White Flags

Rating: PG
Summary: "Whatever mind game you're trying to use. It won't work..."
Spoilers: up to and including 6.18
Disclaimer: I do not own The Mentalist.
A/N: Thank you to Victoria for reading this through for me and encouraging me to actually write at least one of the many fic ideas I've had recently. I know there are probably zillions of fics out there dealing with the decision Lisbon is facing, but, here's another one...
Date: 27th April 2014

... ... ...

She's asleep on his couch when he eventually returns to the office. His steps falter as he notices her: He certainly did not expect to find this. For one, his timing was carefully planned to return to an empty bullpen, and, for another, every word she has said to him today was quite clearly laced with venom. She is absolutely the last person he expected to see here.

He is careful to tread softly as he covers the remaining distance, taking the opportunity to look at her; to admire her. He has tried, valiantly, not to do so, especially in the last few days. Though, if he is honest, that was more for his sake than hers, so perhaps not so valiant after all.

Her hair has fallen across her cheek; her eye and nose just peep out from underneath it. She looks relaxed for the first time in days and, for a brief moment, he smiles. Then he remembers the reason for her unrest. Or, at least, the overall reason. He wishes he knew the specific root of her anxiety; wishes he could tell if she was sad at the thought of leaving all this behind, or at the thought of starting a life she doesn't really want. He wishes - for the millionth time - that he hadn't chosen this major life decision to prove that he can respect her wish for him to not assume control over her life. He longs to ask her not to go. No, he longs to tell her not to go. He yearns to meddle and make it actually impossible for her to go. He has dedicated many hours of contemplation to how exactly he could do that. But he promised himself, on that plane, that the next time he had the opportunity, he would show her that he had listened. So he has been supportive; he has spoken positively of Pike and of D.C., and of a life that would not involve her being with him, or at least close to him, every day. He has never described it that way to her, of course. Only to himself. Only in his head. Only behind a smile that indicates that all is well and he in no way wants to influence her decision.

All he really wants to do is influence her decision.

He actually cannot bear it. The mere thought that she might not even be in the same state causes a tightness in his chest that he hasn't felt since he returned from his island. Every time he sees her he just wants to embrace her, to hold her, to plead with her not to go. Never before in his life has he had to execute as much restraint as he has demonstrated this week. And, of course, she can never know that. She can never know the extent to which he respected her wishes. The irony silently mocks him every night.

He is crouched in front of her by the time he snaps himself out of his melancholy thoughts. He wants to leave her to her slumber; to prolong this period of peace. If she sleeps, here, on his couch, forever, then she won't ever leave him. That would be perfect.

But, from the way her body is curled up on the cushions, he worries she may be getting cold. And, when he considers what she would want him to do, there's no way he can leave her there for his own selfish reasons.

He tentatively lifts his hand, fearing that if he touches her he won't want to let go. Or that he actually won't let go and all his efforts to prove to her that he does, in fact, genuinely, respect her will be for nought. He hesitates, hand hovering above her hair, assessing whether or not he has the strength to do what is needed. When his fingers settle softly on the strands and brush them, tenderly, back from her cheek, it is because he hasn't got the strength not to. This may be his only chance.

The hair removed, he holds his breath as he waits to see if that alone was enough to wake her. When she doesn't stir, with a pounding heart he rebelliously rests his hand against her cheek; slowly strokes his thumb across her cheek bone... Feels his heart breaking with each second.

He increases the pressure to wake her before he throws aside everything he has striven for.

She moves beneath his touch, her eyes fluttering open, adorably confused and disoriented for several glorious seconds. She smiles at him. A real smile. He hasn't seen that since she started dating Pike.

Then he sees the moment reality returns and she remembers everything that is going on. The smile vanishes and he withdraws his hand to a safe distance.

"What time is it?" she asks him as she manoeuvres to sit up.

He stands to give her space.

"A little after nine."

She looks to her watch as if she doesn't believe him.

"Where have you been 'til this time?"

Nowhere significant. Just anywhere that he could wallow in his heartbreak for a little while.

"Here and there. Did you want to speak to me?"

The truth he sees immediately in her eyes, accompanied by a spark of anger. But she answers him, "No. No, I was just wondering where you were."

Restraint, respect.

"Ah. Well I'm back now." And he forces that smile.

This seems to fuel her anger. With a short, bitter, scoff, she shakes her head and moves away, towards her desk. He is, genuinely, baffled as to what he has done to warrant such anger towards him, he has been wondering that since the snapping started early that morning. It is not his imagination, he knows. The others have noticed it too; he saw the looks exchanged between Kim and Cho. They have all given her a wide berth, whenever possible, but they all know that wasn't necessary: She is only angry with him. And he hasn't yet figured out whether the right thing to do is to ask, or not.

"It isn't going to work."

Evidently he won't have to decide.

Her back is to him, her hands organising piles of previously organised files on her desk.

He doesn't know what she means. "What isn't?"

"Whatever mind game you're trying to use. It won't work."

Oh no. No, no. Could she have so wrongly interpreted his attempt at not meddling? It all flashes before his eyes and he concludes that she could. She thinks it is all a trick. He's crestfallen, but she can't face him, so whatever it is she thinks he is doing, it clearly is working... And she will never know how tempted he is to pretend that's been his plan all along.

"Teresa, I'm not -"

She turns now. "No! No more lies. No more 'It's a great opportunity...'. No more 'you deserve a nice man.'. No. Telling me you're fine with it all in the hopes that, what? My mind will conjure up everything you are not saying? This reverse psychology thing won't work this time."

"Teresa, I promise -"

"As if that matters."

He knows he doesn't have the strength for this. It hurts enough as it is, without her thinking that he's playing with her. He won't last long if she pushes this. And then he'll be interfering again and that will enrage her even more. It seems he is in a lose-lose situation. What would hurt her less?

"I don't -"

"Just tell me what you really think. I'm an idiot; I'm rushing into things; I barely know him. Tell me! So I can argue it with you!"

"I don't want to argue with you. And that's not what I really think."

She laughs, out loud, short and sharp at that. "Of course it isn't."

"It isn't."

"You really believe that it's a great opportunity?"

He nods, once. "It is. For both of you, if Abbott can arrange the transfer he offered."

"And you honestly think I deserve to be with a nice man?"

"Of course I do."

She's studying him for insincerity he knows she won't find. Nothing that he has said to her about Pike, the move or D.C. has been a lie. He just hasn't told her everything.

"And you, genuinely, support my decision to go?"

He feels that question like a punch to the nose. She has decided to go?

She spots it. The hesitation; the panic. She can't have missed it. He wasn't prepared to have to hide it.

"See."

She turns away again but he steps towards her. "No. No, you've never asked me that. I haven't lied to you. You've never asked me that before."

She turns her head to the side to respond. "You've never said you don't."

"You've never -"

"How could I ask you that? If you'd said no, then what? Would I stop even considering it?"

"So, how could I just volunteer the information? What kind of a friend would I be if I asked you not to go?"

"Any friend could tell me they'd miss me."

He wouldn't have been able to stop there.

"But you would expect a friend to be supportive. I've been supportive."

She shakes her head again. "I don't understand what you've been doing."

"That's all I've been doing. I had no ulterior motive. You asked me to consider your feelings; to stop acting like I had the right to control your life."

"And you chose now to -"

"Yes."

It breaks his heart further to see just how deeply she doesn't trust him. He brought it on himself, he knows. But this was his attempt to fix it and it's backfiring spectacularly.

"Yes. Well, no, I decided there and then to prove to you that I could do what you asked. This has been the first real opportunity."

"So, whatever I say on this matter you're just going to agree with it?"

He shrugs, because the answer to that is 'yes' but he senses that wouldn't go down well right now.

"That's not what I meant, Jane," she sighs, her anger seemingly deflated. "I don't expect you not to have an opinion. I want you to advise me. As annoying as it's been, you've pretty much always been right with your plans for my life."

"Pretty much?"

Her posture straightens, defensively. "You were wrong to assume that leaving me was best for me. Both times."

He nods to acknowledge that, because there's a lump in his throat and even if he could speak past it, he doesn't know what to say. Leaving her wasn't best for either of them, then.

"Tell me what you really think about me moving to D.C.," she implores, her voice quiet even in the otherwise silent office.

Anything more real than the lies of omission surely won't end well.

"I think it really is a -"

"Jane..."

"Teresa."

Both voices have dropped to a whisper, not that there is anyone there to overhear. She's so close. He could tell her everything. He could embrace her. He could hold her and plead with her not to go. He could, so very very easily, pour his heart out and confess that the idea of her leaving has made him realise just how much he loves her. Clichéd, but true.

"Why won't you tell me?"

If she carries on, he will.

"You'll think I'm trying to influence your decision."

He's sure he sees her mouth open to respond, but she stops herself. Does she want him to influence her decision? Is that what all of this is about? Has she wanted him to intervene all this time and she's angry because he hasn't?

"Do you want me to go?" she asks next, such a nervous look in her eyes.

As if the answer to that would ever be yes. "Of course not."

"But you'd support me if I did?"

"Reluctantly."

She laughs, briefly, at that, as he had hoped she would. Smiling up at him, she queries, "Would you come visit me?"

The amused sparkle in her eyes dims when his answer is not immediate.

"I would want to visit you."

She correctly interprets his emphasis. "But not Marcus."

"If you came as a package then I'd have to just accept it."

She's surprised by that honesty, he can tell by the slight widening of her eyes, the parting of her lips. Then that morphs into understanding, followed by further surprise that she hadn't realised this sooner. Guilt churns in his stomach as it hits him that she really did not know how he feels. Until now.

"Why haven't you said anything?"

"I didn't want to influence your -"

"Before now, Jane. Before it got this far."

"I was respecting your decision."

"Of all the times for you to decide to do that."

"I meant what I said: You deserve a nice man."

Before she can question whether or not he means that as it sounds, he continues, "Teresa, D.C. has to be your decision. That's the only objective advice I can give you. You know what you really want. You deserve to go for it. And I will be there for you, whatever it is."

"Even if I go?"

An unbearable thought. "As long as Abbott will let me out of the state," he quips.

He loves the way her cheeks dimple when she smiles. He doesn't know how he'll cope not seeing that every day.

It's rare that he misses the old Jane; his showman self before Angela. But the old Jane would be kissing her already. The old Jane wouldn't care that she's in a relationship. The old Jane would have convinced her by now that no other man could possibly make her happy. The old Jane wouldn't be scared to lose her because he would know there is no way that would happen.

Although, Lisbon would have punched the old Jane in the nose before their lips made contact. So, maybe he doesn't regret that he has changed.

"What?"

Her frowned question makes him realise he is smiling at the thought of feisty-Lisbon.

"I was just thinking about being punched in the nose."

Her frown deepens.

"I think that's what I'd miss the most," he adds, with a mischievous smile, though that certainly doesn't clarify anything for her. But they can't have the conversation they both, apparently, want. He won't do that to Pike and he knows she won't either. So, instead, he needs to lighten the atmosphere.

She seems to understand what he is doing. "It's definitely a highlight in my memories," she tells him with a smirk. He may love that more than her smile.

This is actually what he will miss the most. The smiles they share after a disagreement has been settled. The time spent just standing, or sitting, together and smiling at each other. If she goes, they will definitely have to Skype.

If she goes.

He reminds himself it's still an 'if'.

"You should head home," he suggests, reluctantly, but sensibly.

"Yeah... As should you."

"True... I'll walk you out."

She grabs her jacket, he grabs his book and they converse about his current reading material as they meander through the practically deserted building. In the parking lot they reach her car first - by his design.

"I'll see you in the morning," she says when they stop by her door.

"And without the grumpiness? I think you scared Wiley."

She looks gracefully sheepish. "I did not."

"You almost scared Cho!"

"I'm sorry that I thought you were playing mind games."

"I'm sorry I've given you plenty of reasons to think that."

"Truce?"

"I was never at war," he smiles.

"I promise I'll be nicer to you tomorrow."

"I'll look forward to it."

"Night, Jane."

He wants to hug her, thinks perhaps she wants it too, but he's done so well so far and he knows that this time he won't let go if he gives in to the impulse, his feelings are too close to the surface. So, he chivalrously opens the car door for her.

"Goodnight, Teresa."

He tries to ignore the flash of disappointment in her beautiful eyes, and waits, agonisingly patiently, while she settles into her seat. Then he closes the door and prays that that isn't as symbolic as his imagination screams that it could be.

THE END

A/N: I was perfectly content for this to stand alone in all its angst. However, at 4 am my mind had other ideas. Sequel, "The Greener Pasture".