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5 Times Ressler's Past Catches Up With Him (and 1 Time He Runs Back On His Own)

Chapter Text

 

       The debrief meeting was going as well as expected. That is to say: dry, boring, and chalk-full of arrogance and tedium. A necessary debrief, but still boring as sin. Elizabeth could still hear the splash of the Stewmaker’s body hitting the chemical bath, and the hiss of the acid eagerly eating away at his skin. She didn’t need to relive the experience in a powerpoint presentation, for god’s sake. She was sick and exhausted to the point of dizziness, but this was her job, and she could feel the heavy judging gaze on her shoulders of at least half the agents in the room, just waiting for the rookie to screw up. She kept her posture as annoyingly straight as possible and faced the front. She even pretended to take notes for a while. Like she needed a reminder.

       Agent Ressler studied her from the opposite end of the room, eyes half-lidded and not bothering to be subtle. She sighed internally. Was it time for another conflicted round of “I’m Not Sure if I Still Hate You, Or I’m Starting To Adjust to Your Role on My Team?” She was on her last nerve of the day, and seeing that goddamn crease in his brow and his face looking like a confused gorilla? Not conducive to keeping the peace. She forced herself to count backwards from 100 before she just got up and kicked him in the nuts. Liz smirked slightly at the thought. Sometimes the classics were classic for a reason.

        “And now, Agent Ressler will explain the connection between…um...Agent Ressler?” The thin, nasally voice of the tech agent trailed off as the sound of shitty rock music blared angrily from Ressler’s corner of the room. He pushed off the wall hurriedly and glanced down at his ringing phone screen in obvious confusion, before flipping it open. The debrief room, filled with over 20 people, was silent as the surprise on his face bled into something darker. He signaled the commander through the glass as the skinny tech speaker opened his mouth to whine in complaint before Ressler blew passed him, knocking the smaller man into the pull-down screen at the front of the room. Cell phone already at his ear, his eyes briefly brushed over hers as he left, but he wasn’t looking at her. Liz had never seen that look in his eyes and before she even realized she was out of her seat, she was weaving through the crowd to the other door. She quietly slipped out of the room from the back as the whispering exploded in the crowd of agents. Meera, leaning comfortably on the back wall across from her, raised a brow as Liz snuck out, eyes dark with curiosity and a slight flicker of amusement. Liz shrugged helplessly before shutting the door. If this had something to do with Reddington, she was not letting Ressler try and shut her out again.

 She turned the corner just in time to see the angry tail end of his jacket flair out as he whipped around into the back exit staircase. She waited a breath before following sliently. Her heels made tiny clicks on the floor as she heard a raised voice explode from the alcove.

“What do you mean, you—Christ, Jax, what did—“ she glanced around surreptitiously before turned the last corner. The door to the staircase was mostly shut, but the hinge had rusted enough to leave a sliver of space for the voices to flow through. Thank God for shitty government funding. The slim window in the door was dirtied with age, but she could still see Ressler clearly in the dim lighting. He was whisper-yelling furiously at the wall, one hand in his perfectly combed hair. He looked different, something in his expression, she thought distractedly. More…open. Emotional.

It was weird.

“You want me to—do you even know what youre asking me, man?” he whirled around and for a moment she panicked he’d seen her. She ducked quickly, but his hushed voiced still broke through. “So what, he’s creepin’ around your girl, that’s not my—“ he broke off and she faintly heard an angry voice over the phone rising gradually. It sounded like another man, and he sounded pissed. Ressler turned slightly towards the window again, and the look on his face made her step back.

“He’s stalking who?” The voice responded, sounding slightly calmer. The shock on the agent’s face was plain. “Tara’s back?” As Liz wondered who Tara was (sister? girlfriend? pet cat?), Ressler brushed an agitated hand through his hair again as he listened to the call intently. Then he broke into a smirk that made Liz keenly aware of how personal this conversation was. His postured slouched and for a moment, he looked so young and relaxed, Liz barely even recognized him.

“Damn, who’d you have to sell your soul to to bring her back in town, kid?” A muffled indignant reply buzzed over the cell and he barked a laugh. “Yeah, sure, okay, you didn’t even notice she was back, right.” His tone grew fond and teasing and Liz leaned so close to the window her breath fogged against it, blurring out his soft smile as he mumbled into the receiver. He kicked the wall lightly with his foot and she barely heard the following question, she was so distracted by the cuteness of the movement.

“...How’s Gemma? She stilled pissed?” the response was slow, and his expression fell slightly. Another ex? No, this had to be family. The tense line of his shoulders didnt lie. Another louder comment brought the tiny grin back and he chuckled slightly. “Tell Chibs he even thinks about touching that scotch under the shelf I’ll knife his bike with his own blades. I mean it. He could use some more scars.” Another muffled retort. Liz couldn’t help but hear the soft twang that bled into his voice as his spoke. It sounded vaguely…Southern? West Coast Southern, definitely. And not nearly as cultured or sharp as his usual tone. She was so lost. Scars? Bikes? His profile said he had no family, and he was from East Phili. Her mind whirled in confusion.  

 “Yeah, I heard Opie just got outta Stockton. Tell him and Donna to check the mail soon, I sent ‘em a gift….Jesus, Jax, not that kinda gift.” The disgust on his face was comical (even cute, her mind suggested unhelpfully) and even though Liz was fascinated by this alien version of her grim team leader, she knew she needed to back off. “Hey, youre a dad now, you gotta quit talkin’ like that…Hey, kids like me, okay?” He sounded…brotherly. He licked his lips distractedly and Liz had to refocus.  “I know. Juice sent some pictures.  He’s beautiful— You sure he’s your kid?” he joked with another blindingly white smile. This was way too personal. Liz already felt guilty for staying once she’d figured out it wasn’t another “Red” alert. His voiced sobered for a moment and as she stepped away lightly, he was nodding seriously again.

“Jax, I’m sure it’ll be fine. Tell Chief Hale—he should be chief now right? ...What? Unser’s still…whatever. Tell Hale anyway. Yeah. I’ll send you the files. Gimme the guys name….okay. And you’re sure the guy’s FBI?” Even backing away, Liz heard the answering exasperation over the phone. “Okay, how do you spell it? K-O-H-N. Got it. Okay, I’ll see what I can do.” She silently retreated back to the main bullpen, turning the corner quietly, but not before she heard the echo down the hall.

“Yeah, love you too, brother.”

Meera was waiting at her desk when she reentered. She raised a brow at the look  Liz was sure was on her face.

“Not was you were expecting, it seems?” the smaller woman studied her silently, before nodding. Liz watched as Agent Ressler calmly made his way back to the main office before leaning into her doorway and addressing the two women. “We pull out in ten. We got a protection case. Keene, contact Reddington. We’re gonna need him.” He barked out the orders sharply, the slow comfortable drawl from his words on the phone nonexistent. His hair was back to its perfectly styled swoop, no sign of his earlier agitation, and for some reason that really, really bothered her. She pushed away the feeling as she grabbed her bag. Kohn. The name echoed ominously in her head. She pushed away that feeling, too.

It was probably nothing.

Chapter Text

“Whats the IRA?” Liz remarked in confusion. “And what does it have to do with the Zarkoni case?” She had only just stepped out to head back to work when she received a text from Red. “Your guard dog is gonna like this.” Shed arrived at his house to find him surrounded by surveillance photos of men in dark jackets, expressions closed and worn. Images of illegal weaponry, running from small caliber hand guns to large assault weapon systems littered the walls, aligned next to grotesque snapshots of street explosions and remnants of bodies strewn across sidewalks. On the main wall directly across from the entrance, a smaller spider web of mug shots featuring an array of fierce looking mostly-white males, age ranging from 25 to a comfortable 60. Elizabeth had been profiling for years, and had seen terrifying men before. But something about this side collection made her uncomfortable. Maybe because of how real they all looked, as if she leaned out the window she’d see one walking their dog down the street.

Raymond Reddington smiled like a shark. “The True Irish Republican Army are an Irish terrorist organization who sell illegal Russian-made guns to motorcycle gangs and Russian Mafias in the United States to fund their cause. I’d like to educate you on some of their bigger fish. If we want to catch Marcus Zarkoni, we need to collect one of his contacts. Jimmy O’Phelan, one of the IRA’s leading members in the cause.” Red’s eyes flickered to the window and she heard an SUV pull up. Walking over to the window, she watched as Agent Ressler marched up the stairs into the house, his face etched into his usual stone cold mask. Ever since the events of the Stewmaker and the ensuing Mysterious Phone Call To Non-Existent Family, she couldn’t help but put him in a different light. He was much more than the grumpy team leader with anger management issues. He had secrets, and that was hot.

She blinked. Interesting. She meant interesting.

She looked up and met Reddington’s inquisitive gaze. He smiled wider and the door slammed open, admitting Meera and Ressler along with three other agents. She thought back to Red’s text. Your guard dog is gonna like this. Did he mean…Ressler?

She watched the team take stock of the room while she headed in Meera’s direction to fill her in. Their team captain was currently occupied, eyes hard and focused on the images lining the walls. He stalked towards Red and muttered to him furiously in low tones.

“So, why the change in venue, “ whispered Meera, bringing Liz back to the conversation. Her eyes had followed Ressler too, and both women watched curiously as Red laughed at Ressler’s obvious anger. “Should you maybe…” she gestured helplessly towards the two men. “before it gets physical?” She shrugged and dodged around two agents before swiftly maneuvering around the room to the hostile back corner. She heard the tail end of their conversation.

“…I don’t know what you think you’re trying to pull here, but IRA is obviously not our jurisdiction. You explicitly told us that Zarkoni’s contact was heading the terrorist cell in Cabo. You had no right—“ Red interrupted him with a lazy hand wave.

“I had every right. I didn’t like Morab anyway. Not reliable.” He smiled that shark smile and leaned closer as Liz drew near. He muttered lowly and she barley caught the words: “No worries, I won’t go digging up any dusty skeletons if I can help it.” Ressler jerked back, finally realizing Liz was right there. He looked at her and his lips twitched slightly. He looked…uncomfortable, was the closest she could describe it. It was a weird mix of nerves and rage, and something darker. His eyes caught on the wall behind her and she raised a brow at Red, who was already directing the team into collecting the web of information coating the walls. His smile was calm and indulgent as her team leader stepped infinitely closer without realizing it, gaze still drawn to the mug shots behind her. It was as if he’d forgotten she was there, so intently focused on the center photo on the wall. She coughed slightly.

“Umm…Agent…” he looked down, startled, before realizing he’d basically backed her into the corner in his unconscious staring contest with the collection on the wall. He stepped to the side hurriedly, and Liz almost laughed. He was blushing. Honest to god, blushing. It was adorable.

“Sorry, I was…sorry, yeah,” he started to babble before catching himself and standing straight and refocusing. “Clear up all the pertinent info, we can head back to HQ. I’ll deal with the O’Phelan situation. Malik!” he turned back towards his other partner still standing comfortably against the wall, dark eyes brimming with amusement. “You and Keen head back, start working on Zarkoni’s contacts in the East,” his gaze seemed to pull back towards a photo on the wall. Liz followed his line of sight until she was looking at the crisp mug of a youngish blonde man, hair long and loose, giving him that surfer boy feel. He was smirking slightly at the camera, giving him a roguish, but not altogether malicious look. He was also (she couldn’t help but notice, for profiling reasons) that he was hot as sin.  Great jawline. High cheekbones. Fair hair. She reminded her of someone… but she couldn’t quite put her finger on it…

The image being torn down in front of her shook her out of her reverie.

“Agent Keen, we’re moving out.” The low growl rumbled from her right and Ressler reached around her to swipe a few more off the walls.

“What-where are you taking the photos?” she was still half stuck in her thought process and the clenched jaw on the man in front of her was giving her a bizarre sense of deja-vu. She shook her head and stepped to the side and Ressler and another agent began to collect the info off the walls. “I’ll take it from here, Keen. Malik’s waiting in the car.” He barely glanced at her as he collected two more photos, one of a younger looking Hispanic with head tattoos and another of a middle aged man with grey streaked hair and matching scars on the side of his face. As the photos were placed into the pile she felt something at the edge of her mind prickle. Scars

Keen.” She jerked back to find Ressler inches away from her face, eyes narrowed in a fierce glare. Whoops.

“Oh, right, sorry, I was just—“

“You were just leaving.” He stated firmly, turning back towards the walls. She nodded, her previous thought forgotten as she headed for the door. Right. Leaving. Got it.

An hour later, the team was gathered around the boards of garbled information concerning their next “whale.” It wasn’t looking good by any means. No known contacts in the US, no loose ends, no attack patterns. They had nothing. She sighed and looked at Reddington, slouched in the chair next to her. He was playing angry birds on his phone, completely content to watch them crash and burn. Ressler paced towards the back like an angry bull, brow heavy and eyes narrowed as he stopped every few paces to clench a fist around his cell phone, sometimes flipping it open and huffing. It was weird, but Liz tried to ignore him. Maybe it was stress. Malik was discussing something with the Commander quietly near the boards, but it looked like they were getting nowhere fast.

She turned back to find Ressler gone, the exit hallway door swishing inward. She started and made to get up off the desk before Red’s hand places itself gently on her knee, keeping her still.

“Now, now, Lizzie, let the man be.” He had a funny smile on his face, but Liz sat back down. She focused back on the files and no less than 2 minutes later, the hall door exploded open and Donald Ressler came in like a hurricane.

“O’Phelan is currently in Eden, California, we have less than 14 hrs to grab him and go.” He stopped next to the boards and grabbed to listings of the right side, turning back sharply only to find his team wide-eyed and frozen. Meera gaped. “O’Phelan is on the CIA’s most notorious fugitives listings, how did you even begin…?” she trailed off in shock as she mindlessly grabbed her bags. Red was chuckling softly at her side. She ignored him in favor of watching her team leader as he responded quickly. “I …know a guy, who knows a guy. Its not important. Pack up. O’Phelan needs to be picked up in 10 hours and back on board his plane 4 hours later. Our window in growing smaller. Move, people!”

Meera still had her brows raised in shock as Liz helped her gather their things. The smaller agent whispered furiously to her as they scrambled. “Know a guy… you don’t just know a guy who can find Jimmy O’Phelan. He’s hot shit, but he’s on the dirty side of crime. FBI doesn’t have many connections into the lower rings of potential RICO cases. Especially not IRA. This is weird.” They watched Ressler as he glanced down at his phone again and stepped into the car. Meera huffed a breath and continued down to the lot. Liz thought back to the mug shots on the wall, the faces of the handsome, familiar blonde and the angry, scarred features on the older of the two. Carved like a message. Red’s knowing little smile and Ressler’s bizarre tension. Your guard dogs gonna like this. She whispered to herself at she followed after.

“This is really weird.”

Chapter Text

So. Southern California wasn’t exactly what they were hoping for.

Well, not counting the bullets. That was pretty expected.

Actually getting hit, though? Kinda sucked.

Liz itched idly at the thick bandage on her head. “Stop that,” admonished the nurse. “You’ll pull your stitches.” Liz narrowed her eyes and frowned. Four measly stitches and a few cracked ribs. Hardly something to write home about. It was only because of her Tac vest that she wasn’t bleeding out in the street with a bullet wound in their chest. Speaking of bullet wounds...

“Jesus, get offa me. It went through, I’m fine, just back off.”

“Agent Ressler, you have to understand, you were very lucky to not—

“Lucky? The fuc—hey, quit that, I said I was fin—Hey!”

It seemed her illustrious team leader was slightly less amendable to hospitals than she was. She watched in poorly hidden amusement as the hospital staff poked and prodded at his bullet wound. Thankfully, it did go clean through. A few inches above the heart, though, which is what was causing most the fuss. It was closer to the shoulder really, and he’d have the sling for a few weeks while the muscles reknit, but the memory of seeing him collapsed on the ground, white shirt soaked in red…not breathing…

Her heart monitor started to speed up.

“Sweetheart, you alright?” her nurse Abbie, a sweet, middle aged Hispanic woman, waddled over and placed a hand over her clenched fist. Due to complications, the hospital was slightly understaffed and overflowing with patients, leaving them short on rooms. Any patients not preparing for surgeries within 24 hrs were doubling up, ergo: Donald Ressler and Elizabeth Keen were temporary roommates. Her hospital bed was lined up next to his with a thin curtain for privacy while they patched up her cracked ribs and kept them for in overnight observation.

“Yeah, thanks, Abbie, just tired. You’d think a concussion would be easier to deal with,” she laughed softly as she watched the nurse administer her meds into the IV.

“Oh, now don’t go on ‘bout that. From what I hear, God had an eye on you both this mornin’,” she whispered with a raised brow. “Seems your handsome hero over there makin’ a big ol’ fuss should be pretty grateful.” They both turned to look at the other man as he flailed uselessly with one free arm while a tiny blonde nurse, growing frustrated, stabbed him viciously with the IV. He yelped before continuing to glare balefully as she administered his dose of meds. She then returned the glare and swept angrily out of the room.

Liz snorted behind a hand. “Shut it, Keen.” he muttered as he adjusted his sling. She’d never seen such a grounch in her life. It was kind of adorable.

“Relax,” she said, leaning back on her pillows. “Quit being a baby, at least you get the good stuff.” She glanced back at Abbie and pouted dramatically, eyes wide and innocent. The nurse barked a laugh and shook her finger.

“Don’t even start. With that head wound, you’re not going near anythin’ stronger than what the good doctor already gave you, ‘cita.” She checked the IV again and nodded. “Should be kickin’ in any minute now.” She turned towards Ressler and slapped his hand away from the sling strap he was loosening, and continued towards the door. She called back over her shoulder.

“Now you two get some rest. Your department officer notified us earlier that transportation will arrive for you tomorrow, as long as you’re both cleared to leave.” The flicked off the back set of lights in the room, leaving them shrouded in partial darkness with a single fluorescent light shining on each other their faces. She tilted her head to the side so she could see the agent in the other bed. The angle of the lighting gave his features sharp, contrasting lines, with his heavy brow leaving his eyes in shadow. He should’ve looked ominous, but all she could think about was how messy his usually pristine hair was. Like a little kid caught in the sandbox. It was very shiny, for a guy. She had the urge to run her fingers through it. It was probably really soft. Her head was fuzzing slightly, reminding her the meds would be kicking in any second now.

“You didn’t have to do that, ya know.” Her voice was thick with exhaustion, but the words still broke the tense silence softly. He raised his head from his attempt at loosening the sling again. It was futile anyway.

“What are you talking about?”

“You know. The whole heroic dive, taking the bullet without a vest. It was dumb.” It was hard for her to focus on her words. Her brain felt mushy and the pillow was starting to suck her into the bed. “I would’ve been fine.”

“You were seconds away from getting shot in the head. I did what I had to do to keep… the team safe.” His words were firm but hesitant. She felt a loopy smile form on her face and she pried her eyes open again to look him in the eye. He seemed uncomfortable.

“Aw, you were worried. About me? Thanks, chief. 's sweet.” He had the gall to look indignant.

“You would’ve been shot! I was just —“ she stretched her hand out to place it on his arm but he was farther away than she thought. She frowned and patted the air instead. Her eyes closed involuntarily and she felt herself drift off into the warm darkness in her head, but not before whispering in his direction.

“’Sokay, chief. I’m okay, you’re okay…...I’m really glad you’re okay….”

She feel asleep before she heard his answer.

 

“….well, I had to at least check and make sure my big bro was still breathing.”

“Not by coming to the public hospital.”

There was someone in their room. She pried her left eye open slowly, but her vision was blurry. The curtain was mostly closed between her and Ressler, but she could see part of the shoulder of the man sitting at the side of her partner’s bed. And part of a foot as he slouched back in the visitor’s chair. The mysterious caller was wearing a dirty, scuffed white tennis sneaker that had surely seen better days. His voice was low and husky, and in her sleep addled state it felt as if the gravelly tone was vibrating through her skin. 

“Chill, brother, it’s the middle of the night. There’s like two nurses on duty and their in the psych wing with some patient freaking out. I got time.” There was a pause in the conversation while she heard a familiar sigh come from Ressler while the sound of a lighter flickered. A deep inhale, then the other man spoke again. “I had to ride all the way from Lodi to get here. Its fucking freezing out. Where’s the gratitude?”

Ressler didn’t say anything for a moment, and Liz almost announced her presence then, but held back. She was incredibly curious.

“It’s not that, kid. I’m just worried. Hey, quit that, you’re in a goddamn health facility.” A quick slap sounded, and a half lit cigarette fell to the floor. The once-white sneakers ground it onto the linoleum and kicked it under the bedframe.  Her partner continued. “If Clay finds out, or God-forbid, Gemma…” Both men shuddered in unison. Ressler spoke again, quieter this time.

“But…I’m glad you came, Jax. It’s been way too long.” Jax? The name rang a bell. From the phone-call all those months ago? The non-existent-brother?

“Jax” shifted in the chair, and for a second, Liz saw a flash of messy blonde hair packed under a dark baseball cap. “What was I supposed to do? I saw the news, and then they showed the ambulance…” he exhaled, and the following words sounded very young. “I saw your body, man.”

It was quiet again. Then, “Oh, Jackie. I’m sorry.” The faint silhouetted figures she could see through the curtain melded for a moment as Jax shifted his chair closer. It looked like he was leaning his head down on the side of the hospital bed. Liz held her breath.

Ressler’s voice was muffled against what she thought was Jax’s covered head. “Hey, hey, now. I’m fine. It went right through. No damage except some slight muscular stuff. I’m all good.” The sound of his hand brushing over fabric was broken by the release of a soft huffed breath. Jax, probably. Was he the younger of the two? It seemed that way. It was a weird dynamic to hear. She’d never had any siblings, let alone anyone she was that close with growing up. She’d profiled quite a few, but this…. This was different. Jax seemed entirely independent in one moment, full of strength and an unusual sense of authority for one so young, but as soon as his exhaustion led to a break in the mask, Ressler swooped in to take the weight as if he’d done it his whole life. He probably had.

She glanced towards the curtain again to see the figures still close, but upright.

“I know, just, a lot of shit has been hittin’ the club, and I just had to make sure. The newspaper didn’t know shit except that it was government personnel, and I couldn’t call the hospital or it’d be on record.” The leg peaking out to the side of the half-pulled curtain shifted again, and Liz’s eyes were glued to the large leather sheath attached comfortably to the other man’s belt. The shape wasn’t alluding to anything less than an 8-9 inch dagger, with no decorations, patterns, or insignias on the blade or its housing. It was practical in every way, which made it all the more threatening. It looked well used.

“Look at that, my little brother finally using what’s left of his brain.” The light hearted jab was forced, but it seemed to work.

“Shaddup, Donnie.” The nickname rolled off easily as the men bantered like little kids. It was cute. But weird, considering she had a feeling one(if not both) of them was highly proficient in deadly weaponry.

“Hey, I’m a federal agent, jackass. You’d better show me some respect.”

“Oh, sorry, officer, your work must be so hard …” a hand waved in the direction of her bed where she was supposed to be asleep. “For real, man, how the fuck do you focus with that around? She come with the badge, bro? Complimentary style? Thank you for your service, here’s how we’d like to repay y—ooffph!” a heavy thump, ”Hey, now! No need to get physical, save it for the hottie in the other bed—oww, jesus!” Jax stood up from the chair and grumbled lightly.

“Age has made you mean, old man. Your new haircut is real damn cute, too.”

“Shut up, asswipe. Go change your diaper.”

A light flickered on in the hall and both figures froze. Liz squeezed her eyes shut and leaned back again, feigning sleep. Jax’s blurred form manuevered silently around the curtain and looked through the hall window. She cracked one eye just in time to see the back of his head as he glanced down the hall. He was taller than she expected, easily over 6 feet, dressed in a plain dark hoodie and dusty jeans. She still couldn’t see his face without alerting him to her sleepless state, but his strong, clenched jaw made her pause. Ressler’s voice was hushed as he called the other man back from his position against the front wall.

“Jax, hey, window has a double latch. We’re only on the first floor. “

She closed her eyes just enough to still see him turn from the hall and glance in her direction quickly. Liz held her breath.  He moved back behind Ressler’ curtain with a peculiar panther-like grace, and as his arms swung easily at his sides she noticed the telltale lump of a gun pressed against his waistband. The cap was pulled low over his eyes, but it didn’t make a difference. She remembered that face.

The whispered goodbye was hard to hear, except for a low “Be safe, brother,” from Jax, but the window latch was open and closed in less than 20 seconds, which in itself was impressive. Those things were meant to stay locked.

Fifteen seconds later Abbie wandered back down the hall and glanced in their room, only to find two sleeping agents and a crushed cigarette on the floor. She quietly walked in, picked it up in a gloved hand, and narrowed her eyes at the broad shouldered agent lying fitfully in the bed. She shook her head and wandered back out. The lights turned off. 

Liz released a quiet breath. 

What the fuck was her life.

Chapter Text

            It’s been several months since the hospital. It’s been several long, hard months, full of terrifying offenders both at home and on the job. She doesn’t forget about the blonde haired visitor, who she’s 90% sure belongs on FBI’s watch list (if he hasn’t already taken up residence) she just…sets the thought aside. The mysterious “Jax” just isn’t that important for the moment. She never mentions her suspicions to her superiors, and the only time she alerts Ressler is in the few days after his cast comes off, when she whispered a soft “Keep your voice down next time, Donnie” into his ear.  She wished she’d taken a picture of his face when it clicked, too, because damn, that was glorious. They hadn’t had time to discuss it further, and after the initial terror, he seemed content to let sleeping dogs lie. Maybe he trusted her. They both knew she had nothing more than a gut feeling and some eavesdropping to go on, and besides, she had other things to worry about. Like her “husband." 

Liz and Tom are on what she liked to call a “time-out.” It was long expected, with Tom’s tantrums and secrets and Liz’s work slowly driving a solid FBI-enforced steel wedge between through two. She wasn’t as worried about it as she should’ve been, which was really the main concern. And after the utter and complete shit storm that was Tom’s interrogation, it was probably better that she stay on the couch Meera had offered. One less judgment looming over her shoulder, and once you got used to it, Meera was a very good roommate for the time being. Straightforward, fair, honest. Surprisingly kind. And Liz was just so tired of secrets…

“So we’ve officially moved the potential contact point from Washington Square to Becket’s Court. They’re sending over a team to scope it out just in case, unless Red’s called you with anything…?” the aforementioned agent poked her head through the door, dark hair pulled back into a sensible bun at her nape. When Liz stood up from her desk and shook her head with a frown, she made her way in to lean against the desk. She huffed.

“Well, that’s just fucking wonderful. That means all we have to do until we get confirmation is basically nothing.”

 “Basically.” Liz sighed as she shuffled her files on the desk. Catching terrorists was really badass in theory, but when it came down to it, the 5 minutes of terror vs the 5 weeks of tedium was really damn annoying. Even Ressler was getting antsy, as the two women watched him pace across the main floor, occasionally barking at randoms. With Reddington off doing God Knows What in God Knows Where, their “elite” team was biting at the bit.

Meera leaned up against Liz’s desk, contemplative. ”He doesn’t seem to handle stress very well, does he?” she remarked, both women watching the angry figure through the glass. He was currently glaring at a view screen like it was a personal offense. Liz hummed in agreement, eyes drawn to the long lines of his particularly unruffled navy suit. He scowled and placed his hands of his hips, and the movement held the sides of his jacket away from his waist, showcasing the flat plane of his abdomen under the plain white button down. Her gaze slowly traveled up across the stretch of the shirt across the width of his chest to roll over the broad shoulders hidden beneath his professional attire. She had a weird urge to see him in a cotton t-shirt, maybe some old jeans…rumpled and dirtied up a bit…maybe mess up his perfect hair…

A hand waved in front of her face. “Here.” Said Meera, shoving the water bottle on the desk in her direction. Liz glanced up, startled, before noticing a tiny smirk sitting on the corner of the other woman’s face. “You looked a bit…thirsty.” She grinned wider, the flash of white teeth stark against her features.

“Oh, please.” Liz rolled her eyes and blew a wisp of hair out of her face, refocusing on the files in front of her. Her neck felt hot. It took her a while to get used to happy!Meera, but once she started to trust Liz in return they’d developed a comfortable camaraderie. It probably helped that they were practically the only women in their quadrant working in a field left mostly to men. Feminism for the win. Meera grinned aagain and settled back, shoulder to shoulder with Liz as they both watched there team leader rid his anxiety on some lonely interns. Good thing they were at headquarters, Liz thought gratefully. If he started snapping at the Black Sight guards he’d be back in the hospital in the blink of an eye.

 “Do you think it has anything to do with that phone call this morning?”

 Liz raised a brow in interest. “Phone call? From whom?” (the other side of their friendship may or may not have been built on in-house gossip. But whatever.)

 “Not sure, really, but I heard him as he answered it. Didn’t look good. Maybe family troubles? Does he have family?”

 Are you counting members who are probably not on FBI’s watch list?

 Then, no.

 “I’m not 100 percent sure on that, actually. I don’t think so?” she fought to keep her voice steady. Could it be his ‘brother’? No, he didn’t seem the type to all the sudden abandon secrecy and call FBI headquarters for a friendly chat. That’s just stupid. “Did you hear the other speaker?” Liz congratulated herself on her nonchalance, keeping her eyes focused on her boss in the midst of him growling at another tech assistant. The poor little guy looked like he was about to wet his khakis.

 Meera was looking at her phone distractedly when she responded. “For a second. Sounded Scottish, actually. Maybe Irish. Didn’t really hear much else after Ressler turned away. I was hoping it was a contact with some info, but no such luck.” She frowned slightly at the screen, sighed, and shoved off the desk edge. “Gotta make a quick call. Apparently, our brilliant tactical team hit a bump in the road. “

“They’re having problem’s scouting the perimeter? What’s wrong?”

“No, I mean, they literally hit a bump in the road. Popped a tire.”

 “Oh.” Before she could respond, Meera was out the door, her sensible grey pantsuit a blur in the maze of office desks. Liz followed her partner’s form as she weaved through the bustle of the main bullpen and ended up in front of a still scowling Ressler. She hadn’t seen him in this bad of a mood since the early days of their forced partnership, and as Liz watched his heavy brow lower even further, she couldn’t help but feeling a uncomfortable stirring of déjà vu. Ressler had a fairly limited set of facial expressions to choose from, and this one was vaguely similar to the “Shit’s Hit The Fan, And I Can’t Do Anything To Clean It Up.” It wasn’t exactly a good look for him.

He glanced up from a vidscreen monitor on the wall and accidentally caught her gaze. She noticed heavy lines around his eyes and mouth, and his face was drawn in a way that practically shouted his lack of sleep, not matter what his perfectly pressed suit said otherwise. She felt the pang of concern start to show on her face and waved a hand beckoning him to her office. His arms, folded tightly against his chest, clenched for a moment as Liz held her breath, then released and swung down at his sides as he turned and headed into her office, resigned.

 “What’s going on?” she asked bluntly. He wiped a heavy palm across his face slowly, and exhaled. He was standing in the almost exact center of her office, directly under her light, and the shadows stood out starkly on his lightly tanned skin. Not one blonde hair was out of order, and yet Liz didn’t think she’d ever seen him look so wrecked. She stepped closer into his space, but held back the instinct to touch. “Something’s wrong. Tell me.” She tried to put some authority behind the words, but they came out soft.

“Look, just…”He glanced at her, lips pressed together tightly between breaths. “It’s a personal problem, Keen. It’s not really something—“

“Is it about Jax?” He flinched and looked up from the floor towards the door, then back to her.

“Not in the—“ he hissed between clenched teeth. “Christ, Liz. Keep your goddamn voice down.” He marched towards the door and locked the handle swiftly, turning back and stalking towards her desk where she watching in confusion. He maneuvered around behind her chair before clenching both hands, white knuckled, on the back of the wooden frame. Ressler exhaled, and all of the sudden, his frenzy calmed and the tension in his shoulders bled out slightly. His icy blue gaze rested on her as she was still stuck in the middle-school vortex in her mind (her name sounded quite nice in his mouth...) before stuttering out a whispered “Sorry, sorry,” in the tense office. The appraising look in his eyes was familiar enough that she automatically felt her spine straighten.

“Actually. I need your help."

Well, she sure as hell wasn't expecting that.

"My …friend,” Liz raised a brow at his word usage but he didn’t elaborate, ”isn’t very close with authority. Some would say he’s opposed to certain elements.” He lifted his right hand from the edge of the chair and rubbed the back of his neck uncomfortably. The profiler in her filed it away for future reference.

“Due to his opposition, he runs in circles that could be considered,” he paused uncomfortably again before his jaw clenched as he finished,  “dangerous.”

Liz’s eyebrows felt like they were disappearing into her hairline.

“Him and the cl…group of friends need access to cross international waters. Immediately. But considering they have unlucky ties with other…groups of friends…it’ll take weeks before they are cleared to travel” he took a deep breath here “which is not an option.”

“And? Is this supposed to be incentive?” she asked, genuinely curious. “What am I supposed to do about it?”

The obvious wear on his face was poking at her maternal instinct so she made sure to keep the desk between them. Ressler pulled a card out of his jacket pocket and handed it to her.

“I need you to call this man tonight. Off the record.” Her eyes snapped up and he hastened to explain. “Not, not that he’s a bad guy. I swear. He’s a friend from college who owes me a favor. Any other day of the week I could call him, but in this particular situation I can’t afford to connect my name with any of ...my friends’ contacts. He owns a cargo plane for his business. I need his help, but no one else can know.”

                  “Um.” Her brain was moving to fast for her to respond. This was illegal. Like, hardcore illegal. She was sure of it, and her gut was twisting in that special way that it twisted when she felt like she was being taken advantage of. She didn’t like it, and from her partners frustrated sigh, it showed on her face.

“Look, okay. I wouldn’t ask if this wasn’t literally the last option. You are the only one who knows enough about this that I can trust. Please.”

The rumblings in Liz’s gut subsided slightly. So this was about Jax. She leaned over the desk and tilted her head so she could look him in the eye when she spoke. “You gotta give me something to work with here, though, Donald. I can’t just trust anymore. I’ve made too many mistakes misplacing my trust these last few months.” Faces floated in the forefront of her mind put she shoved them down. Now was not the time for nostalgia.

“You gotta give me more.” The last words were spoken softly in the weighted silence, hanging in the air between them. Then the other agent reached his hand into his jacket pocket and emerged with a crumpled photo, folded twice.

“This is Abel.” A set of familiar wide blue eyes gazed out of the photo, mirroring the other pair watching her carefully from across the desk. The baby in the picture was barely out of infancy. A chubby hand reached towards the viewer in curiosity and Liz felt a thickness in her throat start to rise up.

“He yours?” She asked, barley audible. She couldn’t look away from the child, whose blanket swaddle was leaning against someone’s chest in the picture, someone wearing dark weather-beaten leather and heavy rings on one large, callused hand. She looked closer, noticing the scars and bruising on the knuckles cradling the boy. The embossed letters on each ring…. S-O-N-S….

“No.” he said. She shook herself, pulling back into the conversation. Ressler’s eyes narrowed as they appraised her. He pulled the photo back and folded it back into his inner pocket. “He’s not mine. He’s…,” he hesitated, “he’s my nephew. And he’s been kidnapped.”

She released a shaky breath in shock. From his rigid stance, Ressler wouldn’t be divulging any more information voluntarily. She asked anyway. “Is he…Jax’s son?”

Liz was rewarded was a slight twitch in the other man’s face. “…Yeah. Jax was my brother.”

“But he’s not anymore?” she was genuinely curious, and couldn’t help it.

“No, technically, he is, its just—“ the tiny crease in his forehead furrowed as he floundered to explain. “It’s complicated. We don’t talk. It’s personal, but, the water is very much under the bridge. ” His voice was strained, and she backed off. She picked up the number card off the desk and twirled it in her hands thoughtfully while he watched her. Abruptly she stopped, and leaned over the desk again. She crooked the two fingers pressed around the card and the blond man raised an eyebrow as he leaned close in return. Her breath huffed over the shell of his ear as she whispered softly, “One condition.”

“Wait, you’ll do—“ he started to lean back in his response but she jerked the hand she had furtively wrapped around his bright blue tie and kept him in place by force. He coughed slightly and leaned close to relieve the pressure. “Damn it, Keen—“

One condition.” She spoke firmly. “I don’t like the baby treatment you’ve been handing out the last few days. If I’m going to help you, you need to learn to trust me. I mean it.”

She released him slowly, the silk tie (a perfect match for his eyes, that asshole) slipping through her fingers like butter. The skin around his neck was flushed slightly (anger, probably) and she looked at him carefully. “Trust is a two way street, Ressler.”

He adjusted his collar as he side eyed her. “Yeah, well, pot—kettle, all that jazz.” He finished adjusting his tie, and Liz felt a queer bubbling of disappointment as she watched the crinkles from her hands smooth out and disappear from the fabric. He straightened and faced her.

“Thank you, though. I mean that, Keen.” She smirked as he walked towards the door.

“You can call me Liz, you know. We’ve been working together for months. I think it’s pretty harmless at this point,” she joked lightly.  He quirked a slight grin and looked thoughtfully to the side for a moment before shaking his head.

“Maybe not yet.” Before she could question that, he continued on. “I’ll call you later to explain the details.”

Liz was left standing in her empty office with a phone number, a headache, and pile of questions so bizarre she didn’t even know where to start.

 


 

Several weeks later, she opened the door to her temporary apartment and flicked on the light to find an envelope sitting innocently in her mostly empty mail slot. It was addressed straight to her new apartment, her name scrawled in the messy handwriting of a large hand (probably lower class male, physical laborer, the profiler in her whispered). She hesitated for a moment before carefully opening it.

It was a new photo, the date at the bottom from three days ago. In it, a beautiful dark haired woman about Liz’s age cradled a little boy wrapped in a familiar blue blanket. Her skin was pale and smooth and the tear tracks were obvious if you looked closely. The moment perfectly captured the kiss she was pressing on the child’s head, eyes squeezed shut tightly in relief. The emotion in the picture made Liz exhale softly and she flipped it over to find more scribbles on the back.

He’s home, because of you.

Thank you for letting me save my son. –J

P.S- Keep Don in line for me, darlin’. He’s got a bit of a hero complex.

And that was it. She slumped down onto the chair near the door, the photo gripped tightly in one hand. Liz still wasn’t sure what their connection was. “Brother” was usually very straightforward, but this had to be more than just blood relation. She thought back to the hospital and Jax’s midnight visit.  He put such power behind the simple word. Jax used the term brother like a reminder, and a gift, not just a label. She wasn’t sure how to examine that. So she pushed the thought away, thinking of the beautiful blue-eyed boy in the picture, wrapped in his mother’s arms. Safe.

Leaning her head back against the wall with a thunk, Liz smiled in the dark.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 5:

 

Charming, California was…not charming, Liz thought to herself as they passed another stretch of dry mountains and yellow dirt. Everything seemed like it was slowing dying, if not already dead. She kept her judgments to herself though, as she glanced to her left to see the slight twist in her partner’s mouth and the white knuckled grip he took on the steering wheel. She caught Meera’s eyes in the rearview mirror but she just shrugged and went back to her music, entirely content to ignore the stewing ball of tension driving the vehicle.

When they got the call a few weeks ago, no one had bothered to even double check the recording. The tip seemed weak and it lacked a source, so, obviously, it was shoved to the side for more important things. And then more important things, and more important things, until finally, one of the techies in the main room called out for a background check on the anonymous tip concerning the disappearances of not one, but two senior FBI agents connected to the South Eastern gun trade and the dropped RICO case.

Reddington was lounging comfortably in a rolling desk chair, and his chuckle was low enough that only Liz and Ressler were close enough to hear it.

“Disappearance,” he muttered to himself, “sometimes I forget how slow the government can be when it comes to small towns.” His shook his head in genuine awe as he grinned and Liz watched as his glance wandered towards the agent to her left. Don was focused on the file in his hands and didn’t seem to hear the joke. The tech called out again from across the room, frustrated at the lackluster protocol and no one taking the blame.

“Hello? Anyone?” he waved the file jerkily in the air, “Just going to leave two MIA agents in southern California with no source crediting? Have them rot in some po-dunk town outside Lodi—”  he voice cut off with a squeak and both Liz and Don turned to see the Director grab the file as he marched towards their unofficial corner.

“Agent Ressler, Agent Keen, what is your status?” Director Cooper’s voice seemed to shake the rafters as he came to a halt in front of the board. Reddington was already collecting his coat and hat as he winked at her across the desk. She hissed under her breath as Ressler traded the file in his hand with the file in Cooper’s. They were muttered in harsh voices near the front of the room and she turned so as not to draw attention.

“Where are you going, Red? Were nowhere near done,” she whispered in confusion. He flashed that wide razorblade of a grin in her direction and pulled a lock of her hair as he waltzed past.

“You’ve got a new job, it seems.” He flicked a glance towards to shell-shocked team leader waving his hands in the air and spoke quietly. “Watch out for him, my dear, this one will be a tad…personal.” He lifted her hand and kissed her knuckles, then signaled Djembe near the doorway. She glanced over towards Ressler to find him staring sharply in her direction before he focused back on the Director. The line of tension in his shoulders was almost vibrating and she tried to remember what the case in Cooper’s hand was about. Something about missing agents in California?

Why shift in the specialized profiling team for that?

She was still thinking when Cooper finally left and Ressler made his way over to their desk. The furrow between his eyebrows made her hands itch to smooth the line away. He exhaled slowly.

“Okay,” he started as Meera wandered over to the desk. The triangular formation they settled into was becoming too familiar, both women tightening in around Ressler’s file splayed out across his hands. “I know you both have questions, but I have to ask that you hold them until were in transit. We’ll be relocating to the East Coast to work with the local Sheriff’s Department, to close the cases of two missing FBI agents suspected to have a connection to the local criminal subjugate in the area.” Liz felt the crease in her brow deepen as she watched Ressler shift his stance again as he spoke. He was fidgeting. Why was he fidgeting? He caught her eye and pursed his lips before continuing.

“Do either of you have experience working with blue-collar crime?” Both Meera and Liz shook their heads. He nodded like he expected nothing less. “I didn’t think so. It’s a bit of a culture shock, considering what were used to out here, but I have some...leads in the area that can help us out.” Meera didn’t seem to notice the twitch around his left eye as he said that, but Liz did. Fuzzy images of a hospital room and a dark silhouette in a dirty ball cap with a knife the size of her forearm rose to the front of her mind.

“Alright, we set transport at 8 tomorrow. It should be a relatively quick overhaul, but get some sleep.” His tone brooked no argument. Liz tried to follow him into his office before she left, but he gave her a quick head shake and shut the door. Apparently he had some calls to make. 

 

Meera was sleeping in the backseat, her headphones loud enough for Liz to hear the  tinny bass acoustics from the front. She turned towards Ressler, who was going on his fourth hour of silence as they entered the small town. She looked him over.

“So what’s your problem?” she said frankly. His glance flickered off the dead road for about half a second before returning.

“What do you mean?” he tried.

She arched her eyebrow at the fake calm response. (She’d been practicing that one-brow move. Liz was pretty proud of it.) ”Don’t bullshit me. You haven’t said a word all day, even on the plane. You’re nervous and tense, you packed twice as much as I did—and I’m a woman, and you were in Cooper’s office for two hours before we left and you didn’t even try and let us in.” Her voice was steadily rising in frustration and she caught herself before she woke up Meera. She hissed a whisper instead.

“You haven’t acted this shady since—“ she froze, words caught in her throat. He hadn’t been this panicked since his brother and nephew. Whom she hadn’t seen since the team’s last Californian excursion that ended with both Ressler and Liz in the hospital. And who needed legal access to cross the Atlantic, after they made the trip across the U.S… from the other side of the country. Due to their serious gang connections…and because they were all ex-cons.

Ressler was looking at her. His blue eyes were wide and cagey.

“Are we…Don, are we in your brother’s town?” Liz’s voiced was pitched so high Ressler winced slightly. “Is this case about Jax?”

Silence. He coughs uncomfortably. More silence.

Liz sees red.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” she hisses between her teeth, twisting her body and slamming her closed fist into his shoulder, eliciting a sharp curse as he swerves into the other lane. She’s still punching him repeatedly, even as he shifts the car back onto their side of the road, underlining every solid hit with an insult. He tries to smack her hands away while still holding the wheel, but fails miserably. She hits harder.

“How thump—could thump —you thump —even thump —think thump —“ “Christ, Liz, stop it, let me just— thump STOP, for the love of—“

He pulls over next to a small billboard on the interstate and slams the gear into park. He glares at her fiercely, which she returns.

“What. The. Fuck. Liz.” He growls out, and she tries her hardest to ignore the shiver that tone sends down her spine. She refocuses.

“No. Don’t even start.” She leans in closer to emphasize her point, keeping her voice low.  “Now is definitely not the time for macho team leader. Now is the time for explanations.” He glares at her a moment longer behind exhaling heavily. The heat from the empty road to their left is stifling now that they’ve come to a stop and she rolls up her window and then shifts to a more comfortable position to hear her partner.

Shockingly, Meera is still snoring softly in the backseat.

“Okay, long story short, what I’m telling you is officially a federally redacted secret. You need to understand that. Your clearance level is nowhere near this yet, but… you deserve to know at least the basics.” He pauses, and his shoulders tense up slightly as he continues. “I trust you. I know it’s taken me a long time to admit that, but I do.”

Liz holds her breath, afraid to stop him before he gets started.

He twists the key while he visibly focuses himself, the engine rumbling to life. Liz checks the backseat again to see Meera has shifted deeper into the corner, still dead to the world with her music blasting into her ears. Ressler nods his head in front of them, bringing her attention to the billboard they pulled off near. Welcome to Charming is carved into the fake wooden backing, paint chipped slightly and most of it sun bleached white. Over the population and town stats are messy words scrawled in red spray paint. At first it doesn’t register beyond normal graffiti, until she translates the crappy kid lettering into readable script:

Home of Protected by SAMCRO

Next to the graffiti is a quick sketch of an ambiguois black bird, wings spread.

“First things first,” he says casually, ignoring her as she rakes her brain for the slightly familiar name and symbol, “Charming is the epitome of a construction based small town. Progress gets lost somewhere back in Nevada and takes a 30 year detour before it finally stumbles into the city. This makes the town…special.”

His tone has taken on a soft drawl, unconsciously bleeding into his crisp northern accent. If it were anyone else, she'd say he sounded fond.

“But its also exactly in the middle of almost every smuggling ring on the eastern seaboard," he continues. "Ports are all along this section of the coastline and all of them are so overrun by cartels and gangs its practically unlivable.” He shifts the car into gear again, eyes flicking up to check the mirror and making sure Meera is still unconscious. He lowers his voice and turns on the radio to a soft rock station as they pull back out onto the road. “Lodi and Eden are less than 50 miles away in either direction and both are so dangerously corrupt—“ he cuts off and shakes his head. “Lets just say, I’d never even let my kids outta the house, let alone school. But Charming’s different. A few decades ago, when the drug cartels started to get overly confident, this town, somehow, acquired 'legal' gang protection.” He glances over in time to catch her expression and smirks grimly. “Blue collar crime isn’t as simple as the FBI pretends. Too many nooks and crannies for people to hide in, too much money changing hands; so when the Charming police partnered up with the local gunrunners in order to keep the town clean, everyone was happy. Less blood, less drugs, and people finally felt safe. I’d know, considering my first case was right here.”

“In Charming?” she blurts out, forgetting in her confusion she was going to let him talk it through.

He nods and runs a hand through his meticulously combed hair. Liz has noticed the habit only seems to return when Jax is involved (which probably says a lot considering its also the only time he ever looks remotely disheveled). “Yeah. Director Cooper actually brought me in. They utilized my,” his mouth twists, “familiarity with the process to get at some Irish gang criminal contacts connected to the IRA, but that’s …another story.” The crease in his forehead deepened again (the one Liz had secretly dubbed ‘The Constipation Vexation’ Line) and he lost himself for a moment. She waited patiently for him to continue. Well, kind of.

“Wait.” She interrupts his trip down memory lane shamelessly. “Are you saying Jax…your little brother who you grew up with….is the de facto leader of an internationally associated gun smuggling organization. From where, his backyard? His fucking garage?” Her voice is steadily rising in distress and he winces slightly at her sarcasm, keeping his eyes steadily on the road as the older buildings around them grow closer together and residencies start popping up.

“…Well…I mean…you’re not wr—“

“I swear to god, Don, if you tell me Jax runs guns from his garage I will call Red right now and have him cut your dick off and sell it on the black market. I’m not joking.”

He swallows audibly and stays silent as they turn onto the main drag.


 

Meera wakes up five minutes later to the car swerving wildly again and Liz’s voice cutting through the music while she angrily punches Ressler’s shoulder. He's trying to fend off her attacks and failing while she screeches into his ear.

“TELLER. MORROW. AUTO. REPAIR?”