Shadow Partners

Elizabeth wasn't sure what to make of her new alliance with Red. He was a criminal, a monster, in so many ways the most chilling person she had ever met, and yet he was also remarkably personable, even human. All his deeds were motivated by reasons. Often they were terrible deeds, and just as often terrible reasons, but there was a strange sense of logic to it—the logic of survival.

It disturbed Liz that she was starting to see the logic. Red had told her to accept "what you are," but that philosophy had always rankled with her. Did a psychopath have to just "accept who they were?" Did a chronic drunkard? Liz refused to believe that she was meant to be a criminal. She might have left the FBI, she might be on the run, she might be, in a very real sense, on the wrong side of the law, but she was still doing it to catch criminals. She was a vigilante. Not a criminal. And yes, Red was probably using her, but she was also using Red... working with a bad man to find much, much worse men.

And stay alive. Berlin was still out there, after all, and probably still out to kill her. Red's harsh world of survival was now her own.

Despite that, however, and the fact that they were working together, there was an understanding that trust did not factor very strongly in their relationship. Red did not volunteer information about his business or the associates he so often met with, and Liz, for the most part, did not ask.

So when she came back to meet Red at the club and found him talking with a middle-aged, balding man in a suit, she hung back in the shadows and listened.

"...just make sure that you and your scuzzy associates behave yourselves, Reddington." The man was saying. He sat easily enough in the chair, and not in the least apprehensive of the two thugs looming behind him, but his arms were crossed and it was clear that he did not enjoy being there. Liz caught sight of an amazonian-like Asian standing against the far wall, arms also crossed, glaring at Red's bodyguards.

"And why should I—or any of my 'scuzzy associates'—pay any regard to what you say?" Reddington raised his eyebrows. From what she knew of him, Red seemed fairly relaxed—possibly even slightly amused. "In the eyes of the law, your 'agency' is just as scuzzy as the rest of us right now. Worse even—you're terrorists. I'm merely a criminal."

"You know me, Red." The strange man smiled. "Do I strike you as a terrorist?"

Red smiled in return. "Then let me rephrase the question." He said, lifting his glass to his mouth. "Why should I listen to the threats of a tiger who has lost his fangs? You have no financing, you have no jurisdiction, you have no agents, you have nothing."

"We've got a few tricks left."

"I'll admit this is conjecture, but I'm suspecting that you have less than I or my associates could muster." Red tilted his head, sipping from the glass. "You're the underdogs in this relationship. Why shouldn't I and my friends take long-deserved revenge for the many inconveniences you've caused over the years?"

"Because without us, there's no one to stop Hydra." The man was still smiling. "Now, you're a smart man, Red. What sort of treatment do you think you can expect from Hydra once they're firmly entrenched? They don't care about laws or due process or any of the delightful holes you and your associates love to slip through. Even if they care about you now, they'll turn on you as soon as your purpose has been served."

Reddington chuckled. "So that's what this is about. You came to warn us off making some sort of alliance or arrangement with your old Hydra pals."

"I came," said the man, standing, " to tell you that SHIELD is down but not out, and that you and your friends should think carefully about who they want to piss off and who they want to win."

"Well, message received." Red dipped his head in acknowledgement. "I'll pass word on. Are you sure you won't try some of this...?"

"Thank you, but no. I have a plane to catch." The man nodded at the woman, and moved to leave. As they passed by her, he gave her a slight nod. "Mrs. Keen."

Liz raised an eyebrow, but said nothing until the man and his guard were out of the room and the door shut behind them. Then she stepped up to the table. "Who was that?"

"A Philip Coulson." Red smiled at her as if he'd known she was there the whole time. "Formerly known as Agent Phillip Coulson. An old... acquaintance of mine. We had something of an understanding in the old days. You should have joined us, you and he would have so much to talk about."

Liz ignored the comment. "What did he want?"

"To scare me, apparently," answered Red, studying the wine in his glass as he swirled it. "And information." He nodded at the papers on the table, which Liz had not before noticed.

She picked through them. They were profiles of some kind, complete with mugshots. The individuals seemed to be prisoners, but their "talents" section made Liz raise her eyebrows. "Hypergonadism... photomanipulation... petrifying touch..." She looked up at Red, who seemed quietly amused at her incredulity. "Is this a joke?"

Red just smiled. "Phil dealt with the more... exotic elements of our world." Liz frowned at the use of "our," she did not, and would never consider, the criminal real "her" world. Red appeared not to notice. "Men and women who, through various mishaps or excessive cleverness or just dumb luck, found themselves in the possession of... unusual abilities."

"Like turning people to stone." She deadpanned.

"The Grey Gargoyle. Arrogant bastard." Red sniffed. "I enjoyed helping Phil track him down; I never liked the man." He frowned at the paper. "Now he's out again. That could be troublesome."

"Is that why he visited? To get your help tracking these... super criminals down?" At Red's nod, she sat back and studied him. "That... doesn't sound like you."

Red gave a placid shrug. "When a man learns he can throw lightning from his fingers, he tends to become very stupid. Dramatic, flamboyant. The worst ones take names and call themselves 'super-villians.'" Red actually rolled his eyes. "More importantly," he added, sipping again from his glass, "they become uncontrollable. Unwilling to let others take the lead. For men like me, they can occasionally be a resource, but they are more often a nuisance."

"So you sic Agent Coulson on them." Liz looked at the door the man had just left through. "That sounds more like you. No wonder you hit on the FBI idea so quickly, you'd been playing the same game for years already." A thought hit her. "Wait a minute. Why on earth wouldn't a government agent arrest one of the most wanted traitors in the country?"

Red sighed, pretending to consider the question. "Phil has always been... something of an idealistic man." He answered. "It wasn't so much as he considered himself above the concerns of the United States Government, so much as he thought his enemies were worse than theirs." A shrug. "I suppose he felt that, so long as I helped him catch fireball-belching Manhattanites, politics and national secrets could go by the wayside."

"Really." Liz glanced at the door again, more thoughtfully this time.

There was a long pause.

"Interesting thing, about him coming to see me now." Red said suddenly. His eyes were lidded and he seemed to be staring contemplatively at the far wall.

"How so?"

"Just that... do you recall my parable of the farmer?"

Liz turned to look at him incredulously. "The circumstances surrounding that story were rather memorable, so yes, I do."

Red sighed, still gazing contemplatively at the wall. "Coulson is... not quite the farmer in my parable. He never had as much as the farmer, so he has never lost as much as the farmer. But in many ways, he has lost everything that gave him a reason to fight—family, love, friends... his own organization, the very thing he sacrificed everything for, has deserted him and saddled him with an undeserved reputation for evil." Red gave a light shrug. "But unlike the farmer, I find he has remained a farmer." Red's gaze was distant, more thoughtful than she had ever seen him. "A man like Coulson makes one wonder if perhaps, if he..."

Red sighed and fell into silence. Liz said nothing, not wanting to interrupt the too-rare moment.

Finally Red shook his head. "...well. I suppose it is irrelevant."

Liz felt strangely disappointed, as if an opportunity had been passed before she'd even known about it. "You sound almost as if you respect him." She observed. She could probably count on one hand the number of people Red respected.

The man blinked, as if startled from some thought. "Respect is such a strong word." He mused. "The man is naive, unrealistic. He has too many heroes to properly gain an understanding of humanity. But he is not without certain skills and resources. And..." He tilted his head. "...he is probably one of the few genuinely honest men I know. And that, by itself, is worth something."

Liz just nodded. She wasn't yet sure how to interpret that. She'd have to mull over it for a bit.

Absentmindedly, she began to leaf through the files again. "You're going to help him find these... unpredictable elements, then?"

"I'm going to track them down, certainly." Red shrugged. "A man needs a hobby while he's trying to convince his sworn enemy that he thinks he's dead."

"Berlin." Liz nodded. That man, still hanging over them. "Is he likely to pick up any of these?"

"As I said, they're difficult to work with. But he's proven a surprisingly creative enemy thus far." Red inclined his head. "It's not outside the realm of possibility. The sooner that possibility is removed, the better."

"I take it that that means that you ARE still going to try recruiting these men." Liz frowned.

"Desperate times, Elizabeth. I have my own wars to fight." Red sipped his wine. "And surely it is better to have these cannons under my control than running loose on the streets? Yes, in a sense, I am using Coulson, but in the same sense, he is using me." He smiled a sickeningly smooth smile at her. "So, Elizabeth. What do your profiler instincts tell you about where to find these loose cannons?"

Liz rolled her eyes, but she could not suppress a grin as she picked up the file. Despite what Red might say, hunting criminals like this... it made her feel like an agent again.

A/N: This is a stretch for a number of reasons. First of all, I haven't really watched the Blacklist. I saw the last two episodes and the one with the Stewmaker, but apart from that I'm unfamiliar with its lore. So I'm shooting blind here, and I'd really appreciate any tips about either of the people being OOC here.

Also, this isn't really a "recruitment," since Coulson obviously isn't letting Red anywhere near his new SHIELD. But it's the same sort of sub-contracting he's already arranged with other fandoms, so I feel it's close enough. And actually, this time the "Recruitment Drive" has a double meaning, since Red is starting his own recruitment drive here.

Objections aside, I wanted to do this because (a) it sets up some stuff for the second part of the Castle crossover, and (b), because I recently started a fanfiction research project, and I need your help!

A forum discussion with another writer about the percentages of crossovers in fandoms made me realize that there's precious little data about fanfiction authors, so I made a quick survey to measure statistics and preferences among fanfic authors, and I've been going to all the forums I can think of to promote it. I sent an e-mail to the administrators, but I'm not holding my breath on that. So I'm romoting it on my story. Here's the link: forms/d/10gV3dZPVRXHYCdanvLQ1irptSdcjJBo3F3VwOMI8jvM/viewform?usp=send_form Cut and paste that into your browser (take out the space between " " and "doc") and just take a few quick moments to fill it out. It's really quick, mostly multiple choice, and at the end you can view the results thus far.