Red lies flat on his back in the soft, fluffy snow, staring upward at an endless, black night sky, punctuated only with snowflakes falling downward at an even clip, landing gently all around him. They seem to come from nowhere at all, simply appearing out of the darkness at random, floating unstoppably to collect on the several inches already on the ground.
He's wearing his puffy winter coat, thick scarf, and wool hat, bundled up to fight off the elements, the frigid snow and biting air surrounding him. It's quiet here, the kind of complete silence that only accompanies snowfall, and the soundless air presses firmly on his eardrums. If he strains hard enough, Red imagines he can hear the soft impact of every flurry that lands around him.
He's not far from the safehouse, only a few hundred feet from the backdoor, in the undisturbed snow of the surrounding wilderness. He knows it's rather silly to be lying outside in freezing temperatures but he was feeling strangely claustrophobic indoors, his whirling thoughts far too loud and sad to be confined to a single room, when he was overtaken with the oddest certainty that he would think better in the open air, observing the snowfall.
And he was right.
He's thinking about Lizzie.
Red has been on the move his entire adult life, constantly running from adversaries and endlessly sprinting towards that as-yet elusive sense of peace, and yet, he has never felt such bone-deep exhaustion as he does now. He's been chasing Lizzie non-stop around the globe, trying to predict her every move when she has always proved anything but predictable to him, and dragging his heavy love for her around everywhere he goes, weighing him down and making him slow and weak and old.
Though he supposes that may be the sickness.
Red sighs heavily, watching the large, white flakes tumble from above, twirling and spinning in an endless dance to the frozen ground below.
For a moment, Red pictures his love for her leaking out from him and into the snow all around him, slowly turning it red with all the blood that's been spilled between them, all the untapped passion that he's held trapped inside him for so long, the intensity of everything they feel leaching out and melting the snow from the sheer heat of it all.
Feeling oddly set adrift by the mental image, Red moves his hands from where they're folded lightly on his stomach to rest in the snow on either side of him, trying to ground himself.
Cold snow shocks the bare skin of his hands and he realizes rather stupidly that he's left his gloves inside. Red wiggles his fingers idly in the snow and briefly considers going back inside to get them, but quickly decides against it.
He doesn't want to wake Dembe.
He wouldn't approve.
Ignoring the burning cold in his hands, Red goes back to listening intently to the silence, his thoughts turning effortlessly and instinctively back to Lizzie.
As much as he understands her animosity toward him, her vengeful anger, her blistering rage - because after all, every negative thing in her life is, ultimately, his fault - he hates the way it hardens her eyes, sharpens her voice, contorts her beautiful face. Every word she utters to him that is driven by her hatred chips more and more at his once-impenetrable armor. Her complete and utter rejection of him, her profound distaste and disgust for his affection, his caring, his love, threatens to erode the very foundations of his faith that they will, one day, find their way back to each other.
(Not that he's ever left her.)
He's not as sure as he once was, now, that she'll ever really forgive him, even once she knows the full truth of him and their past. It seems more and more likely that, even then, she'll continue to hoard all her resentment of him, letting it fester and rot any affection might have once felt for him.
(Her admission of love before his thwarted execution, the memory beautifully warm and light, flashes in his mind's eye, and he squeezes his eyes shut, briefly blocking out the dizzying snowfall.)
How things have changed.
With all the pure exquisite joy of those three simple words, uttered in her purest and heartfelt voice, Red had never imagined how incredibly painful it could be to have one's feelings - not just ignored or unrequited - but so entirely despised.
It's a very specific agony.
Laying here, Red can feel the fluffy snow beneath him slowly starting to melt, soaking into the back of his coat and making him shiver.
He should go inside.
He doesn't move a muscle.
Bleakly, he wonders what would happen if he just laid here forever, let the cold starting to settle in the tips of his fingers and toes join the frosty heartache she's left him with, the tendrils of ice working their way up through his limbs to the center of him, reaching the heart that has been beating all these years for her and freezing it solid.
He wonders if she'd find him come springtime, long after the snow has melted and flowers the same color as her eyes have sprouted up all around his body, lying lifeless and tired and still riddled with love for her.
He wonders if she'd care.
No, he decides. She'd stand over his corpse with an indifferent, stony face, glaring resentfully because how dare he die when she wasn't the one to finish him off.
(But the thing she doesn't understand is that even if she doesn't manage to put a bullet directly into his heart, that doesn't mean she won't have been the one to kill him.)
Red tries to cease his musings, so desperately sad that he feels he could easily start weeping, his salty tears freezing right on the cold skin of his face like the snow slowly accumulating on the ground.
To keep the tears at bay, for just one selfish moment, Red imagines Lizzie joining him out here in the snow.
He closes his eyes, shutting out the memorizing snowfall, and pictures it, her beloved face appearing above him, her dark hair, so soft-looking and long these days, framing her pale face that glows angelically in the darkness. Her eyes, that piercing blue that sees right through him, sparkling with teasing and mirth at finding him here, a delightful bright light so unlike the flat, hard hatred with which she glares at him these days. Her warm breath making a frosty puff in the air as she huffs at him, a smirk pulling up her mouth, her lips shining a gorgeous pale pink in the cold night air.
Would she pull him up and tug him into the house, intent on warming him with the touch of her soft skin on his? Or would she humor him, dropping down to join him in the fluffy snow, laying on her back next to him to watch the flakes fall? Would she take his cold hand in her gloved one and playfully chastise him for not bundling up properly? Or would she scoot even closer, let him wrap his arm around her and press herself into his side, cuddling close to share his limited warmth?
Red smiles into the night at just the thought, stretching his arm out into the snow, almost able to feel her phantom weight there with him -
His smile falters.
Because, even in a fantasy, his brain won't let him forget the truth, the awful certainty that brings a chill to his bones that has nothing to do with the frigid temperature. Gone are the days of casual contact, guiding touches, supportive hand-holding, consoling hugs, and the rare but treasured kiss to her hair. He can see all too clearly now the way she would recoil nastily from his touch, any attempt from him to reach out and tell her with the most innocent touch that he misses her so much he can barely breathe -
So deep in his dreaded, impossible daydreams, Red almost misses the sound of familiar footfalls crunching in the freshly fallen snow, and for one deranged moment, he imagines he has brought Lizzie to him with the sheer force of his wantings, and his eyes fly open, fully expecting to see her standing there just as he imagined -
But instead, he looks up into a familiar dark face, one equally cherished but in a profoundly different way, the figure's dim shadow falling over him in the dark, followed by two light thuds as Red's gloves fall one by one to land on his chest.
It seems, despite his best efforts, Dembe has woken up.
"Raymond, it is cold out…"
Red sighs, lifting his numb hands from where they'd buried themselves in the snow to pick up his gloves, tugging the smooth, expensive leather over his frigid, wet skin with difficulty, grateful for the added layer of warmth.
"Raymond, come inside…"
Red sighs. He doesn't really want to, and he knows Dembe can tell. He'd much rather lay out here, miserable in the snow, than even look upward at the emotions he knows are written all over Dembe's face. Sadness, pity, empathy…all things Red would just as soon give him no cause to feel.
He hears Dembe sigh heavily above him.
"Raymond…it is not over until it is over."
Red's eyebrows raise at that, surprised by the statement, uncertain how Dembe can say such a thing when he must have at least some inkling of how very "over" it all feels to Red. Lizzie is out for his blood and will stop at nothing to end him - that is if his illness doesn't finish him off first - on top of which he'll probably never get to see his Ag-
"Elizabeth will need you, Raymond," Dembe murmurs into the night. "Even if she does not yet realize."
Red actually scoffs at that, painfully aware of the fact that Lizzie gave up needing him around the same time he accepted he would never need anyone but her -
"As do I."
Red stops short at that, finally turning away from the night sky and looking up at Dembe to see his face as sad as he imagined it, but not for the reasons he expected.
(And he realizes in that moment that, when Lizzie left him, he decided to forget that there are other people left on this earth who still love him.)
Dembe looks at him steadily for a long moment, and Red stares right back, the two of them communicating easily in that wordless way they have long since perfected.
(Dembe hasn't given up on him yet.)
After a moment of nothing but the snow falling between them, Dembe extends a gloved hand to Red in a wordless offering. With no more hesitation, Red reaches up and clasps his hand, allowing Dembe to heave him up from his snow bed, take secure hold of his arm, and lead him back toward the house.
They trudge through the snow, silent and heavy with Dembe bearing most of Red's weight, Red mulls over what to say. Something, anything, to apologize for his blatant disregard of Dembe's feelings.
(Even though, with everything they've been through together, he could spend the rest of his days apologizing to Dembe and it still wouldn't be close to enough.)
Almost to the back door, something finally comes to Red. He bites back a grin and feigns innocence.
"Hot chocolate?" he asks of the younger man, equal parts his son and brother, his resilient companion, his overlooked savoir.
(Hot chocolate is Dembe's favorite.)
And Dembe turns to beam at him, his cherished face splitting into a wide grin, an expression so young and carefree that it reminds Red pleasantly of their early days together, and he can't help but smile back, Dembe's happiness shining brighter than all the sparkling snow on the ground.
And Red feels a little warmer inside.
As Dembe leads him faithfully inside and out of the snow, shutting the door firmly behind them, Red tries his best to leave all his cold and miserable heartbreak outside to swirl in the winter wind and be buried in the snow where it belongs.
Because Dembe is right.
Their story's not over yet.