He could hear them, the voices fading in and out like the lights overhead. They were quiet muffled and hurried, but he couldn't focus in enough to make out what they were saying.
His mind grappled to hold onto what was happening amidst the pain and the fog that settled around him. At some point everything must have faded away, but he didn't realize it until new voices broke slowly through the haze.
"It's too much of a risk." Quiet. Male. He couldn't be sure if it had been a part of the myriad of voices from earlier. All he knew was that it wasn't a voice that he recognized.
"Perhaps. We're in uncharted territory," another voice chimed in. Also male, but this one accented. Slavic, maybe. He was having a hard enough time focusing on the words. He needed to open his eyes. To see their faces. Maybe he could start piecing together what happened.
"From what I understand, your entire practice is uncharted territory," the first voice snapped quietly. There was a beat of pause and when he spoke again, his tone turned pleading. "We nearly lost him once on the way here and again during surgery. You asked us to save this man."
Tom Keen finally pried his eyes open to try to get a look at the owners of the two voices. He struggled through the telltale signs of heavy pain medication to see three blurred figures instead of two. One turned towards him and Tom blinked hard to try to bring him into focus. He was missing his contacts, but by squinting a little he was able to make out an all too familiar face and the owner of the third voice he was yet to hear until now. "Thank you, Andrei. We'll hold off for now," Raymond Reddington told a man with dark hair, the dismissal clear, and he waited until he was on his way out before he turned back to Tom. "Hello."
"Where…?" he tried, but his voice was rough, his throat so raw that the single word sent him into a coughing fit. His left side felt like it was on fire, the pain cutting through the medication, and suddenly there was a cup with a straw in front of his face.
"Easy," the first voice - the quieter one. East Coast, but not DC. Maybe Connecticut? - said and Tom finally managed to focus on the man offering the water. Mid forties and in a white coat, he looked like he might be a doctor. "We just removed the tube this morning. You're likely to have quite a sore throat. Drink this."
Tom took a careful sip, wincing as he did, but it helped ease the scratchiness in his throat. "Where am I?" he pressed, the pain helping to focus him now that it was starting to recede.
"Thank you, Dr Chen," Reddington said. "I'll handle his questions."
The doctor - Chen - turned a wary look on Reddington. "He needs rest."
Reddington flashed that irritatingly charming smile. "This won't take long."
Chen lingered for just a moment before moving past Reddington, leaving Tom alone with the man he'd spent the last couple months investigating. Once the doctor was gone, a pair of clear blue eyes turned back to him. "Good morning, Tom."
"Where am I? How long have I been out?"
Reddington pushed a short breath out through his nose. "A private facility. It's been a week. I wouldn't do that."
Tom was in the process of shifting, hoping to prop himself up a little more, but he didn't make it that far. Instead he grit his teeth and had to let the new wave of pain pass.
"You were injured," Reddington's voice cut through. "Do you remember how?"
He was pushing that for some reason. There were no long, drawn out stories. No lecture or monologue. He was direct, which meant there was something important there. Tom could piece together that much, but he was having trouble catching hold of his fractured memories to find something that made sense.
"Tom, I need you to focus," Reddington prodded, his voice surprisingly patient.
"The lights," Tom managed, squeezing his eyes shut. Lights and voices, but there was something before that. Right. What he'd been investigating. The bones that Mr Kaplan had sent. The bones, the train station, the men that had broken into their home... Then it hit him. Between the attack and the lights. That's what he was missing. "Liz couldn't keep her eyes open." He opened his own again, his focus a little sharper. "Where is she? Where's my wife?"
Reddington didn't answer that question, and Tom didn't like the tenseness that settled over him. The slight twitch of his lips, the way his brow creased, and as Tom studied him he couldn't help but see how tired the older man looked. It wasn't like Reddington was losing sleep over him, so that left one person.
Tom cleared his throat painfully. "I'm not an idiot, Reddington. She's alive. If she weren't, you and I both know I wouldn't be here. I'm not worth anything to you alive unless she made it."
There was another long pause and the machine to Tom's right beeped, drawing Reddington's gaze. "She's alive," he said noncommittally. "And safe."
"Where is my wife?" Reddington continued to watch the machine, the steady sounds all that was filling the otherwise silent room. He was stalling. "Hey." Tom waited until he turned to look at him again. "I want to see her."
"In time," Reddington answered, his lips turning down again. "What do you remember about the men that attacked you and Elizabeth?"
"That they were after your secret," Tom said pointedly. "The one I told you would get us hurt."
Reddington snorted, shaking his head. "Your inability to let something that had nothing to do with you go is why you're hurt, Tom. I'm the reason you're both still alive."
The younger man winced, the foggy feeling he'd woken to creeping back up on him. "You want gratitude for saving our lives, fine, but I'm not lying to her for you. I'm not keeping your secret from her. She deserves to… deserves to know."
"We'll see about that," Reddington answered tightly and turned.
Tom tried to call after him, but he couldn't seem to force the words. Instead he felt like he was being pulled underwater. Somewhere in the back of his mind it clicked that the machine by the bedside that Reddington had been so fascinated with had pushed a new dose of painkillers through. He'd known Tom wouldn't be awake long, or even be able to argue back. But he couldn't keep him under forever, and he had no way to turn the clock back to rebury that secret that Tom had discovered. It was a matter of time until he was on his feet again. Once he was he would find Liz. Reddington couldn't keep them separated forever.
Chen was speaking quietly to Dembe as he left the room, but split off to go check on his patient as Reddington brushed past him. He could feel Dembe's dark gaze lingering on him as he moved past. Dembe fell into step behind him, both men making their way down the short hall. "He is not going to let this go."
Red made a small sound of acknowledgement. "He's stubborn. He comes by it naturally enough."
"So is she," the younger man responded as they rounded into the private room just down from Tom and Reddington's gaze fell on the woman lying in the bed.
He had started to put precautions into place as soon as he realized things were spiraling out of control. A call to a well-connected business associate that was both discrete and had owed him a favour or five had landed him with the option of faking both Elizabeth and her husband's deaths to take them into hiding and away from the threat until he could regain control of it. He hadn't been able to move Elizabeth though. Not immediately. Not without risking her life. She hadn't been the one that Reddington's enemies had been after. They thought the connection was Tom, which gave Red some room to breathe when it came to Elizabeth's safety. He had had to make a judgement call when it came to her husband though, and Tom hadn't been in any condition to weigh in. Not that his judgement had been particularly sound lately. If he'd just left that damn suitcase alone, they wouldn't be in this mess.
But they were in this mess and the body double in the morgue would buy Reddington time. Time he needed for damage control. He needed to focus on getting the bones back and making sure Elizabeth came back to them. He didn't have time to babysit Tom Keen and his misguided, shortsighted desire to put everything out on the table.
"She is," Reddington answered Dembe, his gaze locked on Elizabeth. She was so still. The doctors couldn't tell him when - if - she would wake up. The surgery had been counted a success, but she hadn't come out of it yet. He needed to make sure that Tom remained quiet about what he knew when she did. Part of Reddington knew he had caused himself more trouble by saving him, but as he looked down at Elizabeth he remembered the way she had fought for her husband. The way she loved him, if Tom deserved it or not. It would shatter her to lose him now, and she had suffered enough.
"Had he told her?"
That finally pulled his attention around. "He was on his way to tell her what he found," Reddington murmured thoughtfully, "but I don't believe he had a chance to, no."
A long since stretched and Reddington turned back to Elizabeth, reaching down to tuck a strand of dark hair back, not quite able to put it behind her ear with the way the breathing tube was secured.
"It would be better coming from you," Dembe said after a long moment.
"So you've said."
"It is better than either of the alternative options."
"Hardly," Reddington huffed and shook his head. "I could negotiate peace between some of the most ruthless that our world has seen, but he truly thinks he's protecting her. If he refuses to budge, Andrei will be ready. He studied under Krilov. Let's hope he's as talented as his mentor with less of an inclination to betray me."
"Even if Andrei is able to remove the memories, it won't stop him. A blank space will only send him searching again."
"Oh no. He'll replace them with something… less damning." He stepped forward, reaching out for Elizabeth's hand that laid still against the sheets. He ran his thumb along her knuckles, brows drawn together and a grimace pulling at his lips. "We'll give Tom a week or two to regain some of his strength before the procedure. If Elizabeth wakes up first, we'll handle it, but if not, she'll have her husband back without either of them the wiser. It's best for everyone."
He could almost hear Dembe's disagreement in his silence, but the younger man didn't vocalize it again. It was a waste of time and energy for a subject that Reddington considered closed. There was little point in trying to convince Tom to choose the right course of action. This was the only play he could see that would work out for everyone involved.
It was like starting over at the beginning, grappling for memories he was certain he had gotten ahold of the last time he had resurfaced. He thought they came back a little quicker each time though. It was tough to say with the heavy curtains pulled closed over the single window and no clock visible from the bed he was confined to.
Tom shifted, gritting his teeth as he forced himself up on his elbows, feeling the pull of the wound in his left shoulder and the knife wounds along his left side just before it collapsed under him, sending him falling hard against the pillows. He laid there a moment, fighting against the pain and the dark spots that threatened his vision. It took a moment before they cleared and he blinked hard.
No one came into the room. Tom was relatively sure that the last time he had tried to sit up that one of the doctors or nurses had appeared out of nowhere to force him back down against the pillows and dosed him with enough painkillers that he couldn't even think about trying again for…. well, however long it had been since they'd done it. Not this time though, and he knew he needed to take advantage of the lax security while he could.
Everything screamed in protest as he tried again, this time focusing more of his weight against his right arm rather than his injured left. He could still feel the pull of the stitches, but he breathed through it, finally managing to prop himself up in the bed.
He sat there for a long moment, listening and catching his breath. He was already exhausted, but that didn't matter. It couldn't matter when this could be the one chance he had to find Liz. Reddington was keeping them apart, likely to try to keep his secret just a little longer, but Tom wasn't willing to wait.
He sucked in as deep of a breath as he dared and pushed the covers back, freeing up his legs so he could swing them over the side of the bed. There was an instant pull that stopped him, and it took him a moment to piece together that he was still tethered to the equipment. The IV in his arm, the heart monitor attached to his finger, the tube resting against his nose to push oxygen through….he started with that. It was what was holding him halfway to the bed.
Tom balanced as best he could, one leg over the side of the bed and trying not to turn at an angle that would aggravate his injuries any more than necessary. It took a couple of clumsy tries, but eventually he pulled the clear tube free and tossed it against the pillow. He reached over as carefully as he could, one long finger finally pressing against the power button on the monitor, shutting it off to buy him some time at least as he unhooked the IV and shed unclipped the monitor.
Fully free, he tried his luck at standing. He balanced for half a second before he felt his knees threaten to give way and Tom braced himself against the bed. Okay. That seemed to do the trick.
It wasn't until he made it to the door of the room - taking much longer than he would have liked - that he realized why he hadn't already been shuffled into bed. Not only did it appear to be sometime in the middle of the night, but Reddington hadn't taken him to a hospital. Or, if he had, he certainly wasn't there now.
Tom's room was at the end of a short hall and he moved slowly down it, bracing himself as he did. There was a room across the way, not nearly as far as it felt, and he stopped at the door to catch his breath as the floor felt like it might tip out from under him. One breath in, out, and then repeat. After several long moments he felt himself steady a little more and he reached a trembling hand for the door handle and pushed against it.
The door swung open and he could hear the sound of a respirator pushing air into someone's lungs before he could muster the energy and the will to look inside. He blinked hard, eyes struggling to focus on Liz sleeping in the bed. No, not sleeping. That made it sound too peaceful. And you didn't have a tube shoved down your throat to help you breathe when you were sleeping. Unconscious. She was unconscious.
He swallowed hard, steeling himself for the steps between the door frame that he was latched onto and her bed. Finally, he pushed himself off of it, limping his way over, and barely made it to her bedside before one knee gave out underneath him. He leaned heavily against the bed, his fingers searching out hers.
It wasn't that he'd expected her to squeeze back, but the fact that her fingers remained limp as his curled around sapped what little strength he'd held onto and he sank down on the edge of the bed. He pulled her hand up to his chapped lips, pressing a kiss to it. "I'm sorry," he whispered hoarsely. "This wasn't what… I'm so sorry, Lizzie."
She didn't answer him and he squeezed his eyes closed, exhaustion finally winning out as he curled up next to her on the narrow bed, never letting go of the hand in his.
He had gotten a call in the middle of the night to tell him that Tom had somehow slipped the alarms that should have sounded the moment he detached them and made it to Elizabeth's room. Reddington had expected the doctor or perhaps even Dembe to have moved him back to his own room, but when he did arrive at the facility he found Tom Keen still curled next to Elizabeth.
"Dr Lomay believed he would be more comfortable there until morning."
Reddington turned back to fix a frustrated look on Dembe. "Dr Lomay doesn't know what's at stake," he countered, his voice quiet. After a moment he loosed a long breath. "He won't give up."
"It has to be done." His gaze remained fixed on the sleeping, injured couple. "Lomay and Chen are at the top of their fields. They'll get him through."
"And if they don't? How much is this worth?"
"Everything," Reddington breathed and shook his head. "She can't know what he found. There'd be no stopping her. This guarantees that it won't matter. Get Andrei here. This can't wait."
He woke up in his own bed. Well, his own hospital bed. It would have been a relief to have woken up in his own bed in his own home with his wife next to him and their daughter in the next room over. He would have rolled over, wrapping an arm around Liz as she grumbled in her sleep about it being too early. Tom would have agreed as he pressed a kiss between her shoulder blades and let himself drift back to sleep for a little while longer. A late start to a Saturday morning that would turn into bacon and eggs for Liz and cinnamon pancakes for him and Agnes with this nightmare put behind them. No bones, no attack. Just them and their family and their life.
"Mr Keen, I need you to keep your eyes open for me."
Tom groaned loudly as the accented voice pulled him out of the half-dream and back to the nightmare of a reality. Definitely a hospital bed.
The owner of the voice leaned into his line of sight. "There you are, Mr Keen."
"Where's Liz?" His words felt heavy against his tongue and it took a considerable amount of effort to look up. He could feel the pressure of something against his forehead as he did, and he caught a glimpse of wires out of the corner of his eye. What the hell was going on?
"Do you know where you are?" the doctor - Tom could only assume he was a doctor - asked.
"He didn't tell me that."
"Your boss. Reddington."
The doctor jotted something down on a pad of paper. "Do you remember what happened?"
A wave of pain hit, pulling a grunt from him as Tom tried to think through it. "We were attacked."
"They were after something."
"What were they after?"
"I don't know."
"Think hard, Mr Keen."
"Where's Liz? Where's my wife?"
"She wouldn't wake up."
"Sir," a woman's voice sounded from Tom's left and the doctor leaned in to look past him towards a beeping noise that seemed to be speeding up with every breath he took.
Tom reached up, catching the man by the wrist with his right hand. "Please. My wife."
The doctor's lips quirked up at the corners, but it wasn't quite reassuring. More placating. "You'll be able to see her as soon as we're done here, that I promise you. But first, why were you attacked?"
Dark blue eyes slipped closed as he forced himself to think through the fog that always accompanied painkillers. The men in the house. The one that had killed Lena and Pete. He'd stabbed him before taking…
"Bones," Tom coughed out and he met the doctor's eyes, holding that gaze defiantly. "Tell Reddington it doesn't matter how many times he drags me out of her room, I'm not keeping his secret."
The doctor sighed. "Let's take it to the next level."
"Sir, his vitals -"
"We have our instructions."
Tom pulled his gaze around to see a nurse pushing dark liquid into his IV. His question was cut short as it flowed through and burned as it hit his vein. He dragged a sharp, painful breath into his lungs, eyes wide, and the world pulsed before he was plunged back into darkness.
Reddington had lost track of how many times that he had read the same line on the same page of the book in his hands. He wasn't worried, of course. Not that he'd even admit to himself. Just… distracted. By everything. Elizabeth slept on with no change in her bed as Andrei worked to dig into Tom Keen's memories and find the right thread to pull in order to replace it. It could be done. That much had been proven by Krilov if nothing else.
A loud, shrill sound startled him from his thoughts and Reddington popped to his feet, the book more forgotten than it had been even a moment before. Dr Lomay nearly took him off his feet at the door leading to the hallway as she bolted past, circling into Tom's room and shouting at Andrei. What the hell did he give him?
Red's footsteps were heavy, echoing in his own ears with the voices fading to the background as he moved to get a better view of what was happening.
The room was in motion as Lomay shoved Andrei out of the way, checking Tom's IV. Lizzie's husband convulsed in the bed, the seizure causing his back to arch and his limbs to twitch violently. The doctor pushed a vial of liquid that Reddington didn't recognize into the IV and stepped back. She looked like she was barely breathing for one beat, then another. Finally Tom stilled, collapsing back against the bed limply, his head lulled away so that Reddington couldn't see if he had somehow managed to retain consciousness through the whole episode.
"Get rid of this," Lomay growled, motioning to the equipment already half pulled from Tom's head.
Andrei shot her an offended look. "We were within parameters."
"Don't bullshit me. You were desperate to make it work." She turned an accusing look on Red, the words clear if she never uttered them: So were you. Instead she pulled in a steading breath. "Call Dr Chen and get them out of here if you want to give him even a chance to live."
Reddington motioned and Andrei and his nurse scurried out. "Anything you need, Melissa."
"For you to let me do my job," she snapped and Red nodded as he watched her move around Tom in precise but hurried motions.
He couldn't admit it - he didn't dare - but in that moment he wondered if he'd just cost Elizabeth her husband's life.
Next Time: Dr Lomay assesses the damage done by the failed memory manipulation and Tom Jacob Phelps is not thrilled that no one will give him a straight answer about what happened to him.
Notes: This story has been a long time in the making. I came up with the idea in in April 2019, wrote about a chapter's worth, and then shelved it. And, honestly, I'm glad I did, because S7 cracked open a lot of the twists and turns I needed to really make this story work. So here we are.
Buckle up, friends. It's going to be a wild ride.