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The Only Thing That's Real

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"I really love the moments where Red is able to reflect on something she is not aware of."

- James Spader (Twitter Q&A, October 2015)


Taking a generous sample of whiskey, Raymond Reddington refocused on Elizabeth Keen and smiled. She appeared to be resting comfortably.

He knew first-hand of the stress that accompanies having your life upended and consequently looking over your shoulder every day that followed, presuming that you had the capacity to survive and ensure that tomorrow awaited you. That sensation - the anxiety as well as the fear - intensifies when you're on the run and alone, without recourse or anyone to look to for support.

Unlike himself twenty-five years ago, she wasn't facing the storm alone. She would have options, as many as he could provide and more. He was happy to be there for her. Equally assuring was securing leverage in the form of money to hold over The Director's scalp. All was going to plan, a fact that would have been disconcerting otherwise.

He could see the light at the end of the tunnel; he could feel it.

He longed for the day where her name would be cleared and the experience of delight and joy through her eyes.

A gentle sigh broke him from his thoughts. Placing his half-empty glass in the holder, he crossed the cabin, carefully sitting on the edge of the couch, and adjusted the blanket so that it covered her torso. Perhaps sensing his presence, she shifted closer to him, her knee pressing into his side, and he didn't move. He remained perfectly still, memorizing her face as she relaxed again, and after some time stroked her hair.

Returning to his seat, he closed his eyes, his head falling back against the headrest.

His thoughts wandered.

During their recent stay at Gerta's theater, they discussed what she would do not if, but when, they outmaneuvered the Cabal. Elizabeth initiated the dialogue actually which surprised him. It was nice to contemplate without feeling rushed. Returning to the task force wasn't out of the question, not definitively. She enjoyed the work and missed the collaborations, but the chance of either event coming to pass was slim.

They were in agreement there.

As easily as she adapted to his way of life, he insisted on wanting better - wanting more - for her. In what capacity, neither proposed an alternative. Why? There was a part of her that remained out of his grasp and perhaps would always be, and that was a difficult realization to face, further complicated by learning of her fantasy.

Their fantasy.

Invariably over the years, he imagined what it would be like to create a fresh start for himself, a service he provided to clients spanning all parts of the globe. The very existence he once enjoyed and lost was the future she craved.

In between us is our little girl. I'm holding her hand in mine, and I never let go.

He could envision the scene so clearly.

The image was perfect.

As rich as his life was, Red always felt that something was missing, and the day Elizabeth Keen descended the staircase and approached him he knew precisely what. Not that having her at his side permanently would entail more negatives than positives, because the polar opposite was true, but he wasn't sure if he would ever be in a position where running wasn't a mandate.

Stability.

She deserved that, and being aware of all escape routes wasn't synonymous with living contently.

Stemming back to her, the aspect of herself she withheld from him, reaching out to Tom wasn't a hard conclusion to come to. While it was an action he expected, how stiff the blow was caught him off-guard. Even so, he wasn't going to abandon her, not even if she asked him to leave. That was a request he could and would never follow through on.

Not now.

Not ever.

In no way was he insecure or jealous of their connection, but it hurt. It hurt that she kept going back to the toxin that was her faux-marriage. She looked him directly in the face and made a promise that from the start was never going to be kept, essentially taking advantage of both the situation they were in and the emotions in play.

He was so lost in thought that Dembe's returning to the main cabin and watching him escaped his attention. The events of the day crept into his limbs, and he tried and failed to suppress a groan, raising a hand to massage his neck.

"Raymond, are you alright?"

His voice was low, careful not to startle either occupant. Red opened his eyes, regarding the young man he loved and long considered a son. "Yes, I'm fine. I was just...reflecting."

While not lying, he wanted to protect his friend from the knowledge of what exactly was troubling him which was ironic as Dembe was guilty of this very practice. Collapsing in his arms was one sequence among many that was forever etched in his memory.

"My shoulder's a bit sore from overuse."

Being behind the wheel again was strange and liberating. It had been far too long since he'd operated a vehicle himself. Since acquiring his license, Dembe persisted on driving to and from every function. GPS was a luxury, but neither of them had resorted to it in their travels. If they had been to a specific location or nearby territory beforehand, they could get there and back without second guessing.

Dembe nodded knowingly and moved toward the bar.

"Refill?" He asked, gesturing to Red's glass.

"No, thank you."

Dembe retrieved one for himself and filled it with water and ice chunks before settling on the couch across from Lizzie. Carefully downing the contents, he studied the young woman briefly. "As soon as I'm recovered, we'll continue your therapy."

Red chuckled, immediately recalling their session at Leonard's safe house. "I've fallen behind some, I concede. Other matters are more pressing right now."

"You worry. About Elizabeth."

Always.

His reply went unspoken as it was more complex than the inquiry allowed for.

Squeezing his glass, he stared out the window. The sun was beginning to set. It was one of his favorite sights, and opportunities to enjoy didn't surface often. Somehow, gathering his words and composure came easier.

"Despite this feeling deep down...You can call it intuition. I grieved for you. I didn't believe that Vargas's account was true, denied it to myself actually, but I grieved. A matter of minutes later, I almost lost her. I almost lost both of you, the people that matter most to me, on the same day."

The near-reality terrified him.

"We're both fine, Raymond. We're here."

"I know that, Dembe. It's just..."

He worked his jaw, fighting himself and a wave of emotion so raw that he couldn't allow for it to reach the surface. Not that Dembe would look at him differently, because that wasn't the case. But there was an anxiety of sorts about being mid-air while confronting that.

"For whatever reason, I can't seem to shake it."

Dembe's eyes were filled with both comprehension and compassion. "I understand. I was scared too, Raymond. Throughout my capture, I was scared not for myself, but for you. And for Isabella and Elle."

This was the most they'd spoken about his time in Mr. Solomon's clutches. In truth, Red didn't need the details to be filled in. The moment Leonard led him to the facility, and he walked into the darkened space to find multiple blood stains aligning the wall, spatters on the floor, he immediately pictured Dembe as a child under similar conditions, and at once he was angry, sick, and more desperate than he would ever admit.

His reverie was broken by a question.

"Has their relocation been arranged?"

"Better than that actually. I wanted to surprise you, but why wait? The property that will be our residence for the next few days is also their new home. Security teams are in place, and Baz will oversee the operation himself. Also, Isabella and Elle will be meeting us at the landing point. I thought it would be nice to make the most of the little down time we have, enjoy moments with them and ensure that the house is just right before we have to leave again."

Dembe looked at him incredulously, and Red wanted to laugh. It wasn't often that you caught him in that state.

"Thank you."

"Of course, Dembe. You're welcome. Besides, I haven't seen Elle since she was a newborn so this is as much for you as it is for me." He replied with a breath of sarcasm.

Sharing a smile, the silence stretched, both men lost in separate reflection.

"In time, Elizabeth will see."

Red looked up, curious. "See what?"

"This morning, I told her she would be fine because you won't accept any other outcome. She'll come to see what's real - your motivations, how you feel about her."

He was afraid to ask Dembe to elaborate further. While he didn't consider himself a bad man, he acknowledged that he was a person who simply did what was required of him, and on occasion that entailed doing bad things. By that standard, he qualified as neither a hero nor a villain.

An anti-hero, he surmised, was a fair label.

"And if she doesn't..."

Dembe shook his head in dismissal. "My brother, you're doing all you can. Don't be so hard on yourself. There's more working in your favor than you think."

"For example?"

"What she feels for you. You deserve to be happy, Raymond. I don't know what compels you to believe otherwise, but believe me. If anyone does, you do. But to make that discovery, you have to take care of yourself first."

My conscience, Red mused.

"You're right."

Satisfied, Dembe stood and motioned for Red to take the now vacant couch, removing the thick blanket along the back and extending it toward him. "We won't land for another three hours. Get some sleep. I'll wake you."

Accepting the item, Red pulled Dembe in for a quick embrace before making himself comfortable. Stealing another glance at Lizzie who hadn't stirred, he closed his eyes with a heightened sense of hope.

THE END