A/N: I mean, after those Keen/Ressler feels from the last episode, did you even doubt I would write a story?
Spoilers for 2x10.
Disclaimer: I have only my inspiration.
Ressler can withstand a lot.
But he almost loses his self-control when he sees Keen strapped into that chair and Reddington hovering over her like she holds the secrets to the universe and only he is privy to them. He demands an explanation, any explanation and when the woman – the doctor, Selma Orchard – tells him that it is dangerous to wake Keen up, he relents slightly but doesn't back off, doesn't move farther away because Keen is practically unconscious and he doesn't trust Reddington to not hurt her, intentionally or not.
So he stays put, keeping his eyes trained on her face and her hands as they rise up of their own volition, as if trying to catch or contain something.
When her eyes open, they are full of confusion – and she looks at him but doesn't recognize him and this scares him more than any of this – before she settles her gaze on Reddington.
"You were there."
Reddington's careful mask of neutrality slips for a second and Ressler sees the fear, the desperation, the shame of that but doesn't have time to dwell on it before Keen looks at him again and she isn't confused anymore.
Her voice wakes him from the stupor and he orders the paramedics to come down and Reddington to take a step back but the man stubbornly stays where is, still searching Keen's face for something.
"Give her some space." His voice comes out as vaguely threatening and he levels a glare at Reddington but before he can respond with something of his usual repertoire of witty and infuriating, Keen intervenes.
"It's okay, Ressler. Give us a minute?"
She asks him to step down and he doesn't want to leave her alone again but he will not be like Reddington who refuses to comply with requests out of pure obstinance.
"Come on, Ressler, we have a witness to debrief."
Samar gestures towards the doctor and he acquiesces , though clearly telegraphing his dislike for the situation. They walk up the stairs and leave Keen sitting there with a paramedic and Reddington.
The debrief is hardly as conducive as it could be because his attention is still down there, with Keen. Samar seems to understand this because she asks all the questions, keeps the doctor occupied and doesn't wait for his input at all; he would have nothing to give anyway. He is respectful and tries not to listen to whatever she and Reddington are talking about but hears it anyways, can tell that Keen is becoming more angry with everything that Reddington says but forces himself to stay put, to not rush down there because she can take care of things herself and that is clearly what she wants.
He manages to hold off longer than he expected to but when he hears Keen's sharp don't ringing out in the room, the distress evident in her voice, he abandons Samar and the doctor without a word and practically flies down the stairs.
Keen has already risen from the chair and he helps her wrap the blanket over her shoulders and pulls her into its warmth as much as he can, grasping one of her hands with his own. He notices Reddington take a step towards her but musters a glare so threatening that his step falters and he nods imperceptibly, as if giving his approval which Ressler really doesn't care about at all.
"Come on, Liz, let's get you home."
He whispers that softly into her hair, using her first name which he rarely does, and she leans closer to him, almost fully letting her weight fall on him and his ribs might be bruised and the cut on his biceps stings like hell but he will not push her away when this is what she needs, and swallows down his own pain.
He guides her up the stairs, hand on her back for balance and doesn't let her take one step without him, not even bothering to repress the protective instinct that's flared up inside but just stays as he is. When they pass Samar, she squeezes Keen's arm quickly and flashes her a tired smile. He is grateful that she doesn't try to talk or stop them because he wants to give her the privacy she must be craving as soon as possible.
The scene feels eerily familiar and he knows what it is that he's remembering: Keen wrapped in a similar blanket after escaping the Stewmaker. He wonders if history will really repeat itself and whether she'll let herself crumble – and him catch her – again but she seems to have it under control. She only clutches his arm a bit tighter as they walk through the crowd outside but keeps her head high, not saying a word as they walk towards his car.
He opens the car door and lets her sit on her own but doesn't let go of her until he absolutely has to; she meets his eyes and smiles weakly before nodding, and he moves over to the driver's side.
"You should go to the hospital."
She shakes her head and gives him a pleading look. "Just...take me home, Ressler. I'm fine."
She is most assuredly not fine but he won't deny her requests right now so he nods and drives off.
He keeps sneaking glances at her on the way, noticing the way she burrows into the blanket and seems to curl herself inwards, as if protecting herself from some kind of force that's still in her head, still lingers in her mind. His fingers tighten on the steering wheel and he doesn't know if he can forgive Reddington for forcing her to keep remembering things she obviously didn't want to. He shouldn't demand answers on the account of her safety, so perhaps she is right – he never really cared about her but what she knew.
When he comes to a stop at the motel, Keen makes no move to get out of the car but stares vacantly out of the window, perfectly content to just stay right there. So he gets out first and approaches her side of the car slowly, making eye contact with her before opening the door.
"Come on, Liz."
She blinks and comes back to awareness but lets him reach over to unbuckle the seat belt and put his arm around her shoulders before she even moves, asking for support in the only way she knows how to – quietly, almost unwillingly. She leans on him less than before and her walk is stronger but he is reluctant to let completely go of her, holding on to her elbow and not breaking the connection between them.
They're halfway to her door when he realizes a practical impediment to their situation.
"I'm going to have to ask the manager for the key, okay?"
She looks at him and furrows her brow as if trying to distinguish the importance of something as banal as a key.
"Yeah, sure, that's...I don't know where my keycard is. It's room 37."
He hesitates before leaving her alone and considers taking her with him but she gestures with her head towards administration. "I'll be fine, Ressler."
He gets the key with less hassle than he was expecting – the manager doesn't give him a second look but hands the key over and the security is really abysmal here. He doesn't allow her to enter before he's checked the rooms because Braxton is still somewhere out there and might want to come back to finish what he started.
She lets him do all that before entering and sits down on the bed, looking slightly lost, still hugging the blanket as if that alone could keep her from falling apart.
"So, uh, do you need anything? Food or medicine or anything else?"
She shakes her head and lets the blanket fall from her shoulders before letting out a shuddering exhale. Being with her in this tiny room makes Ressler suddenly self-conscious, now that she's not clutching his arm and doesn't expressly need him. Maybe she instead wants to be left alone, maybe he shouldn't have come in at all. Maybe-
"Can you stay?" She looks up at him and his thoughts come to a halt as the question repeats in his head. Can you stay? She shouldn't even have to ask.
"I want to change. But can you not leave? Just...stay out here."
He has no desire to deny her that and nods, sitting down in the one chair. "I'll stay."
She almost smiles and stands up to rummage in her drawers and he doesn't look as she makes whatever preparations she needs.
Keen disappears into the bathroom and he listens intently to the sounds she makes, the slight shuffling of her feet, the draw of the shower curtain, the sound of water being turned on.
If he wasn't listening so intently, he might have missed it but the high-pitched sob is suddenly in the cacophony of noises, underneath the sound of running water and he stands, unsure of whether to interrupt or not. Maybe she just needs time for herself, maybe she just wants to cry it out and doesn't want him to witness any of it.
But with his focus now finely attuned to whatever he can hear, he makes out the sound of more sobs and something falling to the floor and he is at the door in an instant.
"Keen? Are you okay?"
She doesn't respond and he fights with himself for a moment before cursing under his breath and slowly turning the handle.
"I'm coming in."
He can see the empty shower stall before his gaze lands on Keen. She's sitting on the floor, back against the wall and staring at the running water with unmasked fear in her eyes, breathing heavily and clutching her clothes to her chest.
He steps closer to her, cautiously but she doesn't move or pay any notice to him, making more anguish-filled sobs before her mouth forms words. "Make it stop, make it stop, make it stop, please..."
Ressler thinks back to the room, remembers seeing the table with the medical supplies, the bucket of water in the corner with a rag next to it and knows exactly what methods they used before bringing in the doctor. He turns off the water in the shower quickly, drawing the curtain back in place so she doesn't have to look at the shower, and turns back to Keen whose eyes are still not registering any change. He crouches down in front of her and can feel something clench uncomfortably in his stomach when she flinches away from him, albeit only slightly.
"Liz, it's okay. Look at me. It stopped."
She pulls out of wherever she went and sees him in front of her again with such immense sadness in her eyes that he can't even imagine what to say next or how to help her. She reaches out with her hand and he lets her hold on to him, lets her grasp a bit too strong because she needs it in that moment, needs something to tether her to this reality and not be pulled back into the horrific memories.
"There was so much water. So much water, Ressler. And I told them everything, I told them what they wanted to know but it was not enough. And there was always more water..."
She whispers the words into the air between them and her voice trembles slightly.
"It's okay, Liz, you don't have to tell me."
He lets his thumb caress over the back of her hand and she nods before pulling on his hand slightly and he sits down next to her, the cold floor harsh on his aching muscles and his ribs protesting at the uncomfortable position but he doesn't let it show on his face.
She leans forward and lets her weight rest on him again, just like she did when he was taking her away from that room and he lets her do it, sliding his arm around her shoulders to anchor her in place.
"Can we just stay here for a moment?"
He couldn't deny her anything right now. "I'll be here, Liz."
She shifts as close as she possibly can, curling her knees against his stretched out legs and grasping the lapel of his jacket with one of her hands, almost resting it over his heart. "You always are, Don."
A/N: Waterboarding - what they were doing to Liz - is a very serious method of torture which can leave a staggering physical and mental effect even after only one session.