Mercy's Anguish

In the end, they don't find Reddington. They find where he's been. Where he was tortured, if the signs are anything to go by. They find Anslo Garrick's dead body, stabbed at the base of the skull by some small instrument. But not Red.

Reddington, on the other hand, finds her. She's walking out to her car, ready to go home, maybe. She's not sure. It's been a tough day, and facing Tom in the aftermath...well, that will be tough too. After all, he spoke to Garrick. Garrick told her husband that she was going to die. That's going to be hard for both of them to process and work through. That's what she's thinking when Dembe materializes out of the night and offers her a seat in a nondescript black car.

She accepts. She doesn't think she can do anything else. Not when her last sight of Red was his bleeding body as a woman in EMT scrubs dug the tracking chip out of his neck.

Dembe doesn't start driving immediately. Instead, he dips his head. "If you intend to come with me, call your husband."

And she does. It rings, then Tom picks up, frantic and worried and begging her to come home. But she can't. She gives him soothing words that she's not sure either of them believe, platitudes and promises for explanations, and a sort of half-truth about unfinished business and how she'll be really late, but she'll see him soon. She says 'I love you' and 'I'm okay babe' half a dozen times, and then finally gets off the phone.

Dembe gives her a blindfold, and she doesn't protest, doesn't try any cute little tricks to spy on their trip. She knows they take the long way, doubling back a few times, driving around the block at other times. It's meant to confuse her. She doesn't bother to try and counter the measure. After everything that's happened today, she can let Red and his justifiably paranoid retainers have their secrets.

Dembe finally parks, guides her out of the car with careful, gentle hands and up some stairs, which she doesn't bother to count. Later, when she's not operating on the dregs of adrenaline and exhaustion, she may be upset with herself for being so lax, so careless, for disregarding her training. Cooper and Ressler, when and if they find out, are probably going to read her the riot act. She just can't seem to care right now.

The blindfold is removed, and she's standing in a comfortable looking hall with branching doors and Mr. Kaplan in front of her. The woman gives her a brief but somehow still thorough examination, exchanges some sort of silent communication with Dembe, then nods and steps back to let her through to the door behind her. "He's asked for you. I don't agree, given how things have gone lately, but it's his business. And in his condition, I'm not minded to deny him anything feasible, so long as it isn't stupid as well."

His condition? She knows Garrick tortured him, but…

She puts the thoughts aside and steps through the door. She wants to see Red, to confirm he's alive. She doesn't feel like she can do anything else, given what he's done for her today. He could have let Garrick splatter her brains all over the box, and instead he surrendered.

She doesn't know why. She doesn't understand any of his motivations, why he clings so tightly to her when she's a rookie and a nobody and has said more than once that she doesn't like him. Hell, she's called him a monster more than once, including just after the Stewmaker, which in retrospect feels a tad ungrateful, given that he saved her life and gave her the means to solve several hundred unsolved cases.

She's not sure what she's expecting when she walks through the door. It isn't a large bathroom, complete with an over-sized Jacuzzi tub. Maybe something more like a dining area, or a sitting room? Then her brain registers Red, sitting in the tub, water lapping at his shoulders.

Her first reaction is embarrassment, and a little bit of outrage. Then she notices other things. One, the water is a bit cloudy, enough to obscure improprieties, if any were on display. Two, Red is actually wearing clothing, a T-shirt and sweats, soaked through of course, but they're still clothes. And three...the water is ice water. As in literally water with ice cubes in it.

The first two drop her embarrassment from acute to almost non-existent. The third catapults her from embarrassed to worried. She steps forward, and his head tips back, eyes at half-mast, and exhaustion in his face. "Lizzie."

"Red." She steps forward again, and she sees other things.

Red should be shivering, and he is, but he's also sweating. Perspiration dots his face, rather than the blue tinge she'd expect.

His hands are tied with soft-looking cloth bindings to one of the handholds, or washcloth holders. The bindings are loose enough to permit movement, but not enough for him to get out of the water.

She's at the edge of the tub before she can really think about it. "What…?"

"These?" He makes a slow, languid gesture with his bound limbs. "Mr. Kaplan insisted. Didn't want me trying to leave before she said it was safe." His voice is usually deep and hypnotic, but now there's a roughness and a slur tangling through his words.

"Safe? What do you mean?" She crouches beside the tub so he doesn't have to crane his neck.

"Temperature reduction. Anslo..." He sighs and drops his head against a padded rest. "Anslo's methods left my temperature at somewhere around 105. really don't want to know. Side effects, as it were, but they do make things irritating." He twitches at the bindings again.

"Side effects? What did he…?" She stops, only then hearing how callous the question might sound. Callous or caring, and she's not sure which bothers her more.

"Curious about the gory details?" His eyes glint at her from behind half-closed lids. "You do know I was tortured."

"Yes. I know." Because he surrendered for her sake, offered his life for hers. "Red..."

"No. It's fine. You might as well, since you're here." He tosses his head, a movement that seems to send a spasm through his body and a twist of discomfort through his face. "No sense avoiding it."

She...this...she isn't sure what she thinks about this. He's so...vulnerable. The armor of his impeccable dress is gone, and it seems that the careful guard he keeps on his words might be as well. Gone, or damaged. She can see the bruising across his face, the cut over his eye, and his split lip.

Disconcerting as the thought feels, he might be less vulnerable, and this might be less awful, if he were actually naked. Naked and flaunting himself, delivering quips and sarcasm and guarded answers with that smooth manner of his.

She wants to tell him not to speak, but he's already talking, and she can't force herself to interrupt.

"You know Garrick removed the tracking chip rather forcefully. Didn't bother to do a good cleanup job either. Took me to a location I've yet to be certain of..."

"A decommissioned black site. We found it earlier, but you were already gone."

He blinks at her. "Huh. Smart of him, I suppose. Or rather, smart of his employer. Garrick always was a bit slow. In any case..." He blinks at her again, a slowness that doesn't seem to stem from weariness in his movements. "Garrick strung me up by my wrists. Then he used me as a punching bag. Rather unoriginal, but that's Garrick for you. More brute force than brains. Always was." An elbow twitches in an aborted gesture toward his ribs, then his face. "Crude, but admittedly somewhat painful."

She wonders what the shirt conceals. Massive bruising, at the least. Internal bleeding? She's surprised he's here, if that's the case. Then again, she has no idea how many people he knows, or what type of people they are, or what skillsets he can call upon at the drop of a hat. But whatever lies beneath the thin cotton, it must be painful. Like the bruises on his face, purple in the light.

And what of his wrists? The soft fabric holding him in place conceals whatever damage might have been done, but she can't imagine there are no wounds there. Not with the heavy leather and steel cuffs he was in when she last saw him. Hanging by his arms and beaten, his wrists must have been rubbed raw, if not outright lacerated. To say nothing of the strain on his shoulders and spine.

Red makes a low, guttural sound, flinching again. "Then the doctor came. Not a nice fellow. Interesting little concoction though. Stimulates the nerves in the body, leaves you feeling like you've been set on fire from the inside out. And the side effects...I almost thought he was going to give me a heart attack. Pity he didn't, but…well, I do have some resistance to drugs, specifically those used for coercion and torture. Part of the job hazards. And the precautions."

She knows how you build up a tolerance to coercion and torture. There are people with natural fortitude of varying degrees, but the only way to increase that to a reliable defense is through practice. Practical applications. She feels bile rise in her throat.

She doesn't like him. Half the time she loathes him. But she doesn't like what it implies about the level of torment he's endured. She's had a taste of those drugs, from the Stewmaker, and she knows the feeling of that internal fire.

He gives her a twisted quirk of the lips that in no way should be called a smile, as if he can divine what she's thinking. Or maybe he thinks she enjoys hearing about the suffering he endured.

She wishes he'd stop. But he doesn't. "First dose...certainly not comfortable. The burning feeling, the tremors, the increased heart rate...all very debilitating. Not beyond my ability to handle, but uncomfortable nonetheless. But the second dose...the third one, and then the those were truly vile. Just the feeling of the needle in my skin, and the shackles and the that was pain. Even the cloth of my shirt felt like sandpaper, and everything else..."

The sound he makes might be meant to be a laugh, but it hurts to hear, raw and violent, like someone trying to inject humor into a scream of agony.

He wears tailored shirts of soft linens and cottons and smooth cloth that feels like silk to the touch. The sensitivity to make such clothing feel like sandpaper, to induce such pain…

He tips his head to look at her. "Are you familiar with the concept of sack-cloth, Lizzie? Literally, it's burlap, made into clothing. Dreadful stuff. Would never want that within a mile of my skin, unless it was absolutely necessary. It felt like my entire outfit was made of the stuff. God, I almost wish I'd been naked instead." He exhales a pained breath. "But then, that's probably why Anslo didn't do anything so crude. He's certainly capable of it, but he wouldn't bother if he thought the alternative was more painful. And he certainly did take every opportunity to test the drug's effectiveness."

She knows what that means. Pressure to wounds. Blows. Any form of contact to bring agony to his captive. "Red..."

"He always did enjoy causing pain. I daresay he would have been able to get off for months with all the things he experimented with. Nothing potentially fatal, at the time. His employer wanted to have a chat with me. Nice way to avoid the electroshock and the waterboarding, I suppose."

He avoided those things by feeling like someone was burning him alive. She's not sure she calls that a good trade-off. She reaches for something else to talk about. Anything. "His employer?"

"No one you know. At least not in this context. No one you need to worry about. Someone I have an arrangement with. He wanted to know if I had violated the terms. Or intended to. Anslo was his delivery boy, bought with the promise of seeing me suffer and breaking me. And quite possibly killing me." He makes a face, grimaces in pain again, air hissing between his teeth as he exhales, sharp and hard and brutal, a silent testimony to his ongoing torment.

She still doesn't know if the drugs are still affecting him. She hopes not, but from the way he's acting, she fears that she hopes in vain.

"Fellow was kind enough to offer me a chair. Not that it was much of a kindness, metal chair and all that. The most uncomfortable seat in the world, I imagine. He questioned me, then left. Anslo came back, made some empty threats, and finally got close enough for me to do something about him. Permanently this time. I stabbed him, took his keys, and left. And here we are." He lifts his hands in a semi-mocking gesture, as far as he can with the restraints. "I hope that's enough detail for you."

More than she wanted to know. She swallows. "Red...I..."

What can she say? An apology? He wouldn't accept it. A denial? She let him talk, didn't she? An expression of gratitude? Would he even believe her, or hear her at the moment?

The words escape before she's even consciously thought of them. "What can I do? Is there...anything…?"

He gazes at her through half-lidded eyes. "Dangerous offer, Lizzie."

She can give him honesty, at least, and acknowledge that he is dangerous. "I know."

He sighs, falls back against the tub. "Well, if you're going to offer..." Another sigh, this one deeper, coming from some depth she's not sure she deserves to understand. "Give me mercy, then."

Mercy? He is hunted, and who knows what the next day will bring? "I can't promise that..." She breaks off as his head lolls against the headrest in a gesture of negation.

"You aren't listening, Elizabeth. I asked you for mercy, not a promise. I know the worth of promises."

He so rarely uses her full name. He prefers Lizzie. That's part of what prompts her to ask the next question. "What kind of mercy?"

He lifts his head to look at her, eyes glittering with pain and what might be fever heat or might be something more. "Let me believe, for one night, that the person I endured this for, the person I've risked 20 years of work and my entire enterprise for, doesn't hate me."

That...she's not even sure what to think of that. Her relationship with Reddington, as much as she tries to keep it professional, is complicated beyond words. Still, the words come easier than she might expect. "I don't hate you."

The sound he makes is raw and bitter and ugly, a laugh that could be confused with a scream or a sob in any other context. "Come now Elizabeth. Lies don't become you. We both know the truth. You despise me, the things I do, and the things I've done. You think I'm a monster. If you had your way, you wouldn't hesitate to punch another hole in my throat and let me bleed out. You've said it yourself, you may need me, but you truly do loathe me." His tone is raw and angry and hurt, as violent and painful to hear as the wounds he has must be to bear.

How can she respond to that? He's not wrong. She swallows, then stands. "I'm going to find Mr. Kaplan." She needs a moment or two to think, to decide if she wants to continue to try and grant his request, with what he's said hanging in the air between them. And to sort out what she could possibly say if she does decide to try again.

Mr. Kaplan is just beyond the door, in a chair Dembe must have brought her, reading something. Dembe is nearby, standing watch. They both look at her. For a moment, her brain freezes under weariness and the weight of their combined regard. She forces herself to focus, to remember what she wanted to ask. "How much longer does he need to stay in the water?"

Mr. Kaplan frowns. "Until his temperature is close to normal."

She nods. "Is there anything else that could be done for him?"

"He needs more fluids, rest. No alcohol, no matter how much he wants it." She looks at Dembe. "Surely he has some juice or something."

"He does." Dembe nods.

"Get a glass of that, while I check how he is. And you...stay here for a moment." Kaplan rises gracefully and indicates the seat. Dembe fades down the hall and through another door, while Kaplan enters the bathroom and closes the door behind her.

She can't sit, but she doesn't leave. Dembe comes back about the same time that Kaplan emerges again. "His temperature is coming down. Perhaps another thirty minutes to an hour. See if he'll drink that. It might speed up the process."

"Can I…?" She offers a hesitant hand for the glass. She's had time to think. Not much, but enough. She's not sure what she wants to say will really help, but it can't hurt, and it's the best she can do.

After a moment, Kaplan nods, and Dembe hands her the glass. Thanking them feels too awkward, so she just accepts it and slips back inside the room.

"Lizzie. Back again. I thought Dembe was bringing me a drink." Red's head lolls back against the headrest. He's sweating a bit less, she notices. He blinks at the glass she holds. "What is that?"

"Juice. Mr. Kaplan said no alcohol." She crosses and settles on her heels beside the tub again.

"Fussy. Still, it is her job, I suppose." He sighs and tries to reach for the glass, and that's when she realizes his hands are shaking.

"Here." She moves closer and holds the cup to his lips, tilting it carefully until the liquid reaches his mouth and trickles inside. His lips are badly chapped, she notices. But of course, he's lost some blood, and been drugged and tortured. Dehydration is likely only one of many issues.

He swallows, then makes a sound that might indicate amusement. She pulls back a little in case he's choking. "What?"

"The irony. It's pomegranate juice. A favorite of mine, but still..." He shakes his head.

She doesn't get it for a moment. Then she remembers the mandatory Greek mythology of her school days. Hades, who dragged Persephone to the Underworld, and bound her to his realm with pomegranate seeds. And here she is, giving Red pomegranate juice. There are definitely identifiable parallels, and even her tired mind can appreciate what he means. The reversal of the myth, in the midst of its fulfillment.

She offers him some more, until the glass is empty. Then she sets it aside and settles back. There isn't really any good way to start, she thinks, so she decides to simply plunge right in. "What you said earlier..."

"My request? You needn't..."

"No. Your response. To what I said when you made that request. I...I've thought about it.'s not as simple as you make it sound." She tucks a wayward strand of hair behind her ear.

"Life never is. But please, do regale me with your thoughts on the matter." She can't tell if he's being sarcastic or not. She can tell that he's tense and wary, no doubt expecting another round of insults and anger.

"I...there are things you've done...things like killing that man in Wujing's station and the way you killed the Stewmaker...the way you set up Tom, hired people to hurt him, to make me suspect him...those are all things I hate you for. And I'm not going to lie to you, sometimes I do think you're a monster. I hate the way you can kill so easily, the way you don't seem to care as long as whatever goal you have is met, the way you talk in riddles half the time and almost always seem to have some sort of ulterior motive, one I can't even guess most of the time." She sees the pain and the tension he's too tired and tortured to hide, and continues. "But..."

She takes a breath, because this is harder than she expected. Not just what she's about to say, but what she's already said. Somehow, the words feel more cutting, more cruel than they have before. "But then there are other times. The way you protected me. The way you cared for me after you rescued me from the Stewmaker. There are the cases you've helped us solve, the families you've helped us give closure to, families who never would have known what happened to their loved ones if you weren't willing to work with us, provide us names and answers. And I remember things like the way you comforted me after my father died, and listened to me talk about him. And today, you saved Ressler, even though you didn't have to. You gave yourself to Garrick, even knowing what he would do to you, to save me. And I saw the footage from the cameras, you and Dembe, when you thought he was going to die..."

And that will haunt her. The image of Red begging for his friend's life. The two men locking eyes, lips moving in prayer, in sync, a benediction that was meant to be last rites, and the anguish on Red's face, discernible even through the pixelated footage. It makes her glad Aram shot that mercenary, even if it did result in both of them being captured.

She swallows, collects her thoughts again, swipes at eyes that shouldn't be stinging the way they are. Red is uncharacteristically silent.

She looks him in the eyes, looking over the drawn complexion, the wounds, the weariness, and the pain. All of it because he was unwilling to let Garrick kill her. He could have stayed safe, but he refused. He fought for her, even threatening the life of the man he had just saved, to protect her. He surrendered, his torment for her safety.

She inhales and holds her gaze steady, willing him to see the honesty in her eyes. "It's like you're two different people, Red. And yes, there is a side of you that I hate. But then...then there are days like today, when you do things like this...and...I don't. Maybe there's some ulterior motive, some reason I don't understand. Probably. The point point is...the side of you I saw today...the man I saw today..."

She breathes deep, makes sure their eyes are locked, and speaks the last words. "I don't hate him. I'm not sure I can."

Truth. The deepest truth she has, in regard to Red. She's conflicted about him and probably always will be, if she doesn't wind up hating him again, but here and now, looking at the consequences of what he's willing to endure to protect her, looking at the remnants of the torture that was suffered so that she could live...she cannot and does not hate him.

Dark, half-lidded eyes study her face with an intensity she wouldn't have expected him to be able to muster in his current state. His gaze tracks over her face, reading...something. Micro-tells she probably doesn't even recognize, despite all her training. Then his head drops back against the cushion again. "You actually mean that."

"Yes." What else is there to say? He'll believe her or he won't. She can't force him to accept her truth, any more than he can force her to believe her husband is actually a deep cover operative.

Well, maybe one more thing, though whether it will help or hurt, she has no idea. "You said once that honesty was a rare gift in your world. So...this is me, being honest with you. It's all I can do."

"I know." Whether he's responding to her assertions of honesty or to her claim that it's the best she can do, she can't tell. Then he sighs, and some of the tension fades out of his shoulders. "Thank you, Lizzie."

The gratitude means more than she thinks it should. After all, she's done so little, especially by comparison. Just words, half of them brutal and cutting, as deeply wounding as the blows Garrick delivered hours ago. Honesty may be a rare gift, but in this case, it's a cruel and double-edged sword as well.

She's not sure where they go from here, whether she should voice the half-formed and terrifying question that she's been asking herself for a while now, or if she should go. Whether she should offer him more juice, or her absence so he can make himself comfortable, recover from his ordeal.

He takes the decision out of her hands. "If you could call Mr. Kaplan...I'm getting cold."

It takes a minute to understand. His temperature is finally low enough for him to feel the frigid chill of the water around him. It's progress. Hopefully, it means the awful sensitivity inflicted upon him is fading, along with the side effects.

She rises. "Do you want me stay?" Normally she wouldn't ask, normally she'd leave, business concluded and message delivered, but things still feel unfinished.

"That's something for you to decide. Though I'd appreciate your absence while I change." He makes an aborted gesture to his sodden clothing.

She should go home, reassure her husband that she's all right. Get some sleep. Get a shower and some fresh bandages for her hand and her feet. Call Cooper and tell him that she's made contact with Reddington and that he's alive, if not precisely well.

That's what she should do, as a wife and an agent. But...she swallows. "I'll be outside if you want to see me again after you've changed." She doesn't give him a chance to answer, just opens the door and slips through it.

Kaplan and Dembe have resumed their previous positions. Both look at her when she emerges. "He said he was cold."

"Good." Mr. Kaplan lays aside her book. "Dembe. I'll need your assistance." She nods to Lizzie. "We'll see you home as soon as Raymond is settled."

"I told him I'd wait, if he wanted to speak to me again." She swallows, wondering if she'll face judgment from these two people who trust Reddington with their lives, and whom he trusts in turn. It's hard to even look Dembe in the eyes, knowing how close he and Red are, and how Red might have let him die, but moved Heaven and Earth and possibly some levels of Hell to save her.

Kaplan looks faintly bemused, but resigned. Dembe...Dembe looks almost approving. Accepting. She wonders why, what he knows that she doesn't. She wonders if he knows the answer to the question that lingers in the back of her mind.

She doesn't ask, and both of Red's companions vanish into the bathroom. She takes the chair, feeling weary and drained and also restless and agitated. Because Red is on the other side of that door, and he has answers, but probably not ones he'll give her. Because she wants to help, as odd as that feels, but all she can do is offer words that cut like knives and juice and her presence. Such little things.

She's still trying to sort everything out, to make sense of everything that's happened, fighting against the fuzziness invading her thoughts, when a door opens. Not the door she used previously, but the one next to it. Mr. Kaplan emerges and gives her a stern look. "He said he'll see you again if you're waiting. Dembe is making him comfortable."

She nods. Mr. Kaplan gives her another look, one that makes her feel like she's being profiled and dissected all at once. Then Mr. Kaplan huffs. "Did he tell you about what Garrick did?"

She considers her answer, then offers a tentative response. "The drugs?"

"Yes. He was given several times the maximum recommended dosage. He's past the worst, but he's by no means recovered. Remember that."

"I will." She nods.

Kaplan sighs again. "He's a stubborn fool. But be that as it may, you might as well go in if you intend to." She gestures to the door. "I'll bring a car around for you and Dembe to use when you're done." She stalks down the hall.

She takes a moment to brace her nerves and scrub some of the weariness out of her eyes. Then she taps the door twice, twists the knob, and sticks her head through the gap, ready to pull back if she gets a peek at anything she shouldn't.

The room is a bedroom, as she expected. Red is in the bed, but her first quick look reveals some sort of nightshirt, and sheets, so there's nothing exposed that she would rather not see. Red is propped up on the pillows, Dembe adjusting the sheets and making him comfortable. Then Red sees her. "Lizzie. Do come in."

She slips inside, edging closer, but uncertain what liberties she can take with him. She's never faced him without his metaphorical armor of impeccable attire and confident attitude. This whole evening has been unfamiliar territory for both of them.

Dembe disappears, outside the door or into the background – she doesn't really care to pay attention. She's too busy trying to figure out what happens now. She's still not sure why she was waiting to see his recovery, rather than waiting to go home to her husband.

Red looks at her, no longer shivering or soaked, but still looking exhausted beyond the point of understanding, like a man who's been up for a week straight without any sort of rest, running off willpower and caffeine. "I would have thought you have a husband to reassure."

"Yes." She doesn't bother to say anything more. What else is there to say? She has a husband. She should, by any sensible logic, be headed home to Tom and her warm bed and his loving arms, away from the nightmare of this day. And away from Red and his world of shadows, danger, and secrets. And yet, here she is.

"Well, have a seat." He tosses his head in a vague motion toward an armchair. It's not close to the bed, but it's small enough that she can drag it over without too much effort. She positions it in a comfortable place, so he doesn't have to crane his neck to look at her, and she can watch him comfortably.

His eyes are still at half-mast, closed – she thinks – against his own vulnerability and what they might reveal. And weighted by the strain this day has placed upon him. But despite everything, he is still dangerously perceptive. "You have a question." He sighs and leans a little further into his pillows. "Ask it."

"It's just...everything you've done. I...the way you act toward me, the way you went with Garrick so were waiting for me, when you surrendered to the FBI...I don't..." This is harder than she thought.

"Lizzie. Just ask." His voice is tired and flat, stripped of all the shades of meaning and subtlety that usually fill it and leave double meanings in his words.

"You said you knew my father. But this feels like more than that." She swallows hard. "It feels like...Red, are you my father?"

There's a twitch in his muscles, a stiffening across the shoulders that translates to a grimace of pain as abused limbs feel the tightening of already torn muscles and joints. Something dark and painful and unreadable flickers through his eyes. Then he sighs, closes his eyes and opens them again, an ocean of unfathomable memory and pain and grief and other things within the depths. "No. I'm not."

She's not sure she believes him. It's something that it makes sense to lie about. After all, if he is her father, the truth would destroy her reputation and her job at the FBI and put her in the cross-hairs of all his enemies, and some of his less savory allies.

Then again, it could be the truth. He hasn't said anything of knowing her mother, after all. Or maybe, if his reputation is even half true, he doesn't know. She knows he's fully capable of being a charming gentleman. She's heard the innuendos and hints and half-told stories in some of their encounters with Blacklisters, or his more ordinary contacts. How hard would it be, for him to sire a child with no idea that he's done so? He's old enough to have been her father.

She could do a DNA test. They have his, from the site where he was tortured, and other sources besides. She could give hers and ask for a test to be run. Sure, it would place her under suspicion but handled correctly, she might even be praised for identifying part of his motivations concerning her, and part of their connection.

And yet...she doesn't really want to. She has – had – a father in Sam. And that wound is still too raw and painful to touch. She doesn't want to disrupt her own world even more by finding her biological father, or even in a failed attempt. No...Sam was her father in every way that mattered, and whether Red speaks the truth or lies or is simply masking ignorance doesn't matter right now.

She swallows, then nods. "Okay." Okay. She won't push for more. She won't challenge him on this. She won't pursue the topic. "Is there anything else I can do for you?" She's offered him her truth, and at least a temporary lack of hatred, which is as much as she can give, she thinks. If there's something else, he'll have to tell her. He's too complicated and shadowed for her to guess at his thoughts and feelings otherwise.

He blinks at her, slow and heavy-lidded. "I just want..." He heaves out a breath, and there is something raw in his face. "I just want to sleep. Like I once did."

She doesn't really know what to do with that. Whether to leave him to his rest or something else. Then she thinks of loneliness and grief and all the quiet nights she's faced, the weight of solitude and memories. Her own are hard enough to bear, how much heavier must his be? She doesn't know what drives him, though she thinks he may have given her clues in the past. Despite calling him a monster, she's seen something else, something painful, lurking in his eyes.

He's a murderer and a criminal and a cold-blooded killer and a thousand other reprehensible things. He's also the man who bought a house so a writer could have a comfortable shelter, and drinks dubious liquor in silence while watching the sunlight. He prayed for a man he loves like a brother, and they carried him out with his hands stained with the blood of a man he dislikes intensely and yet worked to save.

Somewhere within the Concierge of Crime is a man, and the intensity of him, even wrapped in shadows and darkness as he is, is stunning.

She remembers something he said about Frederick Barnes. 'Someone willing to burn the world to ashes, to save that one person they care about...that's a man I can understand.'

She didn't like the implication that he was doing everything for her. But now, she wonders if she wasn't being a little egotistical. Yes, Red seems fixated and possessive and protective of her to a frightening degree, but that doesn't mean she's the only person he feels strongly about. Dembe is proof of that.

It makes her wonder what made Red the man he is. What made him burn the world and become the Concierge of Crime, and how it ties into who he is now, and the way he safeguards her, like a precious gem.

But there are no answers here, not tonight. Even if she thought she could somehow force them from him, or trick them out of him in his weakened state, she doesn't want to. Bizarre as it seems, she wants to offer him some comfort.

She reaches out without thinking, intending to offer the gentle handclasp and touch of a friend, as she would for Tom or her colleagues if they were suffering through rough times. It's only when she's reached halfway across the sheets that she remembers that Red doesn't often initiate touch with her. And that he's probably still in pain from the serum he was dosed with. Comforting touch might be akin to setting a burning brand to his skin in his current state.

She stops, starts to pull back, but Red moves, lifting his hand in a silent gesture that looks like a request before he stops and drops back.

She blinks, then extends her hand, slower this time, gauging his response as she reaches out. Delivers the lightest of touches to his arm. Red shivers, but his fingers clutch at her sleeve. A silent request. "I don't want to hurt you. The serum..."

"I don't care. offered. So let me have this. Just until I sleep. Please. Just...this one night..." His voice fades, and it's clear he's running on the ragged edge of exhaustion, beyond ready to pass out.

"Okay." She curls her own fingers, mindful of his wounded wrists, wrapped in their soft bandages. His skin is warm and slightly soft. Perhaps from the bath, or perhaps just naturally so, though his fingers are callused. If she wanted to, she could read the secrets behind those fingertips and those calluses. Perhaps someday, she will. But for now, she sits, feeling the faint beating of his pulse, watching the slow rise and fall of his chest as he sinks back into the pillows and closes his eyes.

She's never seen him sleep. She's not sure he's sleeping now. His breathing is slow and even enough for it to be sleep, but with Reddington, she's not quite sure. His hand on hers is loose and relaxed, but even a child knows how to fake that at times.

Dembe appears, silent as he melts from the shadows. She doesn't know if he heard her conversation with Reddington, but she also doesn't have the energy to care.

He looks his friend and employer over carefully, touches Red's shoulder in a gentle brush of fingers that could give a butterfly lessons in softness, and sighs. "He sleeps."

She's not sure if she can move without waking him. Her head is aching with tiredness, and Tom is probably frantic and about ready to call the cops, but she still doesn't want to wake him.

She's wearing a simple bracelet on that wrist. She considers, then slides it gently off, leaving it in Red's hand in place of her fingers. Something for him to hold onto, in case he wakes and thinks this was all a dream. She doesn't know why that matters. Maybe only because some latent part of her remembers feeling lonely, and has sometimes wondered if she'll wake up and find that Tom isn't real, that her life isn't the one she thinks she has.

Dembe nods his approval, then leads her out. Closes the door on soundless hinges. Mr. Kaplan is sitting in the chair again. She glances up as they pass, then returns to reading. There's no question that she'll remain as Reddington's guard until Dembe returns. Somehow, there's also no doubt in Liz's mind that Mr. Kaplan can handle herself.

They stop in the hall for Dembe to blindfold her again, repeat the trip to the car and through the streets. When they stop, he carefully lifts her from the seat, and they're at her apartment. The windows are lit, so Tom is probably still up, and probably pacing.

Dembe nods. "Good night, Agent Keen. Your car will be delivered by morning."

She's too tired for that to even bother her, though it should. She nods. "I'll tell Tom the someone from the FBI delivered it." She gives a tired smile. "I'm glad you didn't die."

"As am I. And twice grateful that Raymond too is alive and well." Dembe offers her something that looks like respect. "I wish you a pleasant sleep, Agent Keen." And then he's gone, ducking into a dark-colored nondescript car that rumbles quietly into the night.

A pleasant sleep. She doubts it. This job has always been difficult, but the last few months have only been one step up from harrowing. And today was just icing on the cake. She still has Tom to calm and placate and soothe, and her injuries are aching again, and she knows from experience that sleep won't come easy. Too much to process, too much to cope with.

Not the least is the memory emblazoned in her mind, of Red's battered and exhausted face. So vulnerable, so very human, and perilously close to broken.

Monster and man, bleeding and broken for her safety above all others, placed under excruciating torment that he might have been spared if he'd been willing to surrender her life. Agony endured in her defense, and he asks no more than one night of kindness, a drop of compassion, and a reassurance that neither of them entirely believe.

In a way, Ressler's injuries are almost easier to understand, and to deal with. Ressler is an agent and a good man, if a little rough around the edges. Wounded in the line of duty, in defense of their headquarters while protecting an asset? It's practically in his job description. Certainly in his nature. Reddington? His actions are harder to define and understand. Especially if he was telling the truth when he answered her question.

She doesn't know what to make of it, and she's too tired to try, but one thing she does know: Raymond Reddington won't be the only one with uneasy dreams tonight.

Author's Note: I was rewatching the series, and this little AU kind of wrote itself.