt to have his wrath aimed at her. 

            “Let’s get you to the shower.”  She said, “I think it’s the easiest way to get you cleaned up.”  Walking to the bathroom, she turned the water on in the standup shower, it would warm up by the time she got him there.  Getting to the bed, she helped him up, knowing that she would need to have Dembe have someone come help her soon enough.  If Raymond could not walk on his own, there was no way she could carry him.  She half dragged him, and he half walked to the shower.  Anna did not bother stripping him, but instead, put him in the shower with his dirty boxers and the t-shirt he had slipped on earlier during one of his periods of chills. 

            The warm water on his body felt nice, but the world was still spinning.  Squeezing his eyes shut he tried to stop the see-saw feeling.  Leaning his head against the shower wall, he berated himself in his own mind for being so weak and pathetic. 

            Red jumped when he felt Anna's fingers slip under the waist of his boxers.  She pulled them down without a word.  When had she climbed inside with him?  He had not noticed.  Neither spoke as she took a soapy washcloth and started to wash his body.  She was gentle and quick about washing away the sweat and grime from his withdrawal symptoms.  When she finished, she kissed the back of his neck, “You smell better now.”

            That caused him to chuckle, and then gag as nausea once overtook him again. 

            When he finished dry-heaving, Anna turned the water off and grabbed a big fluffy white towel.  She used one towel to dry him off, and then the other she wrapped him in.  “Can you sit on the toilet while I go change the bedclothes?”

            Red did not speak, he just shook his head yes, and made his way to the toilet. 

            Anna dried off quickly and slipped on her robe.  Quickly she stripped the bed, tossing the soiled blankets into the empty hamper.  Putting on fresh sheets and blankets, she returned to the bathroom to find Red glaring at himself in the mirror.

            “Come on.”  She said, “Let's get you back to bed.”

            Helping him up Anna walked him back to the bedroom and let him settle in the bed.

            “I am going to call the doctor.”  Anna noticed his agitation and knew well that it was a symptom of the withdraw, so she explained, “You’ve lost a lot of fluids and need to get them back.  You are not keeping anything down.  So stop arguing with me.”

            Red wanted to argue, but he felt his stomach knot and knew what was coming.  Instead of speaking when his mouth opened, he frantically grabbed for the garbage can they kept by the bed, and started to dry heave over it.

            Anna called from her cellphone watching Raymond struggle.  She wanted to comfort him, but she knew right now if she tried he would react negatively.  He would only see it as pity.  Better to keep him calm, she was worried about him, as she watched his chest rising and falling faster and faster.

            The conversation with the doctor was short, he would be there soon with fluids and other supplies.  Anna climbed into the bed and rubbed Raymond’s arm in comfort, as he groaned in agony.  His entire body was trembling, and in that second she would do anything to take his pain away, but she knew there was nothing she could do but be there.

Chapter Text

“Agent Keen have you heard from Reddington?”  Cooper asked the second Elizabeth walked into the office.

            Liz never made a conscious decision to not tell Cooper and the others about Red’s drug issues, in that instant the lie just easily came out, “He has been ill sir.  The flu I believe.”

            Cooper studied her for a second and decided it was the truth, “Tell him we need a name soon.  That is how this deal works.”

            “I will sir,”  Liz said realizing she had just lied to her boss for Reddington.  She had not heard from him in days.  Dembe had kept her updated, but little information came from Anna.  It unnerved Liz to know that there was someone else in Reddington’s life, someone who he allowed to see him at his weakest state.  In all honestly, she was jealous. 

            “Have you heard from Tom again?”  Ressler asked looking up from a piece of paper.

            “Not since I told him to go away,”  Lizzie said.

            “So he’s listening?”  Ressler was surprised.

            “Dembe and Baz have been around.”  Lizzie said, “I think he’s afraid to start something with them around.”

            “That explains who is watching Agnes for you,”  Ressler said.

            “Dembe is great with kids, and so is Baz.  It’s kind of weird seeing them with her.  Dembe even talks to her.”

            “I have to see it to believe it.” Ressler laughed.  With the conversation at a natural lull, Ressler asked, “What about Reddington?”

            “He’s been sick with the flu.”

            “Is that all?”  Ressler said knowing more than he was letting on with his question.  Why would Keen lie for Reddington?  Ressler knew for a fact that Red was an addict.  Reddington’s actions over the past months had been erratic, and then there was the overdose.

More rumors were filtering in that Reddington had barely been keeping his empire running, that others had taken charge in his absence.  Less face to face meetings, or even phone calls to keep business going.  It all indicates something much larger was going on.  But most damning was his contact at Langley, who he had meant for his monthly coffee meeting, had it on good authority that Reddington was detoxing at a local non-for-profit owners house.  Of course, Ressler did not tell Liz any of this because she was either lying for Reddington (which was its own problem) or she had no idea.  While Ressler was always ready and willing to take Reddington down a peg or two, he was not willing to use a drug addiction to do it.  Having his own experience, he knew just how difficult it is to be in recovery.

            “Yeah as far as I know,”  Lizzie answered knowing that she was lying, and wondering exactly what Ressler knew, and how he knew it.  The circle of people who knew Red was detoxing from heroin was small.  Dembe, Baz, herself, Anna, and the doctor, and Dembe nor Baz would say anything, and Liz had already lied for him.  That left Anna, who she naturally suspected, and the doctor.


            The second night had been trying, to put it kindly.  Red had been up and down a lot that night.  Switching between curling in a fetal ball shivering and trembling from both pain and the withdrawal, to pacing and almost collapsing when a spasm took his legs from him.  His agitation reached a high point that left him screaming at Anna when she tried to comfort him.  He would snap at her again later, and in his rage, he ripped out the IV the doctor had inserted to ensure he got fluids.  It took all of his self-control not to lash out when Anna grabbed his arm and applied pressure to stop the bleeding. 

            Once she had the bleeding under control and the wound tended to, Red avoided her the best he could in her house.  He took up residence in the bathroom, curled up next to the toilet.  She knew to leave him alone, he only snapped and snarled when she tried to comfort him during his bouts of sickness.  He did not want her to comfort him, had told her to leave him the fuck alone, stressing the word fuck many times.  It had nothing to do with her, she knew this, but it did not make it hurt any less.  She wanted to comfort him, to at least rub gentle circles on his back while he dry heaved or vomited, but he did not believe he deserved the comfort.  He was punishing himself for something, or maybe a lot of things.  She did not know, and trying to get him to open in this state would only push him too far.  He’d rush out of here and she knew even in his weakened state she could not stop him.

            Red found himself curled up on the cold hard tile bathroom floor.  The door was closed and Anna seemed to understand he wanted to be alone.  Only occasionally did he hear the door open slightly, and he knew she was just checking on him.  She said nothing and would close the door and leave him be.  Bile was the only thing that came up when he got sick, and it burned his throat and esophagus.  For now, though, it seems his stomach had settled.  Or more likely he was simply too exhausted to even dry heave again.  He did not have enough energy to lift his head off the floor.  Anna had forced him to eat a banana earlier, but it did not stay with him long.  It had been a relief to have something other than bile to throw up, but that was short lived.

            Curled into himself, his aching body did not particularly care for his current position on the floor.  But the cool floor felt good against his hot skin.  He was drifting, and soon he would find sleep.  It would be short-lived, cramps, the deep ache in his bones, diarrhea, a panic attack, or any other of the fun symptoms of withdrawal would rear its ugly head.  For now, he kept his gaze on the base of the toilet.  It was very clean, no sign of dust even at the base on the floor. 

            He startled when he heard her voice calling to him.  Unable to muster the energy to turn to look, he felt her leaning over him looking down, a hole in her head where he had shot her.

            “Raymond you are pathetic.”  The cruel voice of Kate Kaplan scolded him. 

            Squeezing his eyes tightly, this could not be happening.  She was dead, he killed her and left her to rot.  God, he shot Kate and left her in the middle of nowhere, all because she had tried to grant Lizzie's wish to get away from him to be safe.  He killed one of the few people who cared for him, truly cared for him, and not just because what he could do for them or had done for them, but because she cared.  Shot her in the fuckin face.  She was a Judas, he grunted to himself, she knew what would happen, knew the price, and yet she did it.

            “Just pathetic, withering there on the floor.”  Kates cruel words filtering into his mind.  “You know she was right for wanting to get away from you.  You bring nothing but death and you are covered in blood Raymond.  You soiled her and her daughter.”

            Hallucination was not a symptom of withdrawal.  Red knew this, that meant something else was going on.  Was he too dehydrated?  Or had he finally had his break with reality?  He had waited for years after surviving one horrific event after another (some perpetrated by him), had this finally been his undoing? 

            “She was innocent before you got to her.  Saw the good in the world.  It took only a year for you to soil her until she shot an unarmed defenseless man for threatening you.  One year Raymond, and you extinguished all that was good in her.  That is why she ran, she did not want to become a monster like you. Like a drowning man, you dragged her under while trying to climb up for air.” 

            It felt like Kate had punched him in the stomach with the truthfulness in her words.  He had ruined Lizzie, dulled her light, starting with the decision to hire Tom Keen, and ending in her faking her death to get away from him.  She was trying to ensure the same thing would not happen to her daughter. 

            “It had only been a matter of time before you got her killed.”  Kate’s disgusted faced danced before him, a gaping wound where he had shot her.

The dead woman’s voice continued to taunt him, “What would Katrina think of you now?  So weak and pathetic.  Ruining her little girl's life.  Dom had it right, you are too weak to walk away from that girl. And don’t get me started on what you did to poor Dembe.  You know he still prays every day for forgiveness?  Begging for something that will never come all because you had to get y our revenge.  How did that turn out for you Raymond?”

            Red moved his hands to his ears, squeezing his head trying to block out her words.  But you could no block out the truth, there was only so long you could ignore the truth about yourself.  He had done his best, and now the truth would have its day.

             “You tarnish everything you touch.  King Raymond with the Midas touch.  But you’ve known that for a long time.”  Kate was now sitting on him, her hands reaching for his head pushing into his mind. “You know everyone would be much better off if you were dead.  You have always known that, but you have been too weak and selfish to let it happen.  Well, there was that one time, almost.  How much better would the world have been for your absences?”

            It hurt to breathe, whatever Kate was doing was making his body feel a tingling numbness.

            “All of this and I haven’t even begun to start on why you killed me.”  Kate was so close to him now, her lips hovering over his ear.  He was defenseless against her, “You shot me in my fuckin face, Raymond.  Like a dog. You did not even give me the decency of a burial.  All because I had kept my promise to you.  Ensured that your wishes were upheld.  When we started on this path, you agreed that my goal was simply to keep her safe from everything and everyone.  To ensure your world would never ruin her world.  That is what I did Raymond.” 

            He felt himself losing control of his bladder, pissing himself as Kate continued to remind him of what he had made her promise and what he had done.

            “You are killing her slowly, and she wanted away from you.  To ensure Agnes was safe.  I gave her that option.  All I had to do was say it was a possibility and she did not need to be convinced.  She wanted to get away from you.  Having seen you for what you were.   She hates you. The only reason she lets you anywhere near her is out of pity because there is still a small part of her that remembers what Sam taught her growing up.  Taught her how to be a decent person.  But you took Sam from her all because he was going to tell her the truth about you and her past.  Sam says hello too.  He wanted me to send my worse.” 

            Raymond heard a scream, felt his body tense, and then nothing.

Chapter Text

             Anna was in her study in the middle of a phone call with her assistant when she heard Raymond’s scream.

“I got to go.”  She dropped the phone not ending the call. Rushing towards the bathroom, she blasted through the door and the first smells that hit her were of urine and sweat.  Then her eyes settled on him, he was arms and legs jerking. 

Pausing only for a second in shock, she quickly went into action.  Grabbing the hairbrush off the counter, she moved down kneeling over him, her knees pinning his shoulders to the ground, while she struggled to get his mouth open without him biting her.  Getting his mouth open, she slipped the brush between his teeth, pinning his tongue down so he could not swallow it.  She sat there with him, her heart pounding in her ears, as she felt his body trying to jerk in every direction.  His legs were hitting the wall and vanity.  Then it all stopped suddenly, an eerie silence overtook the bathroom. 

“Raymond.”  She said removing the brush from his mouth and letting it fall to the ground.  Her hands gently rubbing his face to try to wake him.

His eyes slowly opened, he was confused his eyes wide with fear.

“It’s ok baby.”  She said wanting to kiss him but afraid of blocking his airway.  Getting up off him, she slid her body next to his, not caring that his urine covered the floor and was seeping into her slacks.  “Can you talk?”

His head hurt worse than before, why was she asking him if he could talk, and crying.  Anna was crying.  What the fuck did he do to her?  He couldn’t remember when she came in or what happened.

“Yes.”  It came out slurred, was he drunk?  No he was not.  He had not drank anything in a while.  Heroin withdrawal.  Kate, where was Kate?  She had just been there.  She was so angry at him, and rightly so.  He had shot Kate in the face.

“You had a seizure,”  Anna said staring down at him, trying to remain calm herself.  “Just rest a few minutes.  We’ll get you cleaned up and get the doctor here to check on you.” 

Red closed his eyes, he was so tired and sore.  His head was pounding, his body aching muscle and bone, and it felt like his heart was racing out of his chest.  It felt like someone had beat his arms and legs.

After a few minutes of sitting there, Anna asked, “Can you stand up?”

Red spoke again, “Yes.”  His voice still slurred but not as bad. 

Anna spotted him as he stood, he was unsteady first on his feet.  But she kept a grip on him as she guided him into the standup shower.  For once she was thankful she had a bathtub and a separate standup shower in her master bathroom. 

“Lean against the wall while I get the water on.”  She said gently rubbing his arm as she reached around him to turn the water on.  Allowing it a chance to warm up so that he would not get the cold shock. 

“What.”  He paused out of breath, “Happened.” He finished closing his eyes against the pain.

“You had a seizure.”  She responded her voice soft as she could see he was flinching every time she spoke.  She was worried that he did not remember her telling him just a few minutes before. “We need to get you cleaned up.”

Looking down at himself he saw that the pajama pants he had on were soaked, and by the smell it was urine.

Anna helped him, by sliding the pants down his legs and helping him step out of the pants.  She moved up and pulled his shirt off his head, pulling it up and over.  Under different circumstances, this would have been much more exciting, but she did not feel a single bit aroused helping him.   Getting him into the shower, she quickly undressed and slid into the shower with him.

Red rested his head on her chest, panting against her breast, while she gently washed his body.  When she needed him to stand, she gently pushed him up, offering him a soft encouraging smile.  “Almost done.”

He nodded, closing his eyes.

“Hey don’t fall asleep here.  I don’t think I’ll be able to hold you up.”

Gulping in air, he opened his eyes.  She was so beautiful and nice, he would only ruin her like he ruined everything.  Kate was right.  Dembe was right to, to beg for forgiveness.  But Raymond knew, what he did was unforgivable.  He was the Judas, not Kate.  No matter what he did, nothing would ever compare to the horrible act of killing Kate Kaplan.  He did not deserve Anna, she needed to be warned against him.  But Kate was right about that too, he was too much of a coward.  Like with Lizzie, he could not walk away from Kate.  Both reminded him of what could have been, but he knew after killing Kate, crossing a line he thought he had crossed a long time ago, he could never come back. 

“All done,”  Anna said turning the water off.  She grabbed two huge fluffy towels.  She dried him off and wrapped the towel around him.  She quickly dried herself off and then moved him towards the bedroom.  Once again she was terrified by how docile he was, and quiet.  He did not speak to her, at all.  But she could see there was a war being ragged in his mind.  She would give anything to know what was going on inside of his mind, and to bring him some comfort. 

Sitting him on the bed, she opted for his last pair of pajama bottoms, and a hoodie because his skin felt clammy.  Getting him dressed had been easy, and getting him to lay down in the bed easier. 

She quickly pulled on her own fresh clothes and went to her phone she left in her study.  Her assistant had called multiple times since the abrupt end of their conversation.  Before calling her back, Anna called the doctor, who promised to be there within the hour. 

            Anna called her assistant back afterward and apologized for the interruption.  She could not tell her assistant that her new boyfriend (as the assistant called him) was currently withdrawing from heroin and just had a seizure.  Oh, and by the way, he’s the fourth most wanted criminal in the US who also works with the FBI.  Yeah, that would not work, instead, Anna claimed she forgot she had been cooking and smelt the smoke from the oven. 

            The assistant reminded her that her latest investor had insisted on meeting her.  The new investor requested her presences tonight.  That if Anna did not show up, he would pull his investment and with it all of his contacts in the government that helped Anna’s non-for-profit thrive in helping victims of human trafficking. 

            Therefore, her next call was to Dembe. 

            “I need to step out for a bit.” Anna explained to Dembe, “Is there anyone who can come sit with him?”  She failed to mention he just had a seizure, and she was not sure why maybe because she felt guilty for leaving him.

            “I am in the middle of a meeting,”  Dembe said standing off to the side of a meeting he and Marvin were having with a client of Raymond’s.  “Can you call Elizabeth?  She is at the safe house with Baz.  They can come.”

            “Yes of course.  Do you have her number?”

            Dembe recited Elizabeth’s number to Anna and apologized for not being able to help, promising to check in after his meeting.

            Anna took a deep breath before dialing Elizabeth’s number.  Just as she hit send, she heard her doorbell alerting her to someone’s presence. 

            It was one of Red’s security people, a young woman. 

            “Ma’am.”  The woman started, “The doctor is on his way.  He phoned to warn the team leader. I have some medical training and I thought I could come in and help.”

            Anna stepped aside, the phone ringing in her ear, “He is in the bedroom.”

            The young woman nodded and walked to Anna’s bedroom.  They knew the floor plan of her townhouse, she realized, without ever having been inside. 

            Finally, Elizabeth answered, “Agent Keen.”

            “Uh, Hello Elizabeth this is Anna.”

            “Is Red ok?”

            “Um. I have to step out and Dembe is in the middle of a business meeting.  Is there any way you can come sit with him for a few hours?”

            “I just got Agnes to sleep,”  Liz said frowning on her end of the line.

            “I am sorry to inconvenience you, it’s just the meeting is unexpected and really important for my business.  One of my top investors is being a pain and demanded I make an appearance.  I can …”

            “What is your address?”  Liz said sounding annoyed, she was annoyed but not about going to sit with Red, it was because Anna was the one on the phone. 

            “Oh, I thought you would have had that already.”  Anna snapped back the stress of everything getting to her. “Sorry.”  She quickly followed it up, “Raymond just had a seizure and I’m a bit anxious still.  That was uncalled for.”

            “He What?”  Liz said loudly shocked that Anna seemed ok to leave him after he had a seizure.

            “he’s fine.   The doctor is on his way, and one of his security team members is with him.  She has medical training.”

            “Just give me your address.”

            Anna gave her the address and Liz ended the call without a goodbye.


          “Reddington is at his weakest right now.  It would be easy to go in and take him out.”  The Dark-Haired man pleaded his case to the other partners.

            His mentor, a grey-haired woman spoke, “It would be easy, but we are not ready yet.”

            “How are we not ready?”  The Dark-Haired man said checking his voice to keep the anger out of it. He respected his mentor, the grey-haired woman, but this was getting ridiculous.  He was starting to wonder if her feelings for Reddington were not getting in the way.

            “We do not have the infrastructure yet to take over all of his businesses.  Nor are we shielded enough.  Our informant could easily lead back to us.  How do you think they would feel if we took him out now?  They have not achieved what they wanted from him yet.  We have to be strategic about it.”

            “You didn’t seem to care a few weeks ago when I tried.”

            “Because I knew it would fail.”  The grey hair woman responded knowing it was a harsh truth, but her mentee needed to hear it.  “Only one of us in this room has experience with taking down Reddington.  I know what it takes.  I got him once, and we will get him again.  We have to wait until we are completely ready.”

            “And then we take him out?”  The dark-haired man was studying her.  She knew he was trying to ascertain how loyal she was to the cause, and she was completely loyal.  She honestly did not care if Reddington lived or died, just as long as he was detained. 

            “Yes.”

            The other two members of the organization just sat back and listened to the little tiff between the other two members.  They all knew that the grey-haired woman was the one with the power, they all had equal votes, but she still was the one who decided what they voted on. 

            “Fine.  But I want it to go on the record I think we should have gone sooner.  It would take nothing to take him out right now, and we could make it look like it was from his own drug addiction.”

            “It will be noted.”  As if they kept seconds of their meetings, but they all remembered.  “Now onto other business.  We have the nasty issues of the new President.  He is starting to think he is his own man, and we need to remind him who protects him.”

            “Another thing that can be traced to Reddington.”  The Dark-Haired man pointed out, “When he blackmailed him, and we failed to protect him from it.”

            “We needed them to reinstate Elizabeth Keen.” The woman said. 

            No one quite understood why she needed Elizabeth Keen being an FBI agent again, but they knew better than to question it. 

            One of the other members spoke up, “We could also take him out.  His VP appears to be more in line with our wants and needs.”

            “I know a few people who could do it too.”  The fourth member of the organization stated, having in mind exactly what team he would trust to do it.


          Raymond was still awake when the young woman walked into the room.

            “I heard you had a seizure.”  She said walking up to him, “How are you feeling?”

            “I’m fine.” His words were still a bit slurred.

            “It’s common to have slurred speech after a grand mal seizure.”  The woman said checking him over, from what she could see for any damage.  “Did you hurt yourself when you fell?”

            “Didn’t fall,”  Red said trying to sit up in bed, but the young woman stopped him. 

“No need to try to sit up and look strong for me.  I already think you are a beast.  When I was detoxing from my heroin addiction, I was in a hospital with methadone and cried like a little baby.”

“I’m sorry,”  Red said not having known that about her.  Baz had hinted she had issues before, but Red was not one to judge, especially if Baz had been the one to recommend her.

“It’s fine.  I’m recovered and keep putting one foot in front of the other.”

“How is your sister?”

“She has accepted it.  We got her life in order.  When it gets to the point that the end is near, I’ll fly back.” 

“You should have stayed with her.”

“I wanted to get back.  I do not do so well around death.”  The woman answered honestly, “Plus you are a little short on people.”

“Told you not to care about that.”

“I know.  But I love and owe Baz.  Couldn’t leave him hanging, and I know he trusts you.  That’s enough for me.” 

            Before Red could respond the doctor stood in the doorway, “I can take over.”  He said walking into the room.

            The woman smiled, “I am taking off for a bit, but if you need anything just call.”

            Red nodded watching the woman leave the room before turning his attention to the doctor.


          Anna hovered in the doorway not wanting to get in the way while the doctor examined Raymond.  The doctor was finishing up when Anna’s doorbell rang again.  Rushing to the door, she found Lizzie standing with arms full of a baby seat and diaper bag. 

            “Let me help you,”  Anna said reaching for the diaper bag knowing instinctually that Liz would never hand her daughter over to her.

            “How is he?”

            “The doctor is finishing up with him,”  Anna said escorting Liz into the townhouse.  She gave her a quick tour of the place, “I have a load of clothes in the dryer. If he needs fresh clothes while I’m gone, that is where they’ll be.” 

            “Ok,” Lizzie said looking down the hallway wanting to know if Red was ok, need to see with her own eyes.

            “You can probably go down there,”  Anna said.

            “In a minute.”

            “I forgot.”  Anna said handing Lizzie a sheet of paper, “These are important numbers.  How you can reach me, the doctor, and one of the security team is a trained medic.  She was helpful right after the seizure.”

            “I think I can handle it,”  Liz said not hiding the anger in her voice.

            “I know you can.”  Anna said, “I did not mean to make it sound like you couldn’t.”

            “Just go to your meeting.”

            “I just wanted to hear from the doctor before I leave.”  Anna said, “Just to know he is ok.”

            As if on cue the doctor came into the room, “He’s going to be tired of awhile.  I reattached the IV and he promised to not rip it out this time.”  The doctor shook his head.

            “Is he going to be ok?” Anna asked.

            “Yes.  Hopefully, he won’t have any more seizures.  I am a bit worried about his heart rate and blood pressure.  Both are elevated and are likely symptoms of the withdrawal.”

            “What caused the seizure?”  Anna asked needing to know if it was her fault.  She had left him alone after upsetting him while trying to comfort him. 

            “Part of the withdrawal.  It is a less common symptom, but extreme stress can trigger a seizure during withdraw.  It was just a good thing he was on the floor before it happened.  He could have seriously hurt himself if he had been up and moving.”  The doctor finally realized that Anna looked terrified as he spoke, “He told me he had been having a hallucination before the seizure.  After a short discussion, we both came to realize it was probably a vivid dream.  It likely triggered the seizure.”

            “Some dream,”  Lizzie said looking at Anna wondering what had transpired between her and Red that made Anna think she could have been the cause.  Anna’s reaction to the news was all of the evidence she needed to believe the woman felt responsible for the seizure. 

            “I have him on more than just fluids this time.  So he needs to keep the IV.  It’s to help with his blood pressure and heart rate.  I told him to stay in bed and rest.  If he feels like it, and even if he doesn’t, you should try to get some food into him later.  Broth tends to work well.  It will also help with his throat.”

            “What’s wrong with his throat?”  Liz asked.

            “Just from dry heaving and vomiting, it’s a bit raw.  Nothing to worry about.”  The doctor said, “Any other questions?”

            “No.”  Anna said, “I think you covered all of them.  Thank you for coming out.”

            “It’s no problem.  Reddington is a good client.”  The doctor said, “Hate to see him suffer.”

            Anna walked the doctor out of the townhouse.

            Lizzie grabbed Agnes not wanting to leave her alone in a strange environment.  She walked down the hallway to the room she saw the doctor come out of.  Standing in the doorway she saw that Red was resting. 

            “Anna,”  Red said opening his eyes, which were bloodshot.  He looked like death warmed over.

            “No, it’s Lizzie and Agnes.”  She responded stepping closer so he could see them.  “Anna is still here do you want me to grab her before she leaves?”

            “no.”  Red answered, “Sorry I’m going to be a bit rude and probably drift off to sleep soon.”

            “No worries.  I wasn’t expecting entertainment from you.”  Lizzie said smiling gently at him, “You look horrible.”

            “Good cause I feel that way.”  He said seeing the judgment in her eyes.  He knew she was thinking he was getting exactly what he deserved.  Kate’s words from his dream played in his mind.  He really was pathetic and should let Lizzie go for Agnes sake and Lizzie's sake.  But he couldn’t, at least not right now. 

            “She crawled today.”  Liz said, “Going to be a handful now on.”

            Red smiled, “She will grow so fast, you will want to stop it.”

            “I already want to.” Liz said, “When you feel better she’ll have to show you.”

            “I’d like to see it.”  He said his eyes closing for a long time before they opened again, “When were you going to tell me Tom was back in town?”  It slipped out he had been content not to mention it, and see if and when she and Dembe told him.

            “How do you know?”

            “Dembe has been by your side and if he couldn’t be he had Baz.  It meant he thought you were in danger.”

            “He stopped by before Solnik and after.  A few times now, demanding to see Agnes.  But nothing has happened.  I asked Dembe not to tell you while you were recovering, and then we thought he was gone.”

            “But he came back.”

            “Yes.”  Lizzie said.

            Anna walked into the room interrupting their conversation, “Raymond I have to go.”  She said sitting on the bed next to him, her hand running gently over his chest.  “I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

            “I am the one who interrupted your life with my problems.”

            Anna ignored Liz’s glare and leaned down and kissed him, “It’s our problem.  I love you, and would not have you anywhere else.  WE beat it once we can again.  You rest, and don’t give Elizabeth any lip.”

            “Yes ma’am.”  Red answered reaching up to pull her back down for one more kiss, not caring that Lizzie was looking on.

            “If he gives you any trouble…”

            Liz interrupted, “I know how to deal with him.”

            “Of course.”  Anna said, “See you all in a bit.  Thank you again Elizabeth.” 

Chapter Text

  Lizzie was fuming when Anna left, but she hid it until Red had drifted off to sleep. Watching him sleep she let the anger wash over her.  Agnes ignorant of it all as she slept soundly in her mothers' warm loving arms.  What was Anna doing?  Red looked horrible, was she even taking care of him?  The doctor said he had been on the floor of the bathroom? Why? 

How could Anna just leave after Red had a seizure?  How could she say it was their problem, she has not been there these last few years.  How could Red just let her in his life, no questions asked.  He just opened up and let Anna in.  They were an us now, he had accepted it right in front of Lizzies eyes.   How could he not see Anna was just using him for something.  She was up to no good, Liz was sure of it.  How could Red not see it?  Was he blinded by love?  But how could he love her, he just meant her.  A voice in Liz’s head reminded her that they had not just meant, Red and Anna had a past. 

Why did he let Anna in?  Liz had tried to get to know him, more so recently than before.  She had asked him about his past, questioned him about things, and he never gave her a straight answer.  But with Anna there was us and our problem, and openness. With her blood boiling she jumped out of the chair startling Agnes who began to whimper.  Red stirred in the bed but did not wake up. 

Liz retrieved the car seat and placed Agnes in it.  So her next anger driven movement would not wake her daughter.  Rocking the carrier gently until Agnes drifted back to sleep. 

Why did Red get to have someone to share his life with?  He had been so against Tom from the beginning, both times.  She could understand the first time, when Tom had been there, in part, because of someone was paying him to spy on her and by proxy Reddington.  But the second time, Tom had chosen to be with her, and she had chosen to be with him.  They had been in love.  Those few hours before all hell broke loose in Cuba were great. But after Agnes was taken, it had been hell again.  They had fought to get her back, Tom by her side through most all of it.  After that, when they got their own apartment, things had been blissful again. 

Their relationship only got strained when Liz had to be gone because of Red’s problems.  Isabella Stone and each of the blacklisters since have been for Red’s own personal agenda.  What she and the entire task force were missing, is that every blacklister was for Red’s own agenda, but it was not to strengthen his empire, it was to right some of the wrongs in the world, but he would never tell them that. 

But with Liz gone more and more, Tom had become restless.  He had told her before he left that Red knew about both of their past and refused to give them the information.  He had his chance, right now, to figure out what had happened to him when he was kid.  How he got taken from his family, and why. Promising to come back, but then she had found out he was willing working with Solomon.  So the next time he came back they had words, items were thrown, mostly by him.  She kicked him out, and Red had ensured that Tom Keen knew if he came back there would be a price to be paid.  Why did Red get to have Anna, when she could not even have Tom?  Why did he get to be happy? 

What she really wanted to ask, but refused to allow herself to ask the question was, why did Red want Anna and not her?  What was it about Anna that Red loved so much?  All of that attention he used to give to his Lizzie had been split with Anna, with Anna taking most all of the attention.  He had yet to show up randomly in Liz’s apartment, when she had lived there, or insisted on invading her personal life.  With Anna around, Red had left her alone for the most part.  That is what bothered her because she loved him and craved his attention.  She missed feeling like she was the center of his universe, even if it was all just an act as his ex-wife had told her.  It felt nice to be wanted.

===================

“Finally.”  The Dark-Haired man said when his informant walked into the office.  The grey-haired lady was the only member of the organization left.

“Sorry there was a complication.”  The informant responded.

“How was your trip?”  The grey-haired woman asked.

“Insightful.  It is nice to see you again so soon.”  The informant responded.  “Though, Panabaker was not too helpful.” 

“She knows she took a seat and the wrong table.”  The grey-haired woman said, “She is just trying to get in my good graces to get a new table to sit at.” 

“How is Reddington?”  The Dark-Haired man interrupted the conversation wanting to get to the point of the meeting.  It was getting late and he did not want to sit here too much longer.

“Recovering.”  The informant stated.  “It is nice of you all to allow him time.”

“We have plans in place for a few months from now.”  The grey-haired woman said offering the informant a drink in her next sentences, as if clandestine meetings were the norm for her.

“Yes thank you.”  The informant said taking the offered glass of bourbon.  “What plans?”

“We have to ensure Reddington is off the streets so that he does not pose a threat anymore.”  The grey-haired woman said, having told the Dark-Haired man to let her do the talking during this meeting.  “You know he has the task force doing his bidding, and all the while he’s reeking havoc and causing damages to innocent people along with the guilty parties.”

“I know.  That is why I agreed to help.”

“We are just going to take him off the streets.  We want to give him enough time to fully recover from his drug problem.” 

“Drug problem.  How do you know…”

“We know.”  The grey-haired woman smiled at the informant who seemed surprised.  “While it would be easier to take him into custody while he was recovering, we think it’s more humane to allow him a chance to recover while free, and then take him.”

“That is nice of you.” 

“It is your job to make sure to help limit the damage he can do during that time.  You must fight him at every step.” 

“Of course.  I will do what I can, but I don’t have much power over what he does.”

“Then get creative.”  The grey-haired woman said, “There also might be a complication coming your way.  I believe we have stopped it for now.”

“What is that?”

“It seems Madeline Pratt was coming back around.  But we intercepted her, and I believe our people have convinced her to return back to France and leave Reddington alone for now.”

“I will keep an eye out for her.”  The informant said, “I’m sure if she becomes a problem, the taskforce could take her down right?”

“Possibly.”  The Dark-Haired man responded.  “Not sure if Reddington would let them.” 

“Well he does have a soft spot for his old flames.”  The grey-haired woman said. 

“Is that the point of this meeting?”

“Yes.”  The grey-haired woman said, “We just wanted an update and to update you.  Shouldn’t be much longer now.  A month at the most and then you can return to your life as it was before Reddington.”

“Good.”  The informant asked, “Is Elizabeth Keen going to be an issue?”

“Why do you ask?”

“She has been in the past.”

“No need to worry about her.”  The grey-haired woman stated, “We have Agent Keen under control.”

“I do not think anyone can control Elizabeth.”

“Probably not, but she has enough to deal with being a single parent.”

======================

When Anna returned to her house, she bumped into the woman from Red’s security team that had helped after his seizure.

“Fancy meeting you here.”  The woman said standing in front of Anna’s townhouse.  “I was just going to see how he is.”

“I just got back from a meeting.”

“So did I, I hope your meeting was better than mine.”

“Not really, just a pompous donor who wants me to jump hoops to keep his money.”  Anna said bitterly. 

“How is he doing?  Dembe and Baz asked me to update them.”

“The doctor said he should be ok as long as he rests.  The seizure was likely brought on by stress and the withdrawal.”

“Ok.  I’ll let them know.  And if you need anything else tonight, I’ll be across the street.  We took advantage of your neighbor being out of town for awhile.” 

“Luck for you all he happens to win a two-week long vacation.”

“Lucky bastard.”  The woman laughed at the inside joke because both women knew Marvin had likely set it all up to ensure that Red’s security team would have a place to use as a headquarters near Anna’s house.  “I heard a rumor you might be interested in.”  The woman said deciding to tell Anna something Baz had told her before in confidence. 

“What is that?”

“The lucky bastard might even find more luck.  I hear a good corporation in LA is in need of a decent tax lawyer and are willing to pay him a lot of money to relocate.  It just so happens he will also have a buyer for his townhouse, but that is only possible maybe in the near future if things keep going as is.”

“Good to know.”  Anna said not sure how she felt about this information, but grateful the woman told her.

“Of course, you didn’t hear that.”  The woman said, “I just thought you should have a warning.”

“No, thank you of course I know nothing about it.”  Anna said feeling a bit unsure, “I better get inside.  I promised Elizabeth I wouldn’t be gone long.”

Anna rushed inside the thoughts of Red wanting to make something more of their relationship running through her mind.  Setting her phone, keys, and purse on the table inside the doorway of her townhouse, she slipped her shoes off, and went to pour herself a glass of wine.  She needed it to strengthen her nerves.  As she was pouring the glass from the bottle she had opened earlier, Elizabeth came walking into the kitchen.

“I was wondering who was making the noise.”  Liz said standing in the kitchen.

“Would you like a glass of wine?”

“No thank you.”  It came out angry. “Did you have a good meeting?”

“Yes I think I appeased the donor.  How was Raymond?”

“He slept most of the time.  Got a little agitated about thirty minutes ago but I got him to calm down.”

“Good. He needs the rest.”  Anna said gulping down the wine and pouring another glass.

“Don’t you think you should be sober in case he has another seizure.”

“Two glasses of wine is not enough to get me drunk.”  Anna said glaring back at Elizabeth.  Deciding to take the kids gloves off because Elizabeth was a road block to her relationship with Raymond.  If Elizabeth kept this up, it would be unfair to him.  “You don’t like me much.”

“No I don’t.”

“Why?  What did I do to you?”  Anna asked drinking her wine awaiting the answer.

 “I think you are going to hurt him.”

“You mean like you have done.” 

“I have never hurt him.”  Liz said her anger seething through.

“Oh you mean to tell me that you don’t think you destroyed him when you faked your death?  When he had to kill his closest friend because she betrayed him to help you fake your death?  When you ran off with another man, who you know he disapproved of.”

“So all of this is my fault.”

“No.  But you sure did help it along.  You destroyed him Elizabeth.”  Anna said her voice raising because the woman before her did not take an ounce of responsibility for the damaged she had caused others.

“I never made him do anything.”  Elizabeth said.

“No but you sure did push him that way.  You knew he would do anything for you, all you had to do was ask.  You could have told him to go away, that you wanted nothing to do with him, but instead, you chose to gut him.” 

“How do you know?”  Liz asked skeptically of her knowledge of what had transpired.

“He told me.”  Anna said.

“Yeah he just opened up to you.”  Liz said sarcastically.

“No he didn’t.  I asked him, pestered him because I could see he was hurting.  Something was eating him alive.  He told me one night, after a few too many drinks.  Do you know he was contemplating suicide when he thought you died?  That he had almost did it too.  Was going to walk right into the ocean and let it take him.” 

“What stopped him?” Liz asked.

Anna interpreted the question as Liz not wondering what stopped him, but wishing he had done it instead, “You are a piece of work.”

“You have a lot of room to talk.  Your real motives will eventually come out.”  Liz called back over at Anna.

“How many times has he put his life in direct danger for you?  How many times has he been beaten, tortured, blown up, stabbed, or shot to save you?  Do you even know?  How many times has he let you and your man walk all over him, and did nothing in response?”

“What are you using him for?”  Liz snapped back.

“Nothing.”  Anna said, “I’m using him for nothing.  Is it so hard for you to fathom that someone might actually love him.”

“Yes it is.”  Liz said.

“Why?  Do you not think him deserving of love?”

“Because…”  Pausing, just a second to decide whether or not she wanted to say it, because she didn’t believe it to be true, but she could not confess to Anna or herself that she loved him, “Because he’s a monster.  He shot his closest friend and left her out in the middle of nowhere.”

“He’s not a monster.”  Anna responded, “He’s done bad things yes.  But he is just as capable of loving and being loved.  He would do anything for those he cares about, you and your daughter are proof enough.”

“She is in danger for just being associated with me because I’m associated with him.”

“You are in danger all on your own.”  Anna said.

“And it’s funny you claim to know and love him, but anyone who knows Red, knows that he will never accept love from someone.”  Liz said continuing, “He’s too damage to accept love and kindness from others.  Doesn’t believe they exist.”

“I beg to differ.”  Anna said, “He might not believe you capable of showing those emotions to him, but he can show them to others, and does freely.  Ask Dembe, look at how he treats your daughter, and you.  Look at my relationship with him.  He just doesn’t expect them from you because he knows they come at a cost with you.”

“You are spouting complete and utter nonsense”  Liz responded, “What is your motive with him?”

“What you mean to say is that I have no evidence that you use him and hurt him all the time.”

“Yes.”  Liz answered realizing her throat was sore, as the two woman had been almost yelling at each other in their recent exchanges.

“Oh. You are delusional.”   Anna snapped back, in that moment she realized she was yelling at a brick wall. 

“Enough.”  Red was standing in the entrance of the open kitchen using the wall to steady himself.  He was a bit dizzy, IV bag in one hand.  He had been woken when he heard them screaming. 

Both women turned and looked at him, both looking guilty. 

“Lizzie please go home.”  Red said shifting. 

Liz went to protest, but realized she had no reason to stay.

Red spoke again when she saw her open her mouth then shut it, “Agnes was whimpering.  I got her calmed down.  You should go check her.”

Liz left the room to check on her daughter.

Anna looked guilty, “How much of that did you hear?”

“Most of it.”  Red said moving into the kitchen a bit more.  Anna rushed to his side just to be there in case he needed her.  He did not yell at her this time.  Taking a seat at the center counter, Red lowered his head. 

Liz came back into the room with Agnes.

“Just wait a second.”  Red said fighting off a wave of dizziness.  “I need you both to hear something.”

“I’m sorry.”  Anna said, “I should have just kept quiet.”

“yes.”  Red said, “But Lizzie should not have joined in either.”

Liz looked angry and ready to explode.

“Who hurt who does not matter.”  Red said, “Neither of you are responsible for defending me against the other.”

When neither responded to him, Red stood up again. 

“Where are you going?”  Anna asked moving to his side.

“To get water and go back to bed.”  Red said. 

“Do you want me to bring you something to eat?  The doctor said you should eat soon.”

“I can try.”  Red said moving past Lizzie and Agnes.  He stopped, switching the bottle of water to his hand also holding the IV bag.  He gently touched Agnes cheek, and then looked at Elizabeth, “Get some rest.  And thank you for coming tonight and bringing her.” 

Lizzie swallowed, “You go get some rest.”

“I intend to.”  Red said leaving her and making his journey back down the hallway.

When Red was out of sight Anna sighed. It hopes of getting the fortitude to say what she needed to say. “Please don’t make him choose between us.  That is where we are pushing him.”

“Why are you afraid he’ll choose me?”

“No.”  Anna said, “I would never make him.  If it came to that point I would leave.  But it would not make it right.  If you care for him, then you have to know that he does not have many people left who love and care for him.  Why should our differences take one of those people away?  It’s not fair to him.”  

“I still don’t trust you.”  Lizzie answered shifting as Agnes weight in the car seat was starting to strain her arm.

“And I don’t trust you either.  But we both care about him, so maybe that can be our common ground.”  Anna said turning to the cabinets to find the chicken noodle soup she kept there for when she got sick. 

“Tell him I’ll see him in the morning.”  Liz said

“Wait Elizabeth.”  Anna said just before Liz was out the door.  It had taken her that long to get the courage to speak up.  “I need you to promise me something.”

“What?”

“Take an easy on him.  He is trying his best and he cares deeply about you and your daughter.  Raymond has been through a lot, and it does not excuse what he does or continues to do.  But he is only human.” 

“I will try.”

“Thank you.”  Anna said letting Liz leave. 

            With Elizabeth gone, Anna quickly made a bowl of soup for Red and walked it to the bedroom on a tray.  Sitting it down for him she curled into the bed laying by him while she watched him try to eat.

            Red took slow cautious bites with long pauses between to ensure the food would stay down.

            “The doctor said your symptoms should lessen soon.”

            “Good.”  Red said taking another spoonful of the broth.

            “How do you feel?”

            “Like I was running with the bulls and didn’t run fast enough.”

            Anna smiled, “Did you ever run with the bulls?”

            “Once.”  Red said, “Dembe had it on his bucket list.  I thought it was absolutely insane, but who am I to judge.”

            “Did you manage to escape them?”

            “Yes barely.”  Red said taking another sip of broth. 

            Before she could talk again, Red spoke, “I found out what happened to my family.”

            “Are they alive?”

            “yes.  Carla is living somewhere else now under a different name.”

            “What about your daughter?”  Her heart always ached for him, he had explained to her after his negative reaction to her pregnancy exactly why he had that reaction.

            “Carla said she was alive and well, but had disappeared to ensure I could never find her.”

            “Did you try?”

            “I have my guy search from time to time.”

            “Would you go see her if you found her?”

            “I don’t know.”  Red said, “She wants nothing to do with me.”

            “You don’t know that for sure.  She may have changed her mind over the years.”

            Red was quiet for a bit, he seemed to be full because he ate no more of the soup.  When he spoke again, he looked at her, “I’m really tired.”

            “Imagine that.  Going cold turkey from a heroin habit.”  There was no judgment in her voice, she was just poking fun of him, probably not in the best way but that was who she was.

            “Will you stay here until I fall asleep.”

            “I can do you one better.”  She said grabbing the tray from the bed. 

            “I doubt I can.”

            “I don’t want to have sex with your right now.”  She paused, “Actually I do, but I understand.  We can just cuddle. A good cuddle would help me out a lot.”

===========================

            Red woke up starving, he head a face full of hair when his eyes finally opened.  His stomach growled at him, reminding him he had eaten very little over the last few days.  He wanted bacon.  A big pile of bacon.  Nothing else, just bacon, maybe some toast.  Pushing the hair out of his face, he looked down at Anna who was almost sprawled on top of him.  She had fought with Lizzie over him, defending him to Lizzie.  How could Anna not see what a monster he was?  Why did she want to be with him?  He was broken after all.  A heroin addict, was probably his best trait.  Yet here she was, seeing him through it.  Before he could think more, the strong urge to pee came over him.  He knew he had to move now.

            Slowly he started the process of extracting himself from under her.  Once free, he rushed to the bathroom doing what he needed to do, then washing his hands.  He looked in on her while he found a pair of boxers and t-shirt.  Once he had some clothes on, he rushed out to the kitchen in search of bacon. 

            Of course Anna’s fridge and freezer were mostly empty.  Grabbing the house phone he dialed Dembe’s number. 

            “Anna is everything ok?”  Dembe answered clearly having been asleep his voice laced with worry.

            “All is fine Dembe.  Can you bring some supplies to Anna’s house?”

            “What do you need?”  Dembe asked weary.

            “Bacon.  Bread and butter.”

            “Baz is watching Elizabeth.”  Dembe said, “I’ll be there in twenty.”

            “Great.”  Red said pulling out the OJ from the fridge.

            True to his word Dembe was at the front door twenty minutes later with a grocery bag.

            “I will cook.”  Dembe said pushing past Red walking to the kitchen.  “You always burn the bacon.”

            “No I make it extra crispy the way bacon should be.”

            “Sometimes it’s black Raymond.”  Dembe said slipping into their friendship as if they had never had a strained relationship.  Red was grateful for it.  He had worried about what his heroin addiction might have done to his relationship with Dembe.  Dembe was forgiving but Red had done so much recently to be forgiven for, he was sure Dembe would run out of forgiveness.

            “How is Lizzie?”

            “Fine.  She came home quite upset last night.”  Dembe said.

            Red raised his hands, “I did nothing to cause that my friend.”

            “Are you sure?”

            “yes.  She and Anna had a few words.”  Red said, “I stopped the argument.”

            Dembe did not question anymore and let the subject drop.  “You can make toast.” He said tossing the bag of bread to Red. 

            The two worked in comfortable conversation moving from subject to subject as if nothing had changed between them. 

            Anna came out from the bedroom to the smell of bacon.  Confused because she knew she had no bacon in her apartment.  She found Red and Dembe discussing the finer points of a The Master and Margarita.  She gleaned from the conversation with was a novel.

            “it’s best in the original language.  There is something about the Russian language.”

            “It was boring Raymond.”  Dembe responded , “in any language.  Russian authors just are too bleak and boring.”

            “Good morning.”  Anna said interrupting them.

            “Good morning.”  Red said leaning over and kissing her on the cheek. 

            Dembe smiled at her.

            “Have a seat.”  Red said, “We have bacon and toast.”

            “No eggs?”

            “No.”  Red said, “The thought of eggs makes me want to get sick.”

            “Sorry I asked.”  Anna said, “I see you are feeling better.”

            “It won’t last.”  Dembe said, “By this afternoon he’ll be tired again.”

            “So nice of you Dembe.”  Red said.

            “I called the doctor on my way over.  He said the third/fourth day we should expect you to have a burst of energy, but you would crash.  You have a few more days.”

            Red nodded his head, he did not want to talk about his addiction right now.  He felt the itch, but he could ignore it for now.  He would ignore from now on, he corrected himself.  He had to if he wanted to keep things going.  With Ressler working as a spy for Panabaker and the NSA, Cooper and the FBI growing tired of his increasing body count, Dembe’s patience wearing thin, the damage he did to his business while on his little binge, Tom Keen coming back around, and the unknown enemy still out there, he needed a clear head to deal with and repair all of this. 

            “Any issues with Tom?”  Red asked switching the subject.

            “He has not reappeared yet.”

            “Good.”  Red said not sure what he would do if Tom continued to be a nuisance.  Lizzie cared for the damn man, therefore, despite his desire to end Tom’s life he wouldn’t. 

            When they finally all sat down to eat the conversation was comfortable.  Each sharing stories about their travels, with Dembe occasionally interrupting Red to correct when Red exaggerated his tales. 

            Red felt at peace with Anna and Dembe, as it should be, he thought as he ate a piece of bacon.  If only Lizzie could accept Anna, then having Lizzie and Agnes around would make it perfect. 

            Finishing off his plate, Red demanded to do the dishes.  Anna agreed to let him, leaving him to work while she went to go return emails she received over night.

            Dembe stayed hanging around not saying anything.  He just watched Raymond and noticed how comfortable he seemed to be.  It was almost as if the old Raymond was back, the one that would never have thought about shooting Kate Kaplan.  Dembe did not want to ruin it, so he decided to keep quiet about what he had found out about Anna.  There was not enough evidence yet to damn her.  Taking a meeting with the director of the NSA and some unknown woman was not enough evidence to indicate she was working against Raymond as a spy.  Dembe had secretly asked Marvin and Glen to look more into Anna.  Lizzie had learned from Aram that Red already asked for a thorough background check and no red flags came up, but there were too many incidents to be blindly ignored. 

            “What’s wrong Dembe?”  Red said seeing his friend staring at him.  Red worried that Dembe was thinking about Kate.  He would never be able to correct that rash action, he knew then and knows for sure now, he should have just sent her away.  Her motives were misguided, but good still.  She was trying to protect Lizzie, and he could not see past the anger and the hurt. 

            “Nothing.  Just glad to see you are back.”

            “I never left.”

            “You know what I mean.”

            “I do.”  Red answered drying his hands off, “I’m sorry.”

            “We all fall down sometimes.  I’m just glad you have people who care to help you get back up.  And you are letting them.”

Chapter Text

            As soon as the worst symptoms of withdraw passed, Anna proposed they go on a trip.  Somewhere they could spend time together, just the two of them.  Her argument made sense, he needed time to fully recover his strength and being away would help with the temptation.  Not that it would not be easy to get drugs anywhere they went, given his connections, but without the ready-made connections, it would be an extra step.  So Red agreed, even when Anna insisted they only go with his secondary team, no Dembe or Baz.  Red had planned on leaving one of the two men behind because Tom Keen was back in town, he had yet to try to make contact with Liz but it was only a matter of time. 

            This was how Red found himself walking hand in hand with Anna down a warm beach.  Both carrying their shoes in their free hands, talking about nothing and everything.  Her smile seemed to warm a part of him he thought long dead.  He found himself truly smiling at her stories.  It was easy, as easy as it always had seemed to be.  Just being himself with her.  No judgment, no looks that told him she saw only the darkness.  Anna only seemed to see the good in him. 

            She pulled him from his thoughts when he felt her hand slip out of his and in the next second water was splashing up onto him.  This started their water battle, each splashing the other as they moved further into the ocean.  The waves washing the sand from their feet as the laughed and played in the water like a normal couple.  It was in the middle of the water fight that he realized he truly loved her.  Love, an emotion he thought brought only pain and weakness, but with her it seemed right. 

            Rushing her, he grabbed her in a bear hug, kissing her deeply.  She returned the kiss and pulled away squealing, “Put me down Ray.”

            Red complied letting her down both of them drenched from their little water fight. 

            “I think it is time to go back to the hotel.”  She said grabbing his hand and pulling him along.

            “You still hate wearing wet clothes, after all of these years.”  He said remembering that tidbit from their past.

            “Yes.”  She said smiling, “I’ll race you back.”  She pushed him back and took off at full speed towards the hotel.

            Red did his best to catch up, he was not much of a runner these days.  He caught her finally just as they entered their bungalow they had rented.  It was a large private bungalow, set aside from the others.  It afforded them privacy.  As soon as she got inside she started to strip out of her clothes, not caring about who might see her, as the door and windows were open to allow the ocean breeze inside to air out the room from the previous night activities. 

            “Shower then food.”  She said, “I’m starving.”

            Red followed her stripping off his polo shirt, and khaki pants, well undressed for his usual fanfare, but appropriate for the beach vacation.  Once inside the shower he washed her, she smacked his hands away a few times, “I’m starving Ray, we are not going to do what we did last night.”

            “The concierge would have gotten us food.”

            “It was midnight. There was no way we were going to disturb the poor man.  Plus I asked him to get us a table at one of the restaurants I wanted to try.  So PG shower, and if you are good then after dinner.”

            “As you wish.”  He said kissing her neck, knowing it drove her insane. 

            “God Ray.”  She said turning to kiss him, “I love you.”  She said as she pulled away from the kiss.  “I have always loved you.”

            Red smiled at her, he saw how she steeled herself for him to push her away.  It was his MO after all.  “I love you too.” 

            A look of surprise came across her face.

            “Now lets finish our shower so we can get you fed.”

=====================

            “Where is he Dembe?”  Liz asked annoyed that she had not heard from Reddington since the night she and Anna had fought.

            “Out of town.”  Dembe said, “He gave me a list of names for you all to work on while he was away.”

            “Cooper wants to see him.”  Liz said having been read the riot act earlier for Reddington’s long absences from the blacksite.  As if she had control over him.

            “He is out of town.  I already have tried to contact our people to see where he went and he called me and told me to quit being a mother hen.  He would see me when he got back.”

            “He’s with Anna.”

            “Yes.”  Dembe said.

            “You are unsure of her too aren’t you?”  Liz was shooting in the dark because Dembe was unreadable as ever.

            Dembe did not respond, but his lack of response was answer enough.

            “She is no good.”  Liz continued, “I don’t know what she is up to, but she’s up to something.  Has he ever just taken off like this without you or Baz or letting people know where he’s going?”

            “He has before, but I or Kate knew where went usually.”  Dembe said.

            “I bet she was the one who suggested.  For all we know she led him into some trap and he’s being tortured somewhere.” 

            Dembe had thought of that possibility, so he had contacted one of the security team with Red and made them tell him that Red was at least being safe.  Baz’s friend had assured him that was the case.  She would not tell them where they were at, but that Red was still taking the proper precautions.  It was enough so Dembe could rest a bit easier.  “That is not the case.  I know.”

            “Ok.  But it could be.  Maybe I should ask Aram to track him somehow.”

            “He doesn’t have a phone, and Anna’s has been turned off.”

            “And we can’t track the people with him?” 

            “Probably not.”  Dembe answered.

            “I just don’t have a good feeling about this.” 

            “It’s fine Liz.”  Dembe said, “Raymond will do what Raymond wants.  It’s always been that way.”

            In truth Liz felt jealousy course through her veins.  Red has not called to check on her or Agnes.  He left without telling her where he was going or that he was going.  He was out there living his life to the fullest, while she was here, her life a mess thanks to Red.

=============

            “I need to step out for awhile.”  Red said watching as Anna got dressed to go down to the beach.

            “You promised no work.” 

            “It’s not work.”  Red said continuing when he saw the look of skepticism on Anna’s face, “I swear. It’s not work.”

            “Then why can’t I go with you?”

            “It’s a surprise.”  He said, “I want to surprise you.”

            “Fine, but I hate surprises.”

            “I know, but it’s a good one. Enjoy your time at the beach.”

            “I will.  Join me when you get back.”  She leaned over the bed and kissed him.  “And don’t be gone long.”

            “I won’t be.”  Red said smiling at her, he continued to sit on the bed as he enjoyed watching her walk away.  He needed a quick shower, and then he would be off to the jeweler, a florist, and the market to pick up supplies for the night.

===============

            Anna returned to their bungalow and found Red working in the kitchen they had not used once since arriving.  “What are you doing?”

            “Cooking dinner.”  Red said, “It is part of the surprise.”

            “And the flowers?”

            “For you my love.”  He said kissing her and turning back to cooking. 

            “You are making my favorite aren’t you?”

            “yes.”  Red said lifting the pot so she could smell the aroma of the stew he was making. 

            “You remembered after all of these years.”

            “Yes.”  Red said, “how could I forget?  You talked about how much you missed your grandma’s stew.”

            “I’ll go shower then.”  She said smiling at him.  In the bedroom, she was rummaging around for clean clothes, when she found a velvet ring box in Red’s suitcase.  Gasping she opened it and found an engagement ring inside.  It was the ring she had dreamt of as a child.  She had hinted at it a few times during their previous relationship. When she had wanted to marry him.  Now it felt like it burned in her hands.  She was not ready to marry him.  He wasn’t going to propose tonight?  It was way too soon.  God not tonight, it would ruin the trip. 

            Red realized that Anna had been in the shower for awhile.  The stew was simmering and would be ready whenever she was.  Walking into the bedroom he thought he heard her talking on the other side of the closed bathroom door.  He tried to turn the handle but she had locked the door.  That was unusual, she usually left the door open.  The two have become extremely comfortable with each other while he was detoxing. 

“Anna.”  He called through the door.

“Yes.”  She called back her voice seemed to echo in the bathroom.

“You ok?”

“Yes.”  She responded.  “Almost done.”

“Ok.”  Red said feeling uneasy about the closed lock door, or the fact that he was confident he heard her talking on the other side.  Who was she talking too?  He saw her phone sitting on the nightstand, still off.  Maybe he was just being paranoid.  But part of him wondered, so he sat on the bed and waited for her to come out of the bathroom.  It was not ten minutes later she emerged from the bathroom, steam following her out.  She was drying her hair while the rest of her body was unclothed.  He couldn’t help but watch a drop of water run from her neck, down her bare breast and then onto the floor.  Licking his lips, he asked, “Why did you lock the door?”

            “To keep you out.”  She said walking over to her suitcase, “I am hungry again, and I didn’t want you to come in horny and stopping me from getting food.”

            “Ok.”  He said still not sure he trusted her answer.  “Dinner is ready whenever you are.”

            “Great.  Let me get dressed and then we can eat.  I’m famished.  I skipped lunch to arrange a surprise for you.”

            “Oh you did.” He said watching her as she dressed.

            “I felt it only fair since you were surprising me.”

            “And what is my surprise?”

            “You will find out in a few hours.” 

            “Just a few hours.”

            “yes we need to make dinner fast and see if housekeeping can clean up for us.”

            “I can arrange that.”  Red said getting up from the bed to let her dress.  He was still not completely sure he trusted that she was just trying to keep him out of the bathroom or who she was talking to in the bathroom.  Maybe herself, Red had tried to assuage his concern. It was the only logical explanation.  There was no window in the bathroom, and no one else was in the room with her. 

            They ate in comfortable conversation.  Red kept trying to get what his surprise was out of her, but she refused to answer.  When they finished she told him to bring a sweater and tennis shoes.  The car was already waiting for them. She insisted on driving them, so as not to give the surprise away until they arrived.

            When they pulled up to the docks, Red looked at her and guessed his surprise, “You rented a sailboat?”

            “Yes.”  She said, “I thought we could sail off into the sunset and then stargaze out a sea.  It will prevent the ambient light of the city from blocking our view of the night sky.”  When he didn’t react she thought maybe she had gotten it wrong.  Ray had always discussed his love of sailing, they had done it a hundred of times together.  “You don’t like it?”

            “No I love it.”  Red said, “I just am surprised is all.”  A feeling of unease still was present, but he was doing his best to ignore it.  “How long do we have the boat?”

            “A few days if we wish.  I had your people buy clothes and supplies earlier today.  If we want it longer we, just have to let your people know.  I thought this was a good way for us to truly be alone.”

            “Sounds amazing.”  Red said grabbing her hand a kissing it, “Thank you.”

            “Thank you for my surprise.  Now let’s go.”

Chapter Text

Liz was in the middle of picking up her new apartment when a knock on the door alerted her to a visitor. With an armed contingent of Red’s people across the hallway, she felt comfortable opening the door to the mousy looking female with short cropped hair. Liz did not recognize her from anywhere.

            “Hello,”  Liz said cautiously because the stranger in front of her looked nervous.

            “Are you Elizabeth Keen?”

            “Yes.”

            “You’ve been served.”  The woman said thrusting an envelope into Liz’s hand.

“What?” 

“I don’t know I just deliver the information.”  The woman said her back turned to Liz as she left the building.

Liz tore through the envelope to find out what the papers were inside. The apartment was quiet because the nanny had taken Agnes out earlier.  Liz had a light Saturday at work, only needed to complete a few pages of paperwork and update a few case files before she could return home to spend the day with her daughter. The nanny had called to tell her she was going to the park with Agnes, a nice feature of the woman Red had helped Liz higher, actually, he had hired her before Liz got to even meet her, but Liz had moved past that she reminded herself.  The nice feature was the woman often updated Liz to her locations with Agnes. Text messages and phone calls informed Liz of their location when they left the apartment.  It was comforting, that and she knew the woman was well trained in multiple forms of martial arts.  Red had informed Liz of such information, requiring that Agnes have her own bodyguard who also happened to work as a nanny. 

The papers informed her that Tom was suing her for visitation rights with Agnes. Of course he was, when they moved she did not tell him the location and had kept it closely guarded, she did not want Tom showing up unannounced or knowing where she was because he would just try to weasel his way back into her life. Visiting Agnes would be a great opening for him to get back into her life. 

Grabbing her cell phone she dialed his old number from memory, hoping it was still functioning. It took three rings before he answered the phone.

“What the fuck Tom.”  Liz said, “I asked you to leave us alone.  Do you even want to see your daughter?  Because up until a few weeks ago you seemed to be ok with being an absent father.”

“Hello to you too Liz.”  Tom said angering Liz with the cheer in his voice. “Yes I want to see my daughter. I have rights too. I could have tried to get full custody.  Ex-felon mother who just got pardoned by the president of the United States for assassinating a sitting Attorney General, and spent months on the run with a well-known dangerous fugitive.  What are your work hours like these days?  I bet the nanny you hired spends more time with Agnes then you do.”

“Fuck you Tom.”  Liz snapped her anger boiling over because he was right.  She was a horrible mother but she was Agnes mother. 

“All I want is to be able to visit with my child.  I think that is fair.”

“So if I let you see her, you will drop this nonsense?”  Liz asked knowing his comment about the option of going for full custody was a veiled threat.  He would make this case messy, and the probability she would come out unscathed was low.  Especially given her current work.  If the judge or Tom’s lawyer asked her about her associations with Reddington, that would have implications for national security and the task force. But most of all, a part of her feared that her past, compared to Tom who had a squeaky clean past because of his false identities, would end up with the judge favoring Tom as the sole parent. While part of her knew it was unlikely, the court tended to favor mothers, there was still a chance and that was a chance she was not willing to take.

“I want weekly visits to start.”  Tom said, “And once you are comfortable, I would like to have Agnes every other weekend and some weekdays.” 

Liz sighed it was a reasonable request.  Tom was Agnes father after all, and he may be a shit for leaving them to find his own answers, but only Agnes got punished by her keeping Tom out of the girl's life. Tom would never hurt the little girl, he loved her, Liz reminded herself. 

“I am fine with weekly visits to start.”  Liz said, “But I am not sure about you taking her.  How will I know you will not just disappear with her.”

“You mean like you did.” 

“You need to leave.”  Baz’s voice filtered through the phone. 

Opening her apartment door, phone still to her ear, she saw Baz blocking Tom from coming further down the hallway to her apartment.

“Was this all just a ruse to find out where I was living?”  Liz asked, “I cannot believe you tailed the process server.”

“I just want to see my daughter.”  Tom said hands raised so that he would not worry Baz, who he was confident would like to shoot him.

“She’s not home right now.”  Liz sighed. “She should be back from the park in about twenty to thirty minutes.”

“If I come back will you let me see her?”

“Yes.”  Liz said, “But you are not leaving the apartment with her.”

“I just want to see her.”  Tom was almost pleading.  It made Liz’s heartache because she really wanted her daughter to have both parents in her life.  Agnes deserved to have two parents, not together as a couple, but both there to be there for her. 

“I will let you see her.”  Liz said, “But I swear to god Tom, if you are doing this just to get to me, I will kill you myself.”

“I’m not Liz.”  Tom said, “I realized I screwed up when I left. I’m a father, and how can I expect to be any better than my own father if I abandoned my daughter.”

Liz knew what he meant, it was something she had often feared herself.  Would she be better than her birth mother and father? That was a low bar, but she had hoped to rise above it. Once again, she would give Tom the benefit of doubt and let him back into Agnes life, guarded at first, and they could ease into him co-parenting.

“Come back in a half hour.”

“I can’t wait…”

“Don’t push it Tom.” Liz said nodding at Baz who escorted Tom out of the building.

Liz wanted to call Red but she did not have his phone number. When she heard Baz returning, she went back to the hallway to speak with Baz, “Can you contact Red for me?”

“He is out of reach right now.” Baz informed her, “I will call the team with him, but he took off with Anna.”

“What?”  Liz said, “I know they were on vacation but the team is not with him?”

“No.  They went on a sailing trip.”  Baz said feeling uncomfortable about his employer being completely out of contact. 

“When you do get ahold of him, please let me know.  And please don’t tell him about Tom. I want to speak with him first.”

Baz frown deepened, “I cannot lie to him if he asks.”

“Then don’t make him ask.”  Liz said, “I’ll tell him.  It’s part of the reason I want to talk to him.”

“I’ll give the team a call and let them know it is urgent.”

“Exactly where are they sailing?”

Baz gave her another look, it was well known amongst Red people that Anna and Liz did not like each other, and many of them knew it was jealousy. Many believed Liz hated Anna because she was the woman in Red’s life. What was debated was if Liz’s jealousy was equivalent to a parent dating a new person or if it was an ex- moving on and dating a new person. While Baz was the team leader he was not involved in the betting pool between many of Red’s tactical teams, as to which scenario was more correct. Baz had to show leadership and be above those bets. He knew about the pool and did nothing to stop it, but he would not get involved. From his knowledge of Liz and Red, he was confident it was more of the ex-lover jealously, but he knew for a fact that Red had never made a move on Elizabeth. Red held the woman up on a pedestal, and if Red were to ever let his true feelings be known, it would be because Liz made the first move. But things may be changing because Red was very serious about Anna.  Baz being sent to guard her during the Solnik debacle was proof.  When did he become an extra on a soap opera?  Baz thought as he walked into the apartment where he and a team kept 24/7 surveillance on Liz’s apartment.  

Meanwhile, Liz quickly finished picking up the apartment.  There was not much out, as the Nanny tended to clean the apartment, but this morning Liz told her to leave the mess.  Dishes in the dishwasher, lunch ready for when Agnes got back, and clothes put away.  The apartment was clean for when Tom came back to see his daughter.

Liz was anxious for the nanny to return with Agnes. Her hope of spending a lazy Saturday with her daughter was quickly disappearing.  There was always Sunday, assuming Reddington did not return with a name. Was Red avoiding her?  Or was it Anna keeping Red away?  The way the woman had tried to come between Liz and Red, claiming Liz treated Red like crap, had been complete bullshit, Liz pondered while she waited for the Nanny to return.

==================

            “We need to go back.”  Red said hating to disrupt their vacation.  It truly had been relaxing.  In the time he had been with Anna both on land during their vacation, and on the sailboat, he felt normal.  He was the monster, Concierge of Crime, FBI most wanted, or Red the destroyer of lives.  He was just a man with the woman he loved, who loved him back.  They talked about literature, fine wines, and music.  She told stories and he told his own.  She called him on his BS. 

Their nights were spent laying on their back on the deck looking up at the night sky.  They traded stories of the constellations, both knowing the old mythologies. While he rarely thought of the man he had once been before all of this, he found himself wondering if it was possible to ever have that again.  He could disappear, with Anna, it would not be hard.  Fake his death like Lizzie did, and he would be free.  Dembe could take over, Lizzie seemed to prefer Dembe over him.  But he knew it was all part of the vacation fantasy.  The dream made up when enjoying vacation time.  He would never turn his back on Lizzie.  But he could dream about it.

“What is wrong?”  Anna asked responding to his earlier statement they had to go back.

“An emergency.”  Red purposely did no mention Lizzies name.  If he told Anna Lizzie needed him urgently, it would ruin the vacation bubble.  Anna was not fond of Lizzie, and Red could understand because Anna has only seen the way Lizzie treats him.  She does not see the good in Lizzie because the havoc he has brought to Lizzies life hides it. 

“Let me guess it has to do with Elizabeth Keen.”  Anna already knew, it was one of the few things that Red would not let Dembe handle.

“I’m sorry.”  Red thought to the ring he had hidden.  Tonight would have been the night he asked her to marry him.  It was the perfect time, right before they returned to land.  But now he did not think it the best time to ask. 

“I understand.”  Anna said kissing him, “Doesn’t mean I like it.  Or how she treats you.”

“Let’s not argue,”  Red said grabbing her hand.

“We won’t.  I just had to say my peace.”

“I will make it up to you.”

“You will.”  Anna said smiling at him, “I’ll go clean up while you get us back to land.”

Red should have turned the radio off as he had promised.  Then he would not know that Lizzie needed him urgently, and all could have gone to plan.

=============

Once back on the hotel, Red arrange for a car to drive to the airport.  He wanted time to talk with Anna one on one.  They had not talked much after he told her they needed to return from their vacation a bit early.  She avoided him, as much as she could on the boat, and back at the hotel, she claimed the need to focus on packing.

She had every right to be upset.  They were on vacation, and he was cutting it short because another woman needed him urgently. It was unspoken between them, but he had feelings for Lizzie.  Messed up, complicated, feelings that Oedipus would have thought eye gauging worthy level of feelings.  He cared for Lizzie deeply, and he knew he was in love with her.  He had been under her spell since the first time he saw real Lizzie.  The real Lizzie was the angry woman who jabbed a pen in his neck and threatens to let him die unless he told her the truth.  That wild side of her attracted him.  It was always the most dangerous to him that attracted him., whether it was Anna (both times), Medline Pratt, the French spy, and Lizzie. 

Breaking the silence, he grabbed Anna’s arm gently before she could walk past him to put more clothes into her suitcase, “I am sorry about this.”

“I understand Ray.”  Anna said not pulling from his grasp and trying to give him a smile that did not quite reach her eyes.

“I will make it up to you.”  Red said, “If you wish I could fly back alone and you could finish the vacation here.  I can return as soon…”

“No.  We have hidden away from work and the world long enough. When you were on the phone getting the plane and car ready, I turned my phone on and the real world caught up.  I have a lot of emails and missed phone call from work I need to catch up on.”

“Is everything ok?”

“Yes just the usual work.”  Anna responded, “I have a lot to catch up on is all.  The past few weeks I have ignored my job.”

“I am sorry,”  Red said knowing he was the cause of that.  He never wanted to interrupt her life.  He had tried his best to ensure he did not bring havoc to her life, as he had done to Lizzies.

“It is not your fault.  I made the choice.”  Anna said looking at him to make sure he understood she meant what she was saying, “And I cannot fault you for wanting to return to make sure everything is ok with Elizabeth.  If Baz and Dembe think it is urgent enough to track you down, then it must be important.” 

“I do not deserve to have someone so understanding,”  Red said leaning in to kiss her deeply.  He truly did not deserve her, but he was not noble enough to give her up just because he did not deserve her. 

“I know.  We can avoid the real world a bit longer once we are on the plan back.”  She grabbed her suitcase off the bed, “I am going to take this to the car and return my assistants phone call.”

“I have people who can take it for you.”

“No I want to.  I need to make up for all the food we ate.”

Red laughed and watched her leave the room before he returned to his own bag.  It had been awhile since he packed his own bag. Finishing he took one last look around the bungalow that had been their sanctuary.  It had been a nice time out, in which, he rarely found himself wishing for the heroin high.  The cravings had almost disappeared, but he knew once he was back, they would return. 

Turning the lights off, he walked down the stone pathway to the waiting car.  As Anna came into view he could hear her side of the phone conversation.

“Once he gets done packing, he’s driving us directly to the airport.  Cancel it.” 

Red slowed his walk, wondering what Anna was canceling.  He chastised himself for eavesdropping on her conversation.  In his line of work, it was hard to trust people.  Anna had never given him any reason not to trust her intentions.  He should trust her complete, he reminded himself.  Had Elizabeth not had whatever urgent matter, he would have asked Anna to marry him.  How could he doubt her like that?

“Something urgent came up.  I do not know what.”  Anna smiled at him when he came into her view.  “I got to go.  We are leaving now.” 

Red loaded his suitcase in the back of the car, and climbed into the driver side. 

“Sorry my assistant is a bit nosey.”

He wanted to ask her what she was canceling, but it would indicate he did not trust her.  That was not something he wanted, not with the ring box in his pocket pocking him in the leg reminding him of the commitment he wanted to make to her.

“I had a standing reservation for us.  One of the local hotspots is actually owned by one of my former clients.  Her mother sold her to a group of human traffickers.  She was part of one of the first groups my organization rescued.  I wanted to make sure she knew we could not make it because of an emergency.  My assistant set it up for me, when I asked for help on arranging the boat.”

“I am sorry Anna.  Are you sure you do not want to stay?  My team can stay with you.”

“Stop apologizing Ray.  We can come back in awhile.”  Anna said grabbing his hand and squeezing it in comfort, “And I will catch up with Marieke next month when she comes to the fundraising banquet.” 

They slipped into silence as they drove away from their haven.  They were halfway to the small airstrip that would lead them back to the real world.  Red was deep in thought on how he could make this up to Anna.  It was too late to arrange for Marieke to joining them on the flight back.  He needed to make it up to Anna, and part of him felt guilty for doubting her.  Had she sensed it, was that why she told him about the cancelation?  When he thoughts shifted to Lizzie and her urgent matter, he also felt more guilt.  He was worried about Lizzie, while with Anna.  He had thought of Lizzie a few times on the trip, more of Agnes and Lizzie, than just about Lizzie.

As they approached the intersection, he slowed the car to a stop.  The red light halting their progress towards the airport.  He reached over and grabbed Anna’s hand kissing the back of it.  “You are too good for me.” 

“I know.”  She smiled leaning over to kiss him.

The car behind honked their horn, alerting him to the change in the light.  Turning back to the road he started to roll through the intersection.  Their progress was halted by a truck plowing through the red light, and slamming into the driver side of the car.  The truck was speeding fast enough that it lifted the driver side of Red’s car off the ground sending it flying into the other side of the intersection. 

All Red heard was the loud bang of the truck hitting them, and someone screaming before he blacked out.

========= 

The nanny returned with Agnes and Liz quickly scooped her daughter out of the stroller.  It seemed like the infant was quickly growing with each passing day. It was moving too fast, and Agnes was not even on years old yet.

“You can take the rest of the weekend off.” Liz said kissing her daughters head. She needed to find more time to spend with Agnes.

“Ok.”  The nanny said a bit surprised, “If you need me I’ll be in my apartment upstairs.”

Another thing Liz had to accept, Red had bought the nanny an apartment in the same building, to ensure she was close by if Liz needed her.  Once again, without asking Lizzie.  She had called to yell at him when he did, and he had listened to her before asking her if she was finished. Then he provided his reasoning, and Liz yelled one more time before hanging up on him.

“I should be fine.  Did she eat well this morning?”

“Yes.  She loved the scrambled eggs and she mixed them with ketchup.  I think she really likes ketchup and would eat it on anything.”  The nanny said making a face as ketchup was a disgusting condiment that should never be utilized but Agnes seemed to love it.

Liz laughed at the nanny’s face, “I loved ketchup when I was younger too.  Sam had to keep a huge bottle on hand.  I used to eat it on just bread.”

“No thank you I would rather starve.”  The nanny responded before taking her leave.

Right at the half-hour mark, a knock on the door alerted Liz to the probability that Tom was outside waiting to see Agnes.  Agnes was sitting in her high chair eating her afternoon snack, pieces of pears and bananas. 

Liz opened the door finding Tom standing there with a stuffed animal in one hand and flowers in the other.

“Those flowers better be for Agnes, and I think she might still be too young to enjoy them.”

“They are a gift for you, as a thank you for letting me see her,”  Tom said offering them to Liz.

Liz took them and let Tom come in.  Baz was in the hallway looking at her for directions.  It was a new nice feature of her security detail, she did get to dictate when they came into her apartment.  “It will be fine Baz.  I will let you know if I need you.”

Baz nodded, “I was able to get a message to Raymond. If Raymond can, he will call, otherwise, he will see you tomorrow afternoon.”

“Thanks, Baz,”  Liz said closing the door and finding Tom standing by Agnes smiling at his daughter.  God the man was good looking with his blue eyes, athletic build, and he dressed better these days too, Liz realized.

“How is Reddington?”  Tom asked picking up Agnes who protested at first with tears and then calmed down once her mom came into view.

“Good.” Liz said, “Don’t see him much these days.” 

“Really.  I admit I’m surprised you allowed him to be that close.  I thought you wanted him out of Agnes life.”

“No you wanted him out of Agnes life.  I just wanted to make sure Agnes was safe.”  Liz said watching Tom not wanting to fight with him over Red. “But you did not come here to fight with me about Red.”

“I heard he has a girlfriend these days.”

“I don’t know.”  Liz said wondering if Tom’s motive was to get information on Red, and not to see his daughter.

Tom shrugged as if he did not care and carried Agnes over to the couch. 

Liz picked up the mess from her daughter’s afternoon snack, knowing that Baz would stop Tom if he tried to leave the building with Agnes.  Therefore, she was not worried about Tom running off and did not feel the need to watch him closely.

When she returned to the living room Tom was on the floor playing with Agnes.  “How have you been Liz?”  Tom asked.

“We’ve been good.”  Liz said, “Agnes sitting up on her own now, and is almost crawling.  She gets closer every day. She keeps trying to stand up.  Marta thinks she’ll walk before she crawls.”  Liz smiled at that thought because it was a running joke between her and the nanny.

“I have missed you both.”

“Tom you are here to see Agnes.  Maybe I should go start dinner, so you can have time with her.”

“Come on Liz. You have to understand why I had to go. I needed to know why it all happened.”  Tom protested as Liz tried to exit the room.  “You would have done the same.”

“No I wouldn’t have.”  Liz snapped her anger getting the best of her, “I would never abandon our daughter.”

“What about when Kirk had her?  You were willing to let him keep her.”  Tom responded his voice rising, “You begged me not to try to get her when we could trace her location.  Why was that Liz?  Was it because you were afraid I’d kill Kirk during the extraction.”

“No.”  Liz said, “I was afraid of losing the only connection to our daughter when your plan failed like it did.”

Tom did not respond right away he felt like she had smacked him.  She expected him to fail, but she had fully trusted Red to succeed in getting their daughter back.  She had more faith in Red to keep them safe, then she had in Tom, and it hurt his pride to know that.  He suspected it but to hear her say it, or at least hint at it, was a different matter.

“I do not want to fight with you,”  Tom said even though her words bothered him.

“I do not want you in my life.  If you want to be a father to our daughter than I will do what I can to support that.  But we are through.”

Tom did not respond.  Agnes was reaching for her mom, but Tom kept her in his arms.  “Just be careful around Reddington.”

“I am Tom.”  Liz said, “You be careful.”

“I always am.”

Liz stopped before she walked out of the room.  She wanted to ask Tom something, but she was not sure how to start that conversation.  Or if she should.  She really wanted Agnes to have a father in her life, even if it is Tom.  But she needed to know something.  “Do you know anything about Red’s girlfriend?”

“Not much,”  Tom said raising his eyebrow in interest.  “She is not part of the business.  She does deal with some not so pleasant people with her human trafficking work.”

“So she does not work with the CIA or NSA or any of those.”

“With?  Not so much.  She has used them before to help with getting information on transnational criminals, tracking them and apprehending them, but not working with the agencies themselves.”

“Then why would she be meeting with them?”

“Intelligence briefs or they are trying to court her maybe.”  Tom was now interested because he saw jealously in Liz’s eyes.  He had always wondered about her relationship with Reddington.  If something more had happened while they were on the run together.  They had grown so close during that time. 

“Unrelated, Why did you push Red to avenge my death?  When you knew I was alive.”

“Had to make it believable.”  Tom responded, “He would expect me to want revenge.”

Liz nodded not buying it, but she knew now was not the time to push Tom for more information.  She could already see he was interested in her line of questioning about Anna.  She may have just told Tom about one of Red’s weaknesses, and she was not sure she trusted Tom to not exploit it.  “Enjoy your time with Agnes.” 

Twenty minutes later she heard the front door open and close. Leaving the kitchen she saw Agnes sitting on the floor her stuffed animal Tom brought her sitting next to her.  Liz walked over and picked up her daughter before locking the door to ensure Tom could not come back. 

“Did you enjoy your visit with your dad?”  Liz asked the little girl knowing full well Agnes could not respond, but Liz enjoyed talking to the little girl.  Her smile was infectious.

Just as Liz was turning on Agnes favorite cartoon, at least she assumed it was the little girl's favorite cartoon because she made more noise at the TV when it was on than any other time, there was another knock at the door. 

Baz stood on the other side looking concerned. 

Liz opened the door wondering if Red had been hurt or worse, there was no reason to suspect it but Baz had that apprehensive look on his face.

“Is everything ok?”  Baz asked, “We saw Tom leave.”

“Everything is fine.  He is not to be allowed in the apartment without me, but he will likely be around more often to visit Agnes.”

“I will let the team know.”  Baz said he stood there without moving, signaling to Liz there was more he wanted to say.  Finally he spoke again, “There has been a complication.  Raymond may not be back tomorrow.”

“Is everything ok?” 

“Yes.”  Baz lied because he did not know, “He will be unable to call tonight, but Anna believes they will be back tomorrow.”

“Anna?  What happened?”

“I am not a liberty to say.”  Baz responded.

“Is Red ok?  At least tell me that.”

“Yes. They are both alive.”  Baz answered his words hinting that it was likely at least one of them were injured.

Liz could deduce that it was likely Red.  “How bad is it?”

“We don’t know for sure.”  Baz responded uncomfortably because he had said too much already, “Anna believes it is likely minor but insisted that Raymond gets seen by a doctor after all he has been through these last few months.”

“What happened?”

“I can’t Elizabeth,”  Baz said.

Liz nodded in understanding. But she wanted to keep pestering Baz until he told her how bad Red had been injured or at least what had happened.  It felt like not knowing would kill her. She had often wondered why when Red got hurt she was more than worried but terrified for him.  Her feelings extended beyond just caring for someone.  It was a similar feeling she had when Tom had been stabbed by Zamani. 

“Can you at least keep me updated?”

Baz nodded, “As soon as I know when they are flying back I’ll let you know.”

“Where were they?”  Liz asked wondering if she could possibly find something out via Google or Aram might use his methods. 

“It is better you don’t know.”  Baz answered, “Will Tom be back tonight?”

“No.  Even if he comes back please stop him.”

“We will.”  Baz said, “GO back and enjoy your time with Princess Agnes.”  Baz had fallen in love with the little girl and even started to call her the little princess in an endearing way.  Liz had been surprised to see the tough mercenary melt around the little girl. 

Liz smiled as she closed the door, fighting back tears when she realized there were so many people in this world that loved her little girl.  Yet Agnes own father seemed to use her as a pawn to get at something. Liz suspected Tom’s visit was not just to see Agnes, there was a hidden motive.  To get back with her, to learn something about Reddington, or something else that Liz had not imagined yet.  All she knew was Tom unlikely came to spend time with his daughter.  It hurt to know that she loved him at one point, and that she had been so wrong about who he was.  Red had warned her, on a few occasions, and she had not listened to him. 

It didn’t matter.  She thought wiping the tears from her eyes, Agnes was loved by so many.  All of her colleagues, Red’s people, Dembe, Red, and she would all make sure Agnes knew she was loved and cared for. It would be enough, Liz hoped all that love would be enough for her daughter.  That she would never learn what type of man her biological father was, or some of the horrible things her mother had done. 

==================

Chapter Text

Liz had always been a light sleeper, but as a mother, it had been exacerbated.  The need to wake up in seconds of her daughter’s cries had trained her to be alert instantly after hearing a sound.  Tonight, it came in handy because she heard the soft click of a door closing. In the past, it would have been a struggle to get herself alert enough to go investigate.  However, now she was alert out of bed and with her weapon in her hand within seconds of hearing the sound. 

The nursery was across the hallway from her bedroom, so as she made her way towards the noise, Liz quickly peeked inside.  The night light was enough to illuminate the room to allow her to see her daughter was sleeping and alone.  Whoever was in the apartment was good enough to get past Baz and his team, Liz knew she had to keep herself between that person or people and Agnes.  She would not leave the hallway but stay at the end of it where it opened into the living room.

Quietly she crept down the hallway listening for further sound.  There were footsteps on the carpet, that were not her own.  Whoever it was either did not know she was awake and alert to them in the house or did not care.  She was at the entrance of the kitchen when the figure came into view.  Hunched over, a coat in one arm dripping water onto her floor, and a hat in their other free hand.  Liz lowered her weapon back to her side she half whispered half spoke, “Red?”

“Yes.”  He responded in a soft voice.

“What the hell.”  Liz said covering the distance between them, “I could have shot you.”

“I did not want to knock and wake Agnes or risk calling you and waking her by the sound of your phone.”

“So you broke into my apartment?  If you broke my locks…”

“I just used the key to let myself in.”  Red responded by cutting her rant off.

“How do you have a key?  Did you take it from Baz?”

“No.”  In the dark she saw him shifting on his feet,  “I own the building.”

“Of course you do.”  Liz said shaking her head she couldn’t even muster the anger she knew she should feel. “What do you do with my rent checks each month?”

“They are put into an account for Agnes.”  Red answered honestly, “Along with other tenants checks, at least what is not needed to take care of the building.”

“Why are you here this late.”

“Baz said you needed to speak with me, that it was urgent.”  Red answered.

“So you came in the middle of the night.”

“Technically morning, it’s 4:30 am.”

“All the better.”  Liz said glaring at him in the dark.  Something was off, she could not see what in the dark, so she moved towards the kitchen turning a light on.  “Do you want some coffee?”

“Please.”  Red said slowly following behind her.  He set his coat on one of the stools in the kitchen. 

“I didn’t even know it was raining outside.”  Liz said with her back to him while she worked on making coffee.  “Must be pouring with how drenched your coat is.”

“I tried to keep the mess to a minimum.  You really should look into a coatrack.”

“Don’t buy me one.”

“Of course not.”  Red responded with a hint of mischievousness in his voice. 

“Where were you and Anna?”  She tried to keep the venom out of her voice when she said, Anna.

“On a vacation.”  Red responding sitting down on one of the stools. 

When Liz turned around she gasped at the sight of Red.  He had a nasty bruise on his temple reaching down to the bottom of his earlobe. 

“What happened?”

“Minor incident.”  Red said noting the high pitch in Lizzie’s voice.

“Minor!”  Her voice raised again.

“You are going to wake Agnes.”

“She’ll be fine.  Tell me what happened to you.  What did Anna do?”

“Nothing.”  Red said surprised Anna was suspected of having been the cause of the damage.

“Then what happened?” Liz demanded to know her hands on her hips while she glared down at him.

Red did not answer because Agnes was now whimpering from her room.  Both adults looked down the hallway.  Red got up from the chair, “I’ll get her you make the coffee.”

“Are you ok to get her?”  Liz asked seeing him limping and his wrist was wrapped.

“Yes.  I’m not incapacitated.”  Red said rolling his eyes dramatically.  He forced himself to walk without a limp to prove his point. 

The coffee was brewing by time Red returned without Agnes. 

“Just a diaper change.”

“I could have done it.”  Liz said studying Red closer to see if she could guess what his injuries were and how serious. 

“Baz said you needed to speak with me it was urgent.”

“Tom was here.”

Red nodded, of course, he knew, Liz thought bitterly.  She had asked Baz to not tell Red. 

“He was going to sue me for visitation rights and maybe even custody.  I agreed to let him see Agnes.”

“How did the visit go?”  Red asked choosing not to say what he truly thought, which was what was Tom looking for when he visited.

“He asked about you.  Do you think he had anything to do with your incident?”

“Doubtful.”  Red responded so quickly Liz did not believe he had even thought about her question.

“How can you be so sure?”  She asked skeptically.

“Because Tom is not benevolent.  It was a minor car accident on the way to the airport.”

“A car accident?”

“Yes.  A gentleman was texting on his phone and missed the traffic signal changing.”  Red added, “Anna is fine.”

 “Jesus.  Are you sure you are ok?”  She rushed over to him without thinking and pulling open his rumpled suit jacket to see if she could see his injuries closer. 

“Lizzie, what are you doing?”  Red said suddenly stiff only inches between him and Lizzie, she had forced her way between his legs.

“I want to know how badly injured you are.”

“Just some cuts and bruises.  Nothing serious. Anna already played mother hen and forced me to see a doctor before we left.”

“Please tell me where you injured.”

“Why do you need to know Lizzie?  I’m fine.”  Red was still not sure her motives for wanting to know his injuries so bad.

“Why were you limping?”

“Strained my knee again.” Red said reminding her it had been a little over a month since Solnik had taken him and beat him.

“Do you have another concussion?”

“No.  Just bruises and stitches.  I’ve been in worse Lizzie.  I once was within feet of a suicide bomber.  That had been painful.  This is nothing.”

Lizzie was still standing between his legs, her hands resting on his chest. He could smell her lavender soap and shampoo.  It was a cheap brand shampoo that in the past he would have claimed burned his nose, but on her it smelt right. 

“Did you need to talk to me about Tom?”

“Yes.”  Lizzie said realizing she was still standing there so close to him, her hands resting on his chest.  She moved away trying not to look embarrassed at her actions.  “He is Agnes father.  So if he really wants to see her, I should let him.”

“Are you asking for my opinion?”  Red asked his head tilted to the side nodding while he seemed to study her. 

“Yes.”

“I think you should keep him away.”  Red stated expecting her to lash out, but she had asked for his opinion.

“Why?  He is Agnes father.”

“As you said before, he was likely here for something else.”  Red answered, “Tom is dealing with some dangerous people, and that will follow him. I can ask someone to look into why he all of the sudden is interested in seeing his daughter.  Or I can have someone ensure he stays away.”  It would likely mean paying the weasel off, but Red was willing to do whatever it took to keep Agnes safe, even from her own father.

“I don’t know.”  Liz said not sure if either option was what she wanted.  But she thought it was a massive improvement that Red asked her what she wanted instead of doing whatever he thought was best.  She had noticed, with the exception of tonight, that he had been trying to give her the distance she wanted and the ability to make decisions for herself.  The nanny and owning the building were both exceptions to that, of course, but she knew it likely dealt with Agnes safety. He was willing to give her the wide berth she desired as long as Agnes was safe.  That fact is what kept her from yelling at him for owning the building and breaking into her apartment tonight.  He wanted the same thing she did, and he was doing his best to respect her wishes, but still ensuring that Agnes was safe. 

“There are other things we should talk about.”  Liz said pouring them each a cup of coffee.  She knew from experience that he drank his coffee black.  She poured sugar and cream into her own while she watched him sip on the coffee.

“What is that?”

The previous night had been sleepless because she spent the entire night wondering why it bothered her so much that Red could have been injured or worse, and not knowing was worse.  Now she knew he had been injured, but the just could have been was enough to bring up deep feelings.  Feelings she had felt when the man she loved had been almost killed by Zamania.  Only this time they felt deeper and harder, the only other feeling she had stronger than her reaction to Red’s possible injuries was the idea of losing Agnes.  She knew one thing, Red wanted what was best for Agnes, and with Tom back in town Liz needed Red now more than ever.  It mean clearing the air between them. 

“We have not talked about what went own after I faked my death.”  She saw a flash of pain it was so quick she would have missed it if she had blinked at that moment.

“There is nothing to talk about.”  Red said setting the coffee cup down and getting up from his chair.  Liz moved quickly to block his exit standing between him and the doorway that led to the hallway.

            “Please I think we do need to talk.”  Liz voice matched the plead she was making.  “I have been thinking about it, about what I did.  How it must have made you feel.”

            “I do not have feeling Lizzie.”  Red responded calmly, contemplating how he could exit that apartment. 

            “Red please.  I want to find a way we can move forward.”  Liz said, “We keep going in circles, and I know I am mostly at fault for that.”

            “What do you want to know?”  Red responding thinking about how he could get out of this conversation.  He had avoided it because he did not want her to know how much it had hurt.  It would make his exit easier, but he refused to manhandle Lizzie out of his way to get to the door, and that is what he would have to do to exit right now.

            “Awhile ago, Dembe told me how you had reacted.”

            “And?”

            “He told me he and Mr Kaplan had to practically drag you away, and that you collapsed before you got into the car.”  It had broken her heart when Dembe had told her his reaction.  She knew then that he was capable of feeling and that she may have broken him even more. “I never meant to hurt you.”

            “You didn’t.”

            “That is why you killed all those people to revenge me.”  Liz said, “I know Tom had pushed you into it. And I don’t know why he did it.  Because he knew I was alive.  He said it was to make it believable, but I do not think that is the truth.”

            “He had hoped one of them would kill me, isn’t that clear.  That way you all would truly be free of me.”

            “I..”  She had decided she would not lie to him and tell him she did not want to get away from him.  She respected him too much and they both knew it was a lie.  “I never wanted to hurt you.”

            “Is this the real reason why you called me here?”  Red said his eyes studying her, but she could see the weariness in them.

            “No.  I wanted to let you know about Tom.  But we need to talk this out too.”  Liz said, “I have missed having you around.”

            “I thought I was suffocating you.  Isn’t that why Mr. Kaplan helped you fake your death.”

            “Yes, I thought that back then.”  Liz said, “I was in labor, and losing my baby possibly.  I had my baby in a fucking nightclub.”

            “And that is my fault?”

            “No.  I know that now.”  Liz said, “You did not bring Kirk upon me.  I understand that.  He had nothing to do with you actually.  It was my own fault.  After I killed Connelly and it got out in the media, Kirk had realized who I was from those reports.  That I was alive.  You had nothing to do with that.  Other than protecting me from that past.” 

            “I am glad you realized I’m not the all-powerful Oz.”  Red said.

            Liz almost laughed at the reference because it almost seemed fitting because after all isn’t that who Red was.  To everyone who did not know him personally he was this powerful wizard, but when you got to see the man behind the curtain he was just human.  God why had she not realized this before?  Before they had destroyed what relationship they had.  “I care for you.”

            “You’ve told me before.”

            “I know I am horrible at showing it.”  Liz said, “The things I’ve said and done over the last year are not making a good case for it.  But I do care about you.”

            Red did not say anything, but he did look away from her, staring off down the hallway at nothing really.  He did not want her to see the emotions he was fighting back.

“I am worried about you too.”  She tried to move to get back into his eyeline, but she was afraid to leave her spot in front of the door, afraid he’d rush right out.  He looked like an animal trapped, and right now she was sure he’d chew his own arm off to get out. 

Tired, in pain that he was trying to hide, and just wanting to go home, Red looked at his Lizzie and saw the pain and frustration in her eyes, “Can we talk about this at a decent hour?”

“No. I need you to listen now.”  Liz said, “I am worried you Anna is your blind spot.”

“Not now.”  Red said his hand on the door, but Lizzie put her hand against the door, stopping him from opening it.

“She is up to something.”  Liz warned, “I do not know what, but she is up to something.  You are being reckless around her.  You went off without letting Dembe or Baz know where you were, or an easy way to contact you.”

“I was on vacation recovering.”

“I know.  I was there after your seizure.  Anna went and meant with someone.”

“Lizzie, I am too tired for this.”  Red said honestly looking exhausted.  He moved away from the door and sat down on her couch not caring about getting it wet.  There was a nagging feeling in the back of his mind.  All of this would go away with just a little bit, just one line.  He did not even have to inject the heroin.  Smoking it would be fine.  Hell he could probably find some opium to take the pain away.  Anna only allowed him aspirin, and it was barely cutting into the pain. 

“Dembe is worried too.  He has not said anything, but he has been checking on Anna.”

At that moment Red knew exactly what he needed to say to end this conversation.  “I asked Anna to marry me.”

Liz eyes opened wide in surprise,  “What did she say?”

“She asked to think about it.”  Red answered, “There is so much history between her and I, it makes sense she needs to think.”

The silent pause was interrupted by the sound of a phone vibrating.  Red grabbed his flip phone out of his pocket, “I need to take this.” 

Liz could hear Dembe’s voice carry from the phone.  At least it was not Anna. 

Chapter Text

            “Are you avoiding me?”  Red asked his voice holding a hint of concern that he was desperately trying to hide.  He had not seen Anna in the last week since returning.  She had warned him she would be busy with work. 

            “No.  Of course not.”  Anna said, “I have to catch up on work.”

            “How about dinner tonight?  You have to eat.”  Red had wondered how much it was work, and how much it was her avoiding answering his question.  When she was busy fussing over him, somewhere over the Pacific Ocean, he found the words slipping from his lips all on their own, asking her to marry him.  She had been silent for a moment, and than explained she needed time.  It was not a no, but she was not sure she was ready.  They had only reconnected that year and she was not sure she was ready to have her world turned upside down with his circumstance being an issue for her agency.

            “I am not sure when I will get out of the office.”  Anna said glaring at the stack of papers on her desk, and the inbox full of emails. 

            “I can deliver.”  Red tried.

            “You know what, fuck it.  How about we go out tonight?  I can spare a few hours.”  Anna said deciding work could wait.

            “Great.  What time should I have Dembe pick you up?”

            “Two hours ok?”

            “Perfect.  Do you prefer anything specific?  Thai?”

            “Thai sounds great.  See you than.” 

            Red fears melted away.  She was coming to dinner, it really had just been work.  One problem was dealt with for the day.  Too badly all the others did not work out that well.  He had given the task force a new name, and Lizzie had been colder with him ever since he had told her about proposing to Anna.  It had bothered him, but he hid it.  Time to go help the task force once again, Red thought, as Dembe pulled the car to a stop outside the blicksite. 

            “Has she given you an answer yet?”  Dembe asked knowing his friend had proposed to Anna.  It had caused Dembe to search more into what Anna had been doing since she parted way with Red years ago.  There were a few red flags, given her connections with the various clandestine agencies, but nothing firm he could take to Red.  He felt bad for searching behind Red’s back, but it was part of his mission to ensure Red was safe (even from himself).  Dembe started to believe that Elizabeth’s paranoid jealous had gotten to him because there just was not much to go on to confirm either of their suspicions.     

            Once on the main floor of the blacksite Red found Lizzie in her office alone.  “How was Tom’s latest visit with Agnes?”  It was the only conversations they had anymore.  Baz had informed Red that the man was now showing up three or four nights that week to see his daughter.  Tom had even stayed the night before for dinner.  Red knew he had to stay out of it, as much as he wanted to remind Liz of her own feelings towards Tom, the skepticism she had brought up about why Tom was around again.  But he knew it would only lead to a bigger fight they seemed to be building up too. 

            “Good.  He stayed for dinner with us.”  Liz had done it on purpose to hurt Red or maybe get his attention.  She was not confident of her exact motive, other than to annoy Red.  She had no intention of starting up with Tom again.

            Ressler walked towards Red and Liz reading a file, but he stopped when he saw Red and turned around and went the opposite direction when he had seen Red.  Ressler kept his distance from Red every time he came to the post office. While in the past Red likely would have just have disposed of the agent, for his betrayal of working with Panabaker, Red owed the agent his life and he understood why Ressler was doing it.  Ressler had worked most of his adult life trying to imprison Red, and now he had been forced to work with that very man for years.  For now, Red let Ressler be but he kept his eye on him, it was a very short leash and one wrong move that indicated Ressler was a real threat, he would have to be taken care off.

            “Why have I been summoned?”  Red asked Lizzie to fill in the silence. 

            “Aram came across something you might want to see.”  Liz said, “He did not want Cooper or Ressler to know, so he asked me to call you.”

            Well that was something new.  “What is it?”

            “He heard about a possible attack on you or your business.”  Liz said, “The blacklister we caught made a veiled threat.  Someone from your past”

            “There is a revolving threat on me and my organization.  There are no less than 10 bounties for my head right now, and those are not from governments.” Red had heard the murmurs of a possible attack on his organization from a new group that had formed in the wake of the weakened Cabal, and he had yet to find out who had sent Isabella Stone after him, but he was not at least back to trying to find those answers out. 

            “He just wanted to warn you.”  Liz said, “I passed on the message.  Do with it what you wish.”

            “Will Tom be visiting tonight?”

            “Has Anna given you an answer yet?”  Liz fired back venom in her voice.

            Red smiled at her but did not respond.  “It has been lovely as always Lizzie.”

            “Reddington what are you doing here.” Cooper booming voice filled the room.

            “Just checking to make sure you all captured the latest blacklister and I do not have to hold your people’s hands again.  You might want to put them through remedial law enforcement courses.  I think they have gotten soft.”

            “I will take that under advisement.  Do you have another name for us?”

            “Not today.”  Red responded walking away with a wave of his hand. 

            Ressler was waiting for the elevator, on his way out for coffee he desperately needed, and when he saw Red approach he had considered giving up and leaving.  But it was time to stop scurrying around. 

            “Donald.  How is Panabaker?”

           “I have not spoken with her.”  It was the truth Panabaker had not contacted him recently.

             “Send my best next time you speak.”  Red said smiling at the elevator door.  Dembe was behind the two men and said nothing. 

            “What are you doing about Tom?”  Ressler knew from hearing Liz tell Aram him about her ex being back. 

            “Nothing.  Liz asked me to do nothing.”

            “And you are listening to her?”

            “For now.”  Red responded, “How is your brother?”   

            “He is recovering.”  Ressler noted how Red looked healthy himself.  Better than he had looked just weeks ago. 

            The elevator came to a stop, and Red spoke one last time before leaving Ressler, “Be careful with Panabaker.  She does not have your interest in mind.” 

            Ressler was left staring at Red’s back as he walked away.  Ressler had reached similar conclusions after a meeting with an unknown grey-haired woman and Panabaker.  It had been about Reddington.  In that meeting Ressler had informed Panabaker and the nameless grey-haired woman that Reddington was a heroin addict. 

            In the car, Red was left to his thoughts. He had wanted to speak with Dembe about possibly delegating more of the business to others to allow him time with Anna.  Maybe it was time for retirement or at least working less.  However, Red knew that Dembe was not receptive.  He had been informed by one of his other people that Dembe had been looking into Anna almost from day one, and other sources had told him Lizzie had been doing the same.  He knew for a fact that Lizzie had followed Anna a few times.  What he did not know was if Dembe and Lizzie were working together or separately. 

            “How has your research on Anna gone?”  Red asked once in the car.

            “I have found a few flags.”  Dembe answered honestly as he drove them through the rush hour traffic.  “But nothing solid.”

            “You could ask me about what you think are red flags.”

            “I am just protecting you from yourself.”  Dembe responded turning his blinker on. 

            Red nodded, he should be more upset about this, but he was not.  “What do you think about what Aram discovered?”

            “We have been hearing the murmurs for awhile now.” Dembe said, “We should take the seriously.”

            “Yes, but we have no evidence to support these murmers. A new organization?  Who is running it?”

            “Panabaker is likely a player, given her work with Agent Ressler.” 

            “She’s not important enough to be a main player.”  Red said, “At best she’s a pawn.”

            “Rumor is Harold Hargrave is alive?”

            “Yes.  He has always been about power, getting it, and using it.”  Red said, “But he is not clever enough.”

            “Scotty?”

            “Doubtful. Someone who knows about our business details.  But none of the traps have caught anyone yet.”  After recovering, Red had set a few traps to try to test his people.  No one had failed the test yet.  Whoever had hired Isabella Stone, and used his accounts to pay for it, had either known about the traps or had luck on their side.  Either did not bode well for Red.  It was time for his next plan, a cleaning out.  He would circle the wagons, and change everything. A new banker, he had been testing the waters over the past week, seeing which he might trust. Marvin, he believed he could continue to trust.  There was no doubt about Dembe.  Baz did not have access to the account that had been utilized.  All of the others would be removed.  Not killed, because his body count was too high recently, but he would keep them close, but limit their power. 

             It was at times like this he wished he had not shot Kate Kaplan.  She would have been a great source to help figure this problem out.  But he could not take those actions back now.  He had to make amends the only way he knew how.  When Dembe was watching Lizzie one day, Red had Baz and a couple others go with him to the forest where he had left Kate to rot.  But her body had long been dragged away by scavengers.  Even after searching the forest for an hour, they found only her shoe and possible a leg bone picked clean.  The only way left to make amends was to ensure her sister remained safe, and to keep his promise that no harm would come to Lizzie. 

            “It is for you.”  Dembe brought Red out of his thoughts handing him the phone.

            “Ray, I’m sorry but I have to cancel for dinner tonight.  Something came up, and I cannot get away.”