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A Story

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     He doesn’t smoke, well not often. In the best of times, and more so in the worst, he would much prefer the push of a needle in his arm than a long drag on a cigarette from his fingertips. Dembe hates when he smokes, always reminds him that those will kill him faster than any assassin’s bullet. He’s often met with that familiar crooked smile, a brief look away and another cloud of smoke leaving Raymond’s mouth.

     Lizzie wanted answers, answers he was not prepared to give. Instead, he wanted to tell her a story.

     “Ah, Lizzie.” Raymond exclaimed as the young women walked in the door, confusion and intrigue covering her features.

     “What is this place?” She asked as she walked into the small house.

     “I acquired it from a Moroccan arms dealer during a poker game in Taourirt. Beautiful little city, the way the sun sets over the kasbah,” He shook his head in the slightest way, recalling the memory. “Breathtaking.”

     He led her to an upholstered couch, burgundy with gold leaves embroidered into it, they sat on opposite ends.

     “Reddington, I want answers.” She stared into his eyes, and he smiled that small crooked smile back at her.

     “When I was a boy- “

     “No,” She said, standing up and walking towards the door. As she walked passed him, his eyes followed her.

     “Lizzie!” He called after her.

     “I am not here for more stories. I have questions, questions I have had my entire life, and you have the answers to them.” He looked at her, standing across the room glaring at him, looking too much like her mother.

     “Come, sit.” He quietly pleaded. She obliged.

     “When I was a boy, I dreamt of a house on the water. A paddleboat, a dog, a wife and child to love me when I came home. Weekend trips to a cabin in the woods. Waking up to a child’s laughter, teaching them to fish and drive. I dreamed of growing old and holding my wife’s hands until my very last breath, in the cabin in the woods.” He looked off into the distance, almost as if he could see the dream come to life in the paint on the walls.

     “I dreamed of a quiet life, Lizzie. I made decisions in my life that will prevent that from ever happening.”

     “Decisions you made.” He let a sad, short chuckle leave his crooked smile.

     “Yes, but that doesn’t make them any easier. You are upset with me because I won’t give you answers. These answers that you’ve been looking for,” He shook his head, struggling. “They’re not the answers you’re looking for. They’re not answers I can give you. To do so would upset you more than they would help you.”

     “That is a decision I can make on my own.” Her eyes demanded answers, and his begged for the questions not to be asked.

     “Lizzie, I cannot give you the answers.” Her eyes welled and his heart hurt.

     “Can’t or won’t?” The struggle was clear on his face. He wanted nothing more than to make her whole again, to answer her questions so they could move passed this. But he knew the answers to her questions would hurt her more than she knew, and more than he cared to hurt her again.

     “Lizzie, these questions. They’re not questions that would further improve your life. They’re not questions that would answer anything that would help you.” His eyes begged her again to see the truth he was telling her.

     “Is that what you think you’re doing? Helping me?” She scoffed as the tears in her eyes threatened to fall. “You are not helping me by not telling me, you are not helping me by lying to me.” He shook his head.

     “I never lied to you, Elizabeth. All I have ever done is try to protect you.”

     “Protect me? You’re the reason I was abducted, you’re the reason my child was abducted.” The anger in her eyes did nothing to dry the tears still threatening to fall.

     “I was trying to protect you, Lizzie. Agnes- “

     “No, you will not talk about my daughter. You are the reason I almost lost her, you are the reason I almost lost Tom again. You will never know my daughter, you will never have the chance to hurt her the way you have hurt me.” She stood again as the first tear fell, his heart hurt again.

     “Lizzie, I would never let anything happen to Agnes.” She shook her head, a pained laugh leaving her mouth as another tear fell.

     “Why can’t you let me go? What is it? Is this a game to you? My daughter’s life is not a game, Reddington!” His eyes dropped from hers, an analyzed look on his face.

     He looked back up at her and softly touched her arm.

     “Sit down, Lizzie. Let me tell you a story.” She shook her head again, her cheeks now wet.

     “You don’t get it do you?” His eyes squinted in a look that told her to go on, his hand still on her arm. “I don’t want to hate you, but you make me. You make me run, hide. You try to shield me from everything in life. I am not a child, I don’t need you to try to make everything better. I need the truth.” She could barely talk around the sobs escaping her. He pulled her back down to the couch, her head resting on his chest, a comforting arm on her back, his hand smoothing the hair of the child he was still trying to protect. He laid a kiss on her forehead and spoke, his cheek resting again her forehead.

     “I have caused a lot of harm in my life, Lizzie. I have hurt a lot of people, people I loved, people I cared for. People I never knew, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters. I have done things that I will have to answer for one day. For now, I want to tell you things that will bring you some comfort. Stories that paint pictures in your head, anecdotes that you can look back on and smile. Tales you can tell Agnes in my absence. I don’t want to hurt you anymore than I already have, Lizzie. Please, take that as an answer for now.” He closed his eyes and hoped it would be enough. He hoped he would be enough, for both her and Agnes. Elizabeth moved her head to look at him, a worried look written on his face. She laid her head back down and sighed.

     “Tell me a story I can tell Agnes tonight. I think she is already sick of the Three Little Pigs.” Raymond laughed and Elizabeth smiled.

     “I was on the coast of Somalia in a city northeast of Ceerigaabo. We were waiting on a shipment from across the Gulf of Aden and I had come down with a terrible illness. I was on my death bed in this little hut that had been built out of God knows what, wondering how I was ever going to get the medical treatment I needed. Dembe walked in with this little fairy of a woman. She sat me up and put a bowl in my hand, she put it to my lips and the first sip I took I spit it out. It tasted terribly similar to cyanide.” Elizabeth looked at him as the displeased look on his face said he could recall the event.

     “You know what cyanide tastes like?” She raised her eyebrows at him, she was met with a shrug and an exasperated look.

     “As I have said, I have done things that I will eventually have to answer for. Anyways,” He placed his hand on her head, it settling back onto his chest. “Dembe took the bowl, promised me that it was safe, that it would help me. Three days later, I walked out of that small hut, collected my shipment and was in Lisbon by dinner. It was one of the first times I thought it was over, one of the first times Dembe had to nurse me back to health. It is a story that I am reminded of every day and one that I often welcome.” He looked down at Elizabeth and smiled.

     “How am I supposed to tell Agnes that story?” She questioned with a laugh. He looked up, catching Dembe’s eye, smiling.

     “Tell her the story of how a fairy and a guardian angel saved me. Tell her how, for whatever reason, that guardian angel still protects me. Tell her I have found a new fairy, that keeps me safe near daily.” They met each other’s eyes and smiled again. Dembe smiled along with them.

     For now, he was enough.