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A Thousand Tiny Deaths

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Chapter 1

Liz

Sometime just prior to Season 6 finale

Conflicted—that was his word. He said he can’t kill me, but he wanted to. There was no mistaking his desire. The message was written in each twitching muscle of his face. The wisdom years by his side afforded me left no doubt about his disdain for my actions. I had seen that look dozens of times before the barrel of his gun met the temple of one undesirable or another, just before he pulled the trigger, that emptiness. The executioner who murdered a part of him each time he crossed the line between his brand of justice and self-preservation. Nothing could have prepared me for being on the receiving end of his condemnation.

The worst part? I deserved it; every last ounce of hatred.

Another meeting where he wouldn't meet my eyes left me empty. I had hoped my trip to Hong Kong would’ve rekindled that expression, he reserved only for me, since I knew the truth about who he really was. The heated gaze he used to pin me with each time we met, before I proclaimed him my father, was long gone. My declaration gave him no choice about what part he would play in my life, when it was the last thing I wanted. I closed my eyes, envisioning his face laced with the affection I once took for granted. Something I would never see again. It was a gift I threw away because faith had been out of reach and truth a vile ever-present temptress.

He wouldn’t kill me with his own hands. The wounds from his war with Mr. Kaplan still festered—the damage profound. All a stark reminder that it was better to control me than risk miscalculating my demise.

The distance he placed between us was vast; I had never felt so alone. A valley between what could have been and oblivion had swallowed me whole. I had lost everything because I needed proof of what was right in front of me all along. Taking what he would give me wasn’t enough. I had to have it all. In the end, my foolish pursuit decimated my only chance to really live. The man who had given me purpose was now a slowly fading lifeline.

The absence of his all-consuming presence created a void greater than all the loss in my life combined. The pain more acute because he lived so much larger than anyone I had ever known. His existence prohibited closure. I hated him for making me need him; for all the emptiness—so much love and the inevitable absence of it. I hated myself more for allowing it to happen, for caring in the first place and for not walking away when I had the chance. Now, I was bound to him by invisible tethers. I had railed against his bondage from the first day he tied me to him from that box in the Post Office. I resisted each time he bound us closer to one another, but now as he severed each thread, one by one, I faced a greater fear. With him, there was comfort amongst his chaos, even love perhaps, but when he finally set me adrift there would be nothing.

I remembered the words of the other women—Reddington will make you feel like you are the center of his universe. Their vacant, regretful stares and their words were always an echo in the back of my mind. I worried I was being played for a fool, that my desperation for him was all part of his plan. Facing the abyss, I was forced to leverage pieces of myself, trying to entice him back into my life. Agnes, my love—All efforts met with either silence or rejection.

My tears fell again like they did that morning, when I confessed my love for him over the small bistro table. That time, I gave the words freely, not under the duress of his impending execution. He dispassionately chewed his breakfast, swallowed and then fixed me with an indignant stare, absent of any light.  “I’ve learned to overcome such ridiculous notions, no doubt you will too. Was there something you needed that’s worthy of my time, Elizabeth?”

I finally understood what we were meant to be to each other—anchors. We were both lost in chaos when untethered. Without each other, our turbulent waves thrashed and heaved, leaving a sea of pain and destruction, that was strengthened by our denial. As the distance grew, we became less and less of who we were, and more of who we always feared we’d be. Finally, I understood his fascination with me. Whatever force sent us spiraling towards one another in the first place, would destroy us if we remained apart. We needed each other. Our survival depended on it, but my betrayal had shattered everything. There was only one thing left to do, but it remained to be seen if we’d simply sweep up the pieces, throw it all away or ignite a fire that would brand us into something else entirely. I would accept my fate either way.

From the time I made the call, until the knock sounded at the door, I savored the air that traveled to and from my lungs, knowing it might be the last chance to savor the sensation.

It had to be done. I had prepared. Agnes would be safe. The rain against my window that particular night fueled my melancholy mood, giving me courage to do what had been running through my mind for weeks. I had to catch him off guard. The older Agnes got the harder it would be should his decision be severe. It was time to force his hand. Would it be my exit or his embrace? Nothing in between would suffice. Surely, he would see it. Wasn’t this where we always ended up—an egregious display shrouded in insecurity, love, and regret? I was important to him, or at least I was at one time, but now, it seemed I was nothing more than a liability. An asset to be sacrificed or traded. Waiting for the moment when my death would come in the field or perhaps as an opportunity wouldn’t serve either of us and allowing the chasm to grow wider would destroy us.

Beyond the emptiness of his gaze, there had always been a brilliant spark of humanity. It was a side of him that ignited my curiosity, made me crave his attention, and made me love him on many levels. I had destroyed him, extinguish his light. I closed my eyes and prayed for a glimmer, a spark even, somewhere inside him still existed. If hope was dead, there was no point in going on, because it meant part of me had already perished too. I hated who I was without him. It was his darkness that made my light possible. In the void there was nothing. I would provide the closure we both needed one way or another.

I gasped as the knock sounded, and steadied the gun in my hand. 

I opened the door. His expression stoic. Eyes creased with annoyance. The look he reserved for his enemies stared back at me. “What was so urgent at this hour?” He spied the gun in my hand. The subtle twitch of his cheek defied his otherwise fierce demeanor. “Mercy killing, perhaps? Going to finish what you started? Finally put me out of my misery? Should I get on my knees?” There was no hint of humor in his voice, just sadness.

I couldn’t look at him in the eyes. “It’s not for you,” I said, motioning him in and watched as he crossed the threshold.

A flicker of concern crossed his expression, no doubt a reflex that betrayed him from a time when I was worthy of his care. “Are you in danger?” He removed his hat, allowing droplets of water to spill from the brim.

“No more than usual.” I savored to moment my attire registered in his mind, evident with the twitch of his lip. A long night shirt and panties was not my usual attire for Reddington’s visits. I simply hadn’t thought that far ahead, and given the circumstances, it was unimportant.

He inhaled sharply, and then exhaled his annoyance on a long irritated sigh. “Elizabeth, why did you ask me here at this ungodly hour?” He refused to meet my eyes, instead choosing to stare past me and at the floor. 

The million dollar question… “Why did you come?” Why did he continue to humor my requests?  A means of making me suffer? To remind me of the contrast of what he once was and what I caused him to be? Perhaps his own suffering?

He set his hat on the occasional table, just inside the door, and gripped the cuff of his shirt sleeve. He looked away for only a moment, before pinning me with his unwavering stare. “I’m really in no mood for games, Elizabeth.”

I extended my hand, offering him the gun. He took it without another thought. A shiver rushed through me as his fingers brushed against mine. I swallowed hard before making my plea. “Just finish it.  Everything has been taken care of. Scottie has Agnes. She’ll be provided for. You can visit her whenever you’d like. I left a note clearing you of any wrongdoing. It’s on the table. If you’d like for me to make any changes, I can do that before... You won’t even have to call the cleaners. I’m begging you, just get it over with. I can’t do it myself. I tried. But I can’t go on living like this. Your code requires it. Please, don’t be cruel, just finish it.” I fought hard not to cry. I needed his anger, not his sympathy in this moment. His rage was essential to tear down his walls.

His gaze lifted from his focus on the floor to meet my eyes, unwavering. “What did you say? You tried?” His brow furrowed, and eyes narrowed. I didn’t think it was possible, but his expression hardened. So much turmoil. He bit the inside of his cheek.

“Please, before she knows me. Before she can see what I’ve become. Before she sees how you look at me. Stories are better than knowing the truth. Look where the truth got me. When I’m gone, just make up something up. You’re good at that. You know, some outlandish tale of carnie folk, a shipment of stolen oysters, and a freighter missing off the coast of Belize City, the night things went sideways. You can remove your hat some morning, set it on the table and muse about it over biscuits and tea. She never has to know. But give her answers even if they are weighted in fiction. Be convincing. Don’t make her guess or give any reason to doubt you. Don’t let not knowing destroy her and everything she loves.”

A sharp inhalation and roll of his tongue across his lip was his only response. 

“Waiting until my death is advantageous is just cruel to her. So, if you don’t do it for me, do it for her. I can’t continue like this, it’s not fair. I’m not worthy of her.”

“Not fair? Not worthy?” His brow creased further, eyebrow cocked, and mouth formed a hardline. His words erupted on a snarl, “How dare you?” This was a new level of anger. For the first time, I was truly frightened of him.

I closed my eyes for a moment, gathering courage, tamping down my fear. This was what I needed. “I’m trying to make this easy. I can’t fix what I’ve done, and I can’t stand the look in your eyes anymore, knowing my actions almost killed you; that I betrayed you. I put the truth and Agnes before you and for that I’m sorry. Sorry, I didn’t have faith in you. So please…I can’t live without you, but I can’t live with what I’ve done to you.”

His eyes squeezed shut and breathed and in and out through his nose. “Elizabeth…” He said through clenched teeth, the gun shaking in his hand, his voice quivering. “I thought you had broken me in every possible way.” He released a long sigh. “But somehow you’ve managed to find yet another.” The strained chuckle that erupted from his chest was anything but humor. It was agony. “I thought when you ripped out my heart with your death and betrayal there could be no worse fate, but it seems you’ve returned for my soul. You are truly the master of my destruction.” He took one step in my direction.

I fought the urge to back away and instead closed my eyes.

“You want me punish me you for what you’ve done, is that it?” 

I inhaled deeply. “If only it were that simple. You can’t move past my actions.  You’re bound by your code, and I can’t live with you like this. I’ve lost everything—My husband, my father, my life, my way, my mind. Even my ability to care for my child. Tom told me you’d devour me. He was right. You’re the only thing I have left.” I sniffled as I tried to hold back the tears. “The idea of living without you…While you’re still out there...” 

“I didn’t realize you were such a skilled torturer, Elizabeth. Three months shackled in a Bangladesh compound, wading in pools of my own urine and feces, are fond memories compared to this.” He stepped forward into my personal space, forcing me backward. His back straightened, shoulders squared, making him seem larger than he really was. The gun nudged my side. This was Raymond Reddington. Regardless of DNA, he was the embodiment of everything the name stood for.

My nerves sensed the danger, and the hairs on my arms stood on end. A surge of adrenaline tightened my chest. I fought to quiet the tremble in my fingers. 

He cleared his throat. “You have made it impossible for me to keep my vow to keep you safe, rendering my word useless.” Grasping my arm, he steadied me as I clipped the coffee table with my calf, but didn’t stop his forward progression. “You made me suffer your death, something I almost didn’t survive.” His vacant eyes were cold, aqua pools. The muscles of his face tightened, as my arm bumped against the door frame leading to the bedroom. “My grief over losing you caused me to do things I didn’t want to do.” His intense gaze grew glossy beyond the menace. “To hurt people I cared about. Because of you, I have to live with my actions.”

The backs of my knees impacted the end of the bed, forcing me into a sitting position.

He loomed over me, the gun pressed into the mattress beside me, under his weight. “I had to watch you marry him, not once, but twice. I begged you not to. Begged, Elizabeth. Do you know what it was like knowing you didn’t care my heart was breaking? How it felt to know you could never love me? You offered your forgiveness so easily to someone who didn’t deserve it, but couldn’t trust that I kept my secrets to protect you because I loved you. You would rather have someone who betrayed us in your life, in your heart, in your bed, rather than me. Then to have you use the words “I love you” as a way to asphyxiate your own guilt, not because the words were true, but rather to erase your misdeeds and alleviate your guilt, while I quite literally faced death...” He squeezed his eyes shut. “...Because of you,” he whispered as though trying to hide the truth even from himself.

I swallowed hard. The anger I needed in him was alive and well, but his anguish knotted my gut. No matter how painful hearing his words, I deserved this. How could I have not seen his love? Why was it not enough to have allowed me to simply accept what knowledge he would give me? Was it enough now?

The muscled cords of his neck stood prominent with his strained words. “Then you pretended to be my daughter while denying me my own in your pursuit of truth. My truth. Not yours.” He paused to allow the words he had spoken in the past to sink in.

He again was right, if people learned of his identity it would end him. He grasped my chin, forcing me to look at him. “So desperate for answers from anyone but me. Trusting strangers, instead of me. I told you I wasn’t your father, but you chose to believe a DNA test, when you had already been deceived before with false science from Constantine.”

“Why didn’t you say anything?”

He sighed and released his grip on my chin. His arms hung at his sides. “I was tired, Elizabeth. Part of me died when you did, but I was so desperate not to lose you again after the incident with Kate. And after you gave blind loyalty to Constantine, I felt like had no choice but to embrace your delusion, all the while dying inside. Even though agonizing, I came to appreciate the simplicity of the relationship. You were less guarded, more receptive and willing to listen to me when you thought I was your father. I played along because it made you safer. Besides, if I told you it wasn’t my DNA, would you have believed me?”

I bowed my head. “Probably not.”

“Exactly. Not being able to touch you was death in itself, but a daughter’s love for a father was better than nothing. It didn’t feel right, but it was safer and it was all you were willing to give.” His face loomed mere inches from mine. He closed his eyes, his breathing shaky. “I craved your love and respect. I had offered my life for yours countless times and continued to save you no matter what role you decided for me, including the one you have bestowed upon me tonight—executioner. So don’t you dare talk to me about cruelty, when you’ve the audacity to ask me to relive your death again, knowing I won’t survive it either. If I kill you now, you know I’ll follow. How dare you?”

Tears fell down my cheeks, no longer able to keep them at bay.

He shook his head and closed his eyes.“No, Elizabeth, you don’t deserve death.” He tossed the gun aside and fixed me with his stare, inches from my face. “You don’t deserve to escape. I told you once, I was your sin eater. Dutifully, I keep swallowing all you can dish out. You force me to gorge myself on my own demise. I thought that was my part, my role in all this. But I had it all wrong. Do you know what you are?” He pressed his body harder against me.

I retreated, scooting on my hands and feet up the length of the bed, trying to put some distance between us. “What am I, Reddington?”

The bed dipped as he stalked toward me, gripping my bare ankle. “You’re my comeuppance; my just desserts. You’re exactly what I deserve. It’s no coincidence you came into my life. I once believed you were my deliverance, but tonight, when you begged me to suffer your loss, again at my hand, I have no doubt my love for you is nothing short of retribution. It’s a curse. I kept pushing you away because I believed you were here to save me, and I’m not a man worthy of saving, but I don’t believe that anymore. You’re the death of me. My love for you is nothing more than a prison I can’t escape, but neither of us are deserving of the easy way out. It’s time I stop fighting fate and accept our punishment. Darling, I’m afraid you’ve earned yourself a life sentence.” His hand clutched my knee as he pulled himself up the bed.

I settled against the mattress, his body hovering over mine. We had never been so intimate. “What do you mean, again?  You didn’t kill me. I never actually died, and you know it.”

He buried his nose in my hair. “You faked your death because me. I thought you died in childbirth. My weakness killed you. Who else was to blame? I failed to protect you from me, and it killed you.” His hand reached under my nightshirt and hooked his fingers in the side of my panties. “You don’t get to die. You don’t deserve it. Your suffering and mine are linked. I’m what you deserve now. With the gun you’ll only die once, but together, as you have so expertly demonstrated, more times than I can count, we can die a proverbial death over and over again—a thousand tiny deaths.” He slid the side of my panties over my hip.

What was he doing? Was he going to fuck me? “Reddington? What are y—”

His mouth covered mine in a brutal kiss. Is that what he wanted? It didn’t matter. I’d give him whatever he needed. I’d take whatever he was willing to give. Anything to feel. Anything for his closeness. Anything to reach across the abyss.

Pulling the garment down my legs, he met no resistance from me. Once pulled free from my feet, he tossed them over the edge of the bed. “I’ve spent all my life trying to protect you from me and people like me, but I think you finally deserve me. You’ve worked hard at it. This time, however, you don’t get a choice. I’m your punishment, Elizabeth, and you are mine. Had you asked anything else of me tonight, things would heave been different. There is no saving you from me now, a fate surely worse than death.” He unbuckled his belt, unzipped his pants and pulled out his cock, hard, thick and straining. Giving it two long, swift strokes with his fist, he spread my legs with his hand and aligned himself with my entrance.

I didn’t resist. I never imagined this would be how we came together. The tension between us had always been palpable, gliding over the razor edge, never permitted to slip. My love for him caused me to feel each time he pushed me away so acutely. My need of him made me desperate, wreckless even. Maybe this was the only path to his love and acceptance. I needed to obliterate the pedestal he placed me upon, to fall and drag him into the abyss with me, knowing in the end we would either drown or surface together.

The head of his cock slipped back and forth through the arousal seeping from my sex. I had fantasized about him so many times. My body so in tune with his, even through the rage and sorrow. I had always wanted to be on the receiving end of his intensity in the form of passion. 

His lips pressed against my neck. “You don’t deserve my reviere this time, Lizzie.” He pushed into me full and deep, emphasizing his point. The use of his nickname for me did not go unnoticed. It had been so long since he said it.

I gasped with his penetration, but managed to breathe. He filled me so full and reached depths within me, in ways I had never experienced. The anguish in knowing this was what it took for him to desire me, sickened me. I wanted to hate his intrusion, but I needed his punishment, to pay for what I had done. Instead of guilt a strange completion overcame me. His anger wasn’t love, but it was real. It was him. It was honest. It was something. In his eyes, I could see all the things he never said beyond his grief. All a stark contrast from the nothingness I’d felt prior to his arrival. We were alive. “What do you mean by this time?” His words registering beyond the veil of lust.

He ground his pelvis against mine and wrapped his arms around my shoulders, driving his cock into me over and over. His placed his lips at my ear. “I worshipped you last time. I wanted you to feel how much I loved you with each touch, each kiss, each moan. This time, I’m claiming you. You are mine now. You’re getting exactly what you deserve. You’re not getting away. The whole world will know you’re mine and together you will welcome what comes.” He moaned as he pulled out, only to push back in. His breath heavy at my ear.

“Last time? What are you talking about?” My hands drifted up and down his sides. I moaned, my lips grazing the shell of his ear.

He shivered and his wicked laugh sent chills down my spine. His hips continued to thrust in slow languid strokes. “Come on, Lizzie. When you seduced me in the shipping container. I couldn’t resist you. I tried, but I am a man and there was only so much I could take. Rejecting you had made things miserable. I was as alone as you were. I craved your affection. I was weak.” He placed a kiss at the base of my throat. “When we made love, I thought for sure things would be very different between us. It was so beautiful and erotic. I could feel your love for me every time you touched me. It was quite possibly the most sensual experience of my life. I thought I didn’t deserve you, but I needed you so much, out there under the stars. With your body pressed against mine and your lips...”

I closed my eyes and tried to imagine, to feel what it must have been like to make a man so powerful surrender. The intimacy of the night was nothing more than a feeling surrounded by flashes of his lips on my ear, teeth on the hollow of my throat, against the backdrop of the night sky. It felt real when narrated by his words, but in my mind it was a fantasy, nothing more. He had told me I was his North Star; his way home. It was all the confirmation of his love I needed, but I remembered his words that followed, “No, Lizzie. That’s not what you want. It’s not what I want. We can’t… Stop.” The reality was nothing more than another rejection. I gazed at him with disbelief as slid my hands to his back, pulling him closer to me. I would have remembered the feel of him. Being enveloped by him like this would have been impossible to forget. The way he felt inside me would have been etched in my mind. His scent. His heat. His skin against mine. The completeness. Not the lingering pain of rejection and the scars etched on my soul by his words.

He moaned again, causing more wetness to seep from me, lubricating his efforts. Gliding within me, he continued, “We made Agnes that night, but after your exoneration, you wouldn’t acknowledge me. You acted like nothing happened. You recoiled from my touch and then you went to him. I had him under surveillance. I saw everything. My child in your body while he was inside you.” He buried his face in my neck, anguish dripping from his words. “How you moved under him. I heard how you moaned his name. I wanted to hate you. I ended up hating myself. I watched it over and over again. I watched him pull out of you and then cover your thigh with his cum. That video was only connection I had to you sexually. Another of my dirty little secrets; Another reason for you to hate me. Every night I gripped my cock and spilled onto my chest, crying out your name, dreaming of what we had while hating myself for being aroused by your betrayal. My anger and arousal melded into tapestry inseparable from me, making me capable of what I’m doing now. You don’t know how many times I envisioned restraining you and fucking until you acknowledged what we had together. You chose him, but I couldn’t let you go, so my intimacy with you is encased in rage. When you gave him our child, gave her the right to call him father, that was the hardest thing for me to forgive. But when you were set on adoption, he and I became unlikely allies. I needed him to convince you to not give our child away. Eventually, I deluded myself into thinking Agnes might be safer without me, but it killed me nonetheless.”

I should’ve been upset at his overreach. His invasion of my privacy, but it didn’t seem important compared to the other revelations. “Red, you can’t be serious.” I clutched his arms, digging my fingers into his biceps. “Look at me. I would have remembered that. There is no way.” I rubbed my hand down his sleeve. “Red, please… tell me this is some sick joke.”

He stared deep into my eyes, as though he were trying to couple our souls along with our bodies, but there was only pain in the depths of his gaze.  “I don’t lie to you, Elizabeth.”

“We never made love in that shipping container. I went to Tom because I spent three months locked in close quarters with you, giving off every hint I wanted you, and you did everything to avoid me. You rejected me. I know when I’m not wanted. That’s why it was so easy to believe you were my father. It explained your resistance. I was delighted your rejection might have been because you were protecting me and not because you didn’t desire me. There was so much disappointment and relief when Cooper handed me those test results. If there had even been the slightest doubt that Agnes might have been yours, I would’ve told you. But you have to have sex to have a child, and you wouldn’t touch me. You admonished me, when I kissed you under the stars. It killed me to tell you I was pregnant, because the last thing I wanted was to have Tom’s child when I knew I was in love with you. Please... Red, you’ve got to believe me. I’ve never felt you like this.” I pressed my pelvis against his. 

His body stilled and he stared at me for a long moment. “Oh, Lizzie…” He squeezed his eyes shut for a moment. Bracing himself above me, confusion lacing every line of his face. “Lizzie, you turned to me on that deck and kissed me. It was sensual, beautiful. Like a symphony upon the lips. I laced my fingers in your hair and you pressed your body against mine. I knew in that moment I was doomed. We returned to the sofa. Had some more wine. You told me you loved me, desired me. We kissed for hours it seemed. All of passion communicated through our lips and fingertips. So sensual. So loving. You felt like home. You straddled my hips and unbuttoned my shirt, slipped it from my shoulders and saw my scars. You said we were forged by the fire, our souls melded by the same element that lit stars. You said it was evidence that we were each other’s way home. I wanted so badly to believe those words. My body ached for you. It was a driving need to complete our connection.”

Tears streamed down my face. “I said that?” I reached for the buttons on his shirt, undoing them one by one, and slid the garment from his shoulders, just as I did in his tale. A gasp, an acknowledgement, escaped my lips, as I ran my fingers over his uneven flesh.

He closed his eyes, seeming to savor my touch. One hand moved to my cheek, caressing the skin with his thumb, his cock still buried inside me, but his hips remained still. Eyes glossy with unshed tears.  “Yes. It’s one of the most beautiful experiences of my life, and it killed me to find it meant nothing. You asked me to make love to you. I couldn’t resist. I saw so much love in your eyes. When you said you needed to feel me inside you, I would have given you anything Lizzie. I came inside you many times. It was all I could think of. It was where I belonged. I was overwhelmed with the need to make you mine, to leave part of me inside you. We stayed like for days until our return back to the states. Just like this, you in my arms, my body inside yours. Nothing had ever been so perfect.”

My body devoured his words, fueling my arousal, but confusion steadied my hands. I cupped his face. “I’m so sorry. It’s a beautiful story. It’s not… I can’t find it in my mind. Why can’t I remember? Red, please I want to remember.” 

He kissed my forehead. “It’s not a story, Lizzie. It’s the truth. It wasn’t long after, I started noticing the changes to your body. I knew you were pregnant. I would have been more surprised if you hadn’t gotten pregnant. It was foolish, but after twenty-five years of nothing but protected sex with acquaintences, careful to watch my back, no overnight guests, I wanted nothing between us. Something primal in me needed to… when you said, “Come inside me,” I was so relieved because I didn’t think I could’ve done anything else. I knew the risk. Knew it was the last thing we needed, but… Lizzie, I loved you so much. There was part of me that wanted to see you round with my child and another part, admittedly more selfish, knew if I got you pregnant, you’d always be tied to me. Something else you can hate me for. It’s something I wanted so badly that’s why I rejected you up until that point, but once I gave in, I wanted to live inside you.”

“You wanted to get me pregnant?”

He cupped my cheek with his hand. “No. I wanted to keep you safe, but where you’re concerned, my needs, my wants and my desires are sometimes at odds. I found that when I’m buried between your thighs my needs changed. My desire drove me to be inside you, my need was to make you mine in every way. My wants be damned. My desire also wanted to give you the child you had wanted but would never have with Tom. It wasn’t all selfish.”

I tried to hold back my tears, but failed.

“I spent a significant time with my head buried between your legs bringing to ecstasy. I began to notice your scent and taste changed.”

I shivered at the thought of Reddington, touching and licking me so intimately. 

“I didn’t say anything because I needed you to discover it on your own terms. You were under a tremendous amount of stress. I didn’t want to burden you with anything more. It was so lovely to see the changes to your body because of my child. You were so beautiful.”  His lips blazed a trail under my chin.

“Red, I’m so…”

He placed a finger on my lips, rolled off me and pulled me into his arms. “As soon as you were exonerated, you acted like nothing happened. I tried to touch you, but you pulled away. You seemed almost disgusted. I figured that you felt it was all a mistake, that I had been convenient and you didn’t want me. It broke my heart.” One tear slid over his cheek bone and landed on the pillow beside him. “When I found out about Tom. I lost my mind. I was your lover, not him. You were carrying my child, not his. But you ghosted that part of our relationship. I won’t beg for the privilege to love you. I couldn’t bare to saddle you with me, if you didn’t want me. I took it as a reminder that I didn’t deserve you. When you told me in the Post Office you were pregnant, I prayed that when I asked you about Tom being the father, that you would tell me she was mine, but instead, you went along with the charade. You killed me again that day.”

I cupped his cheek with my palm and rubbed my thumb over the salty droplets escaping his eyes. “I thought you were making fun of me with the way you touched me. I had thrown myself at you while we were alone for months and received nothing but rejection, and then you’d intimately touch me at the Post Office or in front of Dembe. It felt like a slap in the face. I didn’t know. I swear. Oh, Raymond, I’m so sorry.” I smoothed my fingers over his stubble. “You thought I died while having your child? I screamed at you and sent you away.” I sobbed caught in my throat. “Oh my God… I’m so sorry. I never wanted to hurt you. Never.”

His words were soft. “You called me Raymond for the first time when we made love and then again as I thought you were dying.” He swallowed hard.  “Another tiny death.” 

“Please, I want to remember. When I saw Kirlov, he said memories had been taken from me two years prior. He said I had discovered a truth about you. I assumed it was you who did it.” Anxiety tightened my chest and caused my hands to tremble.  

“No, I swear.  Only when you were a child. To take away the trauma.The last thing I’d want you to forget is what we shared. God, Lizzie… I…” He kissed me, shedding his own tears of relief and sorrow. “Someone must have found out us, about Agnes. That means someone out there knows. Perhaps, they’re the source of the false paternity test.” He peppered my face with kisses. “Lizzie, I thought you were ashamed of me and wanted to punish me by denying Agnes was mine. I played along because you really gave me no choice. Before tonight, I would have never forced myself on you.” He kicked off his shoes and pants before pulling me into his arms.”Your memories have been altered. We need to find out by who and why?” Tears streamed down both our faces. He pressed his forehead to mine. “Why did you let me take you tonight, if you didn’t remember? Why didn’t you try to stop me? Why would you let me do that? I’m so sorry.”

The agony in his features tightened my gut. “I wanted you to kill me because I couldn’t fix things between us. I thought we were beyond repair. Finally, getting to touch you, to feel you, felt like a last wish. I knew you may never love me, but it was a way to focus on all the love I have for you, if only for a moment. I asked you here to give you whatever you needed to make things right. Whether it be my death or my body, it made no difference to me.  I just couldn’t go on anymore the way things were. I selfishly needed you anyway you’d give yourself to me or I needed it to end. Now, I feel even worse. I would have never kept Agnes from you. I would have never gone to Tom. I would have never tried to run from you. You were always so out of reach. I was lonely. I needed to feel loved. You didn’t take anything from me, I gave myself you. I wanted you. I love you.”

He pressed his lips to my forehead. “No matter how angry I’ve been, I’ve never stopped loving you. I will always love you.”

“Can you ever forgive me?” 

He pulled me tight against his body. “Can you forgive me? Forgive all my secrets? I don’t think either of us have a choice. This is who we are now.” He captured my lips with his, a soft tug and careful nibble of my bottom lip. “It makes sense now why you were so willing to see me as your father. I couldn’t fathom at the time how you could justify it after what we had done. I theorized it was perhaps a hearty dose of denial. I hoped that maybe somewhere inside you believed me when I told you the truth that your father was dead and that let you live with yourself. I couldn’t have you to make love to you like I wanted. Playing the part of your father allowed me to still keep you close, even if it was maddening.”

“That must have been so difficult. I figured you brushed off my advances because you were my father, trying to protect me from that truth. I had a hard time adjusting my feelings. Had I known…”

“The thing that hurt the most was thinking you thought I was sick enough to fuck my own daughter. The idea disgusted me. I wasn’t even sure how to address it with you. I had no idea how you could see me that way. I figured you simply chose to believe Agnes was Tom’s because it helped you live with yourself. If it’s what you needed, I would play along. I was so hurt and confused.”

I grabbed his hands and clasped them in mine. “But you never lied to me about my father. I still don’t remember us making love, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t feel disgusted for thinking I fell in love with my father or that I had kissed my father. I have always been attracted to you. It’s why I needed the truth about your identity so desperately when it was called into question. I needed to know who you really were.  I needed to know the DNA test wasn’t true. It was the only way I’d ever be free to love you like I needed to, but you were there at every turn, stopping my progress. If I had known your immunity deal wouldn’t protect you, there was no way I would have participated in that farce to get you out of the way. I almost lost you.” I closed my eyes, tears spilled from behind my lids. “God, that day with you behind glass… I thought I had killed you. I didn’t tell you I loved you out of guilt, I have loved you all along. The truth was what I needed to love you like this. When I found out you plead guilty to save the task force, to again protect me...” My body shook with sobs.

He wrapped his arms around me tighter and squeezed his eyes shut, pressing his forehead to mine. “I had lost everything. Most importantly, you… I knew then you were the one who turned me in. I didn’t want to believe it, but I knew. I died again with your betrayal. ” He kissed the back of my hand. “My life mattered so little at that time. It was a small sacrifice to make for the task force.”

“So much so that death seemed like the easiest path? Like tonight, like how it was the only choice I could see?”

He stared back into my eyes, the condemnation gone, love staring back beyond the understanding. “Yes, I suppose so.” Raising the back of my hand to his mouth, he pressed his lips to my skin. “You needed the truth to validate your feelings for me? So you could be free to love me as a man and not a father? That’s why you needed to know my identity?”

I nodded. “Yes. That’s why it was so important. I never wanted to hurt you. Never. Your secrets infuriate me, yes, but if I didn’t love you... I work for the Federal Bureau of Investigation for God’s sake and here you are telling me you have a secret my husband died for, but you wouldn’t tell me what it was. I hunt truth for a living. When the glimmer of hope came that you may not be my father, I was tenacious, desperate even. I needed it to be true. I had to prove it to myself. Why do you think I flew to Hong Kong when I found out?”

“Why not believe me?”

I let out a strained chuckle between sobs. “Right… You offer words without proof. I had proof—the DNA. I needed to prove it was false. After I did, who you were didn’t matter. I didn’t care. In my soul I knew who you really were didn’t matter. It’s what I had to tell myself. Agnes became my excuse. I just needed to prove you weren’t my father?” I ran my fingers over the short cropped hair on his head. “You certainly picked the wrong person to fall in love with if you like to keep secrets. My whole life has evolved around understanding people and solving mysteries, falling in love with you just made my pursuit of your truth that much more addictive. When you figure in a healthy dose of motivation to absolve my feelings for one Reddington and enable my love for another, there were no lines I wouldn’t cross. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to stop telling you I’m sorry.”

He grasped the hem of my night shirt, lifted it over my head and then removed his remaining clothing. Entwining his legs with mine, he ran his hand up and down my back. “It seems someone has placed their thumb on the scale where we’re concerned, but we’ll worry about that later. Now…” He pressed his lips to mine in a soft kiss. “No more talk of death. No more running from each other. No more secrets. You are the mother of my child. The woman I love more than anything. I now know that no matter how much I want to protect you from my world, keeping you out of is far more destructive for both of us. Being apart will destroy us.”

“What do we do now?” 

He brushed a strand of hair behind my ear. “Tomorrow, we’ll call Dr. Orchard and see if she can help get your memories back and then we’ll find out who hired Krilov and why, if he’s the one who did it? We’ll find out why Cooper decided to give you the paternity test at that time. It might be linked to the memory manipulation. I’ll change my safe house plans to include a woman and a child from now on. You’ll call Scottie and bring our daughter home.” He reached up and brushed his hand over my cheek, wiping away my tears. “You’ll straddle both worlds as long as is possible, and if it ever comes down to you having to make a choice, we’ll disappear.”

“What are we going to tell Copper?”

“The truth. It might jeopardize your position with the bureau, but they aren’t going to give up the blacklist. They’ve already found a way to look the other way after you killed the AG. They continued when you were in a coma. Everyone knows you mean a great deal to me, the damage is done. Hiding it is now pointless.”

“They all think you’re my father.”

“Ressler doesn’t. We’ll tell them it was a cover to keep you close to me. I’ll talk with Cooper.”

I traced my finger over the small scar on his neck, trying to grasp the turn of events the night had brought. 

He reached up and placed his hand over mine. “You know, that's the day I fell in love with you, right? I don’t think I had even been so aroused. Your fire, a match for my own. A seductive fascination grew within me from that very moment. I wanted you so badly.”

I grinned. “What? I stabbed you in neck with a pen. Are you sure you’re not turned on by torture?”

He smiled. “Normally, I would’ve said no, but perhaps my body knew it was a foreshadowing of our path.” He kissed me softly. “I rarely saw you as a child.  Sam would send photos every so often, but when I learned you and Tom were marrying, I was going to kill him. There was a specific clause in his contract—Protect you, but keep a distance. When I saw you at your wedding… That’s when my curiosity began. You were so beautiful. So much love in your eyes. The more I learned, the more I needed to know you. You were such an intriguing woman. You were captivated by the criminal mind and with your capacity to love, someone like Tom… I saw you as my second chance. I could never be redeemed by any woman in my world, or someone from yours, but you were born of both…you were my redemption.” He sighed. “By the time I learned of Berlin, I was lost. It gave me an excuse to speak with you. The way you commanded me. Incapacitated me… It made me hard. Oh so very hard. You were a woman that could someday be my equal and appreciate me for who I am. Appreciate the lines I needed to cross, but anchor me so I didn’t drown. If I were to ever allow myself to be loved again, it had to be you.”

“So I didn’t miss read all those sexual undertones when we first met?”

“Certainly, not.” He pressed body closer to mine. His cock pressing against my pelvis. “Since the cabal is weakened, I’m going to propose you stay with me. I want you to be my wife, even if it’s a cover. We can have the papers and IDs drawn up.” He pressed his lips to mine. “I want Agnes to know her parents love her and each other. Plus…” He grinned. “You won’t have to testify against me if you decide to get me arrested again.” His smile grew wider and he brushed a strand of hair behind my ear. “I love you, Lizzie. I want to give you your fantasy. Do you remember? Do you remember how it bothered me?”

I nodded. Tears of happiness fell for the first time. “As long as you promise we won’t have a wedding.” 

He smiled and kissed my forehead. “I think we are both agreed on that.” 

“And now?” 

“For now, we’re going to appreciate the darkness that brought us together tonight. Because of it, we found our way home.” His kiss was soft yet commanding. The lingering taste of his evening scotch left a subtle aftertaste that was truly unique to him—Pure masculinity. 

My body hummed with relief and the electric current that always existed between us. I never believed I’d be able to experience him this way. His skin was so warm against mine. So comforting. “Raymond?”

His calloused fingertips traced my collar bone. “Yes, sweetheart?”

“Help me remember. Tell me. Show me.” I pressed my lips to his.