After listening to Aram quietly cry the entire ride back to the post office, and then sitting with him for almost an hour in supportive silence, Ressler was drained. Emotionally drained. It was late. He needed a stiff drink and a soft bed. But as he began to pack up for the night, his plan was interrupted when surprisingly his phone began to ring.
He glanced at the screen and smiled at the familiar name. Keen.
"Hey," he answered.
"Hey. Are you still at work?" she asked.
"I am. Just heading out now. Everything okay?" he asked, noticing a lot of background noise behind Liz's voice.
"Yeah, I just... tonight was..." she stammered, as she racked her brain for the right descriptor.
"Awful?" he answered.
"I was going to say heartbreaking, but yeah awful works too," she answered, chuckling ruefully. "After hearing that phone call, and then listening to Aram sobbing... I just didn't want to go home. Alone. So, instead I'm out drinking. Drowning my sorrows. Wallowing in sadness." After a quick pause she asked, "Any chance you want to come out and wallow with me?"
He smiled and answered, "Always happy to wallow with you, Keen. Sure. I'll be there in 20 minutes."
He didn't need to ask where. There were a few regular spots the task force visited around town depending on the occasion, and one dive bar in particular they always frequented after the worst days. This was certainly one of the worst.
After a quick drive over, Ressler hopped out of the car and jogged up to the door. He walked into the bar and immediately spotted Liz, holed up in a booth near the back.
He walked over and threw off his heavy winter coat into the booth across from her. Without a glance her way, he started speaking. "Sorry it took me longer than I expected. Cooper asked me to come up to his office and..." and that's when he looked over at Liz. She either currently was or had just finished crying and she looked absolutely pitiful.
"Hey. You okay?" he asked, abandoning his suit jacket on top of his coat and sliding into Liz's side of the booth.
She shook her head and answered, "It's just so unbelievably sad. Can you imagine loving someone so much... wanting to do everything possible to keep them safe. But then that thing ends up being you leaving their life? I just... I don't think I could ever do that."
He wrapped an arm around her and she leaned into him, resting her head on his shoulder.
"Of course you could, Liz. You are one of the strongest people I know. You put your life on the line everyday, half the time to protect complete strangers. If it were someone you cared about, you would absolutely do anything to keep them safe," he countered.
"But that's the thing. I think it might actually be easier to die for someone then to leave them," she said sniffling.
"Easier. To give up your life for someone else?" he asked incredulously.
"Yes!" she answered, as she lifted her head from his shoulder. "Giving up your life. You do it and and it's done. It's over. Loving someone and then making the choice to leave them, to never be a part of their life? All the while knowing they're still out there, living their life somewhere without you. How do you ever get over that? How is that not the thing you think about every single day, for the rest of your life?" she asked, looking up at him with watery eyes.
He had no answer for her question, rhetorical or not. Instead he sighed deeply, shook his head slightly and said, "Jesus. I need a drink."
Serendipitously just at that moment, a server came by and delivered two drinks, "One vodka soda and one whiskey, neat."
"Thanks," Liz murmured.
"You order for me now?" he asked with a smirk, as he loosened his tie attempting to lighten the mood a bit.
"I know what you like," she shrugged and grinned slightly.
"A toast?" he asked.
"A toast, seriously? To what? Heartbreak? Loss? The devastating ending of the only healthy relationship any of us had going on?"
"How about a toast to... an opportunity for new beginnings," he answered helpfully.
"Well, aren't you mister optimistic," she smirked and clinked her glass to his.
As the night wore on and the drinks kept flowing, they did lighten up and their conversation drifted to all of the good memories of Aram and Samar together— mostly Aram's numerous, ridiculously elaborate attempts at romantic dates over the years.
Another round of drinks were delivered, and then another and then one more. By then, it was getting way too late, they had had way too much to drink, and Liz was sitting way too close to Ressler for him to be able to truly focus on anything she was saying. It seemed like she was in the middle of some funny story about how Aram attempted to arrange for one of those airplanes to write a message in the sky for Samar, but of course it ended in utter disaster. However all Ressler could focus on was the warmth of her hand resting on his leg, the smell of her perfume, the dimples on her cheeks as she smiled and laughed her way through the story.
Before his mind could drift any further down that path, Liz asked with a devious look and slightly slurred voice, "Should we get one more round?"
Ressler smirked, shook his head, and answered, "I think we should probably call it a night. We still have to be at work in the morning, and I can tell you've about reached your limit."
"What do you mean? I'm fine!" she argued back, with a big smile.
He smiled back and said, "Keen, I can always tell when it's time to cut you off. You get a little ... handsy when you've had a lot to drink."
"What?!" Liz exclaimed slightly embarrassed, slight annoyed, and entirely certain that he was wrong. But then she watched as his eyes glanced down to his leg. She followed suit, and looked down. Lo and behold and entirely unbeknownst to her, there was her hand resting on Ressler's thigh. Not quite high enough to be crossing all of the lines, but definitely far above an innocent hand on the knee.
Now completely embarrassed and wondering exactly how many times she had drunkenly groped her partner, Liz moved to quickly snatch her hand away. But Ressler was faster and captured her hand in his, holding it in place.
"Look, I'm not complaining. I just don't want you to do something you're going to regret in the morning." Diffusing the tension with humor as he always did, he added, "I'm just trying to be a good guy here, Keen. You know, an honorable gentleman and all that..."
She smiled and leaned in even closer if that were possible and murmured, "My Boy Scout."
Her eyes flicked down to his lips for a moment and Ressler waged an inner battle over whether or not to lean in and seize the moment.
Just then a glass crashed to the ground somewhere in the bar, and snapped them out of whatever kind of moment they were having.
"Fine, fine," she said lightly, pulling back from him to grab her coat and bag. "You're right. It's late. I'm sure that despite everything, Aram will be in the office bright and early tomorrow as usual— so we certainly won't have any excuse for coming in late."
As they walked out Ressler said, "I'll get my car in the morning. Let's share a cab. I want to make sure you get home safe."
"I'm fine," Liz attempted to answer in her most sober voice, but unfortunately at that exact moment her wobbly ankles betrayed her and she stumbled a bit down the sidewalk.
He glanced over at her with an amused look that clearly said, "I told you so," as a cab pulled up to the curb.
The car ride to Liz's apartment was quiet. They sat close, shoulder to shoulder in the back seat, and at some point she found Ressler's hand. Liz laced her fingers between his, and leaned her head onto his shoulder. Is this what friends did, he wondered. Hold hands in the backseat of a dark taxi? Ressler couldn't seem to remember when they had moved from partners to friends to almost lovers, but in that moment he was content to not think about any of it too deeply.
After getting to her building, they climbed the stairs up to her floor together, only stumbling once or twice. When they reached her apartment, Liz unlocked the door, and turned back around to face Ressler saying, "See? Safe and sound."
"Uh-huh," he answered with a smile.
Her face fell a bit as she thought back to why they were out together in the first place. "Thank you for tonight. I really appreciated the company," she said, snaking her arms around his neck, pulling him into a hug.
"Anytime Keen," he answered softly as he wrapped his arms around her.
After a moment he felt her tighten her grip and she whispered, "I don't want to have to say goodbye to you... to keep you safe. Never. I would be absolutely lost without you."
Despite all of their playful banter and light-hearted flirting, talking about any real feelings they might have for each other was definitely not something they usually did. And to be honest, Ressler was quite surprised by her admission. His head was far too fuzzy from all of the alcohol to put together a very coherent response, despite everything he was feeling in that moment. So, he just squeezed her a bit tighter and gently rubbed circles on her back
She still had her arms wrapped tightly around his neck, and now after her confession, it suddenly all felt much more intimate. They had certainly shared a hug before, but did she always press her body into his so firmly? Did she usually run her fingers through the hair at the nape of his neck like that?
After a long minute, she pulled back, and gently kissed him on the cheek as he held his breath. Later she would blame it on the alcohol, but in that moment Liz decided to nudge them a little closer to that line they were coming so close to crossing.
She glanced up at him quickly and then leaned in again, this time placing one more kiss on his jawline, much less gently and much closer to his mouth. Dangerously close.
As she pulled back and met his eyes, Liz saw him giving her a look that she had only seen bits and pieces of before. A mixture of longing, love, and absolute fiery desire.
Ressler let out the breath he was holding, and in a low voice said, "You keep this up Liz, and one night I'm not going to be able to be so honorable."
"Oh, I know. I'm counting on it," she whispered back grinning, before dropping her arms and stepping into her apartment.
"Goodnight Ressler," she murmured with a soft smile, as she pushed her door closed.
"Goodnight Liz," he said to no one in particular. New beginnings indeed, he thought to himself as headed back down the stairs and out into the cold evening air.