A/N: A response to a prompt on Tumblr: Red and Liz dance. I've been working on this for a little while, and I can only hope it does what it should and that everything rings true; I'm in a bit of an angsty place right now and I can't really judge my own writing. I'll leave that up to you.
I can't thank you enough for reading.
Liz sat in the near dark on the cool floor of the living room with her back against the couch. The room felt crowded, unfamiliar, yet she was alone. The baby furniture was pushed unceremoniously to one side, but the bed and stroller still stood stoic and out of place, ancient totems from another life. New tags and safety warnings hung from their gentle corners-bright, perfect and utterly returnable. From her vantage point on the floor the furniture appeared large and imposing; she looked up at the white slats of the baby bed and it resembled a cage.
She'd taken to using the furniture as storage, and a litter of white shopping bags and small boxes joined the innocent menagerie of safari animals that danced along the bumper pads of where the baby would sleep. The dim light in the room tempered their mirth somewhat, but she could still see their soft toothless smiles and airy steps against a sweetly illustrated landscape.
The baby would never sleep there.
The baby. She blinked, savoring the word. The baby had become an abstract concept, a distant goal that Liz had felt compelled to achieve. Tom was constantly prodding her, goading her. "We need to talk about the baby." "You need to take some time off for the baby." Eventually the child that would be hers ceased to be a person; it became an obstacle, some unseen force that was disrupting her life until she could no longer remember why she wanted it. The so-called preparations being made for the baby were like individual pieces in a collector's set, items purchased and stowed away with the intended purpose of turning them in for that final limited edition prize.
The more she thought about it, the more she realized that the disconnect she felt was nothing new; she'd felt detached from the events of her personal life, the change that was rapidly picking up speed for quite some time. Once a goal to work toward, the arrival of this baby had been chasing her like a boulder rolling downhill, and there was no chance of her flattening herself into a recess like on the movies and letting it pass safely by.
She swallowed, looking at the furniture. Tom had refused to return it and she hadn't had the time, so it cluttered her living room, accusing her. For so long a subplot of her life's story had been focused on the adoption. On the baby. Tom's friends had bought things for the baby, made her feel like a selfish bitch when she refused to derail her life for the baby. And Red had warned her about the baby.
He'd brought it up when they first met.
She still remembered that day, how uncomfortable it had made her to know that this dangerous, charismatic man-this stranger-knew her life, her dreams and aspirations so intimately.
"Is a child really what you want? A baby won't fix what happened in the past."
More uncomfortable still when she realized he'd cut to the very heart of her, to those doubts she had never allowed to surface.
Liz withdrew the little picture she'd been palming in her hand. It was a gray scale image, a ghostly silhouette of a tiny body in profile sharply outlined and suspended in a black void.
With a practiced move of her hand she flipped it back over her fingers, a gesture so swift and fluid that the little image seemed to momentarily disappear from sight only to reappear again, seemingly instantly.
She did this for several more seconds, flipping the small printout of the baby's sonogram over her fingers and then fluidly back again, a technique she'd mastered in high school. She watched blankly as the little image disappeared, then reappeared, remembering the hours she'd spent practicing this same move with an ace of spades from a tattered deck, sitting cross-legged on her bed until the card would materialize and then vanish as if by magic.
"What are you doing Lizzie?"
She jumped, startled by the warm, familiar voice coloring the darkened space, and discreetly hid the little picture behind her, pushing it under the edge of the couch. She looked up in his direction, eyes searching until she settled on the familiar silhouette, just a smudge of color and sharp line where he stood in the dark.
He pressed out of the shadows and she could see his face. His mouth was smooth and his shoulders relaxed, but his eyes bore a slightly pinched expression, belying some worry or stress.
"Jesus, Red, you could knock every now and then." Her heart was still racing, and she pressed her thumb and forefinger together in an unconscious effort to slow it.
Red said nothing, only worked his mouth in that uncommon way of his and looked at her. There were words behind the silence; she could almost hear them.
"You weren't answering your phone," he finally said. He still wore his fedora, but it was pushed back some so that the shadow that it usually cast over his eyes was lessened. The darkness gone, concern shimmered in its place.
"I didn't hear it ring," she said sourly. She turned from him, her face a mask, and studied the corner. She felt him moving toward her without looking up.
Red settled a little stiffly on the floor beside her and regarded her warily. There was a rigidity about her, a sort of melancholy calm that didn't suit her.
He looked around at the conspicuous quiet. "Where's Tom?"
A muscle in her jaw twitched, and she looked straight ahead. "Gone. Teacher conference." She looked at him then, a skeptical expression on her face. "But you already knew that, didn't you?"
He gave her a half smile. "I know lots of things Lizzie," he said quietly. His voice was both soft and hard, promising much but revealing little. As usual, she felt herself drawn to it.
"Like you knew about Omaha," she said quietly. She smiled then, looking at him knowingly, and it surprised him.
"How did you know about that Red?"
He turned slightly to face her and looked deeply into her liquid eyes. "Juvenile records," he said, his voice the same smooth tone as before.
She looked at him curiously. "Those are sealed. How did-"
"Why didn't you go with Tom," he asked suddenly. He had his arm up on the couch and he was reclining on it.
He looked almost smug, she thought, and the maddening habit he had of changing the subject was even more annoying than usual.
"I have to work," she snapped. Her eyes flashed, the fire that was always there blazing momentarily from its usual warm ember. Unconsciously, Red stretched his arm out on the couch toward her.
"You have vacation days," he said evenly, tapping the couch cushion behind her left shoulder. "It would be good for you to get away."
He had a glint in his eye that told her he was toying with her. She pulled in her lower lip and looked at him knowingly.
"But you need me," she said quietly. She was matching him, the usual push and parry of their verbal sparring a familiar role. She studied his face to gauge any reaction.
Red only nodded. "That's certainly true, Lizzie." She felt a small movement on the couch behind her, and she remembered his hand was there.
"But it no longer scares me," he finished.
She looked at him, somewhat surprised, and he smiled. He was remembering her profile of him in the restaurant, she knew. When they were undercover in Quebec.
She felt the movement behind her again, something soft and stirring, and she realized he must be touching the ends of her hair. It made her feel warm.
"Tell me about Madeline," she said.
He gave her a quick smile. "Tell me about Frank."
She pushed her chin forward, giving no ground. "You first."
He pressed his lips together and his hand behind her stilled. "I met Madeline in Geneva," he began. "She was wearing a blue silk dress and her hair was up. She was standing in the sun; I was drawn to her. We had some drinks. She stole my watch. I stole her car." He smiled and moved his hand again. "That was it really."
Liz listened, finding her mind wandering to the beautiful Madeline Pratt and how she must've looked like Helen of Troy with her hair up and framing her face. Of course he was drawn to her; Madeline Pratt was everything a man like Red would want in a woman. It did not escape her that he had conveniently left out the timeframe.
"Now what about Frank."
She dipped her head slightly, working to hide the smile but was only partially successful. "Frank is David, first of all," she said matter-of-factly. "And I met him in tenth grade. He had a black Firebird and a chip on his shoulder." She spoke softly, her eyes moving slowly over his face as she leaned into the space between them. "He recognized I was smart, that I was mad at the world, just like him. That I had potential."
Her hand went up to cup his ear, and she could hear is breathing change. As secretive as Raymond Reddington was, he had never hidden his attraction to her; as a profiler she had noticed it from day one.
Liz used it to her advantage now, leaning forward, watching his face as she flipped her hand beside his head. Watching as he closed his eyes, absorbing the contact, their proximity, catching the subtle fragrance of her perfume on the inside of her wrist, his nostrils flaring almost imperceptibly.
"David taught me things," she said sultrily, and she could feel his breath on her face, the coiled tension of his upper body as he held himself in check. It made her feel powerful.
"He taught me lots of things." She withdrew the hand around his ear to reveal a shiny coin.
She smiled broadly at him as the quarter gleamed in the dull light, rather pleased at herself for the little trick, a staple in street magic and at children's birthday parties. Red had been holding his breath, apparently, and he huffed it out in a delighted sound of surprise.
He grabbed her wrist gently as if to get a better look at the coin, as if he was ciphering its magic. His eyes met hers over the scarred flesh of her palm. "How do you do that?"
She swallowed, suddenly nervous at having to explain herself and shifted a bit under his scrutiny. "It's distraction," she said. Liz demonstrated, moving the quarter from one hand to the other, a seamless ballet, opening a palm that had just received it only to reveal there was nothing there. Her eyes never left his face.
"Give the eye something to see," she continued, "the mind something to react to, but don't let them be the same thing."
With a final flourish she opened the palm that had last held the quarter, revealing its inexplicable absence. She reached behind her then and withdrew a thin brown square of Italian leather, still warm from resting inside his suit jacket.
"Distraction. Just like that," she said slyly, and held his wallet up between them.
He saw her laugh in spite of herself, a musical sound that made him instantly smile despite what must have been the obvious look of shock on his face.
He grew quiet and moved his hand along the couch again, drawing it up and between them. In his hand was the little picture she'd hidden under the edge of the couch.
He watched her face fall and it colored somewhat, but it wasn't a full-on blush. A little exasperated huff escaped her lips.
The smile on his lips faded, and he looked at her tenderly. "I'm sorry for this, Lizzie," he said seriously. He still held the picture in his hands, the image of the tiny child that for all she knew might already be in another woman's arms.
She snatched it from him quickly, placing it face-down on the couch and out of his reach. "I'm not," she said coolly. She cleared her throat, feeling suddenly exposed. "It was the right decision." She placed his wallet on the floor between them and Red casually retrieved it.
"A right decision doesn't make it an easy one," he said as he returned the wallet to the inside of his jacket, slipping it inside a pocket there.
"I'm fine," she said flatly, but it was unclear who she was trying to convince.
He looked at her sitting there on the floor of her empty house and he saw himself at various stages in his life. Cool, defensive. A poor fit for the world. Often with others but always alone.
"Did you enjoy yourself Lizzie? At the embassy?"
She eyed him uneasily and he could see that she was trying to figure his angle. "Yes," she said carefully. "What about you?"
Red frowned and appeared to contemplate the question. "Things did not go as I expected," he said.
She was studying him. "With the mission," she prompted. "And Madeline?"
He shook his head slowly, his lips pursed. "With the evening in general. I had so much more planned."
Liz narrowed her eyes at him. "I don't know what you mean."
He smiled, tilting his head at her as if it would help him see her better. "I wanted us to have one more dance," he said quietly. He quirked his mouth and his eyes twinkled. "I guess you'll just have to owe me one."
She swallowed instinctively, but she couldn't turn away from him. He was looking at her in such a way that it made her feel transparent, like he could see through flesh and bone and into her soul...through her soul and into her past.
She stood abruptly, motioning to him on the floor. "Get up," she said briskly, and held out her hand. "I don't want to owe you anything I can readily pay."
He looked at her curiously, eyeing her outstretched hand. He took it and she gave him a little tug as he stood.
This sudden move had thrown him off balance and not because he'd stood too quickly. Red was used to orchestrating things, to being in control, but now suddenly Lizzie held the cards. He looked around him, feeling somewhat lost.
"We don't have any music."
She reached to the little table behind the couch and grabbed a small remote control. She pointed it in the dark.
"I have music, Red." She depressed a button and the iPod docking station on the kitchen counter hummed to life.
She flipped through the first few files, settling on a song she liked to listen to in the car. The first few somber notes bled into the room like the last sunrise on earth, and Liz held her hands up and in front of her, a solid dance frame.
Her face was placid, her mouth set. The words of the song began to drift over the room, bluesy and soulful.
"How many more days can you hold out,
How much longer can you wait?"...
She watched as Red's face changed, as his gaze darkened and fixed on her, and he stepped into the frame, ignoring her arms.
"I don't want to waltz, Lizzie," he said softly. He dipped his head to her, and the deep timbre of his voice made her belly quicken. His hands settled at her waist, warm and solid. She looked down and he had a foot between both of hers.
Her throat constricted at the onslaught of his warmth, the enveloping scent of him, and she realized her arms still held the dance frame of a proper waltz. She let them close, relaxing her arms around him, her wrists crossed behind his neck. When she looked up again their faces were inches apart.
"We're not moving," she said. Her heart was beating rapidly, pounding in time with the swell of the chorus, so plaintive and perfect.
"Glory, Glory - Hallelujah
The sun is shining, shining down"...
Red moved his hands slowly up her back, embracing her gingerly. His mouth hovered at her ear as he pulled her close. "I thought you might want to lead," he said, and she could hear the smile in his voice.
Liz closed her eyes, thankful that he couldn't see her face. She flexed her hands behind his neck where they hovered over his shoulders, and she drew them down the plane of his chest and into the protection of the warmth between them. She flattened her palms over his heart.
"I'll follow you," she said quietly.
He felt the soft weight of her head fall onto his shoulder, her eyelashes dusting the line of his neck. She could hear the contented hum in the back of his throat, he was sure of it, but it no longer mattered. He tightened his arms around her as he began to sway in time with the music.
"You were amazing, Lizzie. At the embassy." He chuckled softly. "Madeline didn't stand a chance."
She wondered briefly what that meant. She lifted her face to his, her eyes soft. "It felt good," she admitted, and she realized then that she could never tell anyone else that. That she would never dare. "It felt really good." Her eyes narrowed and they searched his. A shadow darkened her face. "Does that make me a bad person?"
He smiled softly as a hand went up to touch her hair as they danced. He hesitated only a moment before sweeping it away from her face, revealing the beautiful line of her jaw. He looked into her eyes.
"Don't ever be ashamed of your past, Lizzie. Your past is what makes you who you are." His hand slipped from her hair and down to the little valley beneath her jaw, his fingers finding the silken skin of her neck. "Your past is what brought you to me."
She blinked at him, suddenly overwhelmed. She was accustomed to his enigmatic statements, to the way he fed her morsels of the truth, of her past, only to deny her the main course, the knowledge she so hungered for. His was a cruel sleight of hand, one that she was perpetually subject to.
Red could see the conflict in her, the questions, and it made his throat tighten. He caressed her face.
"I can't tell you everything, Lizzie," he began softly, "only that you are everything. The reason I am here. You are everything to me."
Her breath caught in her throat, and she moved her arms around him under his jacket, seeking shelter from his penetrating gaze. He withdrew his hand and returned the embrace, drawing her closely to him.
"Is that enough," he inquired softly.
She sighed, and he could feel the slow nod of her head against him. He felt her body relax.
It was enough, she realized, beyond all of her uncertainty about Tom, the baby, her past. He was enough.
At some point they had stopped dancing and they simply held each other. She could feel the rise and fall of his chest against hers, his strong arms across her back, and for the first time Liz felt like she belonged somewhere, like the woman beneath the suit she wore had just sighed in relief.
She withdrew first, needing to break the tension but dreading the loss of his touch. She looked at him. "I guess we're even then," she said. She gave him a small smile.
He said nothing. He reached out a hand and grabbed hers, studying their intertwined fingers before looking into her eyes. His expression was a curious one.
"I never loved Madeline," he said. "I thought I did." He flicked his gaze to her lips and smiled somewhat bitterly, his eyes narrowing. He drew her hand to his mouth, and the usual flecks of gold and jade in his eyes sparked emerald, rimmed for a moment in black fire as he placed a gentle kiss over the taut skin of her knuckles.
"I could love you, Lizzie," he said. "The petty criminal you. The FBI agent you. The lost little girl." He turned her hand gently and kissed the inside of her palm right above her scar, his voice vibrating against her skin. "And anyone else you want to be with me. I could love that person too."
She watched him, unable to move, unable to stop the sigh that escaped her parted lips.
"I didn't go with Tom because of you," Liz said quietly. "Not because of the Post Office." Her confession took her by surprise, and she had to remind herself that she'd said it aloud.
He smiled then and placed a hand on her shoulder while he still held her other one. He knew it was the closest thing to an admission of feelings that she could muster, especially now, and it was more than he had ever hoped for. He gave her shoulder a gentle squeeze.
"You need rest," he said meaningfully. "And time."
He stepped away from her, releasing her hand. He indicated the baby furniture. "I'll see to it that this is taken care of tomorrow," he said simply. He was halfway to the door before she realized he was leaving.
She turned, following him with her eyes. "You might need this," she called to him, and when he had fully turned around she tossed his wallet over the few feet between them. He caught it sloppily.
Red looked down at it, then at her. They both smiled.
Liz's possible criminal history hinted at in "Madeline Pratt" is my new fan obsession, and I hope I did it justice here. The song Red and Liz dance to is "The Sun is Shining Down" by JJ Grey and MOFRO. It's amazing...sad and beautiful.
Join me on Tumblr or my Lizzington Shippers Facebook group. I would love to know what you think about this story, especially. Your comments make my day :).