This was just another something that wouldn't leave me alone… one of the many hazards of being a fanfiction writer with an awesome ship… plot bunnies rule your life.
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Elizabeth Keen was in the mood for a good, old-fashioned bonfire. The kind you huddle up to for warmth. The kind you roast marshmallows over. The kind she hadn't had since she was a kid. Sam made fires often, not wanting Elizabeth to grow up with a phobia, and it was one of the things that made her love him more than she could love any biological father. She had been thinking about bonfires ever since he had passed, and even more so now that… well now that she was alone.
The backyard of the house that she had shared with Tom was small, but it did come with a fire pit, one big enough to get a decent flame going. Elizabeth cleaned it off a bit, and then headed toward the side of the house where logs were stacked for their rarely-used fireplace before she changed her mind and headed into the house. She had something that would work much better than logs.
Elizabeth strode purposefully up her stairs and into her bedroom, throwing open her closet door with a vengeance. Half of the closet was filled with her clothes and shoes. The other half was filled with things she just didn't need anymore. She grabbed a handful of men's shirts and headed back down the stairs, stopping in the kitchen to grab a lighter. She considered lighter fluid, but didn't want to overdo it.
It was still light outside, and Elizabeth had plenty of time to build up a big fire before nightfall. She would hate to have her good time spoiled by not being able to see what she was doing. The shirts were wadded up into a ball, but she took her time laying them down one by one, checking the pockets as though she hadn't already done that a dozen times before. She couldn't take the chance that she might have missed something. When all of the shirts were checked she took the lighter and set fire to one of the sleeves of an old white shirt. A shirt that had been part of a tux. A tux that had been worn to a wedding. Her wedding. The sleeve caught fire quickly, and Elizabeth threw it on the pile triumphantly, watching it ignite the other shirts. It was pure joy. She didn't notice that she had company until he was standing right beside her.
"This looks like fun."
Red always seemed to show up either right when she needed him or right when she didn't want him to see her. Sometimes those times coincided. Like now.
"It's a bonfire. It's supposed to be fun."
"It hurts that you would throw a party and not invite me."
Red's tone was pouty and Elizabeth wasn't certain that he wasn't just a little bit serious.
"Don't be offended. I didn't invite anybody."
"I'm not anybody."
Elizabeth turned to face her unexpected guest, snorting when she saw his state of dress. A tan dress suit with a silk white dress shirt, complete with vest, sunglasses, and fedora. She felt like a slob next to him in her blue jeans and button-up flannel shirt that was way too big for her. The shirt had been Sam's… something she stole when she left for college, and she wore it whenever she missed him so bad she could barely hold it together. Her hair was piled on top of her head in a haphazard ponytail, and she wore no makeup. Red seemed to sense her embarrassment, and looked down at his own clothes.
"It seems I've overdressed for the occasion. If I have your permission to stay and enjoy this, may I please use your house to um… dress down a bit?"
Dress down? Did Red even know how to dress down? Elizabeth smiled and tugged at Red's sleeve.
"You have my permission to stay, and while you get comfortable I'm going upstairs to grab some things."
Red smiled back, intrigued.
Elizabeth steered him toward the house.
Elizabeth had barely made a dent in the closet with her first haul, but she was determined to get the entire closet clear of unwanted junk by the time the night was over. She pulled another handful of shirts off of their hangers and down to the floor, where she proceeded to check the pockets before wadding them up into a ball. She also pulled out a pair of old sneakers, ones that she had bought when she first learned that her husband liked to go on long runs in the mornings. If she had known then what she knew now…
"Well, well, well. This is quite the mess, Lizzie. Care to tell me what's going on in here?'
Red had found his way up the stairs and into her room, sans sunglasses and fedora. He had also divested himself of his jacket and vest, leaving him in a dress shirt and trousers. He looked good that way. A little more on the casual side than she was used to seeing him, but still very put together.
Elizabeth seated herself fully on the floor and crossed her legs.
"I'm doing a bit of spring cleaning."
Red nodded his head in understanding.
"It looks like you're having a 'my husband is an ass so I'm torching his stuff' bonfire."
Elizabeth shrugged, absentmindedly snapping the buttons off of one of Tom's shirts.
"Actually, it's more like a 'I don't even know if I have a husband anymore, or if I' even had one in the first place' bonfire. But it's completely open to interpretation."
It was soothing to rip off the little buttons off of Tom's favorite shirt, and when the buttons were all gone, she settled for ripping the pocket at the seams, yanking and tugging until the threads loosened and finally broke. When that shirt was completely destroyed, Red stooped down and handed her another, watching in amusement while she took it apart.
"You know… I've seen this done before, many a time, but I've never seen it done with such relish. You seem to be enjoying yourself."
Elizabeth sighed, letting the shirt fall to the floor.
"I am. Too much. If I keep this up, there will be nothing left to burn. I'm in the mood to burn things, Red."
Red's eyes darkened slightly, but he said nothing. Perhaps he thought it was the safest thing.
"I'm going to take these downstairs then come up for the rest. Do you want any of this before I torch it?"
"Ha. Ha. I'm going to pretend that you didn't just ask me that and still offer my assistance."
"You want to help?"
Red knelt down beside her and rolled up his shirt sleeves.
"Oh Lizzie… I have to help."
The next hour was spent scouring the house for 'fuel'. Nothing was left behind. Clothes, hats, shoes, and countless pairs of glasses were added to the pile. Even some personal things that Elizabeth thought she could never let go of were subject to being tossed into the flames, including old love letters that had been put away safe in a drawer.
"I love you more than I ever thought possible. I am nothing without you…. I can't believe I ever thought this was romantic."
There was a time when Elizabeth couldn't imagine reading those letters aloud, and especially in front of Raymond Reddington. He gestured to the letter she held in her hand, silently asking for permission to delve even further into her personal life. She handed it to him, beyond caring that he was going to read something that she once held so sacred…
"God, Lizzie… this makes my tooth ache. You know I'm not one to criticize, but please tell me you don't like this sort of thing."
Red sat at the bottom of the stairs while Elizabeth paced the floor in front of him. Adrenaline rushed through her body, and she could barely keep herself from running laps around the house.
"I did when he did it. I have to hand it to him… he was perfect. The perfect guy. I told him all the time that he was just too good to be true. I didn't know how right I was."
Red stretched his legs out in front of him and leaned back onto the stairs. He was way too comfortable in her house… going through her stuff…
"Always trust your instincts, Lizzie. If it seems too good to be true, then it probably is."
Elizabeth stopped in front of him and rolled her eyes.
"Sage advice from a wise old…"
"I would stop while right there, Lizzie. Bitter sarcasm doesn't work for you."
He was right. Elizabeth sat beside him on the stairs.
"I'm sorry. It's just that you're right. If I would have just trusted my instincts and ran in the other direction, this wouldn't have happened. I knew it was wrong, somehow. No one could ever love me that much, right?"
Red stared at her evenly.
The emotion in his voice was palpable. Elizabeth waited for him to elaborate, but he didn't. Instead he threw an arm around her shoulder and squeezed for a moment before getting up and stretching out his limbs.
"Come on. You raid the pantry for some marshmallows and I'll start taking this junk outside. It's time to get this over with."
Elizabeth followed his command. It was nice to let someone take over every once in a while, and Red seemed to have no trouble taking over. She scrounged up a bag of big marshmallows and a couple of wire hangers and met Red outside.
"Wire hangers? I haven't done that in forever!"
Red laughed to himself as he restarted the fire that had burned down while they were ransacking her house. Elizabeth laughed along with him.
"This is the way Sam always did it. I tried marshmallows on a stick once… it wasn't the same."
The fire seemed to take on a life of its own as they added more and more of Tom's stuff to it. Elizabeth saved the letters for last, sending them into the fire one at a time, with Red's hand on her shoulder for support. The last one she held in her hand and flipped it open, reading it to herself one last time by the light of the fire.
"What's so special about that particular letter, if you don't mind me asking?"
Elizabeth sighed deeply and folded the letter back up, debating on whether or not she should throw it into the fire with the others.
"It wasn't one he wrote to me. It's one I wrote to him. The only one. I found it in one of his pockets after he left."
"Why would he keep it?"
The tears that Elizabeth had been trying so hard to fight streamed down her face as she struggled to come up with an answer.
"I don't know. I've been trying to figure that out since I found it."
Red stepped toward her and she backed away, shaking her head defiantly.
"It doesn't matter now. I guess it never mattered in the first place. I don't know why I've held onto it this long. I guess I just thought…"
She sobbed as she threw the letter into the fire, and didn't recoil when Red's arms closed in around her shoulders and arms, holding her as she watched the letter incinerate into nothing. She turned in his arms and buried her face in his shoulder, seeking comfort from the one person who seemed more than willing to give it. He held her until the sobbing stopped, whispering words that she didn't understand into her hair and stroking her back until she was finally calm enough to talk to. She might have even felt his lips at her temple. She couldn't be sure. Red pushed her back by her shoulders to look her in the eye.
"I would ask you if you're okay, but that would be a stupid question and I don't ask stupid questions. I'll start with a simple one. Are you ready for marshmallows? I make a mean smore."
Elizabeth giggled and nodded her head.
"And a beer? How about a beer?"
Beer? Elizabeth frowned.
"I've never seen you drink a beer."
Red's laughter was playful and light and for a moment Lizzie forgot she was sad.
"You've never seen me do a lot of things. It doesn't mean I don't do them. I happen to enjoy a good beer now and again. In fact, I'm going to get one from your fridge right now."
Elizabeth watched him walk away. She had never had that much confidence. She had never walked into a person's house like she belonged there and helped herself to whatever was available. She had never been really sure that anyone but Sam wanted her company, like Red was so sure she wanted his. She did want his company. It would have been impossible to empty Tom out of her life without Red's help, and Red probably knew that. She smiled when he reappeared in front of her with two beers in hand. She took one gratefully and casually took a long swig, knowing that he was watching her every move in the firelight.
"What are you staring at?"
"Not staring. Simply observing. It says a lot about a person… the way they drink their beer."
The fire crackled loudly and it caught Elizabeth's attention, but Red's gaze never wavered from her.
"And what does it say about me?"
"It says that you have the potential to be an awfully amusing drunk."
Elizabeth almost spit out the beer she'd been sipping.
"I haven't been drunk since college, thank you very much!"
Red smiled and played with the sleeve of her shirt.
"I had to say something to get you to laugh."
And she was laughing. She hadn't laughed since well before Tom left. She hadn't realized how long it had been. Tom used to go out of his way to make her laugh and smile, but in the long six months before he left, it was like he hadn't cared enough to try. He didn't care. He didn't care enough about her to want to see her happy, but Red did. That realization shocked her quite a bit.
The rest of the evening turned out to be less about Tom and more about Elizabeth and Red sitting on the grass, exchanging stories and getting to know each other. Some of Red's tales were so fantastic that Elizabeth wondered momentarily if he was embellishing. Then she remembered just who she was talking to. Nope. Definitely not embellishing. Her stories revolved mostly around her and Sam and her rather rebellious teenage years. She told of wild parties that lasted from midnight until sometime the next morning and of Sam actually calling the police one time because she didn't decide to show back up until lunch. She expressed her guilt for making Sam worry, and Red's arm found its way around her shoulder.
"He only worried so much because he loved you so much. You were all he had, Lizzie, and he loved you to the moon and back. Which forces me to bring up an unpleasant topic. You made me rather angry earlier, and I'm still a bit miffed."
Elizabeth shifted away in alarm.
"How could I have possibly made you angry?"
Red's face was passive, as always, but his eyes were serious.
"You said that no one could possibly love you that much… I knew that you were a bit naïve, but I didn't know that you are completely blind. Sam loved you more than anything on this earth, and I… well I'm rather fond of you as well."
Elizabeth smiled to herself.
"You're fond of me?"
Red tilted his head from side to side for a moment before finally nodding.
"Yes. What? Aren't you fond of me, just a bit?"
Elizabeth copied Red's stance for a moment, tilting her head from side to side and then nodding vigorously.
"Yes. I'm fond of you."
A look of contemplation replaced the look of passive curiosity on Red's face.
"What do you mean?"
"Are you this fond?"
Red crawled toward her slowly on his hands and knees -something Elizabeth never thought she would see and was sure she wanted to see again- and placed a firm but gentle kiss on her lips. He pulled away and looked her in the eye, patiently waiting for her response. She grinned, nodding her head.
"Yes. Yes, I am definitely that fond."
His lips were on hers again, firmer than the last time, and his tongue swept across her lips in a plea for entry, which she granted. The deeper the kiss grew, the more his hands wandered, up and down her back, over her hips, and finally up to her head, where he freed her hair from her messy ponytail. He pulled back when she gasped for air, tugging on her lower lip with his teeth as he went, and busied his mouth elsewhere. He kissed slowly down her jaw and started down her neck, only pausing to address her in a gruff, sexy voice that she had never heard him use before this moment.
Elizabeth could barely find the breath to speak, so her yes came out in a breathy sigh.
Red kissed her neck one more time before lowering her to the ground.
"The next time you have a bonfire…"
Elizabeth shivered as he placed a chaste kiss on her lips.