For Better or Worse
The house was in disarray with boxes strewn everywhere, some half full while others sat unopened entirely, and furniture shoved into corners that it might or might not remain in. Elizabeth Keen hadn't realized just how much stuff two people could accumulate in a relatively short amount of time. They'd been there barely a week and their furniture even less time. Liz had started classes the Monday after they arrived, scurrying out the door with a promise from her husband - who didn't start teacher in-service until that following Wednesday - that he would unpack anything that didn't require her direct supervision and make sure that she had as little to stress about as possible. In his calming way he'd kissed her forehead the morning she had left out and promised that everything was under control and that she had nothing to worry about.
Tom's easy going nature that helped balance out her own rather hurried one. Each evening that she came home from her classes for her FBI training she found signs of the house being just a little more put together and dinner would already be on the stove and about ready to eat before she dove into her evening studies. Between bites of whatever he'd thought up that evening they would discuss her classes and if he was supposed to leave the box marked such-and-such well enough alone so that he wouldn't mislay the contents in the brewing chaos of boxes and knicknacks.
All in all, Liz was well aware that he was going out of his way to make the transition back into school and into a new home as easy as he possibly could for her and she thought - not for the first time - that she wasn't quite sure how she'd managed to find him.
The first Friday after they'd moved to DC Liz came home from classes to find the house quiet. It didn't look like anything had been moved and dinner wasn't on the stove. At first she thought that Tom was out and had lost track of time, but she found his keys hanging by the door and she turned to lock it behind her. "Tom?" she called, dropping her bag and purse off at the first step and starting up. "Babe?"
He didn't answer and she pulled in a deep breath as she started up. Her entire week had been full of cases of terrible events, many beyond even the things she'd seen in New York, and her imagination was going haywire. She continued up, her low heels tapping against the wood of the stairs and she rounded the top of the banister and into their room. "Babe?" she called again and stopped at the doorway, seeing a lump under the comforter of their bed. A muffled coughing sound came from underneath and Liz frowned as she started forward again, rounding the bed and tugging the blankets back.
Tom was huddled on his side and looked perfectly miserable as he curled around one of the pillows that were usually reserved for when the bed was made during the day. He didn't stir until she reached down, her palm pressed against his forehead, and only then did one blue eye crack open and look up at her. "Didn't hear you come in," he rasped and Liz leaned down to kiss his temple.
"You look terrible."
"Thanks for that," he groused and burrowed a little lower, receiving a small laugh from his wife in response.
"You know what this means, right?"
He groaned and buried his face in the pillow. "I love you, but can't we just get food delivered?"
A snort escaped her as she swatted at his shoulder. "I was going to say this means that I get to take care of you like you've taken care of me all week," she said. "Maybe not if you're just going to insult my cooking."
That finally pulled a smile from him and Tom turned, looking like he was going to say something in return, but instead went a little paler than he'd been already and was up in a flash. Liz watched in surprise at how quickly he got to his feet and nearly vaulted over her side of the bed in his haste to get to the bathroom in time. She cringed as she heard him choking and gagging over the toilet before she stood, quietly moving over to lean against the doorframe. "You okay?"
"I feel like crap," he managed to wheeze out.
"Have you been like this all day?" She wasn't sure she wanted to hear the answer and the expression he wore told her all she needed to know. Liz heaved a sigh. Her husband was one of the best people she knew, but when he got sick, he fit most every cliche there was when it came to a sick guy. "Okay, you done? Let's get you back to bed and I'll go put a pot pie in the oven. You need to eat something."
Tom shook his head and looked like he regretted the motion instantly. Liz cracked a smile and got her arms around his waist to help pull him up and steady him. "All I have to do is stick it in the oven. How hard can that be?"
"Cut the top too," he murmured and leaned against her, nearly sending both of them toppling to the side.
Liz laughed as she caught him and carefully maneuvered him back to the bed and got him under the covers. His face was flushed and his eyes had already slipped closed again as he sank down into the pillow. She leaned over and kissed his forehead. "I'll be right back," she promised, but before she could walk away he reached up and caught her hand, the reflex faster than she would have thought he was capable of at that moment.
Her lips quirked at the edges and she let him pull her closer again, even as she protested without any real conviction to back it up. "Dinner won't get made if I don't go downstairs just for a few minutes."
He was already halfway to sleep again and Liz couldn't bring herself to argue. Tom wasn't sick often, but when it hit it hit hard. He looked up at her with fever-bright blue eyes and his fingers wrapped around her wrist, waiting for her answer. Dinner could wait. He always took care of her, so these were the rare times that she could take care of him. "Okay," she whispered and saw a tired smile stretch his lips as if all was right in the world.
Liz eased herself over him and onto her side of the bed, wrapping an arm around him from behind and leaned her forehead against his back. She could feel the heat radiating through his t-shirt and she pressed a kiss between his shoulderblades, his hand finding hers even as he balanced on the edge of sleep. "Love you," he whispered roughly, already sounding like he was drifting back off.
She squeezed his fingers in her own and smiled. "You too," she promised.
Elizabeth Keen frowned to herself as Ellie stood, wiping her hands off and scowling. "You can come in, you know. It's not like he can do a damn thing to you."
She wasn't happy to be put in the situation she was in, and Liz couldn't blame her. She didn't want to be in the middle of it, but Tom hadn't left her a choice. Every time she thought he was gone for good he resurfaced in some form or another. The last time had been with a gun aimed at her and she had turned it on him. Somehow his betrayals, his lies, had landed her where she stood right then.
Tom didn't look like a trained killer right then though. Liz had waited too long and she'd let her anger boil too hot. He lay shivering on the thin mattress, fever soaking his clothes through with sweat and he let out a weak cough without bothering to look up. He looked utterly miserable.
"You shouldn't have waited," Ellie said firmly. "I can't do this anymore. I get that a lot happened and that Tom wasn't who you thought he was, but this... This is too much." She grabbed her bag from where she'd set it down and handed Liz a container of pills. "Make sure he eats with them or he won't keep it down. If he's not improving after a couple days, I don't care what kind of trouble you'll be in. Take him to a hospital."
She moved past Liz and towards the door, but the profiler caught her sleeve. "Thank you. For everything, Ellie."
The doctor sighed and glanced back at Tom who was sleeping fitfully under a blanket. "Listen, I'm done here, and I'm not going to say anything, but Liz... This isn't you. Either of you. I don't care what kind of lies have been passed around. No one can fake what you two had. Just... think about that. It's not like he'll remember a few kind words right now anyway."
"Thanks," Liz managed and watched a woman that had been hers and her husband's first friend in DC walk away, likely forever. She's put her in a hellish position and she didn't have the right to ask any more.
Tom gave a weak cough from his place and drew her gaze. A sigh escaped as she clutched the pills in one hand and the bag of food in the other. She had hoped Ellie would stay long enough to help get it down his throat, but she hadn't. That was all well enough. Tom was her responsibility, after all.
She inched closer, watching him carefully as if suddenly he was going to leap to his feet and try to make a break for it. All he did was curl a little more into himself and shake and Liz chewed at her bottom lip. One glance at the door proved that they were alone and she covered the remaining few feet.
"Tom?" she called quietly and received only a muffled sound in response. Slowly, and against her better judgement, she sank to the edge of the mattress and reached a hand out to him. Her fingers brushed against his rough cheek and just for a moment she saw the man that she had fallen for. He leaned into her touch, mumbling something in his sleep before it was lost to a fit of coughs. Liz looked at the pills in her hand and sighed. She could do this.
"Hey," she said, her voice softer than it had been since she'd brought him there.
Blue eyes blinked sluggishly open and the slightly blurry gaze came to rest on her. He leaned further into where her fingers now hung limply next to his face and she was certain that he wouldn't remember a thing about this visit. She certainly wasn't going to get anything coherent out of him. She never could when he was sick.
"Hey babe," he rasped and there was no irony in it. Wherever his fever bogged mind had him, they were together, and Liz wasn't sure what to make of that.
Her first reaction was to remind him that he was chained to a boat because he'd betrayed her, lied to her, and had gotten caught in it all. He worked for the man that had killed her friend and nearly killed her boss. She hated him, but in that moment she could feel the same crushing, terrifying reality that had overtaken her when he'd been in the hospital nearly a year before, hooked up to a ventilator, and that terrible box had rested in her hands. If she'd never found it, if she'd continued in ignorance, what would have happened? Once she'd chosen to see the man Tom pretended to be, and if she let herself slip for just a few minutes, no one could blame her. He wouldn't even remember it.
"Hey you," she answered, her voice trembling. "How're you feeling?"
"Crappy," he answered and inched closer.
"Ellie came by. She said you need to take the meds she dropped off."
Tom made the same face that he always made when he had any sort of doctor's appointment or medical issue. He hated taking medication. "She went and got it?" he asked after a second. "We owe her."
"You have no idea," Liz murmured. "She said it has to be taken with food. Can you sit up?"
"You cooked?" he asked incredulously and Liz snorted.
"I picked you up something. Come on, sit up. I've got you." She managed to get him up enough that she was fairly certain he wouldn't choke on the soup and if he noticed that they weren't home he never said so. Instead she got maybe half the soup down him before his body started rebelling and she barely got him to swallow the pill.
By the end of it he was trembling and coughing again, grabbing at the thin blanket and pulling it around his shoulders. Before she realized what he was doing he had shifted, his head in her lap like either of them often slept when they were ill. She'd fallen asleep against him in the same manner many times before and she couldn't quite find it in herself to squirm away now. This was Tom. This was the man she loved. When the fever subsided the liar would be back, but for that moment she had him.
"I meant it, you know," he rasped, his fingers finding hers. They were cold compared to the fever that burned at him and Liz let him take her hand, her other stroking at his hair idly.
"That I'm sorry. Love you, Lizzy. Always will."
She blinked, not sure if he was having a moment of clarity or sinking further into whatever the fever was producing as his reality. Maybe a little bit of both.
His fingers tightened around hers. "Liz?"
"Right here, babe," she whispered, afraid to break the fragile illusion.
"Can you... forgive me?" he managed, a terrible sounding cough interrupting the question and Liz blinked rapidly, trying to hold the emotion back.
"I don't think I can," she whispered after a moment.
"Can you stay?"
She could almost hear him smile as he held on tight. "Love you."
A tear escaped down her cheek and she bent forward, pressing a kiss to his messy hair. "I love you too," she confessed softly to the man that wouldn't remember the dangerous truth anyway.