Chapter 1: Envy
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.
Chapter 2: The Clinic
Liz wakes in a hospital bed. She gazes dreamily around her as the world comes back into focus. Pale blue walls. A huge flat screen TV mounted on the wall, mercifully dark. The windows are curtained floor to ceiling in cream linen, embroidered along the borders in white on white vines.
A private clinic.
Not the type of place her government insurance would authorize. Almost certainly courtesy of the man slumped in the chair beside the bed, his head tipped back, his mouth slightly open.
Cautiously, Liz sits up, feeling for the bandage on the back of her aching head. She doesn't hurt anywhere else; in fact, she feels better than she does most mornings, after her nights of twisting away from nightmares, thrashing against remembered bonds. The water boarding. The Deerhunter. Tom leaving her handcuffed to the stairs.
They must have given her something for pain.
Or perhaps it was just safety, knowing Red is present.
Liz looks over and savors the rare sight of Red sleeping. So much new information that she feels like a gleeful child.
The silvery stubble on his normally clean-shaven face, reddish blond on his cheeks, darker at his chin. His back teeth, revealed by his open mouth, allowing her a glimpse of his intact wisdom teeth, his gold crowns. The soft curve of his eyelids, only the faintest of lines betraying cosmetic work around his eyes.
Was he wounded? Or was it just vanity?
There's something delicious about the way Red cares obsessively for his appearance, his elegant suits and ties, the polish on his shoes. And yet this moment too sings along her nerves, his loosened tie and unbuttoned collar, the smudges of dried blood, her blood, on his clothing and the backs of his normally fastidiously clean hands.
Red hasn't left her side.
Arrogant and powerful and dangerous, elusive and wealthy, he's sleeping upright in a wooden chair, at an angle that is sure to result in a painfully sore back. Just to stay with her.
Her head injury must have been serious. She touches the bandage again. She can't remember anything past the moment the blacklister swung the butt of his weapon at Red's unprotected face as he sat tied to that chair, and she stepped between them, taking the blow.
Dembe was searching the abandoned beachfront hotel, as well. He must have found them, rescued them.
It's so horrible not to remember. Yet another gap in her memory.
But worth it, since Red is sitting here alive and apparently unharmed.
He woke the moment she did, remained still with an effort as she sat up in her hospital bed. She's looking at him, he can hear the soft intake of her breath.
Let her look. Red can endure this, can pretend these are the eyes of love, lingering on his face, adoring him.
His back is too tight for him to move much, anyway.
Liz will probably lie down again, sleep some more. Then he can stretch, collect himself, wash at least his face and hands.
That blow would have shattered his cheekbone or his jaw. He might have lost an eye.
He doesn't deserve her. There's nothing he could do to be worthy of her caring, let alone her love, and yet she steps into the breach without hesitation. Returns for him, kills for him, is willing to suffer or die for him.
Red mulls over the sickening doubt on her face as she struggled with the truth about Tom. She displays no doubts about Red. He can't quite fathom how that came to be.
He blinks, raises his head with an effort. His neck is knotted tight.
"Where are we?"
She looks so fragile, the white bulk of the bandage crossing her forehead and beneath her chin, covering almost the entire back half of her skull.
Red straightens in the chair, trying to ignore the complaints of his neck and his lower back.
"Rochester, New York. This is a private clinic with expertise in treating head injuries. Your name is Elizabeth White," he tells her.
She's so quick. He swallows.
"Ray White. Your husband."
She rolls her eyes with a pained smile. At least she didn't frown.
"Where's Dembe?" Always right to the point.
"Sleeping. They have rooms set aside for family members."
"I don't remember you bringing me here."
He reaches for her hand, holds it very gently. Strokes her knuckles with his thumb.
"That's normal. Don't worry about it. The drive wasn't very exciting, anyway. No scenery visible at night."
Dembe driving so fast, Red holding Liz on his lap, clutching her tight as she moaned ceaselessly, her unknowing eyes so wide. Her blood. The smell of her blood. His terror that he might lose her, lose the Lizzie he knows, even if she survives in body.
But she seems to know him, to know who she is.
"Is there anything I can do for you, Lizzie? Anything I can get you?"
She's already reached for the tall crystal glass of water at the bedside, is drinking eagerly through a straw. He hands her the pain pills, watches as she swallows them.
"Tell me a story, Red? Until the pills start working?"
Her head must be pounding.
Unthinking, Red launches into the tale as she lies back against her pillows, head turned toward him, still clutching his hand.
"There's an apocryphal supplement to Grimm's, in which all the stories are about young women. My childhood favorite was the Green Glass Princess ..."
Chapter 3: The Green Glass Princess
The Green Glass Princess was once just a young girl who loved shining stones.
However, as she was born a wealthy and powerful princess, instead of leaving this interest behind with her toys, she was able to travel the world, adding to her collections. She collected stones from beside the sea, from mountain streams, from the slopes below old volcanoes, from the shifting trails of rubble left by glacial ice.
Her palace contained rooms filled with amber, obsidian, piles of cut and uncut gems. Her floors were paved with agate, and her walls were marble, and she bathed in an onyx fountain.
When she came of an age to marry, the princess vowed to marry only that man who brought her a new type of stone, one she had never collected before.
But each prince who sought her hand found himself disappointed, for she easily brought forth one or more examples to match his gift, and sent him away spurned and grieving.
And so she was still unmarried when a magician from a foreign land appeared at the palace. And this magician possessed the power of bound fire, and he sculpted an immense and shining stone of molten, living green glass in the air before her, and it hung there, a brightly burning, unmatchable gift.
And the princess bowed her head, for no malachite, no emerald in her stores could feign the magician's stone.
So she laid her hand in his, and gave him her promise.
Not only to wed him, but that she would not touch his gift until their wedding day.
Hanging in the air with no visible means of support, it blazed in the corner of her stately bedroom, casting a lambent green glow over the large room and all her most treasured possessions. When she raised one hand near, the air of her room felt chill in contrast to the soothing heat of the stone.
All could have ended so unremarkably, but that she was born a princess. Unfettered, unrestrained, accustomed from birth to indulging her every whim.
Late one night, when all her servants were sleeping, even the guards on the high parapets drowsing at their posts, the princess rose from her bed. Dragging a stool with her own fair hands, she climbed up and reached for the stone.
The instant her palm touched it, she unbound the fire. And green glass poured down over her, encasing her completely, her hand still outstretched.
In the morning her servants found her, and ran screaming for the magician.
"She's still alive," he reassured them, staring sadly at the princess, who now resembled a glistening statue.
"Should we break her out with mallets? Melt the glass away?" They questioned him eagerly. "Do you know a spell that can set her free?"
The magician shook his head.
"No, only the princess can release herself."
They all stood staring at the lovely young woman, but she didn't move.
Eventually the magician left the palace, and one by one the servants dispersed to other kingdoms, other lives.
And the Green Glass Princess remained standing, perfect as stone, in her empty timeless palace by the sea. For all we know, she stands there to this day.
Chapter 4: Wonderful
"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 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.