In the Stillness

Chapter 5

"How's the leg these days?

"It's fine. It's getting better."

Ressler replied quickly, and gave a swift glance at Liz before settling his attention back on to the double doors of a dilapidated building half way down the block. The lone street light dimly flickered, casting a dreary shadow onto the empty alleyway, with nothing stirring in sight. Liz looked at her watch and read 1:25 A.M. The night was blistery frigid, and even though encased in the safety of Ressler's car, Liz felt absolutely miserable and wished this night of surveillance would end soon. She took another sip of her coffee, which had already begun to get cold. It didn't help that she was thoroughly exhausted.

"Ressler, anything yet?" Agent Malik's voice was heard crackling through the walkie. She was situated at the other end of the street, covering the east side of the surveillance parameters.

"Nothing yet." Ressler responded with a low grunt. Liz caught the frustrated grimace on his face, and he sounded annoyed as hell. The suspect, a notorious hit man, was supposed to show up four hours ago, and they've been sitting since then, patiently waiting with no new leads.

"I wanted to put this away tonight, and close the case." Ressler muttered gruffly, roughly combing through his blond hair with his hand. "So far, nothing has gone as planned. Jesus."

Liz turned towards Ressler but remained silent. She felt as frustrated and exhausted as he was, and she had absolutely no words to alleviate this situation. She was just relieved that at least they were talking. The first three hours of the surveillance was spent mostly in silence, each sipping their coffee and awkwardly attempting to carry on a conversation about current cases. Each time Liz brought up anything remotely personal, she couldn't help but to notice that Ressler would respond in a muffled grunt, as if he wanted none of it.

For the past few weeks, Liz found her partner's demeanor quite temperamental and mystifying. Certainly this was not the same person she had interacted with at the hospital. Perhaps it was the vulnerability of the injury, but he had been softer and more open with her. It was actually quite nice. Liz hadn't seen this side of Ressler, the way he was silly, daring, and sensitive even. For the first time, she felt all the pretense just slid away, and they were real and present with each other, with nothing to hide and allowing the other to peek through the shell.

But since his return to the bureau, Ressler was back to his machinery temperament, eschewing any remarks remotely personal and seemingly dismissing Liz herself. He seldom made eye contact with her, and his minimal conversations were strictly bureau business. Although Liz felt that he no longer accused her of being an accessory to Red's crimes, Ressler had nonetheless returned to the curt and dismissive posture. At times it looked as though he purposely kept distance from her. Liz sighed, realizing that it's a bit like taking a step forward and two steps back with this guy. Perhaps she should've known better, and stop trying to figure him out.

"Have you heard from Reddington? Anything at all?" Ressler broke through her thoughts, and Liz decided to ignore his slight brusque tone, just as she does on many other occasions.

"No, nothing. I'm sure he'll contact me when he needs to."

"What was it that he said to you on the phone?" Ressler turned to Liz, but she kept her gaze on the street.

"He said when I need him, he'll be there."

Ressler looked as lost in thought. "What does that mean?"

"I don't know."

Silence ensued for few moments, until Ressler spoke. "Maybe Red is watching you. I mean, how would he know if you need him?"

"I don't know." Liz couldn't meet his gaze that bore at her side, for the fear that Ressler would figure out that she was not telling him the whole truth. She dared not speak to anyone about Red's comment about her husband, Tom; there was no way she's going to speak of this, to anyone.

"There's something missing. It just doesn't make sense." Ressler thought out loud, while Liz felt the growing anxiety, knowing that he will not stop pursuing until he knew all the details. She knew that somehow Ressler would find out about Red's warnings about Tom. It was just a matter of time.

"Well, one thing's for sure. It's damn cold tonight." Ressler sneered roughly, clutching his coat tighter around his chest.

"It's almost two in the morning." Liz added with her own tone of frustration.

Ressler gave her a quick look. "Is your husband alright? I mean, with you not at home?"

"He'd rather have me at home, but he's OK with it. He knows he married an FBI agent, it just comes with the territory."

Ressler did not respond to Liz, but she caught him purse his lips slightly. In the blackness of the night, it was difficult to see his face, and Liz wasn't sure what she saw flash across his face.

"Sorry, it's really none of my business. I shouldn't have asked." Ressler muttered softly, and Liz felt quite caught off guard by this unexpected apology.

"No, it's alright. I don't mind talking about my husband, not at all."

Ressler took a moment in thought before responding, "It must feel good to be in a trusting marriage." The sudden grave tone in his voice alarmed Liz, and she turned to him, only to meet his steely gaze. "I mean, without trust, what is marriage anyway?"

Liz kept her eyes on him, just as Ressler returned his attention upon the building down the street. Liz felt like air has been punched out of her lungs, rendering her completely muddled and speechless. Her mind started racing, trying to figure out the exact meaning and the nuances behind his words. What did he exactly mean? What is he saying? What does he know?

At that moment, Ressler abruptly turned to Liz, "Get out of the car now, he's here. Get your gun." And with that, both of them jumped out of the car and into the frigid blackness of the night.

. . . . . .

"Agent Keen, I'll give you a ride back to the headquarters. Agent Ressler has the suspect in his car." Agent Malik called out from her car, and Liz walked briskly towards her. The suspect has been apprehended, and Cooper had officially called off the surveillance.

"Thank you, Agent Malik." Liz got on the passenger seat, and smiled at the petite woman at the driver's seat.

"Call me Meera, please, we are now off duty, aren't we?"

"Of course." Liz let out a small laughter, perhaps for the first time that night.

They drove in silence for few moments, until Malik broke in. "So glad we caught the guy. I'd have been real pissed if all that waiting was for nothing."

"Tell me about it. Can't imagine what Ressler would've done. Probably choke some poor cat in the alleyway." Malik and Liz shared an easy laughter.

"I guess it wasn't all fun and games with Ressler in the car."

"It wasn't that bad. He's actually pretty harmless." Liz uttered softly, her thoughts returning to the conversation she had with Ressler in the car.

"He's actually the best partner you can have. You're very fortunate." Malik stated as a matter of fact.

"I know. But sometimes I do want to put my hands on his neck and choke him real hard. He can be so difficult at times, and I just want to put some sense into him."

"Yeah, well, I didn't say it's going to be easy dealing with that guy. He's just a consummate FBI man, always wanting to do it the right way. Even if that means scrutinizing everything, and trusting no one." Malik paused before continuing. "But I could tell he trusts you. He cares for you even."

"Oh, I don't know about caring for me. I don't know. I have a feeling the next time I screw up, he won't hesitate to report me." Liz winced at the memory of Ressler accusing her of not being ready to be a field agent.

"Ressler does what he does, because at the core he's looking out for you. He's trying to protect you. That's why he holds such high standards and expectations." Malik spoke as if she was privy to information unbeknownst to others. Or that Liz should never underestimate how much Malik perceives and understands.

"It's going to take some time for me to be convinced of that." Liz returned with a small shrug.

"Elizabeth, let me be frank with you. I observe many things, that's just my job. I can tell you that for all that I've seen, Ressler cares for you, and perhaps deeper than he knows." Malik turned to Liz for a brief moment, as if to gauge whether she should've said any of it at all.

Liz was left quite speechless. It was unfathomable to even think that Ressler would care for her. She was just trying to have him trust her as his partner, and if she dared to aim higher, that he'd respect her as his partner.

"Elizabeth, he gave up the code to the box, for Christ's sakes. And don't tell me it's because Reddington had a gun to his head. Ressler was going to give up the code as soon as he saw you." Throwing caution to the wind, Malik now spoke with bold assertion. They were nearing the headquarters, and Malik had just a few minutes to get this all out.

"Cooper gave him a direct order not to give up the code. And Ressler dismissed it, without even a flinch in the eye. Ressler would never dismiss superior orders, it's just not how he's been trained and what he believes. Unless it was for an absolute dire reason, or, if I can say this, something close to his heart."

"Meera, I was there. It wasn't like that." Liz finally spoke, but barely audibly.

The car has now arrived at the headquarters and passed clearance at the gate. Malik spotted Liz's car, and parked her car next to it.

Malik turned to Liz and spoke softly, "Elizabeth, I'll just leave it at that. Sorry if I spoke out of turn, I just wanted you to see it differently. But I know you're able to figure things out on your own."

"Thank you for the ride. I understand. Thank you." With that, Liz climbed out of the car.

As Liz turned on the ignition of her car, she saw Malik's car pull out of the parking structure. She sat staring at the steering wheel, as her mind has not stopped whirling at all that Malik had spoke of. She didn't know what any of it would mean to her, or if anything will change because of it. In essence, it was something she didn't even need to know. And she was sure Malik got it all wrong, completely wrong. It just couldn't be. Yet Liz couldn't comprehend why her mind felt troubled, why she suddenly couldn't breathe right, and why her heart wouldn't cease its wild beating.