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The Green Glass Princess

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"That's beautiful, but eerie," comments Liz, meeting Red's tired eyes with a smile. Her head feels so much better.

Red shrugs a little sheepishly.

"I liked to imagine traveling the world, finding her palace, and freeing her from the spell."

Liz gives his fingers a squeeze.

"I always wanted to be a hero, too," she responds.

"Oh, Lizzie." His tone is so tender, at odds with the wry twist of his mouth.

"Pardon me, Mr. and Mrs. White?"

A nurse interrupts them, takes vital signs, straightens the covers and refills the silver water pitcher.

"The doctor will be here in a few minutes."

She closes the door behind her when she leaves.

Liz is still clinging to Red's hand.

"I didn't even ask - is our blacklister dead?"

Red chuckles wearily.

"I believe he's just damaged, delivered somewhere your people can collect him. Dembe mentioned something about using an entire roll of duct tape."

Liz looks down at Red's grimy fingers, reluctant to release them. His right hand, held tight in her left.

If he were truly her husband, what would she say or do now?

"Once we talk to the doctor, you should probably wake Dembe and get a shower. Change your clothes."

His smile goes a little awry.

"Yes, I suppose I'm rather a mess," he responds. "I seem to have lost another hat."

"You look wonderful," she reassures him warmly. Oops. Perhaps that was a little enthusiastic.

Red looks puzzled, then worried.

"Lizzie, your head?"

She tries to shrug, then winces against the pillows.

"I just mean, you don't have to stay," she manages. Her eyelids droop as she struggles against sleep and the flush of mingled embarrassment and arousal that spreads through her as he leans closer.

When she wakes again, Dembe is sitting at her bedside, reading.

***

Red has assured her that Cooper has released her for a week, to recover, but Liz wants to confirm.

"Because they haven't even tried to debrief me," she explains, still looking so frail.

Red sighs and asks Dembe for a phone before trading places with him in the chair at her bedside. He dials as Dembe leaves the room.

"Here you go."

Liz takes the phone as it starts ringing in Cooper's office.

"Agent Keen! Reddington said the doctor recommended absolute quiet and rest." His voice booms from the handset.

She looks over at Red, who just lifts an eyebrow at her. He's had a long shower and feels much more comfortable, dressed in a fresh suit with the blue pattern of his new tie blending nicely with the wall color of her room. Not that he expects her to notice. Her eyes seem to go in and out of focus without warning. Her blue, blue eyes.

"Yes, sir, I just wanted to let you know in person that I'll be fine."

He watches Liz as she exchanges pleasantries, the dark sweep of her eyelashes, the stubborn line of her jaw. She's fully covered, in a thick cotton hospital gown and layers of bleached white sheets and blankets, but still there's something intimate about her body stretched out in bed.

Last night he wanted so badly to lie down beside her, cradle her in his arms. Scold her and scold her for once again risking her life for his.

But she's not obedient. Not someone Red can control directly. And when he manipulates her, as he must at times in service to his long game, it hurts them both.

"Yes, sir, I'll let you know if I need more time."

Liz sets the phone down on the sheets and closes her eyes for a moment.

"Did the doctor really say that?" she asks, without looking at Red.

"You were asleep when he arrived to examine you. He just said to allow you to rest, and have the nurses page him once you awaken."

Liz opens her eyes and frowns at Red. He smiles encouragingly at her.

"You told me a story last night."

He sits without moving, but his palms, resting folded in his lap, prickle as if with sweat.

"The Green Glass Princess."

Red nods. He didn't mean to tell her that particular story. Not yet.

"I dreamed about her."

Liz blinks up at him, searching his face as if she expects him to provide some helpful response. He's caught her looking at him more than once, turned his eyes away as if he didn't notice. He likes the way she watches his mouth, the way her head tilts just slightly, mirroring his more exaggerated gestures.

"She was smiling, Red. Why was she smiling?"

He reaches out and takes her hand, the gesture that's becoming so natural still sending a thrill up his spine.

"Did anything else happen in your dream, Lizzie?" he asks, laying his other hand over their joined fingers as if for warmth. Really, because it allows his hand to curve around the delicate bones of her wrist. Is it more pathetic that he seeks out these small touches, or that he doesn't touch her more often, even when the opportunity presents itself?

Unexpectedly, she lifts her other hand from beneath the covers, rolls with a wince of pain onto her side in bed, and covers his hand with hers.

"Not that I want to talk about," she whispers.

He can't believe it; Red can actually feel his face flushing as a wash of desire spreads from her hands, up his arms, and deep into his chest.

Now she's blushing, but still holding his gaze, their hands still joined.

Now would be a very good time for the doctor to appear. Or a nurse. Or Dembe.

Even one of his enemies would be helpful.

Red can't force himself to release her fingers, and she's clinging to him, her eyes searching his face once again.

"What do you need, Lizzie?" he asks her, feeling helpless.

Very slowly, Liz strokes the back of his hand, her fingers spreading wider until her fingers are sliding up under the edge of his starched cuff, her fingertips exploring the dark hair at his wrist. Curling under to trace the shapes of his bones, his tendons, the veins beating just beneath his skin.

Sensual, suggestive, allowing her nails to slide along his skin, then the softness of her fingers once again.

He wants to resist her. He wants to surrender.

More than anything, Red wants to be sure. That this apparent desire is not temporary, the product of her shaken brain; that there is no purpose behind this, no attempt to use him, exploit his vulnerability.

And he lives in a world where he can never be sure. That's who he is; always cynical and over-prepared and superficially friendly with his back-up plan ready, weapons fully loaded. Dembe not ten minutes behind him, seething, furious at any delay.

The blacklister made Red think Liz was already his captive. He's fallen for that too many times. He needs her by his side, always; or else gone.

Gone. He can barely think the word.

Her fingers are still touching his wrist, petting him.

"Red?"

Red needs her gone, for her safety, for his own.

Oh, but what he wants? What his touch-starved body needs, still trembling in recoil from his near injury, another improbable escape from death?

Both her hands are curled around his wrists now, every hair she touches, every nerve alight.

He wants to celebrate his survival, their survival, fiercely. Liz can barely move without pain. So instead he captures her hands in his, holds them for just a moment, then releases them.

"I'll ask one of the nurses to page the doctor."

***

Raymond Reddington doesn't hate Tom Keen. He envies him. Every day, every night, until the morning Elizabeth Keen is released from the clinic.

The morning Dembe pulls the big black car around and Red ushers her into the back seat, then slides in beside her.

And Liz reaches for his hand. Leans her bandaged head against his shoulder.

"I know why the princess was smiling, Red."

He looks down at her, meets her eyes. Meaning to ask her why.

Then Liz tips up her chin, leans close, and kisses him for the very first time. Slides her other hand along his jaw, traces his eyebrows softly, the edge of his sideburns, the curve of his ears. Still clinging tight to his hand, Liz kisses Red until he can barely breathe, his heart pounding, his head spinning with the effort to hold her gently.

"Lizzie, are you sure this is what you want?"

Red has to ask, even though Dembe has already turned off the highway that leads back to the city, to the FBI, and is snaking down the maple-lined back roads to his closest safe house. That rear view mirror. Dembe hasn't said a word, but he's driving very fast.

In answer Liz kisses Red again. So very confident, no hesitation at all.

He touches her soft hair very gently, avoiding the bandage, as she leans her head against his shoulder once more.

"You know, this isn't going to be easy to explain ..." he begins. Feels her hand tighten on his, her other hand stroking his knee.

Red loses his train of thought as her hand ventures higher up his thigh and her mouth lifts once more for his kiss.

It seems she's found the perfect answer to every question, any objection he might raise.

Red closes his eyes and concentrates on answering her back properly.

He's wanted Elizabeth Keen since that first day at the Post Office, and over time she's become the focus of all his hopes and dreams and desires. Red never expected to find himself in her arms, to take the irrevocable step from protector to lover.

But he can't deny her, or deny his own heart.

The car emerges from the long, trellised driveway into the sunshine in front of the big stone house and comes to a stop on the neatly raked gravel drive.

"We're here already?" whispers Liz to him, in between kisses. "That's so good. You're so good. Everything is so good."

Red tucks his arm around her and ushers her towards the house, pulling her close against him and walking very slowly so he can kiss her again every few steps as Dembe watches them, smiling, leaning on the car in the sunlight.

Everything is not just good, it's wonderful.