So, this is not my usual style, but I thought I would give it a try. It started out as a continuation of the last episode coupled with a response to the tumblr prompt, Red/Liz are stuck in a snowy cabin…but then it kind of evolved. Please let me know what you think. I really appreciate the comments - thank you for reading :)
The cabin was modest by any standards. Small kitchen, comfortable living area, and bedroom to the rear. The furniture was rustic, lots of knotty wood and earth tone colors. To the right of the main room, just past the sofa and reading lamp, sliding glass doors led out to a small porch. The dense woods shaded the cabin and then gave way to the snow covered mountains. It was quiet inside, the quiet of contentment, of time separated from deadlines and phone calls and the real world.
Liz stepped further into the room carrying Sam's old duffel on her shoulder.
"I still don't know why I'm here, Red. I can see from the deli bread and salad over there on the counter that this trip was not a last minute excursion. What's going on?"
Red didn't answer, instead placing his hand on her shoulder as he moved past her and over to the glass doors.
"The view here is just stupendous, don't you think Lizzie? Sure, I've seen more picturesque views from Swiss chalets and the like, but there is something to be said for unsullied nature I dare say? Perfect for cross-country excursions. Do you ski, Lizzie?"
"Red, you know that my sophomore year roommate had a secret stash of pot in her sock drawer. You know that my favorite candies are licorice whips and that I've had stitches seven times in my life. I am well aware that you know that I can't ski. Tried and failed. No skills. But why the runaround? Why are we, specifically me, why am I here?"
Red, still not answering, shrugged out of his parka and jacket and hung them carefully on the antler adorned coat rack, before making his way into the modest kitchen.
"Patience Lizzie. I've heard it's a virtue, you know." He smiled before continuing. "I can assure you that your best interests were at heart when I made the decision to enjoy some fresh mountain air, but before discussing we should eat. Chili perhaps? Maybe a nice ham and swiss on rye? I'm sure I saw some good brown mustard here somewhere…" Red began rustling through the paper grocery bags on the tiled counter.
Seeing that she was going to get nowhere with her line of questioning, Lizzie moved to take off her coat and untie her boots. With those tasks accomplished she picked up her duffel and started towards the bedroom. After rounding the corner and disappearing momentarily, she returned to the kitchen.
"There's only one bed in there and your clothes and things are already put away…surely you didn't drag me all this way with no rhyme or reason to make me sleep on a hundred year old couch did you?" She looked indignantly at the man patiently chopping an onion with an alarmingly sharp knife.
"For you my dear, no, I wouldn't dare. Only the best for the lady right?" He said with a slight bow. "Dembe wasn't aware of the specifics when I had him run some things up here earlier today. I'll take the couch of course. I don't sleep much anyway". Liz detected a brief glimmer of truth in his eyes. Then it was gone. "Now calm yourself please. The mountain air. So fresh. Inhale. Exhale. I know you can do it…breathe."
Liz turned and walked back into the bedroom, steeling herself against making a sharp comeback or sarcastic retort. She knew Red always had her best interests at heart, but it was difficult knowing that she wasn't even aware enough of her current situation to make her own decisions. But fighting with Red wasn't going to change his mind. He would talk when he would talk and only say what he wanted to say. That much she had learned from working with the man. His way or, well, he would show up on your doorstep in the middle of the night and do it his way anyway. "Le sigh"… she whispered to herself.
At least Dembe had stocked the bathroom with nice bath products she thought as she moved to set down her overnight case. Maybe a couple of days away from the real world wouldn't be so bad after all.
After dinner was eaten and the kitchen cleaned, the sun had almost disappeared behind the mountains. A chill seeped into the room making Liz shiver and settle deeper into the couch cushions.
"I'll fetch some wood," Red said, already making his way towards the front door. "I'm sure I saw some stacked by the shed out back when we arrived." He stepped quickly outside pulling the door shut behind him.
It wasn't so bad, Liz thought, being here with Red. The red wine that had materialized in front of her at dinner was making her drowsy and at peace with this small corner of the world. He was good company tonight. Just enough conversation with a few pleasant silences in between. It was rare, she knew. This level of comfort. The connection she had with Red. To be in the same space and not have to use words. Familiar somehow. Secure.
The front door creaked opened and Red appeared along with a draft of frigid air. His arms were full of precisely cut firewood. "The temperature is dropping drastically. We are in for quite a bit of snow tonight it appears." He moved to the stone hearth and carefully set the wood down in a neat stack.
Liz watched as Red rolled up his white shirt sleeves and then methodically cleaned the charred remains of the last fire out of the stone fireplace. He then carefully stacked several new pieces of wood on the grate inside. His arms were strong she thought, watching his forearm muscles move and contract as he picked up each piece of wood. How would they feel around her? The thought popped into her head out of nowhere. She pushed it away. Aware Red was speaking to her but not catching his words. "What was that?" she asked.
"More wine?" He asked. "I can open another bottle, maybe a 2000 Merlot?" He turned and looked at her. His top shirt buttons were open too she noticed. He looked at home here she thought absently.
"I'm afraid if I drink much more I won't be good company." She said with a small smile. "The fire and the wine are making me sleepy." She smiled again. Soft and uncharacteristic for her.
Red looked down at her and gave her a kind look. The skin at the edges of his eyes wrinkling slightly and his eyes dancing as the corners of his mouth turned up. She looked so pretty there on the couch. He was taking care of her. The food. The wine. The fire. The proprietary feeling he usually had towards here teetered briefly on the edge of falling into more. Falling into something soft. "It's alright, you know." He said. "To let someone take care of you sometimes. It's what people do."
Liz pulled a floral crocheted afghan off the back of the couch and settled it around her shoulders. Rather than accepting Red's words Liz countered with a question of her own.
"Who takes care of you, Red?"
He turned away from her, pretending not to hear. He walked away to the table. Checked his phone. She wondered briefly how he had a signal way up here in this remote location. Figured it must be another one of those Raymond Reddington things that were better left unexplained. Especially if you worked for a branch of US government. She tried another question.
"Why am I here?"
That question got Red's attention and he moved to sit down beside her on the couch. She felt his weight sink down into soft cushions and she fought the urge to lean into him. It must be the wine she thought. It's getting to my head.
Red turned and looked at her. She was beautiful he thought. The fire, now at full blaze, reflected in her eyes and caused a rosy glow to color her cheeks. So beautiful. And so caught up in a mess that she had not created nor from which she escape. An entanglement that was sure to break her heart. Sooner rather than later. That thought caused Red's thoughts to darken.
"It was best you spent some time away from your husband, Lizzie." Red stated carefully.
Red took a deep swallow of his drink before continuing. Unsure of her reaction and despising his role as the bearer of bad news.
"Tom's actions have become, shall we say, increasingly erratic these past couple of days. My sources tell me that he seems to have moved from the watching and waiting phase of his assignment into action. I thought it best you were kept out of the way. This isn't the way I wanted things to play out, of course. I have long thought it best that you see Tom for what he is on your own terms. Discover his secrets and his world on your own." He took another swallow. "While I kept you safe of course." With that his lips moved up in what could only be described as a sad smile. "Again, Lizzie, this was not what I wanted…but what I want cannot interfere with your safety. You are of my utmost concern."
He looked over at her and tried to gauge her reaction. He was just the messenger of course, but then again, she had no proof of Tom's association. No inkling of his bad will except as told to her by Red.
"I don't understand, Red" she said. "What actions? I know that Tom and I have been having…a difficult time since, well, you know…the baby…" with that her words trailed of and she looked at Red in a pleading sort of way. The look in her eyes told him she was looking for any kind of hope, any kind of good.
"That's all I can tell you for now Lizzie. I'm sorry, but it is what's for the best." Red stood and stretched his arms out to his sides before reaching for his coat. "I'll bring in some more wood and then fix you a nightcap. It's getting late and it's best for you to get some rest." Red headed for the door.
Liz didn't move from the couch. Outside the window she could just make out Red's form moving towards the shed and the woodpile. None of this made any sense she thought. Tom wasn't a bad guy. He was her husband. 'Til death do us part and all of that. She had stood in front of him in a white dress. He had promised to take care of her…no none of this was right. Red must have his signals crossed. A mix up. That's all.
She must have fallen asleep while he was outside Red thought as he looked down at her sleeping form. So peaceful in its surrender. He hated to be the one to cause her further pain, but she had to know. She had to accept the truth about her husband. Clearly, his words could only take her so far. She had all of the facts about Tom in her possession but wouldn't connect the dots on her own. In an act of self protection, her brain wouldn't let her well trained mind see Tom for what he was, see the evil that resided there. Red dreaded what had to come next.
Rustling the afghan around her shoulders he woke her gently. "Liz, there's something you need to see." He saw the thoughts play across her face. Bewilderment, questions, surprise. He saw the innocence there that he was about to destroy. He hated that look. The look the bearer of bad news saw on the faces of every victim before their world came crashing down. Before they knew.
"Lizzie, there's something you need to see." He repeated himself as he handed her his phone.
She reached down and took the phone from him and held in her hand. She could see the blue status bar indicating that a file was loading. She waited, feeling the tension radiating off of Red as he stood behind her. The blue bar made it across the screen and the image blinked to life.
Tom, a girl, in a hotel room? The angle of the video was skewed, surveillance footage her brain registered. The video continued to play. The girl approaching Tom. She was glad he had come? Liz began to feel the bile rising in her throat. Tom a cheater? Never. Not her Tom. On the video he was saying he loved her, loved his wife, loved Liz. The bile began to subside. And then…no…no…couldn't be true.
The floor began to swim unevenly beneath Liz's feet and the afghan pooled to the floor. She sank down to the ground and heard the scream as if it came from someone else. She felt fingernails biting into her skin and then realized they were her own. And then nothing.
Red's heart dropped as he kneeled down beside her. He leaned forward and gathered her up in his arms. She felt surprisingly small, he thought. He wrapped his arms more tightly around her and rocked her quietly back and forth.
"He never loved me. He had me but he never loved me. It was all just a game. You were right. All just a twisted game. For what?" Her words were broken as she continued to sob. Grief. Deep, deep grief. The anger would come later.
"I had all of the pieces. You gave me all of the pieces. But I never believed…never believed it could be true."
He held her. Trying to console her even though he knew it was fruitless.
Suddenly Liz turned to him, fire blazing in her eyes. Hatred almost. "You did this, you did this to us…we were fine until I met you. Fine until the day you rolled out of your box at the Post Office and into our life…this was you…"
Red felt as if he had been punched. The air rushing out of him. Her reaction wasn't unexpected but it hurt him all the same. He gathered her back in his arms. Felt her struggling. Struggling against him, struggling against everything. Gradually he felt her stop. Give up. That hurt him even more than the anger.
They stayed there, Liz in his arms, their bodies side by side on the floor of the kitchen, for a long time. The fire burned brightly for some time and then began to die down. The starlight became visible inside the room through the open window curtains. The snow must have stopped, Red thought.
Liz was quiet now. Her body was still and heavy against his chest. He leaned down and kissed the top of her head. Ran has had soothingly though her hair. He felt her pain in his own soul. It shouldn't have happened like this.
Standing, he reached down and lifted Lizzie into his arms. She stirred a bit but didn't wake up. He carried her to the bedroom carefully, sure not to disrupt her fitful sleep.
He laid her on the mattress and reached for the burgundy quilt at the foot of the bed. Red pulled it up to her shoulders and tucked it around her so she wouldn't be cold in the night. Then he sat down beside her and stroked her hair.
She would leave him now. He was sure of it. She wouldn't be able to separate Red from Tom. The events, the timeline, too close to each other for her to see the truth. The thought brought an unexpected stinging to the back of his eyes. Red's being filled with sorrow and he stood and walked back out of the room.
Liz awoke suddenly in the near darkness. The sky outside the window was still black, but held the promising glow of coming morning. For a moment her mind was clear. Her eyes scanned the room, looking for familiar surroundings and finding none. Then, as forcefully as a rogue wave landing on an empty beach, the events of the previous night came back to her.
Liz braced, her subconscious somehow readying her body for the onslaught of emotions. Simultaneously Red's words, the video, Tom's betrayal, all the images assaulting her brain at once. Threatening to shut it down. In that split second Liz waited for the tears. For the panic she was sure was ready to overtake her…but it didn't come. In its place sadness crept in. An overwhelming sense of loss. Somehow, deep down in the recesses of her mind she had known about Tom. Her unacknowledged thoughts already questioning Tom in her dreams and nightmares. No, not surprised. Just sad. So, so sad.
Liz swung her legs over the side of the bed and stood. The air was warmer than she would have expected, as if the fire had been burning all night. The aftereffects of the wine and the heavy emotions of the past hours rendered Liz awake but dull. She stepped carefully around her clothes from the prior night, carelessly scattered about on the floor, and headed into the main room in search of a glass of water.
What Liz saw when she stepped through the doorway took her breath away. Red sat, his broad shoulders hunched and broken, on the couch. The dying flames of the fire illuminated his head in his hands. The rise and fall of his uneven breathing caused her heart to constrict. Red's shirtsleeves were rolled past his elbows and his shirt buttons were undone to his chest. The sadness emanating from his form shocked Liz at the same time that it drew her in. She had never seen Red like this. So exposed. He looked…human, not larger than life as she had come to expect…and so alone. All of the sadness and fight, it was for her. For her.
Grabbing a glass off the counter and filling it quickly Liz moved to the couch and sat down on the far seat. She pulled her legs up underneath her and took a small sip of water. Red, aware of her presence now but still not acknowledging her, reached his hand out to the side table and brought his glass to his lips. He straightened, looking out the window, but still not looking at her. Several minutes passed without sound.
"Red", she turned towards him and started to speak. "I forgive you. This is not your fault…any of this…" her words trailed off.
The eyes that looked up at her when he turned his head threatened to bring tears to her eyes again. The depth of sadness was profound but what affected her the most was the raw honesty that lay within his gaze. Liz had never seen him without his guard up. Without the layers of armor and humor and wariness. The eyes she saw looking back at her held despair, and past that, something that looked a lot like hope. They were the eyes of a man…Raymond Reddington, not the concierge of crime.
"Liz", he said simply, not using his nickname for her. "Thank you."
He meant it. Maybe had never meant any words more. He was terrified that he had lost her. He had sat out here in the living room. Counted the hours. Watched the door. So sure she was going to run. Run away to her life, and Tom, and all the danger that held. Run away from him. His heart shuddered again, bruised by the thoughts that had plagued his last hours.
Liz scooted across the couch. She raised one slender arm and placed it across the middle of his back. Felt the strength there. She pulled Red to her and brought both hands to his face. She heard his quick intake of breath and saw the questions in his eyes. She looked at him for a moment and then leaned forward and put her head on his strong shoulder, her cheek touching his.
"Red" she said, inhaling the scent of him. "You have me. You will always have me."
She felt his other arm move to surround her, his hold tightening perceptibly.
He said it again. The words so full of meaning that they made her heart hurt. As they sat there, his arms tight around her, the sun began to rise. Slowly at first and then bathing the room in the warm glow of a new day.