… … …
Lisbon descended the stairs, and checked the deserted bullpen once more. She had known she most likely was not going to find Jane. When he didn't want to be found, he was damn good at hiding. But she was determined to stay in case he showed up; after all, guilt might at least bring him back.
His couch remained empty. Her eyes lingered there for a moment, her thoughts wandering of their own accord to easier times; to days when he would lie there making his smart remarks; nights when they would sit side by side and look back on the case; when he would tease her about not picking up on the obvious.
She sighed and moved towards the break room. This had been obvious. She had seen this coming months ago, hell, years ago. She had known that one day he would crack. He was trying to deal with too much on his own, and while she tried to share the load, Jane seemed to be doing his best to keep her at a distance. He seemed not to see that she was as embroiled in this as he was. He certainly didn't see that him disappearing off on his own made her job harder; made it more difficult for her to get them out of this.
She stopped short as she entered the break area, her hand moving automatically to her chest as she recovered from her surprise. "Geez, Jane," she muttered, though relief flooded her entire system as she observed him standing in front of her. She allowed herself to admit, now, that she had been genuinely scared that he wouldn't come back; that he would vanish and the next she ever heard of him would probably be when Red John turned up dead… Or worse.
"I'm sorry," he said, quietly, and she knew that his apology didn't refer to startling her.
She watched his eyes run over her left cheek and felt the residual stinging that she had resolutely ignored all day. As far as she was concerned, the slap didn't matter. More important was the fact that he hadn't run; he was back and he was safe. And she would make sure he stayed that way.
"My office," she ordered sternly, feeling slightly guilty for using his remorse against him, but knowing it was necessary. She turned and led the way, confident that - at least right now - he would follow her.
He closed the door behind them and began to speak again as he turned to face her. She raised a hand to stop him and he complied. He looked scared - not a look she was used to seeing on him. She hated Red John for doing this to him; she hated Agent Darcy for making it all worse; she hated herself for not dealing with the obvious sooner…
She knew he would be surprised by her next move, but it was as much for her comfort as for his. She stepped forward, slipped her arms around his waist and pulled herself close to him, laying her head on his chest.
She felt his surprise in the stiffness of his body, and he began to say her name. She just held tighter, closing her eyes and reassuring herself that he was there. After a few seconds, he dropped his defence, enclosing her in his arms, and holding her just as tightly.
After absorbing enough comfort, Lisbon pulled back only so far as to see Jane while she gave him some friendly words of advice. The words died on her lips when she saw the tear stains on his cheeks.
"Jane…" she breathed.
His eyes pleaded with her not to continue, though. So she uttered the reprimand that she had held back.
"Don't you ever disappear like that again!"
His lips quirked, almost into a smile, but not quite. "Well, if this is the welcome…" His attempt at a smart remark trailed off; his heart wasn't in it, and they both knew that.
"Jane, you have got to talk to me," Lisbon implored. "I know this is a complete mess, but I'm in it as deeply as you are…" She looked at him, judging his emotional state to decide whether her next words were wise. She always had spoken her mind to him though, so she decided not to change that. "Frankly, it's downright selfish of you to run off and leave me to deal with it all on my own."
He managed a smile now: She had always known that her tenacity impressed him. It was a small smile, and it didn't stay for long, but it was something.
"I needed - … I couldn't - …"
He couldn't seem to find the right words, but his eyes trailed over her cheek again and she knew exactly what he was trying to say. She watched as he slipped into that mode where he was so intently focused on his thoughts that nothing else mattered, and the next thing she knew his hand was beside her cheek. It was then that he snapped out of his daze, as if he had realised that his movement might not have been the best idea. He snatched his hand away before it even touched her. But Lisbon was quick and caught his wrist, returning his hand to its position. Then, under his questioning stare, she gently leaned her head into his palm.
"I'm fine," she stated with conviction.
His fingers tentatively moved against her cheekbone, his eyes shifting to watch them.
"I'm fine," she repeated.
"It's like it wasn't me," he whispered. His eyes darted back to hers. "That's not an excuse, I know -"
"Jane, it was a matter of time. I knew this - well, not this specifically," she clarified when he seemed shocked at what she was saying, "but I knew this was coming. Jane, no one could cope with what you're going through. I've done what I could, but it couldn't possibly be enough. You're too damn stubborn." She prodded him in the chest with her free hand for good measure. "I should have asked you to teach me how to hypnotise people."
"It wouldn't have worked," he argued quietly.
"I think it would… Because deep down you know that you need help."
He moved to pull away, ready to dispute her point - or not ready to hear it. But she still had hold of his hand and she stopped him.
"Deep down, Jane, you want help."
She was surprised when he didn't say anything in his defence, but one look into his eyes said it all. The tears brimming there brought her own to the fore; her heart breaking for the pain he still felt so keenly. "You do deserve it."
He tried to get away again but she held fast.
"Do you know how I know? Because if you didn't, you'd have been out of here long ago. How many people who aren't deserving of my time do you see me sticking with? You deserve help; you deserve to be loved. And I have made a difference with you. I have. And I know that's what you can't handle. Things have changed but you're convinced you don't deserve to move on."
"No." She shook her head. "I'm not letting you speak, Jane. Because you're too good at it. We both know you can convince me of anything. So you're not allowed to speak. We're going to agree to disagree, for now, regarding what you deserve. We're going to work together to get out of this mess with the FBI. And then we're going to talk. About everything else… Because I matter to you. And I know that scares you, but after all that we've been through, it's only natural and… I think I deserve it… So I would appreciate it if you would stop trying to convince yourself that I don't."
She seemed to have surprised him again. He had probably never looked at their relationship from her point of view. And he seemed willing to follow her request to not speak. This surprised her.
"So… Step one: Agree to disagree?" she asked him, uncertain of whether he was actually co-operating or if this was all part of another scheme.
"Okay… Step two: We sort out this mess. Together. So you're not leaving my sight. I'll handcuff you to me if necessary."
It wasn't really the time for the obvious innuendo, but for a split second the familiar teasing sparkle lit Jane's eyes, and she felt a blush rise to her cheeks. That confirmed that they had both thought it.
"Is it necessary?" she followed up, hoping beyond hope that if he said 'no' he would mean it.
She nodded, but still felt less self-assured than she made out. "Good."
They stood for a moment, in silence, and Lisbon became aware once more of Jane's touch against her cheek. His thumb began to softly stroke her skin and she resisted the urge to close her eyes and relax into it. She saw his gaze turn acutely serious and was knocked by a wave of disappointment before he even uttered his next words.
Sentences that began with her first name rarely ended well. This time she pulled away, sensing what was coming; angry that she'd let herself believe she was making progress. He didn't stop her but she felt his gaze following her as she moved to the safety of the other side of her desk.
He really was an expert at manipulation. She had let him get away without apologising, or explaining. She hadn't laid into him, like she had every right to. She really was wrapped around his little finger. The -
"Teresa, you do matter."
She looked towards him automatically, though she would have liked to have ignored him; to let her anger build up to the level he deserved.
"You have made a difference."
She waited for the 'but'; for whatever reason he had come up with to justify him walking out again.
It didn't come. He didn't leave.
Instead, he held her gaze across the desk. The sadness and the fear swirling in his eyes tugged at her heart again, and she couldn't maintain her belief that he was playing her. He was standing in front of her asking for help.
He was scared.
And so was she.
In truth she had no idea how to fix everything with the FBI. She had no idea how to help Jane deal with everything that weighed heavily on his mind and heart. But she would much rather be scared of those things than of where Jane might be, or what might have happened to him.
Today was their hardest so far and she was sure there were worse days to come. But they were here, together, at the end of it. And that was the only outcome she needed.
A/N: The spoiler that inspired this fic stated that Jane slaps Lisbon.