A/N: I listened to Crave You by Robinson, Crave You by Flight Facilities, and the Crave You by Flight Facilities (Adventure Club Remix) while writing this. All excellent songs, and great background music for reading this, if you're into that! I hope you enjoy this!
"Nice to see you again, Red!"
"Likewise, Jerry, enjoy the party! Say hello to your lovely wife for me," Red returns, giving his most charming smile and wave, before he turns away, face falling back into a familiar scowl as he mutters under his breath. "And your mistresses too, while you're at it."
Blessedly alone at the bar, Red takes a grateful swig of his scotch, emptying the glass, and signals the bartender for another. He's dressed in an expensive tux, making his appearances at an associate's gala, surrounded by fellow criminals, completely in his element.
And he's miserable.
Red heaves a heavy sigh, turning to accept his fresh scotch from the bartender with a murmured word of thanks, before taking a measured sip and surveying the room. It's a glamorous event, held in the ballroom of a huge, opulent mansion, crowded with people in dashing tuxes and beautiful gowns. He's been greeted by several of his associates by now, approached by criminal after criminal, all coming to pay their respects to the Concierge of Crime.
Red snorts quietly into his drink.
He used to enjoy the ritual of it all, thrive on the attention, bask in the gazes filled with equal parts admiration and fear. It's taken twenty long years for him to build his empire and his reputation, and he's made unspeakable sacrifices to gain the notoriety he has today. And yet, lately, he hasn't found any joy in it at all.
He hasn't found much joy in anything since Lizzie left.
It's been three months since he's heard from her, three months since any kind of communication, three months since she declared her vendetta and disappeared with his lawyer and his plane and his money and her daughter.
Three months of missing her.
Red's caught glimpses, of course, and heard whispers of her movements, navigating her way through his criminal underworld with an ease and skill that he never wanted for her. But, as he's learned the hard way, what he wants for Lizzie has long since ceased to matter.
(As have his feelings.)
So, with only his tedious work with the taskforce remaining to distract him, Red has fallen into a bit of a depression. He feels a bland satisfaction as they apprehend the few criminals left that are worse than him, slowly crossing their names off the blacklist but, with loss and loneliness echoing inside him, he is constantly reminded of the thing he once told her.
There's just no fun in it without her.
Instead, Red spends most of his free time imagining happier days with Lizzie.
Pleasant phone calls filled with warm tones and her voice pressed close to his ear…
Short breakfast meetings in the chilly mornings, their huffed laughter making frosty puffs of condensation in the air…
Meetings in the park on what he privately refers to as 'their bench', where he dares to rest his arm on the back and pretend for a few blissful moments that he's holding her…
Treating her to long lunches in the afternoon, happily ignoring her rolling eyes in favor of the small smile that tells him she easily sees through his thinly-veiled excuse to get her out of the dark, dank Post Office…
Decadent undercover dinners with perfectly fitted tuxes and daring red dresses and just enough tension and longing sparking in the looks and words between them to keep him wondering, what if, what if -
"There you are, Reddington!"
Red's teeth come together with an audible snap as he's wrenched out of his despairing thoughts, his desperate wishes, his heartache, and he takes another sip of his scotch in an attempt to help him plaster his fake smile back on his face before he turns around to greet whoever has just called his name.
"There you are, Red, old boy! Walters said you were here! Where have you been hiding, I've been looking all over for you!"
Red forces a laugh out of his mouth and shakes the man's hand, quickly running through his mental profile of this associate. Danth, Archie Danth. Small scale arms dealer. Business partner, Henry Walters. Wife, Rebecca.
Well, fifth wife.
Danth is a slimy man, older than Red and many, many years older than his newest wife, the latest blonde, bubble-headed model.
Red grits his teeth.
"Archie, my friend! So good to see you! How is dear Rebecca?"
"Oh, she's fine, thank you! Home with food poisoning, poor thing. She'll be sorry to have missed you!" Archie babbles, oblivious to Red's disinterest. "But Red, listen, I've someone you simply must meet, she's positively lovely! A relative newcomer, but very promising if you ask me! Hold on, let me just go and fetch her -"
And Archie hurries away while Red takes the opportunity to turn back to his scotch with an internal groan. Yet another meaningless introduction, another hand to shake, more enthusiasm to fake, when all he wants to do is slip away into the night and wallow. Red throws back the rest of his scotch just as he hears Archie's footsteps returning behind him.
"Here we are, Red! I'd like to introduce to you the lovely Ginger Lumiere -"
Red freezes, swallowing his mouthful of suddenly tasteless scotch with difficulty, because there's no way -
(But, oh, he'd know that voice anywhere.)
Red turns in slow motion, both dreading and anticipating what he's about to see, and completely unprepared for the sight that greets him.
After three long months of looking over his shoulder, thinking about her, missing her, there she is, standing there with a familiar smirk on her lips and a taunting glint in her eyes, looking incandescent in a satin, ice blue gown. The color makes her eyes positively glow, the effect accentuated by subtle silver eyeshadow on her lids and a light coating of mascara on her lashes, delicately brushing her skin with each lazy blink. Her hair is beautifully long and thick, grown since he last saw her, the top half of her dark locks wound in an intricate braid around her head and the bottom half falling free around her shoulders, brushing the high halter top of her gown. Red's eyes drift helplessly downward, following the flowing, floor-length fabric to see a high slit at her right thigh that is painfully reminiscent of what she wore to the Syrian Embassy -
But they've come so far since then, and Lizzie has an air of confidence that she's gained in recent years - months even - something burning bright in her that straightens her posture, pulls back her shoulders, raises her chin.
It's a stunningly good look on her.
Red blinks repeatedly, trying to take in the unexpected, glorious sight of her. Lizzie waits for a long moment but, apparently tired of waiting for him to speak, she extends her arm.
"So, you're the Raymond Reddington?"
She wants to play.
Red's heart thrills in his chest.
(This will be fun.)
Red reaches out to take her hand, reveling in the familiar shocks of electricity dancing through his fingers at the feeling of her skin on his.
"The one and only," he rumbles, his voice deep and gravely, unable to resist the little jab. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Miss…Lumiere, was it?"
His slight stress on her fake name makes it clear that he remembers the day he impulsively gave it to her, another thoughtless and obvious way to flatter her, trying desperately to give her some hint of the depth of his feelings for her. He's rather surprised she remembers it. And chose it for the occasion.
The corners of Lizzie's mouth twitch.
"Ginger," she corrects glibly. "It's a…family name."
And she's wasting no time, firing right back at him in that quick-witted way of hers that keeps him on edge and sets his heart racing.
(Oh, god, he's missed her.)
Archie chooses that time to remind Red of his increasingly annoying existence, interjecting himself rudely back into their tense little bubble, completely and utterly unwanted.
"I was just telling Ginger here about my little business venture," Archie says, loud and obnoxious. "And that she's welcome to reach out to me at any time."
He chuckles stupidly to himself and looks over at Lizzie, apparently taking her polite smile - very clearly fake to Red's eyes - as encouragement, reaching out to stroke her bare arm in a way that makes Red's blood boil.
"I'd like to hear more about Miss Lumiere's up and coming business myself," Red says, unable to stifle his urge to get Lizzie as far away from Danth's slimy looks and presumptuous touches as possible. "Perhaps over a dance? Miss Lumiere?"
Red offers a hand to her again, his tone brooking no argument, and Lizzie's raised eyebrow tells him he hasn't fooled her in the slightest.
"Oh, I'd love to," she murmurs, taking his hand and setting Red's skin crackling again.
He wastes no time leading her away from Archie's disappointed expression, ushering her ahead in front of him - already making plans to cripple Danth's so-called 'business', associates be damned - only to be fully distracted from his rage at the inconsequential little man as all his attention is stolen by his new view of Lizzie's ice blue dress.
It's completely backless.
Red works his mouth convulsively, resisting the urge to reach out and touch her pale skin, to trace the alluring line of her back and see if she shivers.
(And as her right thigh peeks out and taunts him with each swaying step toward the dance floor, he wonders what exactly she's wearing underneath the soft satin.
If anything at all.)
Red blindly follows Lizzie across the crowded ballroom, stupidly trusting her to lead him to the dance floor and not into some secluded area to finally finish him off, his eyes helplessly locked on her bewitching form and seemingly endless bare skin.
When Lizzie finally stops and turns to face him, Red has to forcibly drag his eyes upward, taking far too long to meet her gaze that is sparkling with a mirth that matches her smirking mouth.
"Well, are we going to dance or would you prefer to stare all night?"
Red clears his dry throat, trying desperately to rally himself and regain a shred of dignity.
"Well, that depends," he growls. "Would you like to dance or are you planning on trying to kill me again tonight?"
He extends a hand once more, making an offer, presenting her with a choice.
(And he dearly hopes she doesn't break his heart. Again.)
Red watches, holding his breath, as Lizzie considers his proffered hand, squinting her eyes and pursing her lips like she does when she's thinking hard about something and, only when he thinks he can't possibly stand the anticipation anymore, does Lizzie finally reach out to place her hand in his, stepping forward into his body to rest her other hand on his shoulder.
"I have an idea," she says lightly, as if she didn't just grant his most fervent, unspoken wish.
"Oh yes?" Red questions, his voice a little hoarse as he flexes his fingers around hers and brings his other hand to rest lightly on her satin-covered waist, trying desperately to ignore the heat of her skin burning through his jacket where her hand sits on his shoulder. "And what's that?"
"How about if, just for tonight…" Lizzie says slowly, as Red finally manages to raise his head and stare directly into her eyes, blue and intense and captivating. "We agree to…a ceasefire?"
Red's eyebrows raise in surprise, intrigued and very much in favor of anything involving touching and dancing and not being murdered by the woman who holds his heart.
"A ceasefire?" he repeats.
"An…intermission, of sorts," Lizzie offers. "A truce. Just for tonight. What do you think? Agreed?"
Red considers her for a long moment, waiting tensely in his arms for his answer, standing bold and confident and beautiful and dangerous and everything he's always wanted but never expected. Lizzie, the result of the best thing he's ever done and his last hope for a second chance. His Lizzie - his life, his heart - hard, then soft, then hard again, constantly surprising him in every way.
Tonight is shaping up to be no exception.
Lizzie's mouth pulls up into a pretty little smile and Red basks in the long-forgotten sight of her happiness for as long as he dares, before he takes one step forward, pushing her lightly to take a corresponding step back, joining seamlessly with the tempo of the music around them, thereby beginning their dance.
(And he adores every step toward her, relishing in the distance shrinking between them, his heart singing the closer he moves to her luminous eyes and tantalizing lips, and his heart aches with each step backwards, crying out and never wanting to be parted from her again.)
They dance in comfortable silence for a few glorious moments, Red leading to sway them in a perfect rhythm that is joyfully reminiscent of their happier days, faceless couples twirling all around them as the bright chandeliers high above make Lizzie's eyes sparkle and he gratefully drinks in the sight of her.
Red regretfully breaks the silence.
"So, why are you here this evening, if not to take another shot at me?"
"Well, it was you who taught me the value of planning and making connections," Lizzie says loftily. "Besides, where exactly am I going to put a gun in this dress?"
Red feels his blood heat in his veins at the question, Lizzie's tone dark and tempting, and he makes a point of dragging his eyes slowly over her body, considering. "Well, the last time I checked, there are more conspicuous weapons just as lethal as a gun. I'm sure, even in that truly stunning gown, someone as intelligent as yourself could find somewhere…creative."
Lizzie throws her head back and laughs, exposing the long length of her neck to his greedy gaze. Red absorbs the sight, admiring the long muscles flexing as her chuckles die down, her head slowly tilting forward to be level with his again, a faint, pleased grin remaining to complement the flush high on her cheeks. Clearly happy with his obvious compliments, confidence and self-assurance radiate out from her, and Red marvels quietly.
He barely recognizes her.
(And while this was never what he expected or wanted for her life, he can't deny that she's taken to it with aplomb. She looks right at home surrounded by all his associates in a lavish ballroom.
Criminal is a strikingly natural look on her.)
"You look…different, Lizzie," he murmurs to her, still guiding them easily in their dance as his thumb strokes the back of her hand. "As much as I hate to admit it…this lifestyle suits you."
Lizzie smiles at him, seeming to understand his meaning, all his reluctant acceptance and starstruck admiration. "Thank you. I feel different, too. And it feels…good."
And she gives him a tentative little smile that pulls at his heartstrings, and he suddenly yearns so greatly for her that it frightens him, feeling almost swept away by his desperate want to be privy to all her endless complexities and secret insecurities, wanting more than ever to know her better than anyone else.
She seems to sense his intense vulnerability in that moment and uses the opportunity to take the lead in their dance, twirling them in a sudden circle before settling them back into their steady rhythm, and Red goes willingly.
(He's been willing to follow her anywhere for a long time now.)
"You know," Lizzie states, louder now as she gazes around the ballroom, subtly giving him a moment to compose himself before her next words completely shock him once again. "We could really do some damage, you and I. If we worked together, here in your world, the two of us…I think we could really be something."
Red works his mouth, trying to remember how to breathe, and wondering vaguely if she's considered that particular scenario half as often as he has. Because the thought of her mingling in the filthy underworld he's occupied for years, tall and proud and beautiful and intelligent and ruthless, standing at his side as they take down the scum of the earth, jailing criminals left and right…It's a beautiful image that haunts both his dreams and his nightmares.
And he has a feeling that tonight will go a long way toward solidifying his vision.
(Besides, he's always known they would make a great team.)
"Yes, I think you may be right," he murmurs to her, leaning in close, unable to help himself, caught up in her orbit and gravitating ever closer to her temple, her cheek, her lips, completely and utterly bewitched by her -
"If I wasn't out to destroy you, that is."
Her tone is deceptively light, but Red can sense the undercurrent of fear in her voice, the subtle warning that she's not quite there yet, unable to let go of her vendetta completely, not ready to be on the same side with him once and for all.
And Red supposes she's right. She still has some catching up to do.
(After all, he's been dreaming of her as his partner - in every way - since the very moment she descended the stairs to his high-security box at the Post Office and started her descent to meet him in the underworld where he has always been waiting for her.)
Red pulls back slightly, taking in a breath to steady himself, and retakes the lead in their dance, regaining control of himself as he steers them gently to the edge of the dancefloor.
"Yes. If you weren't out to destroy me," he agrees, his tone carefully nonchalant and accompanied by a weak version of his Concierge grin as he wrestles himself back into his persona, feeling their time together coming regretfully to an end.
Lizzie stares intensely at him for a moment more, prolonging their connection, before she realizes they've stopped dancing and come to a halt, now still and simply holding each other at the edge of the ballroom. She slowly releases him, smoothing her hands down her dress as she visibly pulls herself together, and Red's heart keens mournfully at the loss of her touch.
"I think I should be going," Lizzie says quietly, her words predictable but still unwelcome. "I've networked enough for tonight, I think. I'll see you?"
"Oh, I'm sure," Red muses sadly. "The next time you take another shot at me."
Lizzie nods, but her smile wavers, and she takes one last look at him before she spins on her heel and heads off into the crowd. Red watches her go, eyes glued to her retreating back, bare and vulnerable in a way he certainly didn't expect tonight, already beginning to miss her again. But he tries to take strength from their dance tonight, the refreshing few minutes back in her company that felt like a gasp of fresh air after being trapped in a smoke-filled room, their conversation echoing warmly in his soul.
Their ceasefire may be over for tonight.
But he hopes their truce will soon be back to stay.