They found a suitable replacement for their SUV in a truck parked at the edge of a rest stop. Liz had popped the door open and hot wired the thing with more ease than Ressler looked comfortable with, but Tom couldn't help but be grateful that they'd missed what could have been a breaking point. He wished he could give her whatever she needed - time, attention, hope, anything - but if they stopped now, they might not have the chance to finish this. They'd gotten lucky with the way things had turned out with Ressler and they couldn't push that luck now. They had to finish this. It was the only way they had any hope of coming out the other side alive.
A passing cop car on the highway was the only real scare after the truckstop, but he had flipped his lights on and chased someone down a few cars ahead, leaving them to make it to their destination as the sun was setting.
The so-called cabin wasn't quite as rustic as Tom had pictured it. It was large and Scottie had said it was stocked with enough firepower to withstand an assault if it came to that. The front door opened as they pulled into the drive - well off of the road and out of sight - to reveal Katarina Rostova, her fingers wrapped around a sidearm. Tom was pretty sure he saw the glint of a sniper rifle from one of the upstairs windows too, but even Katarina seemed to relax as they piled out. Chuck - or maybe Morgan, he wasn't sure he'd gotten them straight to begin with - pushed his way out onto the porch. "What'd you do to my Chevy?" he demanded, looking personally offended that they'd shown up in something other than he'd sent them on with.
"It didn't go smoothly," Liz answered.
Katarina tilted her head, her gaze focused on Tom. "I can see that. People enjoy hurting you, don't they?"
He snorted and followed Liz into the house, Ressler at his back and Chuck or Morgan inspecting the replacement vehicle.
The space was open inside and the sound of footsteps drew his attention to the stairs down the hall where Nez was making her way down with a rifle in hand and rounded into the hall as Scottie entered from an adjacent room.
"Where are we with getting back into the Archive?" Liz asked, the question not directed at any one person.
Scottie's eyes widened. "Tom?"
He waved her off. "I'm fine. Just need a new shirt."
"And to stop letting people shoot you," Ressler popped off and Tom turned an amused look at him.
"You offering to play shield next time?"
"You just need to move faster, pal."
Tom pulled back as Scottie reached to try to inspect the injury and he shook his head. She pushed what sounded like a frustrated breath out through her nose. "Howard and Aram are working on recovering the data we lost with the trojan horse. Did you tell them?"
Katarina breezed past them, aiming for the room Scottie had entered from. "Dumont and Park may have uncovered Raymond's trail."
Liz straightened at that. "His trail?" she called after her mother, following her and the others joined them.
The den had been converted to a makeshift War Room with monitors set up and tables pushed together for workspaces. Harold Cooper straightened from where he and Dembe were bent over what looked like a map as Nez set her rifle against the wall and circled around to join them. "Good to see you all made it," the assistant director greeted.
Tom glanced over to where a bespectacled man sat with Alina Park, her arm set carefully into a sling and a computer between them. Dumont, he thought he remembered. He worked for Halcyon. He'd worked with him.
"Dumont, what'd you find?" Liz pressed, her focus absolute. Good to know he'd gotten the name right.
"Private jet put in a flight plan outta Bonn, Germany not long after you guys took off. Couple of hours."
"What makes you think it's Reddington?" Ressler asked.
"Location, plane type, and this. The kicker." He spun his laptop around to show what looked like a satellite image of the plane on the runway and the passengers entering, including a very familiar figure being ushered in at gunpoint.
Tom tilted his head. "I don't get it. That's him. Why's it just a trail?"
"Because they never landed where they said they would," Park answered. "All the documentation says they did, but zero footage proving it."
"We're looking at surrounding options," Nez added. "With Reddington on the most wanted list, landing at a major airport is out of the question."
Scottie shook her head. "I've seen him bypass airport security before. We can't count on that."
"But he wanted to," Liz countered, her gaze sweeping the work that her team, Red's, and Halcyon's had been focused on while they had sprung Ressler from jail. "He only gave himself up to give us a chance to escape. My guess is they're not going to give him a chance to use airport security to help him slip away."
A hand tapped Tom's arm and he turned, finding Kat Carlson standing there with a fresh t-shirt and jeans. "The downstairs bathroom has a fully stocked first aid kit," she offered and he took them. A quick whisper to his wife later, he slipped out of the room, hearing the conversation echoing behind him.
The flight from Bonn to the US was not a particularly pleasant one. He had been cuffed to his seat with a guard for company. A man with steely eyes and a jaw set so tight that it pulled the corners of his mouth down into a perpetual frown. He hadn't said a word, no matter how much Reddington had goaded him. He'd just sat there like a statue or a British Palace Guard, blinking far less than a human had right to do. Or not do, as it were.
For Alexei's claims that he'd been looking so long, he hadn't bothered to acknowledge Red's existence after proclaiming that they were going after Elizabeth. He'd taken the seat furthest from his estranged son, and Reddington would have been perfectly alright with that arrangement under any other circumstances. The problem was that he needed information, and information wasn't bled from stones. He'd hoped to use answers to what must have been countless questions that had built up over the years to help pry what he needed from the older man. If he didn't know what they were up against, he would have no way to protect Elizabeth.
They landed, but where they landed wasn't information his marble guard was willing to give. The window remained closed, and even when he reached over to try to pry it open it had stayed firmly fastened in place. When the engines shut off and the pilot spoke quietly with Alexei at the front of the aircraft, Red heard nothing. Finally the guard was given the signal and he reached forward, a key in hand. "Move slowly."
"Well now, he can speak," Reddington chuckled as the cuff popped loose and he massaged his sore wrist.
The next instruction was by way of a sharp motion to stand and Red was shuffled off of the jet and down the steps into a closed hanger that gave no clear sign of where they were. Alexei stood speaking to one of his people - one could only assume it was a man of his, not that he'd been on the plane with them - and waved him off. He turned, that calculating look of his sweeping Reddington up and down, and he might as well have been eight-years-old again. He shoved that feeling deep down inside of himself and plastered a confident smile on his lips to hide it. "What was the highest that the bounty made it up to?" he prompted. "Ten million? Fifteen?"
"Twenty- five," Alexei answered. "You didn't follow it long."
"I didn't follow it at all," Reddington countered.
"I would have thought Fitch kept you apprised."
The younger man snorted. "I would have thought that was a story you fed her. You really thought Alan Fitch helped me stage my disappearance. Wouldn't that have been fun? Perhaps things would have been easier if he had."
"You were close."
"We met while I was in the Naval Academy. No more, no less. He never knew the truth." At least he didn't think he had. Funny, he'd always called him Ray. Fitch had always been one to hold his cards close and hoard his aces away for when he needed them. If he'd known - if Katarina had told him - Alexei Yahontov's son would have been a hell of an ace to hold.
Alexei snorted, the sound amused, but even all these years later Reddington knew better than to believe that. "If you believe Fitch didn't know exactly who you were, you're as much of a fool as you were when you were a boy. Arrogant. I would have hoped that you would grow out of it, but you were always your mother's son."
An old fire burned through him at the mere reference falling from his tongue and, despite his cool head in any other situation, he found words tumbling out, biting and sharp. "Leave her out of this."
"She did you no favours by coddling you. Shielding you."
"I warned her."
"And then you killed her." Killed her and somehow found time to make arrangements to send him back to Russia before her casket had even been lowered into the ground. He hadn't been interested in sending his wife's body back to their home country, claiming his diplomatic duties would allow for it. Knowing what he knew now, Reddington would have wagered it was a very different kind of work that had made it more convenient to kill the wife and send the rebellious teen back home. Exile. Excommunication. He'd wanted to stay in the United States, just not with him. He'd wanted nothing to do with him.
Alexei snorted disdainfully. "Your mother died in a car accident."
"How many times did you need to repeat the lie to make it true in your own mind?" Reddington growled, feeling the muscles just below his eye give an irritating twitch.
"Perhaps the same number of times you told yourself I murdered her."
"You did, and then planned to send the rebellious child away. Out of sight, out of mind, which begs the question as to why?"
"I might as well have been dead. Why would that matter enough to sink the resources that you have in? To look for a deadman."
"You're my son."
The words stuck and Reddington felt every survival instinct in him scream a warning. "And?"
"I choose what happens to my blood, not you."
A chill ran through him. He'd known. Somewhere deep inside of him he'd known that this was about control, but with Elizabeth in the cross hairs now, it terrified him. She was his blood and he knew it.
It was a waiting game now. Dumont and Park were searching for any sign of the plane Bauer - Alexei, apparently - had taken from Bonn while Howard and Aram worked to recover the data lost. Tom had stepped away for a bit to redress the gash along his side and change his clothes, and now was talking on a secure line with their daughter. Liz watched as Tom's expression lightened a little more with whatever Agnes was saying on the other end of the line, a smile tugging into place even if she couldn't quite capture that sense of peace that often accompanied quiet moments with her family. That moment was merely the calm in the center of the storm. More chaos was quickly heading their way.
"He's good with her."
Liz jolted, startled by her mother's unexpected voice. Not many people could sneak up on her like that. She forced herself to relax and tried for a smile. "I still don't like how you did it, but I don't think I've ever thanked you for bringing him back to us."
Katarina quirked a ginger eyebrow. "No, you haven't."
The younger Rostova resisted the urge to roll her eyes. "Thank you."
"You're welcome," her mother answered with an almost teasing smile. "I'll admit it was selfish. I knew he'd protect you."
"We protect each other."
"You seem to be doing a better job of it than Raymond and I did when you were Agnes' age."
Liz's gaze darted towards the den where the majority of the group was gathered and back to the dining room that Tom was pacing on the phone. "We have some time. You want to tell me the story?"
Katarina stared at her for a long moment before motioning for her to follow. The two women moved through the house and out the back door into the cool night. The porch from the front wrapped all the way to the back and they took a seat. "What do you want to know?"
"Anything?" Liz prompted. She wanted answers, but no matter how hard she'd fought for them they always seemed to be out of her reach. "I'm not interested in half truths or lies. I want full answers or nothing."
"Full access," Katarina acknowledged.
All the questions had been swirling around in her mind for so long, but in that moment they seemed to be impossible to pick out from one another. They folded in and around and on top of one another like kneading dough. She pulled in a deep breath, calming her raging thoughts. "How did you meet?"
"As children in Russia. Papa - Dom - was a well respected KGB operative and Alexei was in the bureaucracy. Raymond - Nicholai then - and I grew up together and played with our friend Ilya until Papa moved us to the United States."
"You were sleeper agents?"
"We were an experiment that didn't work out."
"So you didn't see him again until…?"
"Years later. He was married. He had a little girl on the way and a career and a name that didn't really fit until he was free from it all."
"That little girl is my sister. She grew up without a father because you framed him."
"I did frame him, because in this world sometimes - most of the time - you have to choose the lesser of two evils." Her gaze drifted skyward. "And she wasn't even his, so she's not your sister."
"Carla -" the name left her tongue like a form of mockery - "was pregnant when they got together. He thought he should love her so he convinced himself he did. He never had any business raising that woman's child, but it fit the part he was trying so hard to convince himself could be true."
Liz cringed, the memory of the way she had dug the knife in and twisted about the Christmas he had disappeared from his family when she'd sat across from him at the Post Office. If she'd known then what she knew now….
"Is that it?"
"How did you meet him later? After he met Carla."
This time, Katarina's smile was a little softer. "At a bar in New York. I saw him and I knew him the instant that I did. What mattered, what didn't. I knew Constantine didn't matter, that the line I balanced between the KGB and the Cabal didn't matter." And then her smile slipped and her eyes darkened. "His father recruited me to the Cabal. I should have known, but we were young, and I'd always loved him. For what it's worth, both Scottie and I were trying to protect our families by doing what we did. We —"
Liz turned, finding Tom at the door. "Hey, babe. Everything okay?"
"Good news. They did it. Howard and Aram got the intel back."
She was on her feet in a flash, stopping only when she realized just where their conversation had been cut off. She tried for a smile and offered her mother a hand up. "Thank you."
"How do you know I was?"
Liz chewed on her bottom lip, considering for a moment. "The same way I knew you're really you."
The announcement that Howard had recovered the Archive sent the safe house of supposed allies into a firestorm of arguments as to what their next step should be. Everybody wanted something different. The feds wanted to send it to a "trusted" source within the government while Scottie wanted to lock it away at Halcyon. Howard, alternatively, wanted to release it free and open into the world. Would that truly cripple the Cabal? Maybe. The Fulcrum had certainly done damage and the United States government had acknowledged the organization's existence at the time that Kotsiopulos had been ousted from their ranks - apparently by way of a thirty thousand foot drop - but everything that had unfolded from the release of the Fulcrum until that point proved that the government itself couldn't be relied upon to authenticate the information quickly, or even at all. Prior acknowledgement was no guarantee that they would turn their efforts away from the people hiding out in the safe house and towards the real enemy.
Voices overlapped, each one over the other, until the end result was that no one could really understand anything anyone was saying. Tom ran a hand up his face and across the top of his hair, pushing a long and frustrated breath out through his nose. A quick tap to his shoulder drew his attention and he looked up to find Liz standing next to the couch. She motioned silently - because, really, what was the point of trying to be heard over the chaos - and he stood to follow her out of the room. If anyone noticed that they left, it hadn't stopped the bickering.
"What do you say we end this?"
He quirked an eyebrow at that, the smallest of smiles tugging at the corners of his lips. "What do you have in mind?"
"By the time they figure out what they want to do with the Archive, Reddington'll be dead and any hope we have of clearing our names will be gone."
"You want to get the Archive?" Tom asked, and watched the mischief dance in her eyes. Not that there'd been any question before, but he did love that woman.
"For you? Always."
Her hand slipped into his and she didn't have to tug hard to pull him towards the stairs. The others may not notice that they were gone immediately, but at some point someone would clue in that neither of them were there. They needed to move quickly.
Howard and Aram had been working out of a small, interior room that had been designed for Halcyon operatives that needed a secure location. It was sealed shut, the door thick and sturdy and secured by a keypad on the wall. Tom leaned in to take a look at the keys, checking for any that appeared more worn than others, but Liz nudged him out of the way, pulling a compact out of her pocket. He shot her a questioning look. "From the bathroom. Do you really think your mother has a safe house that's not fully stocked with both weapons and cosmetics?"
As much as he felt like he should argue that, he couldn't find an argument that made sense from what he knew about his mother. He watched Liz open it up and blow, the powder sticking to the keys and showing the combination that had had oily fingers on them most recently. "That keypad takes a five-digit code. That's a hundred thousand combination possibilities that'll probably lock us out if we get it wrong twice."
"I only need one," Liz answered and typed in 7-2-6-2-7. The keypad gave an immediate beep, the lock clicking open to reveal the room.
"Samar," Tom acknowledged and his wife shrugged.
"It's Aram. It's always going to be Samar."
The inside of the door and the walls inside were covered by a wire mesh, forming up what must have been a faraday cage - likely set up after they recovered the data - to interfere with reception and keep Bauer from getting back into their systems again if he caught on. The Keens moved in slowly, careful of any security that might not be quite as easily spotted as the keypad at the door. It looked clean. Too clean, almost. While the lock and the cage indicated that this was the room they thought it was, the laptops set up on the table were devoid of any meaningful material.
Liz stopped scrolling through the second one there and she frowned deeply. "You don't think this is a decoy room, do you?"
Tom ran his hands along the underside of the desk. "While we probably shouldn't underestimate Howard's paranoia, I think the security is set up for intruders, not us."
"Because he trusts us or because he didn't think he'd get so caught up fighting it out with everyone on what to do with the Archive that he could lose track of us?"
He saw his wife's amused smirk out of the corner of his eye and he echoed the expression, his nimble fingers finding what he was looking for and he pressed the hidden button. A keypad popped up out of the desk with a screen, a single phrase scrolling across it: The world breaks everyone...
"Well that's… cheery," Liz said from behind him and glanced back.
"It's a quote," Tom answered, the memory tugging at him, but the funny thing was that it was Scottie's voice rather than Howard's that finished it. ...and afterwards, some are strong at broken places. "My mother loves Hemingway. I guess maybe Aram and Howard have something in common."
"Yeah, but the difference is Aram knows it," Liz said softly as the computer chimed its acceptance and the desk slid open, revealing a device that looked like a phone. "What is it?"
Tom reached in and the device lit up just under where his thumb was pressed down against it and it seemed to read his print. He didn't even want to know how Howard had had that on file so easily attainable that he could - and would - upload it to the device. It opened and they watched the system scroll through the data. "This is impressive. Looks like everything we need. Now what? You have a plan or are we just winging this?"
"Do you have my back either way?"
"Yes." He should have been worried how easily that truth rolled off his tongue, but if she was in this, so was he.
There had always been a sense of entitlement over his life as a child and into his teenage years before he escaped. His mother's death had simply taken away the last remaining barrier to it. Now, a lifetime later, it didn't appear that even his son's supposed death and certain disappearance had done anything to dampen Alexei's absolute demands. Those around him weren't to be loved and appreciated, they were to be owned, and anything less than absolute obedience to that had to be dealt with. Now that he knew who Elizabeth was, he would see her as his to do with as he pleased, and historically, Reddington knew that it had always pleased Alexei to hurt him.
They had remained at the private airport that they had landed at and met up with additional security there. Two guards had escorted Reddington back through winding hallways and offices to a supply closet and left him alone like a child that had proven too rowdy at his father's office. A small window at the top let a little light in, and was the only way he had even a fraction of an idea how long he'd been in there.
After being left seemingly alone he stood and circled the small space to take inventory. It had been mostly cleared out before his arrival with only a few cleaning supplies left behind, though nothing flammable or of any real use. A few rags, an empty mop bucket without the mop, a box full of dusters. He crouched down, moving as well as he could with his wrists bound together in front of him, and pushed boxes aside in the shelves. Some were empty, others filled with useless items, but just about the time he was ready to acknowledge defeat for this round, he spotted a lone paperclip pushed to the back of the shelving, clearly missed by whoever had done the sweep. It wouldn't be useful in removing the zip ties around his wrists, but it might prove useful on the lock.
Reddington paused, pressing an ear softly to the door to listen for any signs there was someone on the other side. He gave the handle a sharp tug and listened again. If they were there, they weren't responding. He went to work on the lock.
Three pins in he heard footsteps. He froze and felt the lock release from the other side before the door jerked open to show a man with a gun ready. "Herr Bauer will see you," he said in sharp, intentional English.
"Oh will he now?" Reddington huffed and motioned dramatically for him to lead the way, the paper clip still sticking out of the inside lock as into taunt him that he'd just missed his opportunity.
Alexei stood like a war commander in what must have been the pilots' office, looking at a collection of security screens that they had set up. Each one showed a different part of the small airport, all quiet except for one. Red tilted his head as he watched a pickup truck that idled outside the gates.
"She's persistent, I'll give you that."
Reddington felt a knot begin to form as Elizabeth stepped out of the vehicle, waiving directly at the camera in the gate. "She wouldn't have come alone," he stated, hoping it was true even as he said it.
"No, she brought the Hargrave boy with her, little good it will do her," Alexei chuckled. He reached forward, pressing a button to connect to the gate's intercom. "Finding yourself more alone these days?"
"I'm here to make a deal," Elizabeth answered, and her words echoing over the com made Reddington's heart sink.
"Come inside and we'll chat. You're welcome to bring your husband if you're not particularly attached."
"I think I'd rather have you come to me."
"And why would I do that?"
"Because I have something. You said that you didn't care about the Archive, but that's not true, was it? You care about it, just didn't see it as a threat because you had a contingency in place."
Reddington watched as a man that had always towered above all else, a giant set to crush ants beneath his boot, actually tensed very slightly at the words.
"We did too. In fact, Scottie Hargrave had one in place when she and my mother stole it. I don't have to tell you about Howard. You know what he's capable of. You tried to recruit him. You may have wiped out the data with the trojan horse, but you didn't wipe out the guy that could recover it. Put him together with our guy…."
The video wasn't pristine, but it was good enough to see Elizabeth's smug expression. "Peter Kotsiopolus thought so too several years ago, and I'm sure you know where it got him. I knew who he was and I know who you are. Alexei Yahontov. The list of atrocities that you're personally responsible for would make both my mother and her father's KGB careers look like child's play. You were one of the founding members of the Cabal on the Russian side. When you'd destroyed even your own allies' faith in you, you used your connections to build your new identity to stay in power after the wall fell. I know everything about you. Your aliases, your bank accounts, every safehouse you have. It's amazing how detailed paranoid organizations can be. Mutually assured destruction, right? It leaves you with nowhere left to run."
"Herr Bauer," a voice called and Reddington looked to the side where one of Alexei's lackeys stood, and the man looked afraid to cut in at that very moment. He should be.
"What?" the aging Cabal head growled.
"We're getting reports of sightings at every exit and closing in. If we don't leave now, they'll be inside."
"Then stop them."
"We don't have the manpower."
"Impossible. They couldn't have the resources to overtake us. We cut them off. Even Halcyon's board wouldn't have let the operatives in."
"Sir, the feeds are clear. If we're going to go, we have to go now."
As if on queue, a bullet pierced the window closest to them, ricocheting, but a second followed immediately after it and found its target. Alexei stumbled back, dark red blood blossoming against his dress shirt.
The movement was instant, his people holding him up and shuffling him forward, something about the helicopter on the pad outside being clear for the moment. They had to move then, dragging their injured boss' son with them. He didn't fight back, didn't struggle. If he did, one of them was bound to shoot him, and if Alexei somehow made it through this Elizabeth would have no one to truly shield her from him.
Reddington was shuffled into the helicopter first, half thrown across the seat so that he landed behind the pilot, one of the lackeys following in behind him to help Alexei up and into the means of escape. The door slammed closed behind him and the blades began to spin above them.
Alexei turned, his expression drawn but hateful. "She is certainly your daughter. Katarina's fire, but your foolishness," Alexei called over the sound.
"She's won," Reddington answered, his voice strangely steady as they began to lift off the ground, bullets pinging off the outside of the helicopter. "You can't see it yet, but she's already won."
"Perhaps her daughter is still young enough that you haven't corrupted her. A chance for the bloodline."
"That was always your foolishness."
"You underestimate what I'm willing to give to protect those I love." He lunged forward, slamming the pilot into his controls and the helicopter careened to the side and towards the building.
To Be Concluded
Notes: I made sure not to leave last chapter with a cliffhanger for Tom's life because I knew what this chapter's end was. Oops?
Next week's chapter is the conclusion to this story, but I do have some one shots and I may have been talked into at least considering (read that: the plot bunnies are gnawing on my ankles) a short multi chapter that takes place after 8.04 and brings Tom back because I'd really like to see how he would react to Liz as she is now. I have thoughts, but there's nothing like actually writing the story to find the answer lol Fair warning, though, I am in research/plotting mode for a pilot, so those updates probably won't be immediate. Just keep your eyes open for them :)
See you guys next week for the conclusion. Until then, what do you think? Is Red going to survive this one?