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Unabashed Spoiler Hound & Fanfic writer

Reveling in the fickle nature of fangirlishness

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Not Made of Stone Part 1/2
sophie_deangirl

Spoilers for The Stewmaker, Anslo Garrick, Madeline Pratt and The Judge, but before Mako Tanida.

I wrote this before what happened to Audrey in Mako Tanida.

Disclaimer: I don’t own anything of The Blacklist.

Summary: Donald Ressler and Liz Keen find each other in the midst of deception and truths and discover what's really important. Each other.



Chapter 1:


Donald Ressler considered himself a company man and he did everything he could not to mix business with his personal life or let personal feelings get in the way of the work.

That is, until Elizabeth Keen entered his life along with the man he had pursued for five years, Raymond Reddington. That unexpected synergy of events had not only changed how he worked, but whom he worked with. If someone had told him he would be working with, even protecting Reddington as opposed to capturing him, he would have told them they were crazy.

Then there was Elizabeth Keen.

At first, Ressler had to admit that he had considered her as nothing more than an interloper, a poser, a profiler who became a teacher’s pet because Reddington had declared that the only person he would talk to, to reveal his blacklist to, was her. Ressler had ridden her hard, made sure that she knew he had doubts about her and had inferred that she would have to earn his respect, not gain it on the coattails of Reddington. To his surprise, she had earned it and earned it in ways that had made his first impression of her completely misguided. With each blacklister, he watched her evolve, watched her come into her own both as a field agent and as a profiler. He had praised her for her good work. It had come honestly. He didn’t dole out compliments just to be polite or to schmooze his way into someone’s good graces. He didn’t need to do that. He had proven himself on his merits and so had Liz Keen. Ressler had been truly impressed and their partnership had not only developed its own synchronicity, it had deepened into a friendship that he had appreciated especially when Audrey had come back in his life.

On the Stewmaker case, Ressler had to wrestle with feelings that went beyond just being Elizabeth Keen’s partner. When she had been kidnapped, knowing how the Stewmaker dealt with people when targeted by his employers, in that case, Lorca, it brought him a chill and anxiety he shouldn’t have felt, at least not any more so than he would for any other agent in that situation, let alone allow those feelings to color his judgment but they had. Though he had compartmentalized enough to mobilize finding her, his anger towards the botched transport of Lorca which had caused Liz to be taken, his threats to Red about having any possible involvement, had all come from a spontaneous outburst of fear and concern that had surpassed professional behavior. The idea of Liz being tortured and disposed of by the horrific methods of the Stewmaker not only went against everything he did the job for, but it had scared him to his core. It was why he had volunteered, no, had insisted going with Red when he had met with Lorca. He needed to be a part of saving her. He couldn’t let Red do it alone; not to be a hero, not because he didn’t trust him because oddly, Ressler had seen that Red truly cared for Liz, for what end game or purpose he didn’t know, but on that one front, his instincts were telling him there was something deeper and even sincere there. No, Ressler needed to save Liz because she was a good person, a loving person...because he cared about her and he couldn’t let her die.

He’d rather die in her place.

When they had found her, his heart was beating so fast and hard, he thought he would pass out. He checked her pulse and relief washed over him when it played strongly against his fingertips. As the drug wore off and she was able to walk to the ambulance, if shakily, he helped her, holding her up along the way.

When her legs and her emotions gave way, he had to pull her up and hold her tightly against him.

Her trembling and wrenching sobs hit him squarely in his chest. Her hands gripping him not only for purchase against falling, but with a desperation that he hadn't seen in her before. It made him feel both vulnerable and strong. He enveloped her chastely in his embrace, letting her dictate how close and how long they should stay that way. He started to rock her back and forth as he heard her sobs in his ear as well as felt her grip him even tighter. It seemed to soothe her and he felt her tension release into his own body as he happily accepted it to lift her burden.

He knew at that moment that this was more than just friends being supportive, more than just partners watching out for each other. He knew then that he was falling in love with her.

After Audrey had left him, he had remembered hardening himself, deciding that work was all he had needed in his life. He had lied to Liz about the words he had uttered while undercover as the courier. He had been talking about Audrey dumping him, had used the emotions from it to sell the performance. Like all covers, there was always an element of truth in the back stories. Beyond it, though, had been the harsh reality that Audrey had left him and he had decided to make his heart inaccessible, to become stone.

Until Elizabeth Keen came into his life. He realized that he wasn’t made of stone, after all.

The revelations continued when Anslo Garrick had stormed the black site.

Red had tried to keep him alive. He had tried a field transfusion of all things. It would have been less of a surprise to Ressler if Reddington had done nothing and had left him to die either at the moment he had been shot or in the box, but he hadn’t. Even more puzzling to Ressler was that after all he had done, Red had threatened to kill him if he didn’t reveal the code to the box. He knew that Red wouldn’t have had to do that. Once he had shown him that Garrick had a gun to Liz’s head, he would have given him the code readily and without the need for coercion. He knew he had broken protocol, but like Red, Ressler didn’t care about the consequences to him as long as it saved Liz’s life. He had done it for her, not because Red had threatened him.

At the hospital, during non-visiting hours, Reddington had crept into his hospital room, made himself comfortable in a chair and had waited until Ressler had acknowledged him. Ressler was a little drowsy from the pain medications, but even they didn’t completely dull his senses. He  opened his eyes and turned his head to face him.

“Reddington?” He said tiredly.

“Donald! You’re up. Good. We need to have a chat,” Red said in that cheery tone that was hard to discern as sincerity or sarcasm.

“About what?”

“About your feelings for Lizzie.”

Red had blurted the words with such a matter of fact countenance that Ressler reacted, at first, as if he didn’t understand what he was talking about.

“Oh, come now, Donald, it’s hardly a secret, least not to me. Or are you telling me I’m the first to know?”

“Get out,” Ressler said with very little conviction as he closed his eyes.

Red then switched gears as he often did with regularity and with a sleight-of-hand deftness that anyone interacting with him would be left confused and struggling to keep up. Ressler was too medicated to notice the change.

“Donald, I want to you to know that I’m truly sorry I had to threaten you, but I couldn’t let Anslo kill Lizzie and I couldn’t take the chance that you would refuse on principle.”

Ressler was able to detect the honest emotion behind the words, something he seldom saw or more accurately, trusted, but in that moment, he trusted his instincts and he believed him.

“You didn’t have to. I would have given it to you anyway,” Ressler admitted as he gazed back at Red.

“You broke protocol for her,” Red confirmed as he realized that Donald had also given his answer to Red’s declaration about his feelings toward Liz in the same statement.

Ressler swallowed with difficulty, but didn’t respond. He didn’t need to.

“You may not care what I think, but I’m going to offer it to you anyway.”

“What a shock?” Ressler quipped bringing his own sarcasm into the conversation.

“You can skirt it all you like, but I know you care for Lizzie. For what it's worth, I’m grateful you risked not only your life but your career, to save her. It tells me everything I need to know about you and that I can trust you.”

Ressler couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Raymond Reddington was showing him gratitude. He was more inclined to disbelieve anything Red said, knowing that he could manipulate anyone and any situation with convincing words, but there was something more there, something in the intonation of Red’s voice and even in his posture that told Ressler he wasn’t playing him.

“Donald, there’s a greater threat to Lizzie than any single individual on the blacklist and I’m about to do something that I never do. Ask for your help. There are things coming into play that will require taking sides, that will require sacrifice in ways that I don’t think anyone can imagine, not Cooper and especially not Lizzie, but I believe that you would understand.”

Ressler continued to listen.

“I know you love her, Donald. I’m more sure of it now than ever. You have been there for her and it hasn’t gone unnoticed by me. You can think of me in any light you wish, but know one thing about me, when it comes to Lizzie, I am determined to do anything to keep her safe, to kill anyone who tries to harm her. I’m sure that you would as well. You have proven to me that you would sacrifice your very life for her. I know that if something were to happen to me, you would ensure that she was safe. Am I wrong in that assessment?”

Ressler heard Red declare what he had known for awhile and despite his training, he knew there was one tell he couldn’t keep hidden, not from a man who had made his career reading people well and eliminating anyone who stood in his way to getting whatever it was he wanted.

“No, no, you’re not wrong,” Ressler admitted. “But…”

“It’s Tom Keen, Donald, ” Red blurted and another shift in expression quickly registered on his face.

It was the kind of look that brought lesser men to their knees in either compliance or pleading, that or risk death. It was rage veiled under very tight control, but Ressler didn’t miss the implication he was insinuating with the expression.

“He’s not what he appears to be and he is a threat to Lizzie.”

“He’s been vetted. We found no proof -” Donald tried to argue though he wasn't trying very hard.

He was just stating the facts, facts that he had to admit had been disappointing to discover and from all appearances, were irrefutable. He had wanted Tom to be guilty of something.

“That just means he has someone as good as I am giving him his credentials, unassailable ones that can pass any muster at all the government acronyms.”

Ressler didn’t disagree perhaps he’d even admit that he didn’t want to disagree. He had witnessed how pained Liz had been when Tom had pushed her, put her into the position to choose between the job and him. Audrey had done that and in the end she made the choice to leave. He knew that pain intimately.

“If you’re so sure that he’s dirty, why haven’t you done something about it?”

“I think you know the answer to that. As much I would like to personally get rid of Tom Keen in the most creative way possible, the only person who would be hurt by that act would be Lizzie. She needs to see him for who he really is for herself. Anything less and we’ll both lose her and drive her into that scoundrel’s embrace. She has doubts, but I’ve already made the mistake of pushing her too hard. After you vetted him and he came away from that untarnished, it just made Lizzie more determined to be a faithful wife.”

Again, Ressler acknowledged Red’s observation with silent affirmation. Liz was a good agent because she based her conclusions not just on emotions alone, but also by irrefutable evidence, using her instincts to make the right choices. How she handled Frederick Barnes was proof of that.

“What are you asking me to do, Reddington?” Ressler asked, knowing the answer, but needing to hear it declared from Red himself.

“I believe Tom is biding his time and Lizzie will be at her most vulnerable when he finally decides to strike. I can’t guarantee I will be there for her when he does. I’m asking you to protect her, Donald, to die trying if necessary. Are you willing to do that?”

Ressler didn't hesitate and nodded. Saying anything would seem superfluous since Ressler knew Red had already come to the same conclusion.

-000-

“I think he’s going to leave me…” Liz said, her voice soft, pained and wistful as if she meant to say it to herself as opposed to aloud where anyone could hear the admission, but Donald had and he ached to make it better for her. He wanted to hold her in his embrace, rock her as he had back at the Stewmaker’s cabin.

He had teased her earlier when Tom had pulled his ultimatum that he would rough him up for her. He played it like a joke; little did she know how willing he would be to make it happen.

Though he had been planning to see Audrey for dinner to finally tell her that it was truly over between them, it had been easy to postpone that dinner to comfort Liz. Though Liz protested, he insisted on staying. It was hardly a struggle.

“No, really, you should go have dinner with Audrey. It seems like you two -”

“We’re not,” Ressler quickly filled in. “The dinner tonight was about telling her that it was over between us so, you see, I think postponing it would benefit us both.”

“I’m sorry, I thought…”

“Don’t be. I thought so too at first, but I realized that too much time had passed between us...I just don’t feel the same way about her anymore,” he said as he thought to himself, “every secret and lie has a thread of truth in it”. He had fallen in love with Liz, that’s what had really changed between them.

Liz nodded, understanding a little.

“I wish her happiness whether it’s with tassels or someone else, but I know now that we could never work.”

“Because of the job…” she now filled in, overlaying her troubles with Tom to Ressler’s past with Audrey.

Ressler nodded slightly and wondered if that was the nature of being the people they were, doing the job they did. Maybe no one could understand it other than someone doing it as well.

“Yeh, it would still get in the way in the end. She’d make me choose -”

“Like Tom is.”

Ressler pulled up his chair so that he could sit more eye-to-eye to her.

“You already know that I’m not exactly good at keeping my opinions to myself so if I cross the line here, you won’t be surprised, but maybe time away is a good idea for both of you? So you can think things through?” He said though he felt dishonest about saying supportive words when he didn't truly mean them especially to her, she needed to hear them, to hear his support for her.

He knew that telling her to dump Tom, though more honest, was hardly understanding and he knew that she wasn't ready to do that, that despite her words, she was still fighting the idea that her marriage might be over.

Liz saw the genuine concern on Ressler’s face and smiled sadly.

“Maybe. We have been on edge with each other. I just don’t have a good answer for him. I know that the job has taken me away from him, from our marriage, from adopting a child, it even almost got him killed so maybe I have been choosing it over him, but I-”

Liz covered her face with her hands, trying to fight her tears.

Ressler saw the raw emotion bubbling to the surface and he couldn’t let her take the blame for everything.  He decided to risk crossing the intimacy line and reached for her hands. He gently pulled them from her face so that she could see his. When their eyes met, he felt hers innocently and magnetically drawing him in with her vulnerability and he could have easily let it, allowing himself to lean in closer to kiss her, but he knew it wasn't the right moment or the right thing to do. She didn't need him complicating things even more. He didn't want to do that to her so he just held her hands in his, enveloping them in his until she wanted to pull them away.

“Hey, hey, this isn’t your fault. Look, I get it, Audrey accused me of choosing the job over her, over our relationship too, but to be fair, I chose this work because I love doing it. Maybe too much, but as much as I loved her, a part of me resented that she had asked me to choose. Though I denied it for a long time, I realized that she could never understand what I get from doing the job. She once accused me of getting a high from playing hero to everyone else but her.”

Liz listened attentively. She observed Donald bow his head and curl his body into itself from expressing Audrey’s accusations. He surprised himself with the openness of his confession to Liz. It had felt right to share everything with her and if telling her about how badly it had ended between Audrey and him eased her feelings of guilt and responsibility even a little bit then it had been worth the sting of recalling it.

Liz smiled. “You do have a bit of hero complex.”

Ressler smiled back. “Is that an amended profile?”

She looked into his eyes and her whole body unkinked with the release of tension that just having him be there, just having him take her side gave it. He had taken the time to listen to her, to sacrifice dinner with Audrey to be supportive. It had meant everything in that moment.

“Maybe. Can I, at least, treat you to some dinner since you gave it up to hear my pity party?” She offered sweetly.

“I guess you do kind of owe me,” he teased.

“Great. And Ressler?”

“Yeh?”

“Thanks," she said a little self-consciously.

“Don’t thank me yet, the price of my advice might be higher than you think.”

She laughed and it was the first light-hearted laugh she had let out in a long time.

Ressler laughed with her, feeling good about being there for her, for helping her, however little and if only for that one moment.

It was enough for him just to make her laugh. It meant everything to know that he had made her feel better.

-000-

Red had gotten the intel about Jolene from Cowboy and pondered what her plan was. It had been her name that had come up in ViCAP. She had faked her death to evade him and now she was back, seemingly tailing him and everyone around him, including Lizzie and by proxy, Tom Keen. Red couldn’t confirm anything, but he had lived on his wits and gut feelings for decades and they had never failed him. He had told Cowboy to not take her into his custody, not yet, that he wanted to see how things played out. Red felt that she and Tom were putting him, Lizzie and now even Ressler in their crosshairs. He didn’t know if it was as a collective or as two people with separate agendas targeting them nonetheless towards a bad end. He knew he was probably taking a risk by leaving things to evolve, but sometimes the truth had to be rooted out organically. He had to hope that Ressler was the kind of man that he had assessed him to be, principled, noble, and heroic to a fault. He usually found such qualities mere facades that hid generally flawed natures; that every man had his price, his own chink in a perceived to be perfectly pristine armor, but in Donald Ressler, he had been pleasantly surprised. He had proven his mettle with Lorca. He had been able to think on his feet and react with stealth and precision. He was now counting on those very skills and on his affections towards Lizzie to save her from the danger he knew was coming.

It was rare indeed that Raymond Reddington would depend on anyone else other than himself to make sure the outcome was in his favor. He knew that he was betting on the right horse, but at what cost?

-000-


Donald and Liz had spent after hours having dinner together for the past week; talking and getting to know each other beyond the work they did. They would end up at her house each time for a drink. Tom hadn’t called back and she had stopped trying. She felt that it was up to Tom to make the next move. He had left her to go to a conference alone. It had been four days and he hadn’t returned. The speculation that she had uttered in a hushed whisper inadvertently heard by Ressler seemed to have come true and she had become numb to the realization that maybe her marriage was actually over.

The time she had spent with Ressler had been welcome relief from the drama of her personal life. It gave her an escape she had desperately needed. He had helped her to forget everything if only for a few hours.

Donald had also enjoyed the time spent with Liz. He had no intentions of taking advantage of her vulnerable state. It wasn’t how he was raised, how he treated women. And if there was any arrogance there, it was that he wanted Liz to choose him for him, not because he was a transitional man or someone to act as pain relief only to be regretted the morning after. Still, he couldn’t help wanting to spend more time with her, indulging in just being a good friend to her for however long she wanted his company.

As they sat on her couch, drinking a bit of wine, Liz had a pensive look on her face.

“Earth to Keen,” he teased.

“Sorry,” she said, embarrassed.

“Something bothering you?”

“I think it’s really over. Tom and me. I’ve tried calling him and nothing. The conference ended today.”

Ressler reacted sympathetically. He couldn’t be happy at Liz’s expense. He understood completely what she was going through because of what he had gone through himself with Audrey. It was a shared experience between people who were friends. Much as the selfish side of him hoped that it was over between Tom and Liz, her feelings of loss, failure and grief were more important than his want and desire to be the man in her life, to take Tom’s place and love her in the way she deserved. He didn’t know if it ever would come to pass, but as long as she was his partner, he would be happy to be just that. He would gladly place his fate and his life in her hands.

“I’m sorry,” he said, his voice was sympathetic and kind. “I wish I could do more to help.”

She looked over at him and a sense of security as well as affection flooded her. She could never have imagined that the person she would turn to during her darkest moments would be Donald Ressler based on their shaky beginning, but even back then, getting past his rough edges, she had come to quickly respect him. He had buoyed her confidence by praising her work with Wujing and for saving Seth Nelson’s life. He would never have said any of those things if he didn’t truly believe that she had done a good job. She thought highly of his opinion because he didn't lavish praise unless it was deserved.  She knew that every word he spoke came from honesty and she would never have to doubt his intentions like she had with Tom.

"Don't be and you have helped just by listening and making me feel less alone,” she said, resignation in her voice. “It's about time I faced a lot of truths. In fact, wait here."

Liz left the room for a few minutes then came back with a box, a box that only Red knew about and even he had never seen it. She had already trusted Donald in every professional way and in the past few days that trust had extended to her personal life as well, more importantly to her inner thoughts, fears and hopes. She knew without equivocation that she could trust Ressler with her most dangerous and painful secret, but she did worry that his principles would judge her. She wouldn't blame him or hold it against him, but she did fear losing his respect.

She placed the box on the coffee table. She inhaled a breath as she placed her hands tentatively on top of the box. Ressler watched with both curiosity and compassion, giving her time to explain.

"I found this the night Tom had been attacked and tortured. I was washing the blood..." She swallowed and took another deep breath. "I felt a loose floorboard and found this. Only Red knows about this and I...I want you to know that I'm not asking you to compromise your principles. I would never ask you to do that. I respect you too much, but showing this to you is my way of turning in my husband to someone I know I can trust completely."

Donald understood the gravity of what she was doing by sharing the knowledge of the box to him. The responsibility was daunting because he would have to weigh his duty as an agent with his friendship, partnership and much more with Liz. Still, her absolution was appreciated and it made his responsibility that much easier. She was telling him that she wouldn’t blame him, more important to him, that he wouldn’t be hurting her if he arrested her husband.

“There are passports with different identities and a lot of money…” she said as she started to slowly open the box. “There’s also a gun...I...secretly had a ballistics report done on it...I…”

She stalled a bit as admitting that she had done something covertly, had done something legally questionable, worried her, that Ressler would be angry, feel betrayed, would think less of her for doing what she did, but instead, she caught a look on his face, one of pain, guilt, and regret all at once.

“I know,” Donald said, his voice reflecting the expression on his face. “In the beginning, Cooper didn’t trust you...I didn’t trust you...I tagged you so that anything you submitted...we’d get first...I’m sorry...I...”

Liz observed the way Donald was acting and as a profiler, she prided herself in being able to read people and their intentions, but she knew she was hardly infallible. She hadn’t seen Tom’s duplicity, but she knew that strong emotions like love could taint a reading of a tell and if she were to be honest, sometimes it had been nice to turn it off, to not try to find hidden agendas especially in her personal life. Still, she wondered now if by ignoring any signs, however minor, had been worth the shock of Tom’s betrayal and the pain she was feeling now.

As she watched him struggle to confess his secret to her, she saw how much it was hurting him, not the admission that he had distrusted her, but that he had lied to her about surveilling her actions. It was his revelation in that moment that made her see that mistakes in profiling or more accurately in Donald’s case, an incomplete profile, shouldn’t be the be-all-end-all assessment of a person. After spending time with Donald, she saw so much more in him than the FBI agent she had judged back then. She saw the man that Tom should have been. There had been all kinds of signs that Tom was being less than he presented himself to be. He had played her perfectly. He had played to her insecurities as a woman; had played the romanticized gentleman, the supportive husband. All of it had made it easy for her to ignore any other signs. Donald, on the other hand, had been honest, blunt, even harsh from the start and though she didn’t like it or like him, at first, now, it portrayed him as someone of substance, that he was unpretentious and when she had earned his trust and more importantly, his respect, she knew that he had given both to her without reservation, without guile.

It was this profile of him that drove her now and she found herself completely willing to accept his confession. There was no need for forgiveness. He was just doing his job.

She placed her hand on his and caught his gaze.

“You don’t have to be sorry, Donald. Remember the profile I did on you?” She stated with a smile at the memory of how she had teased him with a satirical profile before she gave him her true assessment. “I knew I was being vetted by you and Cooper. I told you that I knew you didn’t trust me. You both had cause. I understood. You could have said nothing just now and I‘d have never had been the wiser, but instead you told me the truth, risking my trust to do it. After everything with Tom, the truth is what I need the most. Thanks for that.”

Donald just stared in awe at her forgiveness for what he had felt was a disingenuous act on his part. He was relieved though because he didn’t want to lose her. He placed his own hand over hers.

“I want you to know that I would trust you with my life. In my eyes, you’re better than all of us and don’t deserve what’s happening to you. I promise you that I will do my best to make sure that whatever the truth is with Tom, I’ll find it. I’ll never lie to you about it,” Donald said with a conviction she felt.

“I know,” she said as she resumed opening the box.

When she looked into it, her face crinkled in confusion. Donald noticed.

“What? What is it?”

“Looking for this, Lizzie?” A voice said in the hallway as a gun and the hand holding it stepped into the room.

It was Tom.

Donald reflexively reached for the gun in his holster, but he just wasn’t fast enough.

“Ah, ah, ah, Agent Ressler, I wouldn’t if I were you. I wouldn’t underestimate me just because I have a teacher’s credential,” Tom taunted with a sickening smile. “Now, let it out slowly then drop it.”

Ressler inwardly cursed as he pulled out his gun and dropped it, but as he did it, he positioned himself as close to Liz as he could to shield her.

Liz’s expression was one of fury.

“What are you doing here?”

“Oh, I thought I lived here. I have a key,” Tom said sarcastically.

“Not anymore,” she spat back.

“So, you’re kicking me out, are you? And I see that you’ve decided to read your partner in on what you found or is he my replacement?” He taunted.

“Shut up,” Ressler retaliated back.

“Ah, obviously hit a nerve there. Well, if you’re not in love with him, Lizzie, he seems to be or did your profiling skills fail you with him too? Maybe you shouldn’t fall in love?”

“Leave her alone,” Donald said angrily.

“Mighty protective of my wife, aren’t you?” Tom said menacingly.

“Get out, Tom! Get out while you can,” she threatened.

“Or what? We both know there are no reinforcements coming. It’s just you and Ressler here.”

“Meaning what?” She challenged back.

“Meaning that I have a mess to clean up,” Tom said as he placed himself in a Weaver stance, pointing the gun at Liz.

Donald knew that he had to do something and it would be foolhardy, but at least it would give Liz a chance to get out and that’s all that mattered to him. He lunged and grabbed Tom’s hand and his grip on the gun, but Tom managed to press the trigger twice before Ressler could wrench it in another direction.

“Donald!” She screamed as she tried to find his gun, but it had been kicked just out of reach as the two men fought for control.

“Get out of here!” Donald yelled, his voice riddled with strain.

Liz grabbed her phone and called for backup as she went to find her gun.

Donald slammed Tom against the wall, toppling end tables and lamps. Searing pain cut into his abdomen and at best he assessed that he had been shot at least once. He was running on adrenaline so he couldn't accurately tell how badly he was hurt, but he was determined to use it for however long it lasted to subdue Tom. He had gotten a hold of one of Tom’s fingers and wrenched it back enough for him to scream in pain if not let go of the gun. He took advantage of the loss of focus and elbowed Tom in the ribs. Every move he made sent wave after wave of fresh pain into him and he was weakening, the window of the adrenaline rush closing rapidly. Tom almost lost his balance, but managed to keep from falling. Donald was leaning breathlessly against a tall armoire as he pulled his hand away from his wound to find it covered in blood.

Tom shot Donald again. Donald, having nothing left to defend himself, felt the bullet hit his chest. His knees buckled under him and he slid down the wall, nothing to grab onto to keep him standing even if he had the strength. He fully collapsed watching Liz point her gun at Tom. In his mind all he could think about was how he had failed to save her, until he spotted his gun within reach.

“STOP!” She yelled at Tom. “Don’t make me shoot you, Tom.”

Tom laughed.

“You can’t shoot me, Lizzie. Think of all of those memories, everything we did together -” he cloying tried to convince.

“It was all a lie!” She yelled, tears streaming down her face, but she wasn’t sure if it was for the loss of the man she thought she had loved, for the marriage that had become a farce or for seeing Donald bravely try to save her only to be felled by her husband's gunfire. The idea of that just made the grief she was already feeling worse. She had to hope that the reinforcements would get there soon.

Her hands were shaking and tears still filled her eyes. She was going to get killed by the man she thought was her soul mate.

Tom laughed.

“You’re a sentimental fool, Liz, everyone around you is a liar even Ressler there. He died for nothing.”

Tom readied to shoot her, but instead, he heard shots that weren’t from his gun. He felt impacts to his body and then pain. One bullet then hit him square in the chest and with an expression of shock he looked at where they had come from. Liz did too and they both saw Donald, straining to hold his own gun, pressing the trigger randomly, hoping that some of the shots would hit his intended target because his own pain and blood loss was escalating beyond his control. Playing the cover of the courier, tearing into his arm with the broken piece of glass was child's play compared to what was rattling through his nerves at that moment. Even his leg wound in the box paled in comparison and he didn't think that was possible. With nothing but fumes left, he emptied his clip into Tom Keen.

Tom dropped to the floor, eyes open, unmoving. Donald let his gun slip from his grip as he fell back against the armoire, having no strength left to stop his descent onto it, the jarring contact with it made him groan. Liz dropped her own gun and stooped down to not only check on his injuries, but to keep him conscious until the tactical team showed up.

She kneeled next to him, trying not to make things worse, but she couldn't help her look of horror at seeing all of Donald's blood soaking through his clothes, the flow unnervingly swift and seemingly unstoppable.

Donald was panting and grunting, his whole body awash in excruciating pain yet when she came into his line of sight, he forgot about his own suffering.

"Y...you all right?" He panted and swallowed air back down into his throat, trying not to choke on it.

Renewed tears filled into Liz's eyes as she heard Donald's concern resonate through his agony.

"I’m...I'm fine..I..." She said.

"Tom? Dead?" He asked, worried he hadn't taken Tom down.

"Yes, yes," she said without a single beat of regret or loss. "Now, just rest, help is on the way."

Donald closed his eyes as much from regret as with pain.

"I'm...sorry...had to stop him..." he gasped.

Liz couldn't stop her tears anymore. Donald was apologizing for killing her monster of a husband.

"I know...you saved my life," She sobbed as she stroked his face, the compulsion so strong she couldn’t resist it. "I'm sorry you had to..."

She trailed off, shame in her voice. Donald heard it.

"He almost killed you because I hesitated. After everything he did, all the lies he told me, I still couldn’t shoot him. What does that make me?"

Donald shook his head his breathing was becoming more erratic and thready.

"N...no, no...you loved him...better...that it was me...not the way to remember...your life…with him...It makes you...compassionate."

"But it was ALL a lie," she said, anger in her voice. “None of it was real.”

Donald shook his head again, licked his lips.

"Not...to...you...not your feelings...they were real...nothing...else matters..."

Liz continued to stroke his face and couldn’t help but smile at Donald’s arguments, defending her as she cradled him in her lap, as he continued to bleed out.

Donald trembled with pain, clenched his eyes closed, and moaned just as the tactical team burst through the door.

"I need a medic here!" She yelled authoritatively even though she didn’t feel it.

Donald took her hand weakly into his, his breathing straining and laboring, but his eyes fixed onto hers.

"This...this is real...You're...worth...this...and more...I...love...I love...y..."

Donald  lost consciousness and Liz could only rock him in her arms like he had with her. When the medics appeared, she found it difficult to leave him, but Meera came up to her and touched her shoulder.

Liz turned, saw her, stood up sobbing and Meera brought her into a hug. She looked over Liz's shoulder and observed the medics working on Ressler. She was glad that she was shielding Liz from the sight of blood and wounds as the medics wired Donald up to their machines.

Meera considered herself hardened. She didn’t consider herself a comfort giver.  After all, it was she who had no qualms about pressing into a broken leg to break a man into talking. It was easy to separate herself from a stranger. Still, she was just as human as anyone and she possessed a profound respect for Donald Ressler. In her eyes, he was the best combination of efficient professionalism and compassionate human being. She had watched him subdue two of Wujing's assassins and she had even teasingly commented on how Ressler's subjugation over the bouncer was hot, but he was more than just brute strength. She had heard from Liz that he had also comforted an abused little boy with a nurturing demeanor. Liz had confessed to her that Donald had been patient towards the young boy. She had watched the growing affection between them so Liz's reaction came as no surprise to her.

Meera didn't want him to die as well. Too many good agents died. Too many compromised ones like her didn't deserve to be in the company of someone as principled as Donald Ressler. She was helpless to do anything for him, but she could give Liz what Donald would have given her, if he could, comfort. She let Liz hug her until the medics were ready to transport him. It selfishly soothed Meera's fears as well.

Remarkably, Ressler's vitals had been strong and had remained stable as the medics got him into the ambulance. Liz was allowed to be with him on the ride to the hospital. She held his hand in hers as she also held onto hope. He had been shot three times, one bullet hitting his left lung, collapsing it. They had to re-inflate it on the way. Her thoughts strayed to his last words to her:

"This...this is real...You're...worth...this...and more...I...love...I love...y..."

She had forgotten all about the fact that her traitorous husband was lying dead in her house and that it was now an active crime scene. She only wanted to save the man who had saved her in more ways than just taking three bullets for her.

-000-

They rushed Donald into surgery, leaving Liz with her blood soaked clothes in the waiting room. She sat dazed and exhausted. Another lovely evening had turned into a fight for life for him and she couldn’t stop feeling responsible, that she had brought all this on him.

Liz noticed that someone had sat next to her and she knew immediately who it was.

Red sat quietly, taking his hat off and settled into the chair.

“He might die because of me,” Liz said vacantly.

“I’ve worked on him without anesthetics. I think you’re not giving enough credit to his fortitude,” Red said lightly in the hopes of helping her feel less responsible. “Besides, he has you to live for.”

Liz turned to look at him.

“You knew?”

“Lizzie, everyone knew. Donald may pride himself in deep cover, but when it comes to affairs of the heart, he is an open book. As are you.”

Lizzie deflated.

“Yeh and I fell in love with a monster, a killer.”

“Who is now out of your life thanks to Donald,” Red declared with unashamed glee, but he realized that Liz wasn’t finding his statement amusing.

“It’s not that simple.”

“Love is never simple, but even a person like me knows it’s all that matters. Now, the question is do you love him?”

Once again, tears began to fill her eyes at recollecting her last talk with Donald.

“I don’t know if I know what love really is. Maybe it was my fault that Tom -”

“Tom came to you already a monster. You had no hand in his creation,” Red insisted vehemently. “The reason doesn’t matter now or should only be a footnote to your new life. What matters is that a good man saved your life protecting you from that monster and is fighting to live for you. Are you going to throw that away?”

Liz gave Reddington a dubious expression.

“Since when have you been an advocate for Donald Ressler?”

Red paused as if pondering when the moment had happened. His expression softened.

“Since I knew he would sacrifice his life for you,” he said, his tone changing to wistful. “When you were being threatened by Anslo, Donald gave up the code. I’d put a gun to his head, but I knew that I wasn’t giving him much credit. He did it for you. He would’ve done it just to save you. I knew then.”

Liz listened to Red’s recollection of that horrific day and it had filled in gaps that she hadn’t known. As soon as Anslo took Red, they got Donald out and to the hospital. Every day after that, Liz had grown close to him. She had visited him at the hospital, had met Audrey there. When he had come back from rehab, the connection had grown only stronger and he had been there for her every time she'd had a fiasco with Tom. It wasn’t about when Donald had fallen in love with her. The real question was when did she fall in love with him? Were all those times with Tom where she had believed he was the love of her life, when she had defended him against everyone, was it more than just about the lie they lived or was it about the lies she had been telling herself to deny how she felt for Donald? The conclusion was easy to come to.

“Yes, yes, I love him.”

Red couldn’t help his small self-satisfied smile. He placed a hand on hers and squeezed it.

“I am not a good man, Lizzie, you know that and you may not believe me, but I am seeking redemption every time that I help you. Donald? I can only hope to aspire that high, but I know I’d fail trying. I can tell you that I’m not only a good judge of bad men and women, but I can recognize and admit that Donald is the best of men and you deserve the best of men.”

Liz looked into Red’s eyes and had detected a sincerity that went deeper than at any other time that she had confronted him needing answers to unanswered questions. There wasn’t any deception and it made her feel free for the first time: Free to be who she really was, free to love again.

-000-

Ressler had survived the surgery. The doctors had expected him to recover if slowly. Liz had never experienced such relief in a long while. It felt like the tide was finally turning in her life.

There were still a lot of mysteries to solve, especially when it came to Reddington and of course Tom might be dead, but his past wasn’t and she could still be in danger.

None of it mattered.

Donald was alive and he loved her. She was alive and she loved him.

They’d figure out the rest together.


TBC. Thanks for reading. Hope you enjoyed it.