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The Green Glass Princess

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Red started to say "I don't hate Tom," but then he thought better of it.

If it causes Liz to be more willing to believe he cares about her, if she's finally starting to notice how often he saves her, Red will let her mistaken assumption stand. And isn't that pathetic?

Red doesn't hate Tom. He envies him, grits his teeth until his jaw aches when he thinks about what Tom had and threw away; their comfortable home, their shared bed, even their shaggy mutt of a dog Hudson.

Red can't have a dog. Not with his lifestyle. He could own a dog, pay someone to feed and walk it, but then it wouldn't be his. Not really.

If Dembe hadn't returned to him so generously, delayed his graduate studies to stand at Red's back, he would have no one.

Red trudges wearily up the concrete steps, wishing his knees didn't ache with every step.

He hates how Tom treated Liz, how badly he hurt her, but Red understands him down to his bones.

Tom had a contract. It was a job. How often has Red paid people to lie, deceive, plot? He can't count, any more than he can name or number the people he's killed personally or had killed. He lost track of his body count more than a decade ago, after the explosion in Sao Paulo.

And he's avoiding the worst of it.

What Red envies Tom for the most is the opportunity to hold Liz in his arms. To feel her love shining out of her gorgeous big blue eyes, to hold her warm body close at night, to wake with her sleepy and rumpled and languid with desire in the morning sunlight ...

Red is moving faster now, he's almost to the car.

He needs to get hold of himself. Dembe doesn't need to see him mooning about like a boy, over a girl so impossibly above his touch she might as well be encased in glass.

Red slows. The Green Glass Princess. Maybe someday he can tell her that story.

He's smiling when he reaches the car.

***

Liz watches Red go with a placid face and a troubled heart. She talks briefly with Tom, then tucks the phone away and sits with her hands shoved deep in her pockets.

Red almost fled from her gratitude, his shoulders sagging as if she'd attacked rather than praised him.

His knees are aching again. Liz could tell as he climbed the stairs. She's become something of an expert on Raymond Reddington of late, watching him at every opportunity, even going back through old surveillance footage whenever her duties at the Post Office permit.

He warned her that she can never do enough to make up for her role in the death of a young girl's father. Is that another hint about their shared past? Or something to do with his own family?

No comfort there, except that perhaps he's finally beginning to see them as equals. Not how she wanted that to happen, but at least Red seems more aware of her feelings. Not brushing everything off with some convoluted story.

Liz has heard enough cryptic stories, secrets, lies for a lifetime. Red claims he's never lied to her. But he allows her to believe things that are false. Liz closes her eyes for a moment against the surge of anger that thought evokes.

Red is teaching her, training her to listen past the evasions, elisions, omissions. To listen for the truth. That's a much better way to look at their past, and probably many of their future, conversations.

He wants her to become his equal, in time.

Liz shivers inwardly. It's too much to hope for, to dangerous to think about.

If she allows more than a faint shadow of that fantasy to surface, she'll never be able to keep working with him. She couldn't hide her desire from his knowing eyes.

And she's much too young, too unsophisticated for him anyway. She's met the types of women who appeal to him.

This isn't a fairy tale.