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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.

Chapter Text

I woke up the next morning alone. Even though I expected him to finish what he had started, he insisted on holding me and nothing more. His lips were soft as he peppered kisses on my neck, shoulders, and face. His warm body against mine was something I craved now after having just a taste.

I grabbed the robe from the back of the door, shoved my arms into the sleeves and prayed he hadn’t left. Could I handle it if he did? Last night, I had been prepared to die, but this morning my chest tightened at the thought of him leaving. There had been so much hope, promises on his lips, if he ran now…

The light filtered through the curtains silhouetting the figure sitting at my table in a warm glow. He looked up from the paper he held in his hand, his face moist from freshly shed tears.

I rushed to him. “What’s wrong?” When I spied the white sheet of paper clutched tight in his grip, I knew. I had forgotten my note from the night before. The ink now smeared by the droplets that fell from his eyes. 

Grabbing the sheet of paper from his hand, I crumpled it up and tossed it onto the counter behind him. “No, that… It wasn’t real. I didn’t know. It doesn’t count.” I gathered the moisture with my thumb and drew it across his face. “Red… Raymond, please.”

“Lizzie, I still have secrets. There’s still so much you don’t understand. So much I can’t tell you. If I started today and tried to tell you everything, there wouldn’t be enough time.”

“I know.” As much as the idea of not knowing hurt me, I couldn’t imagine having the burden of never being able to share my truth with anyone. 

His fingers gripped the back of my head and pulled me against his chest. “If we travel this road…” He rested his head atop mine. “I won’t give you up. Do you understand? There is no divorce whether we step inside a church or not. It is until death do us part, with or without a ring or a piece of paper. I don’t believe in divorce, but more so you will never be able to shed your association with me.  You’ve always resented my intrusions into your life, my elusiveness, my secrecy. That can not change. I will disappoint you. You’ll hate me. As much as I want this…”

 “You don’t hold the monopoly on disappointment. That’s why we’re here. I haven’t exactly made the best decisions. Maybe you didn’t understand last night, but I can’t live without you. Besides, you were married before…” 

He squeezed me a little tighter. “See, this is exactly what I’m talking about. I was married, but never divorced.”

“But I met her?” 

His fingers combed through my hair. “You met your father’s wife. I’ve taken care of her, helped her disappear since it was the least I could do given the circumstances. She became like a sister to me. We have an agreement, but we were not married.”

“So, she knows you’re not… you… I mean him.” I watched his facial expressions trying to memorize how he looked when confessing. 

“Yes. Your mother loved your father, she never intended to, but it only seemed right to protect his family when they never asked for any of this.”  

“Then your wife…”

“Lizzie, my family paid the price for all I’ve done. I’ve been terrified the same would happen to you. You forced my hand last night, and I’ll take every precaution to protect you and Agnes. You’re already so entwined in my life people know you mean a great deal to me, and therefore Agnes, even if they don’t understand why.” He pressed his lips against my forehead. “Secrets and safety are two reasons for you to walk away now, but another… You have no idea how possessive I can be. I know I said, last night, that you didn’t have a choice, but no matter how angry I am with you, I love you too much to force you into a life with me. You’ll have to choose me. More importantly, you’ll have to choose to trust me, knowing I can’t tell you everything, but if you do, you irrevocably mine. You need to understand that.” 

“I thought that’s what I did last night. But...”

He combed his fingers through my hair. “What, Lizzie?” 

I looked down at the table unable to meet his eyes just in case the answer was one I didn’t want to hear. “But if I’m yours, does that mean you’re mine?”

“Look at me, Lizzie. I’ve always been yours.” His lips closed over mine in a soft kiss. “I haven’t been with another woman since I came into your life. But I need this to be your choice. You can't truly know the man I used to be, but the one I am now loves you and will do anything to protect you.” 

“I’m not naive. I know there will be times I want to strangle you, but I love you. I called you here last night because I can’t live without you and that was before I knew who you really were to me.”

He squeezed me tighter. “You still don’t know who I am. Not really. I’ve done terrible things, Lizzie. Horrible things.” 

“But not to me?” 

“Not intentionally. Everything I’ve done for you has been for your own good, but I’ve done things to people you care about that you haven’t approved of.” 

I pulled back and looked into his eyes. “What you did… did you do it for me? To protect me? Or to protect yourself?” 

He caressed the side of my face with his palm. “My actions have inadvertently hurt you—Sam and Mr. Kaplan, for example.”

“You said you haven’t lied to me.” I sat in the chair beside him. 

“I haven’t.  Everything I have told you has been the truth as I know it. For example, I was certain your mother was dead. When I started to hear whispers on the wind that indicated I was wrong, I told you that I wasn’t sure. I’ve also been honest about what I can’t tell you.” 

“I only have one question.” 

He closed his eyes. “Go ahead.” 

“When or if  I find out the truth, will I hate you? Will I feel like you used and deceived me? Will I think your love for me is a lie?” 

He inhaled deeply, then sighed. “You might hate me. You already have. But feel I used or intentionally deceived you? No, I don’t think so, and I don’t think you’ll doubt my love, but you won’t appreciate my methods and many of my decisions. When you learned about the Fulcrum, it upset you, but it’s not why I’m here. I hope I’ve proven that. Lizzie, it was always my goal to protect you.  When my life intersected with yours, your future became much more complicated. It wasn’t until your wedding to Tom that I saw you for the first time as a woman. A beautiful, capable woman with the capacity to love someone like him…and ultimately someone like me and the strength to challenge me. If you could love someone like Tom…” He closed his eyes and rested his head on mine. “I probably fell in love with you that day, and even though I have benefited from our relationship, it’s my intense love for you that lets me look past the things you’ve done to hurt me. I hope if you discover my truth, your love for me will be equally as strong.”

“I’ve considered many scenarios. That you killed my mother, my father, abducted me or something else horrible. The ideas make me angry, but I keep coming back to everything you do for me. All the good you’ve done for the world since you’ve come into my life. I’ve realized you’re no different than the flames that burned us. Beautiful, useful, powerful and capable of warmth and brilliant light, but at the same time, you’re destructive, volatile and deadly, but one side of you cannot exist without the other. To love your intensity requires me to accept your other nature. As long as in the end, what’s between us is real, that’s all that matters.” 

He drew me to him and rubbed his cheek against mine. “I hope you’re right. I do love you, Lizzie. I’ve been thinking about how we might move forward. I called Dr. Orchard, she can see you today. We’ll see if she can get your memories back. If she can, I’m going to go away for a few weeks, I want you to think about things, about how you feel and if you decide that after you’ve weighed and considered everything, you still want me, I’ll come back to you.” 

“But—” 

He cut me off with a kiss. “I know what you’re going to say. Yes, it’s necessary. We need this. If you decide you need to go on without me, I’ll accept it. I’ll still love you from the shadows or in the capacity we’ve been working in, I’ll still provide for you and Agnes, but if you choose me, I need to know you didn’t make the decision in haste or out of desperation. Because if I come home, Lizzie, I’m never leaving.” 

The intensity in his eyes made me shiver. “Why didn’t you finish? I mean last night… You started to make love to me, but then stopped.” 

“Oh Lizzie, I wasn’t making love to you, I was claiming you. Punishing you for hurting me again. That’s why I stopped. When I realized you didn’t know what transpired between us, I couldn’t continue. If you let me make love to you again, you’ll understand, but I want to see if you can get back your memories, so when we come together again, it’s an extension of our first time together and not something so desperate as what we shared last night. I love you, that’s why I stopped.” 

I hid my face in his chest as I spoke, “I enjoyed feeling you like that.” 

“You have no idea just how wonderful we are together. I can’t wait for you to remember. Come on, let’s get ready, so we can grab some breakfast.  I know this little place on the way to Dr. Orchard’s, the quiche is to die for.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 3

Liz

 

“Sweetheart, it’ll be OK. Unlike last time, I assure you, there’s nothing terrible waiting for you.” Red squeezed my knee, no doubt observing the way my nerves caused me to wring my hands in my lap.

Dr. Orchard shot me a pained smile. Given my outburst last time, this had to be unsettling for her. I had been sure Reddington was manipulating me. My world came crashing down when I thought he used me to find the fulcrum. Now here he sat beside me as the father of my child. 

“Mr. Reddington, the memories we’re trying to recover... you were there, correct? You can guide her?”

He patted my leg trying to comfort me. “Yes.” Swallowing hard, he then cleared his throat. “But doctor, I’m going to have to remind you that confidentiality is tantamount. Indiscretion, in this case, could be deadly for all of us, most importantly Lizzie’s child.”

The tall woman connected another probe to the machine. “Yes, you were clear on the phone. If you hadn’t been, your payment certainly sent a message, and I’ve memorized the cover story, should I ever be interrogated.”

“Very good, but I’m afraid there’s something else you need to understand pertaining to the subject matter.” 

Dr. Orchard adjusted a dial on the monitor and checked the IV tubing. “You’d be surprised by the things I hear in this line of work, Mr. Reddington. I don't think anything can shock me.” 

“Oh, to be a fly on the wall…” He chuckled. “In this case, the subject matter isn’t shocking, but it is rather... intimate. I understand you need to stay to monitor Lizzie’s vitals, but it’s possible things may get a bit uncomfortable when certain private matters are uncovered.” Reddington’s thumb caressed the top of my hand. 

Dr. Orchard scanned the room. “It won’t be true privacy…” She walked to the other side of the room and rolled a freestanding surgical curtain between the chair I sat in and hers beside the multiple screens. “It won’t keep me from hearing, but at least you may feel like you have more privacy.” 

I smiled at the considerate woman.  “Thank you.” 

“I’ll put this in place and will be just on the other side of the curtain with the equipment monitoring your vitals. Once you’ve reached the appropriate state of consciousness, I’ve agreed to allow Mr. Reddington guide you.  Are you sure that’s what you want?” 

I nodded and reached out with my hand to touch hers. “Thank you for doing this. Someone took something from us, and I need it back. A lot has happened since you last tried to help recover my memories and this time Raymond knows what happened, so I’ll know if I’m remembering correctly or not. This time you’re doing this for me. Not him or anyone else.” 

She smiled and nodded.  “Good. That does make me feel better.  No offense, Mr. Reddington.” 

“None, taken.” 

The doctor slid the needle into the catheter. “I’m about to start. Mr. Reddington, once she is in a relaxed state, with her eyes closed, I want you to begin. Have her describe the environment first, starting at a point you both agree is the truth, then continue until your stories no longer match. Help by guiding her using all five senses. Smell is especially important as it’s the closest sense to the memory center, but anything that might be unique to the experience you’re wanting her to recall. We’re at an advantage since we’re not asking her to find a memory for us that we already know exists. When we require her to determine what's significant, the process is much more difficult. In this case, you can guide her, tell her exactly what you need her to find. It should be much easier.” She pushed the plunger on the syringe.

Red leaned in and placed his lips against my ear. “Relax, I’ve got you.” 

Dr. Orchard smiled at me and disappeared around the corner of the curtain.

My eyelids grew heavy under the medication’s influence. 

Red swiveled his chair so he sat directly in front of me. His one knee resting between mine, so he was as close as he could get. His hands smoothed over the fabric on my thighs. “Lizzie, you remember when we were on the run and leaving the country.” 

I licked my dry lips. “Yes, the shipping container.”

“Yes. Perfect. I need you to remember the shipping container. Tell me what you remember. Let’s start there. Go back with me, Lizzie. Tell me what you see.” He sandwiched my hand between his. 

“It was red, very red. The walls.” I let out a soft chuckle. “It was so you. Meticulous. Sophisticated. And Red.” 

His soft laugh warmed my heart. “Yes, that’s a valid observation.” 

“You and your creature comforts. It was a luxury apartment inside the container.”

“Indeed. So beyond my refined tastes and style, what else do you see?”

I took a deep breath and let out a contented sigh. “You. You’re really all I see. You told me to take the bedroom, and that's you'd sleep on the sofa, and that it was going to be a long trip. You showed me the shower and hand your hand rested on the small of my back.”

“You remember me touching you?” 

I let out a groggy sigh. “I never forget when you touch me. It’s like you brand my skin. It’s not pain, but rather like a ghost on my flesh. I always wonder if it was actually real even when your phantom touch remains long after your hand is gone.”

“Oh, Lizzie.” He raised my hand to his lips and kiss it. “I know exactly what you mean.” His words were soft and gentle. “Yes, how did the shower make you feel?” 

“Umm… so good. Refreshed. I stood in the doorway of the bedroom breathing in the scent of garlic and rosemary. You said…” 

He finished the sentence for me. “I hope you don’t mind, but I got dinner started for us.”

“Yes, and there was a flirty edge to your words. You seemed relaxed for the first time.” 

His thumb stroked over the skin on the back of my hand. “I was.” 

“When I entered the kitchen the pecan pie from the diner, where you orchestrated Marvin’s prison escape, sat on the counter, and you busied yourself at the sink. I was dazzled by your command of the kitchen. You refused my help, so I stood holding the glass of brandy you gave me, watching you, wanting to touch you, but so afraid to do so. When you sat my plate in front of me, you leaned down, and I breathed in the scent of your cologne. I wanted to kiss you, instead, I said, ‘Thank you.’” 

“Oh Lizzie, I wish I had known, you would have made a most delightful appetizer, but I do remember your hand caressing my thigh, even though neither of us acknowledged it, your actions were well-received.”

“I decided to test the waters further at the sink, touching the small of your back when I offered to do the dishes, but your back stiffened, and you led me to the sofa out of your space.”

He brushed a finger over my bottom lip. “My back might have stiffened, but that’s only because other parts of me did as well. I was dying for your touch. We had been through so much, even the slightest brush of your hand had me ready to devour you, and I kept finding you dwelling in my personal space, making you impossible to ignore.”

I tried to suppress the shiver that overcame me, but it was fruitless. I had been so aroused that night. Watching him embrace domesticity had my mind conjuring fantasies that were better left forgotten. 

“Are you sure you don’t want a bite?” He whispered trying to lure me into the mental scene. 

“Yes, I did want a bite, but not of the pie. I watched you chew each morsel. Moaning with the flavor. I was jealous of that goddamn pie.”

He raised my hand pressed a kiss to the back of it again and laughed. “I did that on purpose. The moment I saw you after your shower, the white fabric of the undershirt you wore clung to your breasts, I wanted to touch you. Taste you. I may have indulged a fantasy of my own while eating the pie. Selfishly, I wanted you to know what you were missing.”

I wanted to linger on his response, but it was as though my mind was dragging me by the hand through the memory. No time to stop and savor the moment. “Then you sat on the sofa with me, so relaxed. So at peace, your arms spread wide, a brilliant smile, while giving me one of your closely held secrets. A captain. Life at sea. And there we were in the middle of the ocean, and I didn’t know what to do. The brandy, feelings I knew I should repress… I tried to hold it all back, I did.” Tears began to flow from my eyes. 

He was so close I could feel his body heat as his breath caressed my cheek. “Tell me, Lizzie. What happened next?” 

A sob caught in my throat. “I don’t want too.” I was so thankful my eyes were closed. I couldn’t stand to look at him. 

“I need you to, sweetheart.  Please.” He clutched my elbow and held it tight.  “Do you remember the music?” 

I sniffled. “Yes.”

“What about the stars, Lizzie? Do you remember what I said?” 

I leaned my face against his shirt, allowing the fabric to soak up the tears. “Yes.” 

“Tell me.” He cupped my cheek.  

I squeezed my eyes tighter trying to stop the tears. “You said... I was your way home.”

“You are, you know. You always have been. Now tell me what happened next. The wind was crisp and I remember the fresh scent of seaspray as we stood there and gazed at the night sky. You turned to face me and… tell me.” 

I swallowed hard. “I stared into your eyes, and I thought you were waiting for me to give you permission. The way you looked at me… It was so intense. I thought I saw... I kissed you.”

“Yes, you did.” He wiped the streams of moisture from my cheek. “And what did I do?” 

My chest shook with grief and embarrassment. “You grabbed me by the arms and pushed me away and said, ‘No, Lizzie. That’s not what you want. It’s not what I want. We can’t… Stop.’ Then you left me standing there.” I sniffled. “I stood with my back to you, hoping you’d think I was still staring at the stars, I was really waiting for my tears to stop. I read you so wrong. I couldn’t face you.”

“No, Lizzie… no, you didn’t. Come with me.  You’re not alone on the deck. I’m there beside you. I never left. When you turned and looked at me, you took my breath away.  The wind in your hair, your skin seemed to glow in the moonlight. I had never seen anything so beautiful. When you wrapped your fingers around the back of my neck and pulled me down to meet your lips, I did hesitate, but only because I thought I was dreaming.”

“No.” 

“Yes, Lizzie. I cupped your face just like this.” His warm fingers cradled my cheeks. “Our lips met like this.” His soft, supple lips moved against mine. So inviting. So familiar. But it was his soft throaty moan that cut through the invisible bondage in my mind. His kiss was love in a million languages. If I had ever doubted what he felt for me my fears were quieted in that moment. His devotion and desire were a dance upon my lips. 

With reluctance, he pulled away, and my mind journeyed further down the path. I opened my eyes. 

His beautiful green irises stared back. “Oh, my God, I remember, Raymond.”

My breathing labored with the revelation, and I clutched the back of his head, crushing his mouth against mine determined to never forget him again.   

“I need to make sure you are remembering the truth. Please, tell me everything. Don’t leave anything out.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 4

Liz

 

Flashback to that night in the shipping container…

 

Reddington’s gaze was so intense I had to look away. The night sky. His words. The feel of his lips against mine. All too much.

Crossing my arms over my chest, not sure it was the night air or the embarrassment that I may have just ruined everything with him, but I released my apology to the stars above. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have done that.” 

He said nothing for a long moment, our gazes locked. Wonderment in his eyes. “Why not?” His response was succinct and unwavering.

I looked away and stared at my hands, fingers fidgeting, uncertain about what to do next. “I know you don’t think of me that way. It was inappropriate.”

The fingers of his one hand closed around mine, and he led me back to the sofa.  The mechanical doors closed behind us. He picked up the bottle of brandy, refilled our glasses and sat down beside me. After taking a sip, his tongue darted out and smoothed over his bottom lip. I could feel his eyes on me when he let out a long contented sigh. “You’re wrong.” He relaxed against the seat, his arm stretched out behind me. 

“Huh?” I leaned forward on my elbows and glanced at him over my shoulder, hoping my bewildered expression hide the tears that threatened to escape the corners of my eyes. 

“About the appropriateness of your actions, and how I might feel about them. You’re wrong.”

I shot him a pained smile but quickly looked away. “That’s nice of you to say, but I know it wasn’t right. I should've never put you in that situation. I’m sorry. It won’t happen again. I promise.”

He swallowed a long swing of brandy, then set his glass on the table.  “That’s a shame because I rather enjoyed it.”

I blinked several times and shifted so I could face him, thinking I misheard him. “You did?”

He reached over and cupped my cheek while his thumb slid back and forth over my bottom lip. “Are you really so blind to my love for you, or is it something else...fear maybe? Denial?”

Mesmerized by his eyes, I couldn’t look away. “I know you care for me, but…”

“Lizzie, I didn’t say care, I said love. We care for strangers, our friends, but what you and I share is so much deeper.”

“You love me?” I said it softly as though trying to convince myself it was true. “That’s why you put your life on hold to help me?”

His other hand rested on my thigh. “I didn’t even have to decide, my life is yours, Lizzie. I’m the one person you can always depend on.”

“What have I done to deserve your devotion?”

He closed his eyes and leaned his forehead against mine. “A long time ago I made a promise to take care of you. To look after you as if you were my own. My life was in shambles, and I was on the run, the most wanted man in America, I couldn’t be a father to you when you needed one. Sam graciously helped me fulfill my promise. I watched from the shadows for many years, seeing that Sam could see to your needs. But you’re no longer a child, and Sam is gone. I’m still bound by that promise, but you don’t need a father now, you need a partner. Looking after you as if you were my own has a different meaning now. I won’t take your choices away, but know I’m yours for the taking, and whether or not you decide to choose me, my devotion to you is unwavering.”

“I don’t know what to say.” It was so hard to believe it was true. 

“You don’t have to say anything, just know I’ll be whatever you need me to be. A friend, a mentor, a father-figure, a partner… or a lover… whatever. I just need you to decide.”

I clutched the back of his head in my hand holding his forehead against mine. My fingers smoothed over the soft, short-cropped hairs on his scalp. Our breathing synchronized. “But what do you want? I don’t want you to love me out of obligation.”

His lips brushed against my cheek as he scooted even closer. “Perhaps, at first, it was an obligation, but that was a very long time ago, since entering your life I can’t help but feel you and I aren’t a coincidence. The way you look at me makes me feel like a man and not the monster I am. It’s addictive. I meant it when I said you could give me a second chance. You are home to me. I’m more myself with you than anyone else.  So any feeling of obligation has long since passed and all that’s left is my desire. I love you, not because I have to, but because I have no control where you’re concerned. I may not have ever intended to love you, but I do. But you need to choose what we become, I won’t take that choice away from you.”

I knew what I wanted, nothing short of all of him. I took a deep breath and pressed my lips to his. 

“Oh, Lizzie… Yes.” He returned the kiss with fervor, pulling me tight against his body. His hands gripped my hips.

His lips were even softer than I had imagined, and his hands needy. The pecan pie he ate after dinner sweetened his breath. His tongue caressed my lips and my body melted against him. 

Trailing a line of kisses from the corner of my mouth down my neck, he coaxed forth a shiver from deep inside me. “You have no idea what you do to me. How I’ve longed to feel you this way. Your kiss is ambrosia, more delectable than I had imagined. Your skin softer the rose petals. I could spend forever like this.” 

I pulled away to reposition myself, but I didn’t miss the panic in his eyes. Quickly, I bent and kissed him to reassure him he had done nothing wrong. “I want to see you more clearly.” I stood and straddled his hips, wishing I could memorize the expression on his face. It was as if I was the entire world before him. Everything he desired. His singular focus. I settled onto his lap and rested my hands on his shoulders. “There, that’s better.” 

His hands cupped my ass and pulled me closer to him, bringing my aching center into contact with the hardness behind his zipper. I gasped. 

“I would apologize, but with you sitting in my lap if my body didn’t respond would be more of a cause for concern. Please know nothing has to happen. Feeling you like this is more than I ever thought you give me.” 

Even now, he was trying to protect me. “Red, what if I want something to happen?” 

“Oh, God, Lizzie.” He stretched his neck over the back of the sofa and pressed his groin against my heat. “Please, don’t tease me.  You have no idea how bad I ache for you. You’re calling the shots here, but if this night isn’t going to end with me buried inside you, you’ll need to stop saying things like that.” 

I leaned forward and whispered in his ear. “That’s exactly what I want to happen.” I ground my pelvis against his. The groan that escaped his throat caused a gush of moisture to soak my panties. I wanted him so bad. All those dreams of him taking me in his car, at his safe house, in an alley while on a case had not compared to the feel of him under me with the promise of more. 

“I’m not exactly prepared. I need you to know that. It never crossed my mind to bring protection. I have a clean bill of health, but I want you to be safe.” He nipped my earlobe with his teeth. “We’ll need to be creative.” 

I chuckled to myself. 

He smiled. “What?”

“I was going to tell you that I have a clean bill of health, but then realized you probably already know that since you know everything else about me.” 

His smile turned quickly to a scowl. 

“Tell me you don’t know, and I’ll take it back.” 

He let out a deep sigh. “Lizzie, I…” 

“I knew it.” I laughed and swatted his chest playfully. “I’m not mad, but I figured you already knew.” 

He grabbed my hands and brought them to his lips. “Please, know I don’t do it to hold power over you. It’s for your protection. If telling you all my secrets wouldn’t put you at risk, I’d tell you every last one this very minute. I’m sorry.”

The distracting feel of his lips on my fingertips brought me back to what was important—the connection between us. One day, I hoped I’d find peace in not knowing. Maybe this was the first step on that journey. “You have nothing to be sorry for.  All I need is for you to love me.” 

He lifted his gaze to meet my eyes. “Lizzie, I'm helplessly in love with you and have been for some time. Nothing will ever change that.” He kissed the pulse point on my wrist. “If there is one thing I hope you’ve learned about me, it’s that I’m a man of my word.” He lifted my other hand and pressed soft kisses to the scar on my wrist. “This is where our journey began. We’ve come so far. There is so much more for us.” The backs of his fingers trailed up my arms and over my collarbone. “Do you have any idea how often I think about touching you?”

I gripped the hem of my shirt and lifted it over my head. I wanted to feel him everywhere. Every caress ignited me.  The connection we share was alive and electric. 

Leaning forward he reached around and unsnapped my bra allowing it to slide from my arms. 

His hungry gaze drank me in. His tongue swept over the tip of my nipple before he wrapped his lips around the peak and sucked. 

I draped my arms around his shoulders savoring the feel of his mouth on my skin. The tiny moans that hummed against my flesh stirred things in me I have never felt before. Sex was not new to me, I had been married and engaged after all, but the way Reddington touched me was different. There was reverence In every caress. So deliberate and carefully orchestrated as though he were bringing me into existence; his composition, his masterpiece. There was no urgency, no selfish inclination. This wasn’t sex, it was worship. To be the focus of this man’s attention was overwhelming. I may have known less about him than anyone else in my life, but tonight the undeniable truth was that this man loved me more than anyone else. 

Tears pricked my eyes as I tried to swallow the overwhelming completion I felt with his feather-light ministration. 

“Lizzie, what’s wrong? Did I hurt you?” The concern in his features broke my heart. 

I clutched his face between my hands and pulled him in for a fierce kiss. When our lips slowly parted, I breathed, “There’s nothing wrong. I’m just overwhelmed by how right this feels.” I reached for the buttons on his vest. 

He captured my hands in his. “I need you to warn you…”

“What?”

“My body… It’s seen better days. I’m not young and well… you may have noticed my lifestyle can take its toll.”

I smiled down at him and traced the small scar on the side of his neck. “You mean sometimes it stabs you in the neck.”

He laughed. “Yes, well, perhaps you’ll take pride in knowing you’re the only woman who's ever managed to penetrate me first.” He chuckled softly and brushed a strand of hair over my shoulder. “That was so goddamn sexy. An FBI agent saying fuck the rules, defending your turf, putting me in my place. You wanted to know when I became obsessed with you…” He placed his hand over mine holding it against his neck. “That was the day. I suspected when you married Tom that you were capable of loving a criminal and one with many secrets, but when you stabbed me, you showed me you were capable of being my equal. Strong enough to not be railroaded by me. You were and are still a challenge. Such a rare find. So precious to me. If anyone could grow to love and appreciate who I’ve become, it’s you.”

I couldn’t give him the words just yet, no matter how much I wanted to. Instead, I released another button on his vest. 

“About my body, Lizzie…” 

“Red, stop. I know you’re not young and ripped. That means nothing to me. I wasn’t with Tom for his body. I was with him because he pretended to be kind, decent and good. You’re all that and so much more. Yes, you’re older than me, but I have a thing for older men. Had a pretty big crush on one of my professors, and he could have been your dad.” 

Reddington raised an eyebrow. “Really?” 

“Yes, really. It’s about the package deal. The things you do to my body without even touching me, so much better than six-pack abs. The way you say my name. That low throaty moan when you touch me. Even if all we ever have is what we’ve had so far tonight, it would still be the most sensual night of my life. There’s nothing you could show me that would make me feel differently.” 

He cupped the back of my head and kissed me. “I hope you’re right.” He reached for the next button and slid the vest from his shoulders. I undid the buttons of his shirt starting at the bottom, he started at the top and we met in the middle, revealing his undershirt. 

“How many layers do you have?” I giggled as I tugged on the white undershirt. 

“Too many apparently.” He smirked. “When you finally get to the center of this Tootsie Pop, I’ll know for certain you wanted to be there.” 

I grabbed the hem and pulled garment over his head.  “You sure that’s the analogy you want to go with? If I remember correctly, that story ends in a tragic crunch.” 

“Trust me. It’s been so long... You start licking my lollipop, you'll get the gooey center long before you have time to think about biting. Besides, I do like to live dangerously. I trust you, Lizzie. Feel free to have a nibble of anything you like.” He winked.  

I slapped playfully at his bare chest. Scars peppered his skin. His recent bullet wound. Stabbings. Surgical scars. I ran my fingers over each one praying I could heal any residual pain. Saying nothing, I placed kisses on each one, starting with the one I had made on his neck. 

“See, I told you.  Not pretty.” His hand caressed my back as my mouth paid homage to his skin.

I knelt in front of him.  “You’re right, you're not pretty... You're beautiful. Your experiences have made you a masterpiece.” After kissing the final one just above the waistband of his pants, I place my hands on his shoulders to help me stand. It was then that I felt it, the uneven flesh. “Red…”

He closed his eyes. 

Burns scars covered his shoulders and back. My fingers caressed the topography of his skin, trying to wrap my mind around what I already knew had happened. “Oh, my God.” 

“Lizzie… it’s…” 

“You saved me. It was you. Why didn’t you tell me?” 

His features were tight and pain laced every line. He closed his eyes. “It didn’t seem important.”

“Look at me.”

His eyes slowly opened. “I didn’t want that to be the reason you chose me. If you ever agreed to indulge me, it had to be for other reasons.”

I shook my head at the beautiful man below me. He had been my guardian angel from the beginning, and while we drifted on the open seas, he once again saved me. I rubbed my sex against his swollen groin as I took my place in his lap again. “Does this feel like I’m indulging you, Mr. Reddington? Because you saving me might be what brought us together, but I certainly have other reasons for being here.” 

“Umm… and those reasons are?” 

“Well, for one, the sexy criminal mastermind between my thighs.” 

His fingers inched into the waistband of my pants. “Sexy, you say? What does someone do in that situation?  This there an ointment or something to get rid of him?” 

“I’ve always heard you should open him up to the air…” I undid his belt, popped open the button on his pants and then sat back down on his lap. “and ride it out.”

He bit his lower lip. “A sound remedy, but I hear that condition is chronic. I mean, once you have a criminal mastermind between your thighs, it’s unlikely you’ll ever be rid of him. Especially one with a fetish for cunnilingus and cream pies.” He pulled my pants down over my ass.

I shivered. Goddamn. The words coming from him soaked my panties. If I didn’t fuck him soon, I’d either combust or drown us in my desire. “Sounds like it’s my lucky day.”

“All depends on your perspective, Sweetheart. I’m feeling pretty damn lucky myself. Stand up for me.” I toe’ ed off my socks as he divested me of my pants and underwear. I kicked them aside and stood naked for his perusal. 

“You are so beautiful.” He leaned forward and kissed my stomach. 

I bent at the waist and unzipped his pants. “Lift your hips. It’s only fair.” He did as instructed, but nothing could have prepared me for what was underneath. 

He kicked off his shoes and socks and lifted each leg to help me ease his pants and boxers off. “What’s wrong, Sweetheart? Why are you blushing?” His smirk told me he was enjoying this just a bit too much. 

“No reason.” I tried not to look at the large, thick, cock that bobbed against his navel. God, I was a shitty profiler.  

“Now, now, now, Sweetheart, I don’t believe you. See something you didn’t expect? I’m curious about your reaction, but more so about why I had the element of surprise. My scars didn’t give you pause, but my above-average member has you blushing like a virgin. Come on, tell me.” He pressed his legs together and pulled me back onto his lap, my clit resting against the base of his cock, hands cupping my bottom as he squeezed my butt cheeks.  “Tell me, please.” He said seductively. 

“Fine.” I stared up at the ceiling while I told him. “When I profiled you, I was certain your arrogance was overcompensation for something.”

He laughed and his belly shook, causing his cock to bob with each chuckle. “Every now and then, Sweetheart, a man’s confidence is well-deserved. Aren’t you glad you were wrong?” 

I hid my face in the crook of his neck embarrassed by my failed attempts at profiling him. “I’m sorry.”

He combed his fingers through my hair in long soothing strokes. “Oh, Sweetheart, you have nothing to be upset about. Never be embarrassed with me, please.” After kissing my shoulder, he whispered in my ear. “Lizzie, I love you. Please, look at me. I’m just having a little fun, and besides, I’m thrilled to know you still wanted me when you believed the man might not live up to the legend. But please know that you’re not the only one having to come to terms with reality.  As beautiful as you may have been in my mind, each time I fantasized about you, my imagination didn’t do you justice.”

I closed my mouth over his needing to feel him. I struggled to tell him that I loved him, but I wanted to show him—a necessity, but it seemed strange that the words made me feel vulnerable. I couldn’t believe this was who we had become. The banter of lovers. Of partners. Two people who made the best of a horrible situation. He wasn’t the Concierge of Crime, he was mine, and I needed him. 

He broke the kiss and panted against my lips. “Lizzie, I want to make love you, but I need you to initiate this first time. I need to know you choose me. After today, I’ll have no trouble surprising you, but tonight, I’ve given myself to you, all you need to do is accept me. 

Always worrying about my choices seemed strange for a man who couldn’t give me answers, but it was the core of who he was. I wrapped my fingers around his cock and stroked from base to tip. 

A feral groan left his lips. “God, Lizzie…” 

I continued my ministration trying to think of what I should do next. 

He sucked his lower lip into his mouth. “Umm… you might want to stop. It’s going to be hard enough to last being inside you without a barrier. I haven’t had unprotected sex since my daughter was conceived. I don’t want to waste the experience by coming on my chest.” He sighed and shot me a lopsided grin.

I smiled and realized how hard it must be for him to trust anyone, but he was trusting me. I stopped stroking him, but instead lifted and aligned him with my entrance, rubbing the head back and forth through my arousal. 

“Oh Lizzie, you’re so wet.” 

“You do that to me. All the time.” 

He nipped my lower lip. “Good. I don’t think you understand the fire you’re playing with. Once you give yourself to me, you’ll find I have quite an appetite. Others do drugs, me… there isn’t a pain that can’t be quieted or a joy that can’t be celebrated perfectly between your thighs. So keeping you wet and ready will be a goal.” He growled. 

I bit my bottom lip and plastered a sexy smirk on my face. “I think, yet again, Mr. Reddington, you may have met your match. I can be quite insatiable.”

“Now’s there’s a theory I can’t wait to test.”

I gripped his shoulder with my one hand while I guided him into my body with the other.  

His gaze locked with mine as I engulfed him inch by inch. “God, Lizzie, you feel so good. So tight. So wet.”

I didn’t move, savoring the feel of him inside me. Things between us would never be the same. We couldn’t go back to how we were before. I wanted to see the joy and contentment I saw in his eyes, in this moment, every single day. The scar of my wrist rested against the scars on his shoulder, and I realized peace was something I alone could give him. 

He stared at me with wonderment and joy. His face was alive with a thousand shades of bliss. 

“Do you think it’s possible we were forged by that fire? Maybe it melded our souls, creating something stronger. Crafting us from the same elements that lit the stars. Maybe that’s why, when we’re like this… I feel complete?” 

“I’ve no doubt.” He clutched me to him and thrust up into me. 

I rose and fell, sliding along his length, coaxing moans from his lips. He stared up at me from behind his golden eyelashes and gripped my flesh in a way that told me he’d never let go. Passion consumed us. Our destiny would finally be realized. We were meant to be together. I could feel it in my soul.

I could have stayed joined with him like that forever, but the driving need for completion compelled me. My hips moved faster. 

His mouth was everywhere, sucking and licking every part of me in reach. His hands cupped my ass, helping to set a rhythm. 

Setting a steady pace, I gasped when his fingers brushed against my clit. He knew I was close. “That’s it. I want to feel you come. Show me. Come for me, sweetheart.” 

I had been so turned on before we started, it wouldn’t take much more. His quivering lip was perhaps a tell that he was on the verge as well. Just the thought of receiving his orgasm sent me spiraling. “Raymond, yes. Just like that.” I tossed my head back when euphoria engulfed me. I clutched him to my breasts when I heard him groan with pleasure.

“Lizzie… I… you need to lift up. I’m close. I'll pull out.” 

I whisper in his ear, “Please, come inside me. I want to feel all of you.” 

“Lizzie… God... yes…” He gritted his teeth and thrust hard up into me, gripping my hips tight, slowing my movement. 

His warmth surged inside me, lubricating the subtle strokes he made as spurt after spurt of his semen filled me.  

His chest rose and fell with heavy breaths as his climax subsided. “And to think, I didn’t think I could love you more.” His kiss was gentle and loving. 

My arms were wound tightly around him, my body milking him over everything he could give.  I didn’t want to let him go. The moment so fragile. I couldn’t get close enough, yet he was still part of me. “I’m afraid to let you go.” 

He kissed below my ear.  “You don’t have to. I could stay like this with you all night, but do you know one thing I look forward to almost as much as I did making love to you?” 

I smoothed my hand over his head. “What’s that?” 

“Waking up next to you. I’m always alone, Lizzie. To have you within arms reach at all times…” 

I rested my head on the top of his, savoring who we were to each other. 

“Lizzie. Come back. Lizzie, please.” The deep timbre of his voice tore me from my thoughts. 

My eyes fluttered open.

“There you are. You came back to me.” He stroked his thumb over the surface of my cheek.

Dr. Orchard stood beside him pushing something into my IV.

I remembered. It felt so real. Someone had stolen that time from me. Took that beautiful experience and killed it. Cause me to hate Reddington because I didn’t understand. I gave comfort instead to Tom.  Gave our daughter to a man who wasn't her father. My lip quivered. “I’m so sorry. How can you stand to look at me? Everything I’ve done? Raymond, I’m so sorry.” 

“Sweetheart, it’s alright. It’s not your fault.” He wrapped me in his arms.

“We were so beautiful together.” Tears fell from my eyes. 

He smiled. “Yes, we were.  And we can be again. They won’t win.” 

I gripped his hand. “I’ll kill them.  Every last one of them. What they stole from us. From Agnes. I will find out. I will hunt them down.” 

“They will pay for this, Lizzie, but please, if we have learned one thing from all of this, we shouldn’t waste any more time.  They already took so much from us. Let me have time with you before you try to leave me again.” He squeezed my hand.

I nodded. “OK. You’re right.” 

Dr. Orchard removed the IV catheter from my arm. “If you ever need my help again…”

I stared up at the woman like she was a god.  “Thank you. You gave me back so much. I can’t thank you enough.” I grabbed Red’s hand with mine. “Raymond… take me home, please.” 

He extended a hand, helping me from the chair. “I’ve never heard words more beautiful. With pleasure.” 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 5

 

Liz

 

Exhaustion overcame me before we made it home. The procedure had been taxing both mentally and physically. Reddington and Dembe helped me into my apartment. Red’s fingers brushing the hair out of my face as I crawled into bed was the last thing I remembered. 

I woke wondering if it had all been a dream. I stretched arms and worked my fingers trying to improve the circulation. Reddington sat in a chair across the room. His light snore whistled when he inhaled. I flung my legs over the side of the bed and went to him. 

With a soft kiss to his cheek, his eyes fluttered open. “Lizzie?” he asked in his raspy morning voice. 

“Of course, it’s me. You fell asleep in my bedroom. Why didn’t you sleep beside me?”

He blinked a few times and then squinted at me. “You weren’t awake to ask permission.” 

“Maybe I should be asking you if you’re Raymond Reddington…because my permission isn’t always necessary where he’s concerned.” I paused as realized my joke fell flat. “I mean… I know you’re not...”

He grabbed me around the waist and pulled me onto his lap. “I swear, I always want you to choose. Sometimes I’ve been overzealous where you’re concerned, but I’m trying. I’m sorry.”

I sat there for a long awkward moment. “What do we do now?”

He grasped my hand. “I’m going to go away for a while. You need to think about everything.”

“What’s there to think about?”

“Do I have to remind you that you once faked your death to get away from me?”

I allowed my fingers to caress his face. “We were under fire. Attacked. I didn’t know about us. I didn’t know you were Agnes’s father. I won’t keep you out of her life.”

“Lizzie, I’m the same man. That hasn’t changed. You need to seriously think about what it would mean. Danger. No roots. Always moving. I’m not sure that it’s fair to either of you.”

“But you’re her father.”

“Yes, and I made peace with another man raising her once before, I’ll do it again if I have to. We can’t solve this now. That’s why I’m going. Once you’ve worked through everything, I’ll return if that’s what you want.”

Tears filled my eyes. “I feel like I’m losing you again, and I just got you back.” 

He raised my hands to his lips. “I will always love you, Lizzie, and no matter where I am, I’m yours.”

The doorbell rang and his hands drifted to my hips helping me off his lap. “That’s Dembe, I don’t want to keep him waiting.” He scrambled to rise out of the chair.

I wiped my tears on the sleeve of my shirt. “But I’ll miss you.”

He exited the bedroom and stood beside the door. When he turned to look at me his eyes were red and glossy. “I’m going to miss you too.” He wrapped me in his arms, holding me tight. 

I didn’t want to let him go. “When will I hear from you?”  

“I’ll reach out when I feel you’ve had enough time.”

“Raymond, please…”

He cupped my face and closed his eyes. “This is important to me. If I come back, it will not only be to live with you, yes but also to die with you. You need to think about that. I’m twice your age. You will outlive me. You need to consider everything, including who you need me to be. What role I’ll have. Who I’ll be to Agnes. Our relationship is complicated, but please know, I love you in every way. That’s why it’s so important. I want to do whatever is best, even if it means giving you up.”

“Promise me you’ll be safe. When I tell you that I want you to come back, you need to be alive.”

His thumb captured one of my tears. “I’ll do my best.” He leaned his forehead against mine. “I love you, Lizzie, never doubt it.” His lips, like a whisper, caressed mine. He picked up his hat from the side table and left. 

Two days later, the tears still fell from my eyes, but there was no word from Reddington. 

***

Five days later, I walked into the Post Office.  

Ressler rushed to my side. “Jesus Christ, Keen. Where have you been? You haven’t returned any of my calls. I had to find out from Reddington that you were taking leave.”

“You’ve heard from him?” I tried not to look too expectant. 

“Last week. Cooper said he’s overseas. Are you OK?” He grasped my arm. 

I smiled at him. “I will be, I guess.”

“Anything I can do?”

“Yes, help me focus on work.”

***

It had been three months since I returned to work. Three months since I last heard from Reddington. My longing had turned to grief and then grief to anger. I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to believe it was all a sick joke on his part, to show me all we had and what we could have been and then take it all away, or that he was dead. Both options made my heartache. The first option I probably deserved. The second made me wonder if God could be so cruel.

Every knock at the door brought hope. Tonight was no different. But it was Ressler that stared back at me not Red. 

“What’s up?” I leaned against the door edge.

He pointed to the brown bag in his hand. “I’ve come to get you drunk.”

My forehead wrinkled in confusion. “Ah… Ress… I know we’re close but…”

“I don’t want to sleep with you, Keen, but you need to tell me what the fuck is going on? Is Reddington dead?”

I looked at my hands. “I hope not.” The question, and the idea that I couldn’t answer negatively, almost buckled my knees. 

Ressler reached out a hand to steady me, closed the door behind him and helped me to the sofa. “Liz, where’s Agnes?”

I pulled a tissue from the box and swiped it across my nose. “She’s with Scottie. I can’t take care of her like this.”

He pulled two glasses from the cupboard after searching several doors.

“So, I haven’t been fooling you with my act at work?” 

He poured some scotch in a glass and handed it to me. “Not for a second. This is about Reddington, right? It’s why he’s gone? What did he do to you?”

“Nothing. Everything.” I paused. Ressler knew the truth about everything else, including Red’s identity, I needed someone to talk to so I got to the point. “He’s Agnes’s father.”

Ressler spat scotch halfway across the room. “What? Why didn’t you tell me? Does he know?”

“Kirlov wiped my memory like he did yours. I didn’t remember. I didn’t know.”

He took a seat beside me. “But Reddington loves Agnes and hated Tom. Why would he… oh, Keen, tell me he didn’t. I know he’s capable of terrible things, Oh God, I’ll kill him on sight the next time I see him.” Ressler grabbed my hand and squeezed. 

“No. Not that. You’re right, he would never. It was all consensual. I have the memories back now.  Reddington hired Dr. Orchard to help me recover what happened between us on the run.”

“He knew this whole time that Agnes was his, but said nothing?”

I sniffles. “He thought I regretted being with him. The only thing I remembered was me trying to seduce him and him rejecting me. When he cleared my name, I was so lonely, I went to Tom. Reddington saw everything because he had Tom under surveillance. He was pissed, especially since he knew I was pregnant with his child. I didn’t find out until I was in the hospital for the beating. Reddington gave me an out, so I wouldn’t have to be tied to him and he was angry I slept with Tom,  so he told me he assumed the father was Tom. Since I had no memory of being with Red, it was the only explanation. So I unwittingly went along with it.”

“No wonder you two have hurt each other so much.”

“Yeah. I couldn’t live with betraying him. When I almost lost him, I realize how much he meant to me. When I found out he wasn’t my father, I hoped he could see me differently. When I confessed about getting him arrested, he completely shut me out. I guess my subconscious knew what he meant to me, and it was killing me, so I called him one night and handed him a gun so he could get it over with.” 

“Keen…”

“You wanted to know what’s wrong, you’ll have to shut up and listen.”

He took another gulp. “Fair enough. Go on.”

“He refused to kill me, but decided I finally deserved someone like him for even asking him to suffer my death again. One thing led to another and our argument ended in bed. It was cathartic, not loving, but he said something about the last time we made love. I had no idea what he was talking about. In my mind, I had never slept with Reddington.”

“God, Keen, he thought you died having his kid. No wonder he lost his mind. Then he thought you kidnapped his child.” Ressler blew out a strong breath. “Wow, he handled it much better than I  would have.”

I started to sob. “I’ve been over all those terrible things I said to him a thousand times. I was unbelievably cruel and then I almost got him killed.”

Ressler set his drink on the coffee table and wrapped his arms around me. “I know he forgives you, Liz. That man loves you more than anything. That’s always been apparent.”

“There was so much relief when we figured out we were being manipulated. He gave me all these beautiful memories back and told me he’ll be whoever I needed him to be, but I needed to think through things, and he’d contact me when he thought I’d enough time. That was three months ago.”

“He’ll be back.”

“What if he doesn’t come back?”

Ressler tapped on the side of my glass. “Take a drink. He’s probably working through some stuff of his own. I mean, wow, that’s some serious news. A lot to wrap your head around. Who do you think did it?”

“The obvious choice is Tom or Mr. Kaplan, but they’re both dead. They both hated Red. Maybe they were in on it together. Krilov said he’d tell me for immunity, but it’s not worth it. Truth isn’t worth the price. I’ve learned the hard way. I don’t care what the truth is anymore. I just want him back.”

“Have you tried to contact Reddington?”

“Yes. Nothing worked.”

He stroked his hand over my back. “He’ll be back Liz. If he were dead, I’m sure you would have been notified. He was going to leave you his fortune before since Agnes is his daughter some attorney would come out of the woodwork by now.”

“I hope you’re right. I worry that he may have told me all of this just to be cruel.”

Ressler laughed. “Keen, he’s heavy-handed. Like dictating the time he thinks you need to make a decision. Maybe a bit misogynistic. He’ll keep things from you to protect him and you, but to be deliberately cruel? I don’t think he can where you’re concerned. He loves you too much.”

“You think?”

“Keen, I know. Give him some more time.”

“It really helped to talk with someone. I don’t have anyone I can talk with about it.”

“You’ve got me.” He patted my back. “And bring Agnes home, before Reddington finds out Susan Hargrave has his kid again. Aram and I can help until Reddington gets back.”

“Thank you.” I squeezed his knee. 

“That’s what family’s for.” He reached for the remote on the coffee table. “Now let’s put on the game and forget that criminals and complications exist for four quarters.” He wrapped his arm around my shoulder and held me while he shouted profanity at the referees on the TV for the next several hours. 

It was nice.  It was normal. It was needed.

Chapter Text

Chapter 6

 

Liz

 

I arranged the cupcakes on the risers so they formed what looked like a pink castle and licked a smear of icing from my wrist. 

Ressler appeared through the kitchen door, Agnes on his hip. A lopsided tiara on his head. Ever since Ressler and Aram had started helping me with Agnes, she was determined to turn them both into princesses. 

“Nice look, Ressler.” 

“Ah yeah.” He reached up and straightened his crown. 

Agnes smiled and giggled. She had developed the biggest crush on Ressler. 

“How many people you having over?” 

I paused and started counting on my fingers. “You, Aram, Cooper, and the lady next door, but she’s out of town.”

“No kids?” 

“She’s having a party at her school tomorrow with all her friends.  That’s why I’m coming in late. Besides that, there really isn’t anyone else.” I tried not to sound sad about it.

An extra cupcake sat on the edge of the counter. “Hey Aggie, how about you and I steal that cupcake and split it while your mommy isn’t looking?” 

She cupped her hand in front of Ressler’s ear. “You lean me over and I’ll swipe it while she’s not looking. You can have half of the cake, but I get all the icing and the other half of cake.”

“Oh, you are your father’s daughter, aren’t you?” 

Agnes did her best to be sneaky in retrieving the cupcake. “Hurry, before she catches us.” 

Ressler grinned as he carried her into the living area. 

I grasped the counter, trying to get control of my emotions. Next week would be six months since I last heard or spoke with Reddington. Every day, I lost more and more hope that he’d return. The anger had passed, and I was finally starting to accept it would never be. 

With a knock on the door, my heart squeezed. Every phone call or visit brought this overwhelming hope, only to die on the next breath. 

From the other room, I heard Agnes squeal.  “Aram! I have your princess tiara for you.”

“Hey, Liz.” Aram set a pink polka-dotted package on the table, walked up to me and enveloped me in a big hug. 

“Thank you so much for coming. It means the world to her. She has you and Ressler wrapped around her finger.” I straighten the tiara on his head. “We’re just waiting for Cooper and the pizza and we’ll be all set.”  I wiped my hand on a dishtowel. 

I walked through the living room picked up a few toys Agnes had discarded. 

Another knock at the door. 

“We got it. Come on, birthday girl, let's go welcome your other loyal subject.” Ressler bounced her on hip.  

“Coop!” Agnes bellowed the nickname she had given Cooper.  

In his deep comforting voice, Cooper greeted the birthday girl. “Happy birthday, Agnes.  I hope you don’t mind, but I brought a friend.” 

All at once the world came crashing down. 

The rich timbre of his voice caused me to drop the doll I held in my hand. 

Ressler released a hearty, “Holy shit.” 

But it was Agnes that stole the show with her scream of “Daddy!” Before wriggling out of Ressler’s arms and hugging Reddington’s legs. 

Aram and Copper shot me a perplexed expression before Copper took the gift Reddington held in his hand and set it beside Aram’s on the table. 

Reddington took Agnes’s hand. “Let’s go inside.” 

Ressler glanced at me, and I didn’t know what to say. He then turned to Reddington. “Ah… can I take your coat?”

“Donald… do you…” Reddington’s panicked glance met my eyes, and I had to look away.  “Do you live here?” He said, shrugged the coat from his shoulders and handed it to Ressler.

Ressler chuckled. “No, but you own me. I’ve been doing your job while you were away making the world a safer place, right Agnes?”

“Yes, Donnie, you’re my princess.” She tugged on Reddington’s arm and pointed to Ressler’s tiara. 

“I see that.” Reddington smirked at Ressler. 

“Daddy… Mommy says you’re a superhero, but you wear a hat, not a cape. Can I wear your hat?”

“Certainly.” Red set the hat upon the little girl’s head. “There you go. You look just like…”

Ressler crossed his arms. “You.  She looks just like you.” 

Cooper casually made his way to stand beside me. “So, I hope you’re not upset I invited Reddington. I figured since he’s Agnes’s grandfather.” 

“I’m not upset with you. There is something I need to tell you, but it’s a very long story.” 

Another knock sounded at the door. “That must be the pizza.” Before heading to the door, I turned to Cooper. “I’ll have Ressler fill you in.” 

I could feel Reddington’s eye on me as I made my way to the door and paid the delivery guy. I had never been so thankful for pizza in my whole life. 

Retreating to the kitchen, I took a deep breath and closed my eyes, begging myself not to cry.  Not on her birthday. The day I finally believed we’d never see him again, I painted him the hero of the story. It was the first time I told her he was her father. Ressler had taken to telling her stories about Reddington. 

Aram approached, apprehension in his stance. “Ah Liz, you alright?” 

I nodded. 

“Do you need help with anything?” 

I laughed. “Not the kind you’re qualified to provide,” I said sliding slices of pizza onto paper plates. I handed him one. 

“Ahh… thank you.” He stared at the pizza. “I hope you don’t mind me asking, but are you angry with Mr. Reddington?” 

I stared at him for a long moment. “No, I’m not angry with him. I’m just sad.” 

“Again, if you don’t mind me asking, Agnes knows he’s her Grandfather, right? She keeps calling him, daddy.”

What an absolute clusterfuck. “Aram, he’s her father, not mine. It is an exceptionally long story. Ressler has all the details.  I suggest you, he and Cooper sit down, have a few beers and have an evening of entertainment at my expense. You can’t make this stuff up.” 

He shook his head. “Wait… Reddington isn’t your father, but he’s Agnes’s.” He stared at me. “That would mean… that you and he... “ 

“Yes, Aram.  I slept with Reddington.” 

“Are you and he…”

I laughed. “I don’t know what we are.” 

I grabbed two plates and some napkins and started passing out the pizza. 

Cooper’s face was priceless as he watched Reddington and Agnes play together. 

“Excuse us.” I grabbed Agnes’s hand and led her to the coffee table. “Here sweetheart, you can eat here.  Once we’re done, you can have your cupcakes and open presents. Ok?” 

“OK, Mommy. I’m so happy Daddy’s here.  You told me he wasn’t coming back. So the bad guys didn’t get him. I’m so glad.”

I kissed her forehead. “Me too.” I was thankful my back was to Red as I felt the tears start to bubble to the surface. 

Ressler once again saved me. “Reddington, I know greasy Chicago style pizza might not be your style, but it’s Agnes’s favorite.” He handed him a slice. 

“Thank you, Donald.” 

Once Agnes was settled in I retreated to the kitchen. Cooper stopped me.  “I’m so sorry, had I known things would be so tense...” 

I patted his arm. “You had no way of knowing. Plus, I don’t think you could have given Agnes a better birthday gift.” Pushing past him I decided to busy myself with cleaning up the counter.  My back stiffened when I heard his voice, “Excuse me, Harold. There’s something I need to ask Lizzie.” 

I didn’t turn around to acknowledge him. 

“Lizzie, I know you’re angry with me.”

I sniffled. “No, not anymore.  I was, but I accepted that you weren’t coming back. I just wished you hadn’t lied to me.” I closed my eyes. I could feel his presence in my bones as he moved closer. 

“I didn’t lie to you.  I promise. There hasn’t been a day when you and Agnes weren’t the first and last thing I thought of every day. I promised you I’d come back. Harold suggested I make it a surprise, but given he didn’t know the full story, I probably should have declined.” 

I took a deep breath. “No, Agnes is so happy you’re here.” 

“I’m sorry it took so long, but I’ve done everything I could to make back to you.” 

My lip quivered as I spoke. “What took you so long?”

“I thought I was dying.” He touched my arm, and I flinched. “Please, Lizzie. Look at me.” 

With reluctance, I turned toward him, but I couldn’t meet his eyes. 

“Two days after I left you, I was shot. While running tests, they discovered I had a rare, often fatal condition. I’ve been recovering from the wound and the treatment ever since.”

“Why wouldn’t you let me help you? Or tell me?” 

He stepped toward me and wrapped me in his arms. “I didn’t want you to remember me like that. If it helps Dembe told me every day, that I was wrong. But that was too big of a burden for you and Agnes to take on.” 

“That was my choice, not yours. And you really need to start listening to Dembe.” 

He smoothed his hand over my hair. “I know.” 

Cooper’s loud, “What?” echoed off the walls. 

“Sounds like Ressler’s bringing them up to speed.” I chuckled. 

“Lizzie, I came back for your answer, but from the looks of things, you and Ressler have settled in quite nicely together. Donald, may not have been my first choice for you...but I’ve become fond of him over the years.” 

I had forgotten how good he smelled. “I’m not going to lie, Ressler has been a big help and Agnes adores him, but there is nothing romantic between us. He’s a friend nothing more. I’ve been faithful to you.” 

He closed his eyes and sighed. “I’m not going to say I’m not relieved, but I wouldn’t have blamed you if you had moved on.” 

“My answer has always been the same. It hasn’t changed unless you’ve changed your mind.”

“I’ve always been steadfast where you’re concerned. Let’s hope Ressler got to the important part of that story because I’m going to kiss you and if they still think I’m your father…” He cupped my face.  “I have missed you so much.” His lips closed over mine, and I melted against him. 

“Hey, Keen… Woah… ahh OK. Yeah...  It’s one thing to know about it, an entirely different thing to see it.”He held his hand up in front of his eyes.

I pulled away from Reddington’s kiss, but he didn’t release me. “What’s up, Ress?” 

He snorted. “Well, if I were to venture a guess, I’d say Reddington.” 

“Jealous, Donald?” Reddington nuzzled my ear. 

“More like queasy. But anyway, your daughter would like to open her gifts now. So could you two stop sucking face and be parental for a minute?”

Reddington kissed my cheek. “You do understand how we became parents, don’t you, Donald?”

Ressler held his hand up. 

 “Oh, and Keen, you can thank me later for letting Aram and Cooper know that you’re not banging your dad.”

I laughed and pulled away from Reddington. “Come on.” I grabbed his hand and led him back to the living room.

Chapter Text

Chapter 7

 

Liz

 

Agnes sat on the floor surrounded by her princesses, ponies, and assortment of shiny costumes. Ressler, Aram, and Cooper had spoiled her rotten. 

After the excitement of the moment died down, she looked up at Red, who stood beside me, leaning against the doorframe, and said, “Daddy, is that your present to me?” She pointed to the oversized package on the table. 

“Where?” He feigned ignorance.

“Over there.  That big package on the table.” On the table sat a present at least as large as the girl herself.

He chuckled. “Oh, yes, I suppose it is. But you’ll need to be very careful with it. It’s rather fragile.”

Agnes bounded from the floor and plopped into one of the chairs at the table. She took care in tearing the paper, heeding Red’s advice. 

Reddington snaked his arm behind my back and led me to the table with him.  The other three men soon joined us. 

Ressler couldn’t help himself. “Gee, I hope it’s a princess dress for your dad to wear, Agnes. I think he feels left out.” 

Reddington glared at him. 

Agnes paused. “Oooo… is it, daddy?” 

Reddington smoothed his hand over the child’s hair. “No, I wouldn’t want to take Donald’s place as your princess, but I think you’ll like it.”

Ressler was having fun with his intimate knowledge of Reddington, and Reddington’s comfort with Ressler’s presence in Agnes’s life pleased me. At that moment, I realized just how lost Red had been to me. I never even bothered to imagine what it would be like if he returned to find Ressler so embedded in our lives. It didn’t seem like it was even a possibility.

Once the paper was removed, Reddington pulled a small knife from his pocket and cut the strings that affixed a tall box lid to the base. “Here, Sweetheart, you’re probably not tall enough, let me lift this off for you.” Reddington cupped the sides of the box and lifted straight up like someone might reveal a wedding cake. 

As the present was unveiled, Agnes let out a sustained, “Wooooooooooooah. That's amazing.” 

The package contained a majestic dollhouse replicable of a Victorian house. The ornamental gingerbread and details were masterful. The pink and turquoise hues added to the magic of the structure.

“Oh, Raymond. That’s beautiful.” I leaned against his side.  

Agnes scrutinized every window, each containing a detailed room inside. “Oh, daddy I love it.” 

“You wanted to know what I’ve been doing, Lizzie. This project kept me alive. I worked on it every day at a desk in my recovery room that overlooked an exquisite French garden.” 

“You made this?” I eyed the delicate details with amazement.

He nodded. “It kept me focused on what was important. With every piece, I was reminded why I needed to get back to you, and if for some reason I couldn’t, I hoped that I’d finish it in time so she’d have it to remember me.”

I cupped his cheek and gazed into his eyes. My lip quivered, and I tried to keep the tears contained. “Thank you.”

“Mr. Reddington, I didn’t know you were so artistically talented, I mean... I know you are amazing… I mean…” Aram grimaced. “Ah, that’s really cool.” 

“Thanks, Aram.” Reddington reached into his pocket and pulled out a tiny key, with an oversized pink ribbon attached to it, and handed it to Agnes. He bent and whispered in her ear, “This house is a lot like me. It has a few secrets.” 

Cooper and the guys chuckled. 

Reddington held up the key in front of her. “I want you to understand that this next present is from your mother and me. She is why I’m here today. She is why I have you. She is the reason I can give you this key today. She didn’t give up on me.” 

I wiped my tears on my sleeve.

“So, go on.” Reddington urged. “See if you can find the surprise.” 

Agnes gazed at Reddington with awe and wonder and without a second thought plugged the small key into the front door lock. When she turned it, a click sounded and the attic seemed to separate from the second floor, almost imperceptibly. Agnes’s tiny hands lifted the attic off the top of the house. Ressler picked her up so she could look inside. She reached in and pulled out a box. Embossed in silver lettering were the words, Welcome Home, Agnes. 

Her little fingers worked the lid off the box and the inside lay a stack of photographs. The first looked like a blueprint. The next was an aerial photograph of land. Each photo after were construction site photos, each embossed with a date. The first started three weeks after Reddington left. The very last photo was of a finished house. It was the exact house that Reddington had built in miniature. 

“Daddy, are these photos of the house you made?” 

He bent and kissed her on the top of the head. “No, sweetheart. That’s a real house. Our new house. I’ll take you and your mother to see it tomorrow.”

Our house. He wasn’t leaving again, and from the dates on the photos, he had been thinking of us the entire time. He hadn’t left us at all. Even though I didn’t agree with his decision to remain silent, I can understand not wanting Agnes to see him suffer. Had he died, he would have been the hero Ressler and I told her he was, not a fragile dying man. It didn’t ease my pain, but somewhere inside, I knew Reddington deserved a legacy equivalent to how he lived, that why I created it for him without even understanding why.

Agnes squealed and threw her arms around Reddington’s neck. “It has a swing set and backyard.”

Aram sniffled. 

Ressler elbowed him. “Are you crying?” 

Aram looked away. “So, what if I am?  It’s beautiful.” 

Red lifted Agnes in his arms and hugged her tightly. She pointed at the inside of the house. “Daddy, there’s something else inside.” She leaned over, stretching to reach the item. 

It was another small box, but this one was a little longer and the front said, Welcome Home, Elizabeth. 

Agnes pulled it out with both hands. 

Red smiled at her. “That one’s for your mother.” 

“Here, mommy.” Agnes held out the box for me.

I took the box from my daughter’s hand and shot Red a suspicious look. “This isn’t perhaps a key to all your secrets by chance?” 

He smirked and adjusted Agnes on his hip. “I guess in a way it is, or at least as close as anyone is ever going to get.” 

I removed the top and inside were passports and other paperwork. I paused, unsure how to feel about it--gazing upon illegal passports in front of my FBI boss should have made me nervous, but this is what my life had become.

I opened the first one. Liza Redmond. The photo was of me. The next Samantha Redmond. It was Agnes. The last one Kenneth Redmond. The document underneath broke me and sobbed as I held the piece of paper in my hand. It was a marriage certificate for Liza and Kenneth Redmond. It sat on top of two velvet boxes. It was a proposal, it was a commitment. I flipped through medical records, resumes, the deed to the house, and insurance policies. It was our family in a box.

“Come on, Keen, stop blubbering and tell us what’s inside the box.” Ressler moved beside me, trying to sneak a peek. Spying the certificate in my hand, he elbowed Reddington. “You old dog, guess congratulations are in order.”

Before Reddington could respond, I said, “It’s everything. It’s ...home.” I stared into Reddington’s eyes, which were already glossy with tears. “Thank you.” I pressed my lips to his. Resting my forehead against his, I whispered, “I love you.”

Ressler took hold of Agnes’s hand. “Hey, Aggie, how about you, Aram, Cooper and I all go to that Froyo place you love and then you can crash at my house and we can have a princess movie marathon. Maybe we can even stop at the costume shop and get Aram a dress. What color do you think he should wear?” 

Aram’s eyes went wide. “Really, it’s OK. I think I’ll be fine.” 

Agnes kissed Reddington on the cheek and then transferred into Ressler’s arms. “Well, mine is pink.  Yours is blue. Yellow! It’s got to be yellow. One like the princess in the beast story.” 

Copper made his way to me and wrapped me in his arms. “Thank you for inviting me.” 

“Thank you for bringing the best gift ever.” I squeezed Reddington’s hand as I pecked Copper on the cheek. “Well… looks like I got some Froyo in my future.” 

Reddington laughed. “Harold, if she asks, purple is your color.  You can’t go wrong with purple.” 

Copper laughed, “Yes, at which time I’ll remind her that red is your color. Wouldn’t want you to feel left out.” He patted Reddington on the shoulder.

Ressler slid Agnes’s arms into her jacket and then hoisted her up again before kissing me on the cheek. “Enjoy your evening alone. We’ll be back around noon. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do, and please no making Agnes a sibling in the guest room. I need one unsullied place to sleep when I stay over.” 

I wrapped my arms tight around him and Agnes. “Thank you for everything.”

Ressler uncharacteristically brushed a strand over my shoulder. “You make it easy, Liz. I love that little girl, I’m honored to be able to help.”

Reddington’s deep voice called out from beside me. “Yes, Donald, thank you. I owe you more than I can ever repay you.” 

He shot Reddington a wicked grin. “Now you, I might have a few suggestions about where you can start, but I’ll save that for another day. Come on, Agnes. The night is young, and you’re still the birthday girl, let’s go see how many times we can get people to sing happy birthday to you.” 

Agnes leaned down and hugged Red and me at the same time. “Thank you, mommy and daddy. I love you.” 

“We love you, too. Happy Birthday.” I kissed her forehead, feeling guilty for not spending the rest of her birthday with her, but knew, she would no doubt have a wonderful time with Ressler. 

Reddington wrapped his arms around my waist while we waited for everyone to leave. 

When the door closed I turned in his arms, “How are you feeling?” I smoothed a hand over his short-cropped hair. 

“I got the all-clear to travel yesterday from my Doctor. I got here as soon as I could, but I am a little tired.”

I leaned my head on his shoulder. “I’m sorry.  I’m just feeling so much right now. I don’t know how to process it all.” 

He kissed my temple. “You don’t have to. There’s no expiration date. Nothing has to happen.” 

“You planned all this. What would have happened if I had moved on?” 

He stroked his thumb along my chin. “If you no longer wanted me in your life, the key was to be delivered to you upon my death until then it would have been a secret.” 

“That’s so… so you.” 

He smiled. “I suppose so.”

“I thought you were either dead or abandoned us.” My tears left wet splotches on his vest. 

“When I found out the treatments worked, it had already been three months. I thought about calling you, but at that point, even my doctor advised against the stress. I knew you’d be angry. I was told Donald was keeping an eye on you and Agnes and that gave me some comfort on the one hand, but on the other, I was insanely jealous. One of the things you need to know about me is that I’m a very possessive man.” He picked up the box that contained his gift to me and linked his fingers with mine. 

I chuckled. “I already had my suspicions. I did try. I tried to do it on my own. I didn’t say anything to anyone for the longest time, but I failed. I let grief get the better of me and people started to notice. Ressler helped me pull myself together. He was there for Agnes. He was so selfless. The night he swooped in to save me from myself was the night I told him about Agnes and you. So please know it wasn’t his valiant effort to have a relationship with me. I expected him to be angry or disgusted, but he was neither. After that, he sat at the table, at least once a week, and told Agnes stories about you. He even showed her photos, so she’d remember you. He never tried to take your place. In many ways, I think he did it for you more than me. He’s the reason Agnes knows you, not me. I was too angry with you.” I looked away from him.

“Lizzie, it’s okay. I’m so sorry. Maybe Ressler did have my back. I’m grateful, whatever his motivation.” He brushed my hair over my shoulder. Come with me.” He took my hand and led me to the bedroom. “I want to talk to you about everything that’s in this box, but I’d give anything…” he paused and set the box on the nightstand.

“What? What do you need?”

He faced me and took my hands in his. “I need to feel you. Your skin against mine. I’ve missed you so much. This lovely blouse you’re wearing feels like too much distance between us. Lie with me. Let me hold you, Lizzie. That’s all. Let me feel your warmth.” He reached for the buttons on his vest. 

“That sounds absolutely wonderful. I’ve missed you so much.” Pushing his vest from his shoulders, I pressed my lips to his and was rewarded by a deep throaty moan. “I finally get to touch you for real.”

“Lizzie, you’ve touched me, for real, trust me. I think about it often. When I was recovering, I craved your closeness all the time.”

“I know in reality I’ve touched you. I remember the events of our time on the run, but it feels like remembering a movie. It doesn’t feel like it was me. For me, it’s like our first time together. I mean, other than...”

“The night I violated you.” He closed his eyes. 

“You didn’t violate me. I never told you to stop. I never said no. I willingly gave myself to you.” 

“Yes, but it should have never been like that. I should have never treated you like that, but, Lizzie, I need you to understand that even though I’m capable of these tender times, that dark side, that took what he wanted, is still there, and I can’t promise you won’t see it again. When I sink into that dark place...”

“I’ll be there to pull you out with my body, my soul, with all of me.” I traced a line with my finger over his adam’s apple, ending in a sexy tuft of chest hair. “Who knows, maybe if you can fuck your frustration away, it might lower your body count.” I smiled up at him.

He tried not to appear amused, but I could see the smirk pulling at the corner of his lip. “Such naughty words from such a beautiful mouth.” 

I shot him a seductive grin. “Not just the words are naughty… Now, what was I saying about wanting to touch you?”

He placed a gentle kiss on my lips. “Let’s satisfy your curiosity.” He combed his fingers through my hair. “Touch me, Lizzie.”  

It was so strange having him within reach. My hands shook with trepidation. 

He took my hand and raised it to his lips, pressing a kiss to my palm. “When we were on the run I would wake up some mornings with your neck and head resting on one of my arms, the other arm wound tightly around you. You’d either link your fingers with mine or run the backs of your finger along the underside of my forearm. I have so missed having you in my arms.”

Our fingers drifted to the buttons on each other’s shirts, undoing them one at a time. 

He pushed my blouse from my shoulders and kissed the base of my throat. “My memory didn’t do the softness of your skin justice.”

His dress shirt hit the floor, and I gripped the hem of his undershirt. Once it was pulled over his head, I spotted the place he had been shot. My fingertips smoothed over the pink scar. “They almost got your heart. They almost took you from me. Tell me you killed them.” 

“Yes.” He cradled my head in his hands, pulling me tight against his chest so my ear was pressed against his sternum. 

Relief flooded through me. Tonight did not need the taint of vengeance to sully the mood, because if he hadn’t ended them, I would have.

The thud of his beating heart was the most soothing sound. My hands traversed the plains of scar tissue on his back, wanting him to feel how much love I had for who he was to me.

With near synchronization, we undid each other’s pants, divested ourselves of our underwear and kicked off our socks. 

I drank in every inch of him. His body told a million tales, each more epic than the next. Twitching under my scrutiny, his cock bobbed as he led me to the bed. He pulled back the covers and kissed me as I rested on the cool sheets. 

He rounded the bed and climbed in beside me. Immediately, he pulled me to him, wrapping me in his arms, nothing between us. His chest hair soft against my nipples, cock hard against my stomach, feet nestled between mine. He buried his face in my neck and squeezed me tighter. “Now, if you want to talk, I’m game. I needed you like this. I felt so cold on the pavement, waiting for help after I was shot. Thinking of you like this made it bearable.” 

I laughed. “You were thinking of me naked while you were bleeding out?” 

His lips caressed the shell of my ear. “I’m always thinking about you being naked. Most of the time it’s a distraction from the task at hand, but that day, thinking of you like this, was like you sharing your warmth with me. Like you saved me.” 

“I would have. Had I been there. I would have done everything.” 

A sweet kiss landed at the corner of my mouth. “Yes, I know. It’s why I love you.” His hand snaked down my back and grabbed a handful of my asscheek and squeezed, pressing me tighter against his erection. “But before I start exploring ways to get even closer to you, I want to talk with you about the box.” 

I opened my mouth to speak, but he began before I could utter a word. 

“There is no pressure to assume any of it. Everything is optional. Even living in the house. But understand, if you were to decide to endeavor on a new life with me there are several things that will need to happen.” 

I watched his expression and considered just how much thought he put into all this. 

“If you decide, you want us to live as a family, Harold will arrest me. It will be leaked that Raymond Reddington had been captured by a special task force.  I’ll need to play out everything again for publicity, this time, my immunity is assured, both as Reddington, Kenneth and any other identify I may have had over the years should the authorities get involved again. When they supposedly lock me in the black hole, we’ll leave. I don’t want to disappear because someone will always be looking. I don’t want to fake my death because my associates will always be suspicious, but the FBI can always confirm my incarceration. No need for anyone to seek me out if they know exactly where I am. That will be exceptionally helpful. It will also allow me to run my organization from the inside as they say, or at least that’s what others will think. The theatrics will be courtesy of Harold, and perhaps, Ressler.”

“Who will take over officially, Dembe?” 

“If he wants. Otherwise, I’ll select a successor, but the important thing is stopping the traveling, the dangerous meetings and putting you and Agnes in danger. This way I can also still feed intel to Harold. It’s the safest plan I could come up with and still allow you and Agnes the freedom to live somewhat normal lives. There is an island that’s an option, but if we go there, there is no coming back.”

“Are you sure you want to do all that?”

He cupped my cheek. “Yes, but only if you do. There are several passports in there for you, Lizzie. You don’t have to be my wife, but it’s certainly the option I’d prefer.”

I giggled. “What? You don’t want to pretend to be my daddy again?” 

In the next breath, I was under him, wrists pinned above my head, his thighs forcing mine legs wider. His cock pressing against my aching sex. “Does it feel like I want to be your father, Lizzie? I didn’t before and certainly don’t now.” The head of his cock threatened to enter me. “Unless, of course, that’s your thing, Lizzie. I’ll indulge you. I’ll be your daddy if that's what you want. If it gets you hot.  Just wait until you discover some of my more exotic sexual proclivities. Wanting to call me daddy, while I’m buried inside you, will seem tame compared to what we’ll explore together. Go ahead, Lizzie, say it. I’ll be your daddy, sugar or otherwise.”

I laughed. “No, I don’t have a daddy kink, I was joking, but you’ve got me curious about these exotics tastes of yours.” 

“All in due time. Right now, tell me what you want.” His lips were just a breath from mine.

“You. I want you.” I was more than ready for him. I had been for the past six months. 

He released a throaty groan. “Where do you want me? Do you want me inside you?” 

I spread my legs and lifted my hips in encouragement. “God, yes.” 

His devilish smile told me he was pleased with my response. Pushing just the head of his cock inside me, he said, “And who do you want inside you, Lizzie? What do you want to call me? Who am I to you?” 

“Mine. Your mine. Nothing else matters.” 

“There’s nothing I’d rather be.” He slid the rest of his length into me to the hilt with one deep thrust, stretching my slippery walls. He inhaled deeply and pressed his pelvis tighter against mine. “Oh, Lizzie…”

The intensity of his gaze made me shiver under his weight. The way his tongue played over his bottom lip and teeth heightened my arousal. 

He was everywhere at once. Closer than he had ever been. So deep inside me, fingers linked with mine as he pressed my hands into the bed. His body tightly covering mine. His cock delving with deep syncopated thrusts. “You’re so tight. So perfect. Like you were made for me.”

I arched my back as he hit the place I ached for him most. “Oh, Raymond…” I didn’t get to finish before his mouth captured mine.

The way he moved against me was so loving and sensual such a contrast to the hardened criminal with a heart that I fell in love with. 

“God, Lizzie, when I feel you like this it’s like I’ve been given something I don’t deserve. Like I somehow died and went to heaven, where I don’t belong.” 

“You’re exactly where you belong.” 

His kiss grew hungry and thrusts urgent. He buried his face in my neck and pounded his pelvis against mine, causing me to pant his name.

“Oh, Raymond. Yes, just like that. I…” Wrapped my legs around his hips rest my feet on his ass, forcing him deeper inside me. 

A wave of euphoria crashed over me and dug my fingers into his back. My body squeezed him like it never wanted to let him go. 

“Christ, Lizzie… You feel so good. I’m close, move your legs. I need to pull out.” 

“Are you sure that’s what you want?” 

He closed his eyes and bit his lip before gasping the word, “No.” 

With my lips at his ear, “Then don’t. Come inside me.”

“You know what that does to me. I’ve been dying to fill you up.” 

I tightened my legs around him. “Do it. Give me all of you.” 

“Oh Lizzie,” he slammed his pelvis against mine and emptied himself deep inside me. His movements still as his cock pulsed with spurt after spurt of his hot semen.

There was nothing more satisfying than feeling him like this. His warmth flooding me. Allowing him to be part of me. Knowing it wasn’t something he indulged in with strangers. My recovered memories made me appreciate what he enjoyed and that possessive side of him compelled him to mark me. To make me his and this to him was the surest way. Something in me I loved being possessed by him. 

He pressed soft kissed in a line along my jaw. “I love you.”

“I love you too.” I wrapped my arms around him savoring the feel of his weight on me. “So, how did it feel to make love to Liza Redmond?”

He stared at me for a long moment. “Like I want to spend the rest of my life with her doing that over and over again. Like she’s my other half. My soul.”

“Good, because you’re stuck with me, Kenneth.” 

Chapter Text

Chapter 7

 

Liz

 

I woke up the next morning in bed alone, but the scent of toast and eggs wafting in from the kitchen eased my trepidation. My robe that usually hung on the back of the bedroom door was missing. After opening the dresser drawer and slipping on a nightgown, I padded in my bare feet to the kitchen. Reddington stood over the stove in the kitchen, spatula in hand, eggs sizzling, in nothing but my robe. 

“Good morning, sweetheart. Did you rest well?” He reached out one arm beckoning me to come to his side. 

I couldn’t help but smile. “Better than ever.”

He pulled me against him, placed a soft kiss on my lips. “The same for me. I think it was the company.”

I nuzzled my face against his shoulder. “I think you’re right. That smells great.” 

He chuckled.  “I did the best with what you had available. Why don’t you have a seat at the table, these are just about done. There are a few things we need to discuss.” 

On my tiptoes, I pressed a quick kiss to his lips. “Sounds like a plan.” Normally, a discussion would make me feel uneasy, but his light tone and happy demeanor countered my usual anxiety. 

As soon as I was seated, he set a plate in front of me containing two eggs, two slices of  toast, and several cubes of cantaloupe. He returned promptly with a steaming cup of coffee and a small glass of water.

I gazed at the display before me. “You better be careful, you’re going to spoil me.”

“I fear we might be too late to avoid that scenario, but it doesn’t mean I’ll stop. I love seeing you happy.” He took the seat beside me and began savoring his meal. “I’m afraid I do have news I have to tell you, but I don’t want to extinguish the magic between us, so please understand it’s a necessity, but I fear it might darken your mood.” 

Chewing a bite of egg, I nodded and then swallowed. “OK.” So much for bypassing the anxiety. 

He wiped his napkin across his lips and then placed it again in his lap. “In addition to building tiny houses and overseeing the construction of our new home from my recovery bed, I also pursued finding who stole your memories.” 

I sat my fork on the plate. “Did you find out?”

He nodded. “Yes, Tom.” He paused for a moment no doubt awaiting my reaction, but I had wondered myself if he could be the culprit when my list of suspects failed to pile up. Tom had the most motive, gained the most from my lost memories, but I didn’t want to believe it. I had been such a fool. My FBI training, however, kept leading me back to him.

Reddington hesitantly continued, “He had help from Mr. Kaplan. Kate must have known you were pregnant when we returned and surmised I had something to do with it. I had sworn to protect you, she would have seen what I had done as taking advantage of you. She was already frustrated that I decided to enter your life."

"But I'm a grown woman who can make her own choices.”

He nodded in agreement. "But she would have seen me as weak. She would have seen me seeking pleasure with you and my evident irresponsibility as a betrayal to you. She and Tom concocted the plan to get you to agree to fake your own death while you were desperate and afraid, so they could get you and Agnes away from me. Soloman provided the perfect opportunity. Tom may have even planned that for all we know given he later went to work with the man who almost killed his wife and child.”

All I could do was stare at my plate. “You really think Tom did all that?”

"You underestimated Tom. I hired him because he was a brilliant operative. I wanted only the best to protect you. You can imagine how I felt when I learned he got close to you and then betrayed me. He was dangerous, and as much as I wish it weren’t true, he did love you. Probably the only real thing about him. He knew Agnes wasn’t his. He was angry, feeling like you betrayed him by being with me. You ran away with me, not him. Kate felt I failed you. Kate at least was trying to protect you. Tom wanted to possess you.”

“Wait, you’re saying Tom knew Agnes was yours?”

He nodded.

“But he went along with that whole charade allowing me to think you were my father.” 

Reddington swallowed. “He even tried to rub my nose in it. I honestly don’t know if he thought I was a sick deviant that would impregnate his own daughter or if he knew all along I wasn’t your father. Only Tom can answer that, so we'll never know.” 

I gripped my napkin in my hand. “He seduced me that night on his boat, so he could claim Agnes was his. But how did he know? He said he didn’t find out until he found the pros and cons list I was making. That was after I told you.” 

Reddington reached over and took my hand in his. “Lizzie, you are beautiful now, but when round with child, you are beyond radiant. It was impossible for me not to notice. No doubt Tom did too, especially since when he had last seen you, you weren’t pregnant and when we returned, you had just started getting that glow about you. You know, that’s one of my biggest regrets.”

“What is?”

“Not being able to make love to you while you were pregnant. To touch you. Not being able to take care of you. I tried to with the couch and the massage... I would have pampered you.”

I squeezed his hand. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t understand why you were doing those things. It didn’t make sense. It was another reason I chose to believe you were my father. Because what man does that for a woman carrying another man’s child, if they are related? God, what I put you through.”

“Lizzie, it wasn’t you.”

I chewed a bite of toast. “We could... I mean, we could always have another baby, so you can be part of it.” 

“You’d want that? Knowing everything you know now? You’d choose to have another child with me?” He stroked his finger over the back of my hand.

“Raymond, I’m not naive. I know how sex works. With my memories back, I knew the risk I was assuming the first time we made love.” I cupped his hand in with my other holding him against my skin. “I remember thinking what a brilliant father you’d be with all your stories. How convenient it would be to not have to make the choice to adopt. To have that choice taken from me. How…” I bowed my head. “How… if...I had your child, I’d never lose you. I’d always have a piece of you with me. I don’t know if what I did was a conscious decision at the time, but the thoughts were there.” I couldn't look at him. 

“Oh, sweetheart, don’t be ashamed.” He scooted closer and rested his forehead against mine. “I’ve already told you, that once I had your permission, tying you to me became a goal whether I realized it at the time or not. And here we are.”  He smiled. “Finish your breakfast. There’s nothing we can do about Tom and Kate’s betrayal, but I wanted you to know, there’s nothing to fear now. Tom was never what he seemed. His ties at Halcyon go deeper than you can imagine. It’s why I feared for Agnes being with Scottie, and why I told you not to trust Tom.” 

"Will you ever forgive me?"

He raised my hand to his lips. "There's nothing to forgive."

There wasn’t anything I could say. I simply nodded. I had fallen for everything. Even with the manipulation, there were red flags. How did I miss so much?