A/N: Thank you to all the readers who's been patient with this story. I've been just so busy with school and life, and I've been writing my other story (I just felt more inspired for it). It's been MONTHS since the last update, so I hope you forgive me…and treat this new chapter with kindness.
And btw, is it just me or…don't you feel like the show is setting up for Tom and Ressler throw down?
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Chapter 18: The Battle Cry
"Lizzie, if you think I'm going to let you walk into that bastard's life…if you think I'm going to just sit here and do nothing about it…"
She placed both of her hands upon Donnie's chest in an attempt to soothe his anger, in all of its unfiltered and unbridled mess. But his indignation was beyond her leverage, and he simply walked away from her, to the other side of the living room. She winced at his frustrated heavy strut, and his cheeks that were becoming redder than a fiery arsenal.
"Donnie…please…please calm down."
"Don't tell me to calm down, Lizzie. What would you do if you were in my shoes? And don't you dare tell me you'll be OK with any of this."
She closed in the distance between them, and stood facing him, in hopes of halting his fuming steps back and forth on the rug. "Donnie, you heard Red…I am not in danger. Not at all."
"So, I suppose now Reddington is to be trusted. Sure…why not? Let's just conveniently forget the fact that, oh hell, he's a dangerous criminal who only looks out for himself, and uses others to do his dirty business for him, without a blink of an eye, let alone a chink in the conscience…if he has one."
"You do realize he kills people for living."
"Red knows only one thing…and that is how to play the game of life, where there is only one survivor…himself." Donnie then reached for her hand, and his tone softened, "Lizzie…for all I know, this could be a trap, just one more of his games in his web of lies. Who knows…perhaps he's after you. I don't know…it is possible that he's after the bureau, and he's taking you down first."
"That is absolutely ridiculous."
"Really? How can you be absolutely certain about Red, in anything? What makes you think you can even…"
Liz didn't wait until he had finished that sentence before walking away from him, now it being her turn to need space. She couldn't explain why she felt the growing heat inside of her just as Donnie spread vehemence over Reddington…she almost felt suffocated in trying to defend the old man, all the while not knowing why she even felt compelled to defend the damn man to begin with.
"What makes you so sure that he's not playing you?" Donnie didn't give up the dogged persistence, and demanded of her without reprieve.
She turned and faced him, and with focused eyes she uttered, "I just know."
"You just know? Damn it, Lizzie…you're basing your trust on the man, based on your…feelings?"
"It's more than just feelings."
"What, a hunch? An intuition? So, you're betting your life, like a wish upon a star?"
"Donnie…" Now her tone matched his, in its sharp and prickly belligerence. "I just…know that Red is not going to harm me."
"That much, I know for certain."
"Well, that's comforting. He has never made me feel that way, so I'm up for grabs…still eligible to get a bullet from his gun."
"If Red wanted to kill any of us, he would've…a long time ago. He's had plenty of chances." Lizzie breathed in a fitful of air, to settle her own rampant heartbeat. "Donnie…this isn't how I wanted to do this. I don't want to fight with you…"
"Well, it has come to that, hasn't it? It's funny…" Donnie shook his head in an amused realization, "The center of all of our arguments and fights…has always been Reddington."
"See, that's what happens when you let him do this to you…when you let him get into your life like this."
"He needs my help."
Donnie let out a chuckle, of certain derision, "He always needs your help."
"What do you suggest that I do? Say no?"
He nodded his head, "Yes, say no. Try that once in a while. And he may throw a fit, but let him…what can he do, force you to do something at gun point?"
"It's not that simple, and you know it." Lizzie crossed over to the other side of the living room in need of some fresh air, all the while hating the distance between them that felt like an insurmountable divide.
"Lizzie…please…all you have to do is say no to that man, just for this once." Donnie must've felt her frustration, and he lowered his tone, close to a whisper. "I love you…and I couldn't bear anything happening to you."
"Donnie, I know…I just…"
"Doesn't it matter to you about how I feel about this, at all?"
"Of course it matters to me, Donnie, how can you say that? What you think and how you feel absolutely mean everything to me."
"Then…" He walked over, and held both of her hands, "Tell Red you're calling off the entire operation. Please…do that for me."
She looked into his pleading eyes, and was beyond tempted to do just what he'd asked of her. "Donnie, I know it's hard for you to understand…but…"
"But…you're still gonna go through with it."
"Because…" Donnie had let go of her hands at this point, and Lizzie immediately felt the chilled sensation that took over, "Red's life is in danger…and I could help him. Especially if it's Tom…"
"Tom…that is the very reason why you shouldn't."
"I know him…and I have leverage. That is the only reason why Red would ask me to do this. Even in your point of view, this is smart play."
"Smart play? Lizzie, you and I both know Tom…is no longer that tweed wearing, bespectacled, pretentious ass who followed you around the Academy like a wet dog. Just like what Red said…he's a hired killer, a criminal…who knows what he's capable of, and to what extent."
Then Donnie's hands reached for her shoulders, and he shifted her so that their eyes were locked in focus, "Listen to me, Lizzie…don't be fooled by your memories of him, and don't underestimate how deep the crazy goes. Smart play would be to arrest the maniacal twit and throw him in jail."
Lizzie winced at Donnie, for she knew of his revulsion towards Tom, and had expected he'd get personal with it…but it grieved her to see that the enmity and venom ran deeper than she suspected. All she could offer was a meek, "He is not who we're after."
"Right…Tom's just a tiny little guppy swimming upstream to his badass boss, and Red wants to catch that great white shark on top." Donnie threw his hands in the air in an exaggerated surrender, "Remind me again why Reddington can't just hire a hussy to play this part?"
"Because…Tom's had feelings for me before. I need to see if I can play that angle."
He had now started to pace back and forth…again. "Lizzie, if you're trying to make me feel better about this situation, you're failing at it…on a colossal level."
"Donnie, I need you…to trust me."
"I trust you…I just don't trust anyone else."
She halted his pacing with a hand upon his arm, "Then, trust me to do this job. Trust me to bring in that criminal. And I promise you that in all of the dealings with this operation, you'll be involved. I give you my word."
. . . . . . . .
"So, how is Donald faring about in all of this?"
"How do you think?"
Lizzie was sitting next to Reddington in his car, with her eyes focused out of the window and onto the entrance of the museum. There were too many people milling about, and it was nearly impossible from their vantage point to identify any one in particular. And Reddington was in his usual nonchalance, "Relax, Lizzie. I have my men situated in the parameters. Once they spot Tom, they'll alert me."
But Lizzie didn't take her eyes off of the far yonder, and Reddington shifted his face closer to her, "Lizzie, did you hear me?"
She finally turned to face Red, and he smiled in satisfaction, "As I was saying, how is Donald…"
"He's angry and he thinks you are the usher of all evil. What did you expect?"
With a languid nod, Red chuckled with a quiet amusement, "Well, that's nothing new. At least you're here…I'll take that as him relenting."
"I wouldn't assume that much. He's just...going along on the ride, for now."
"Well, I don't doubt that he'll come around, sooner or later. Just give him time."
"That's easier said than done…especially if you're at the offering end of that time."
"He'll come around…at heart, Donald is a lawman. He wants to catch the bad guys."
Lizzie couldn't argue against that, but her heavy heart didn't feel any less stifling, "But there are costs…"
"There are always costs…but don't worry, he must know that by now."
They sat in silence for a moment, each giving into ruminations of perhaps what those costs, and losses, have been in their pursuits and heartaches. But such moments of stillness was a luxury for both of them, and Lizzie's thoughts soon returned to Donnie, and the burden of his agony.
"There is one…stipulation." Lizzie kept her sharp gaze upon Reddington, "One small..."
"I promised Donnie that…he will be involved with everything that goes on with this operation, and that nothing will happen without his approval."
Reddington shifted in his seat, turning from Lizzie's eyes and electing to focus on ahead. With his pursed lips and squinted eyes, it was evident that he wasn't pleased with what he had just heard, and Liz watched him intently for his reaction. After a heavy air of leaden silence, he finally turned to Lizzie, "Did you really promise him all that? Do you think that was wise?"
"Red…I'm in love with him…and he deserves at least that much." Lizzie shook her head, staring at Reddington in repulsion at his coldness that veered on cruelty, "Do you not have a heart? Don't you know anything about love and wanting to protect that person?"
"Lizzie…you'll be surprised how well I know of those sentiments." He matched her spitfire without missing a beat, and Lizzie bit her tongue against a storm of dissent rising inside of her.
"In any case, that's what I promised Donnie…and regardless how you feel about it, I'm keeping my word."
"Then you're doing a disservice to Donald…seeing that it is him who needs protection most of all."
"Just what the hell does that suppose to mean?"
It was then that Reddington took off his sun glasses, and slowly folded them onto his lap. Lizzie watched him with a growing suspicion, of certain dread and trepidation she couldn't understand. He finally turned to her, "If you think that honesty is the best policy…you're gravely mistaken."
"So, I'm to lie to him…? That is never going to happen."
"Lizzie, I could tell you that Donald knowing everything will not only hinder this operation…but it will destroy your relationship."
"Well, lying is not gonna build it."
Reddington was quick to respond, "No, but it will protect him from pain."
"And this, coming from a professional liar. Of course, you'd endorse it."
He dismissed her derision without a blink, "It won't do him any good to know every detail of how you are…cavorting with another man. He loves you…and this will only shatter him from within."
She could only turn from his knowing gaze, as she wouldn't dare allow him to witness her tears that threatened to break free at his every word. She couldn't bear the thought of hurting Donnie, and as much as she resisted, she couldn't deny that…Red was right. Already Donnie was wary and repulsed by Tom…and regardless of pretense, it'd absolutely destroy him to know that she was…
"Lizzie, you love him. That means you must do everything in your power to protect him, even if it means to hide the truth from him."
"I have never lied to him, and I'm not about to start now."
"Then, you must simply choose what you wish to reveal to him."
"That is lying..."
She shivered at those words, as if rejecting the menace behind his calm, "Is that…is that what you've been doing? Is that what you think…what you're convinced of? Withholding the truth is NOT the same as telling someone the truth, regardless of how you justify it."
And she hissed at his direction, "Look at me, Red. Is that…is that what you're doing with me? You once told me you've never lied to me…"
Just then, his cell phone beeped and he promptly answered it. After a brief conversation, Red faced Lizzie, "He's here…on second floor, the east wing."
Lizzie didn't break the furious gaze, but she grabbed the door handle nonetheless. But before she opened the door, she turned to him for a last look and barked, "This conversation is not over."
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Lizzie huddled her coat closer against the frigid wintry wind as she dashed across the street to the Metropolitan Museum of Washington DC. Despite her peaked suspicion and indignation at Red, she shook her head and inhaled deeply to focus upon the task at hand…to find Tom and thus begin this operation. She paid for her ticket at the booth, and headed toward the staircase that led to the second floor, minding the green arrows on the wall that read, "East Wing – The Renaissance".
When Red informed her that Tom had been frequenting the museum often, ever since his arrival to the city, it didn't escape her that something was quite amiss. She had not known him to be a patron of the arts, or remotely interested in it for that matter, and this turn of development only begged her to question just what the hell he might be doing here. It was Red who suggested that perhaps the museum was a meeting place of business, and she was willing to agree with him…it was definitely not to mull over life in the presence of Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci.
She scanned the floor furtively as she neared the east wing, noting all the individuals milling around the vast wide hall. It looked to be the typical Saturday afternoon patron group, of parents with children, art buffs who flared their hands in admiration, tourists with cameras, and teenagers who walked too briskly along. But she knew that among that throng was someone…unknown and undetected…who was a criminal with a connection, conspiring with Tom to do who knows to what murderous end.
And it was then that Lizzie spotted Tom, walking alone and quietly along the wall, with the pretense of studying the works of Paolo Veronese. She had every intention of tracking him down, but when she saw him, her heart trembled in shock and apprehension in unaware, beyond her control. Her mind and her heart felt as though dividing into two, where her mind directed her to focus, but her heart begged her to run. She slowed her pace to catch her breath, all the while knowing that all her years of training had not prepared her for this ordeal, an operation of this perilous magnitude.
And she took in every detail of him…of his tan blazer, his easy corduroy pants, the long and shaggy brown hair, and the brown tortoise eye glasses perched upon his sharp nose, right above his unassuming smirk. It's been a good five years since she'd last seen him, but Tom looked incredibly the same, in his pleasant and harmless disposition, along with his easy strides and the smile that settled on his face at the tiniest amusement. Remembering Donnie's warning to not be fooled by his appearance, she couldn't help but to wonder…what had happened to Tom? How did he come to this life of crime…a life of heartlessness and death?
Tom had a promising career from the Naval Academy, graduating at the top of his class as a master and an expert in field tactics and battle intelligence. He was determined to use his skills to do good in this world, to fight for justice, defend the weak, and preserve the honor. But…what made him turn? How does a young man of ideals and dreams…become a criminal hired to kill? What has happened to his life that made this turn conscionable and valorous? Or was it something else? Perhaps it wasn't of his choosing, but rather that this ominous fate had chosen him…
And right now, it was her job to take him down…and she had to focus on that. Tom slowed his pace at the far wall, where the great work of Caravaggio occupied the entire parameters. He was clutching a small notebook in his hand, and he had started to fiddle with the pages. Now was the time, she had to make her move.
Lizzie walked carefully behind him, keeping the focused gaze at the back of his head, and she stood several feet away from him, while pretending to admire the art work. The painting was called, "The Entombment of Christ", and it showed the dead body of Christ being carried after he was betrayed by his own countrymen. She noted the irony of the rather fitting subject at the moment, and kept her senses upon the unassuming man next to her. She considered feigning a cough to get his attention, but that wasn't necessary.
"It's Tom, Tom Keen!" He smiled brightly at the recognition of her, and she returned the disposition just as brightly.
"Oh my god, Tom!"
"Lizzie…I can't believe it…" And he gave her a warm hug, and she recollected his cologne…unchanged after all these years. Becoming a criminal hadn't changed him too much, in some areas.
"This is incredible…what are the chances…" Tom's wide smile was infused with genuine exuberance, and his green eyes sparkled in awe and laughter.
"I know…I can't believe it…I'd never thought of walking into you, of all people…and in a museum, of all places."
"This really does feel like a dream…but I can't describe how happy I am to see you. You look just as beautiful as ever."
Lizzie feigned a bashful grin, "Thank you…so what are you doing here, in DC? I thought you'd be stationed in some high ranking Navy command center. That is how I last saw you…a dashing, brilliant, and…gorgeous, I might add…young graduate ready to take on the world."
Now it was his turn to blush, but he wasn't pretending, "Lizzie…you flatter me. I'm actually…not with the Navy."
"I'm now working as a consultant for this defense firm, and as luck would have it, I've just moved to DC, for their DC office."
"That sounds wonderful."
"And how about you?" Tom was still sporting that earnest smile, "Do you live in DC?"
"Yes…I work at the FBI headquarters, here in the city."
"That's great, Lizzie. That's what you wanted…well, not a total surprise, coming from the top graduate of Quantico. You're working as a profiler, I presume?"
"Yes…well, I'm assigned as a field agent in most cases. Especially for cases that concern the particular division I'm working in…"
"Well, umm…" Lizzie didn't finish that sentence, and dangled that mystery like bait in front of Tom…and he proved irresistible to the tempting charm. She saw his eyes widen at the curiosity…but more so at what he could gain from that privileged knowledge.
"Ah, right…it's classified." He nodded playfully, "And we, the mere civilians, are not privy to that juicy morsel."
"Unfortunately, no…" Lizzie smiled affectionately towards him, with a glimmer of flirtation, "Well, not yet, anyway."
"Oh, is there hope for me?"
"There's always hope for you, Tom...just you wait."
. . . . . . .
"What did he say?"
Reddington barraged her coolly as soon as Lizzie climbed into his waiting car parked a block away from the museum. Her conversation with Tom wasn't long, as he declared he had some business he must tend to, and they parted ways at the main gate of the museum.
"Red, it was the first time we've seen each other in five years…he wasn't going to spill the story of his life, let alone his criminal statistics." She said, just as coolly, "We did exchange numbers."
"You two exchanged numbers?"
"Red…don't talk to me in that tone…I'm not your teenage daughter."
Reddington only laughed in a low guttural tone, "Well, I do approve of this young man calling you."
"And he will…"
"I gather you spread the charm pretty thick?"
"That and…the fact that I'm an FBI agent. His entire being brightened up when I mentioned that…he wants something from me, he sees me as useful." And she snickered in revulsion, "I am the girlfriend of every damn criminal's dreams."
"Well, let's get you home," Red signaled to Dembe, and soon the car was moving. "And see what happens. Let Tom decide his own fate."
Lizzie looked out of the window, and perhaps more to herself, she muttered, "That bastard has no idea what's coming to him."
. . . . . . .
Donnie was already at her apartment when she arrived, anxiously waiting for her in the living room. Lizzie had forgotten that she had given him the keys, and the sight of him brought a mixture of both comforting solace and uneasy apprehension. She could plainly see the dark circles under his eyes; he most likely did not sleep well the night before, and he was gearing up for another round of interrogation and confrontation.
"Lizzie…did you see him? Did you see Tom?"
She had barely taken her heavy coat off when Donnie pressed her, but when she turned to face him, all she could see was worry and concern etched on his blue eyes. She felt the knot in her heart soften at the sight, and remembered to be patient at his own heart's anguish. "Yes, I saw him."
"And…you talked to him?"
"Yes, I did…but nothing happened. We didn't talk for long…" Already, Lizzie felt as though she wasn't…and couldn't…be wholly truthful with Donnie, for the worry that it'd distress him further. Damn it, Red may be right…again. She loved Donnie, and she just couldn't dispense honesty without considering how it would affect him, how it would damage his already leaden heart of torment. And if it meant that she must withhold some information, for his sake and peace, then perhaps she should...
"Tom said he's working at a defense firm. That could be a lie, for all I care." She had to give Donnie something to alleviate his anxiety, "You'd be surprised at how he looks…exactly the same, as the last time you saw him at the Academy."
"That's good to hear. I will punch his face, with those ridiculous glasses intact."
"Donnie…" She dismissed his fitful tone, and wrapped her arms around him in a tight embrace, "I missed you…" Then she raised her face, and kissed him, grazing his lips deeply with her lips.
"So, what's going to happen?" Those were his words, after the kiss. His heart had yet to be assuaged.
"Well…I gave him my number."
"You gave him your number?"
"And we have to see whether he takes the bait…have him make the first move."
"Oh, he'll take the bait, alright. I remember how he looked at you at the Academy, like a piece of meat strung on a stick, attached to his leash."
"Donnie…please, you need to…"
"And let's say he calls you back…then what? You're gonna go on dates with him, wine and dine him, give him flowers and chocolate…"
Lizzie shook her head, feeling helpless at his rising temper, "Donnie, you need to stop…"
"And you're gonna sleep with him, for information? Sure, that's a great plan…sexual favors exchanged for criminal's insider tip. And say what you may, but the bottom line is that Tom...is a man. That means he ain't thinkin' with his brain most of the time…"
"Alright, I'm done with this conversation."
"I'm just surprised Reddington is willing to put you up for this…you'd think he'd be more concerned for his little…"
Donnie was robbed the chance to finish his sentence when Lizzie's cell phone rang loudly in the tense air. With an angry huff, she pulled the phone out of her pant pocket, and looked at the screen. Then she faced Donnie, "It's…Tom."
"Unbelievable. He calls you two hours after he saw you…he doesn't have much of a game, that cheeky bastard."
Lizzie softened her tone, "I have to get this."
"Of course, you do. Have a great time."
Then without another word or another look, Donnie walked out of her apartment with a sharp slam of the door. She could've stopped him…but she didn't. And just as Lizzie clicked on the receiver button of the phone, she was reminded that perhaps she needs to get her apartment keys back from Donnie, at the risk of Tom finding out about him.
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