Disclaimer: It all belongs to CBS.
Summary: Lisbon hates Christmas. Jane takes her to dinner to try to cheer her up, and wine and conversation lead them to unexpected places--past, present, and maybe even future. Dialogue-heavy, a little dark.
Author's Notes: Written in conjunction with the Mentalistlist fest on LJ. I said I couldn't really see this pairing happening, so of course my muse took that as a challenge and I ended up writing them. Largely inspired by a discussion with mswyrr at LJ. Credit goes to the author of Yuletide fic Red Lanterns Strung Along for figuring out Jane's tell. Feedback is welcome.

Drink Red Wine and Be Merry

"...and may all your Christmases be white."

Teresa Lisbon silenced the radio with a disgusted noise, opting for the rhythm of windshield wipers and the swish-slap of wheels hitting standing water. The most Sacramento could hope for from the season was a wet Christmas, and it was getting one. Good for California's perpetual state of drought, but not so much for Lisbon's holiday spirit.

Then again, that was completely DOA. Nothing would save it short of a bona fide Christmas miracle. And she didn't believe in those.

The persistent drizzle of earlier in the evening had intensified to a steady deluge by the time she pulled into the CBI lot. The sweep of her headlights illuminated little besides fine curtains of rain and rows of empty parking spaces. The few non-official vehicles scattered through the lot probably belonged to night security, maintenance, and Bureau employees who'd left straight from work to the airport. Nobody in their right mind would be at work at nine p.m. on Christmas Eve.

Regardless of how close she parked, she would get soaked on her way in. She took a space across from the Authorized Personnel Only entrance anyway, killed the engine, and sat for a second or two, encased by the hiss of rain in the warm bubble of the cab. The dim orange light from the lot's sodium lamps washed out her reflection in the rear-view mirror: shadowed eyes and a tight mouth, like a slash in her pale face. She blanked the expression out of pure habit and reached for the door latch.

It was only then that she realized there was a light on in the office lobby.

She shook her head at herself. Most likely the janitor had forgotten to switch it off. She'd seen her team off for their half-day herself. No one was here.

The lobby looked unoccupied as she approached, at least. She squinted through the half-closed blinds as she unlocked the door, checking the cubicles: empty. With a sigh of relief, she slipped inside.

She was halfway to her own office when she registered the gray suit jacket folded neatly over the arm of the lobby couch—and the fact that the couch was occupied.

She froze in her tracks; but Patrick Jane slept on, his head cushioned in the crook of his elbow and his blond curls tousled less artfully than usual.

Recovering, Lisbon glared at his unconscious form. She was seized by a powerful desire to march over and shake him. Demand to know what the hell he was doing sleeping in her building after hours on a national holiday and order him to go home.

Except it wasn't worth having to field his questions about why she was here. Not tonight of all nights. Even if she said nothing, he'd find answer enough in her silence, have her at a disadvantage as he always did.

At the moment, at least, she had the upper hand. Sleep stilled that dangerous intelligence and left his face improbably boyish, mouth slack with the abandon of exhaustion. He'd mentioned his insomnia more than once, but he didn't look troubled by it now. Maybe those sleepless nights had finally caught up with him. A flash of pity faded back into annoyance. Why here, Jane? Why tonight?

She should really just turn around and go home; but that she couldn't bear any more than the thought of confronting him. Instead, she crept past him as stealthily as possible, watching him sidelong; he didn't stir.

Safe at last in her inner office, she closed the door with the softest of clicks and settled into the soothing monotony of forms to complete in triplicate. A little-honored perk of government work: you never ran out of paperwork to keep you busy through the long, cold winter nights.

Especially with Jane on your team, breaking protocol and the Fourth Amendment. Or as much on your team as you could consider a man like him: utterly opaque and too smooth to get a handle on. When he'd confessed to her that he'd spent time in an institution, she'd thought she finally saw him stripped of subterfuge, no carefully calibrated sincerity shading his words. But later, she'd developed misgivings on that point. Sophie had certainly been more to him than a favorite psychiatrist.

Or maybe that was just more smoke and mirrors within mirrors. For whose benefit and to what purpose, she couldn't begin to guess. Sometimes she wondered if even Jane knew who he was performing for.

The only time she'd seen the real Jane, she thought now, was when he'd looked her straight in the eye, his face and voice utterly devoid of emotion, and told her what he planned to do when he found Red John. It made her wonder again what she'd been thinking, letting him to work with her people, putting their jobs and their lives on the line. You could train a tiger, keep him leashed, but you'd be an idiot to forget he was a predator. Dangerous, unpredictable, and without an iota of concern for the rule of law.

If she stood between him and his quarry and refused to step aside, she didn't doubt that he'd go through her.

The soft knock on the door made her jump.

She took a deep breath, a few seconds to marshal her thoughts and tuck away the ones she'd rather he didn't read too closely. "Come in, Jane."

He didn't, though; not all the way. He held the door open with one outstretched arm, leaning into the room, and smiled at her. At its full wattage, it still hit her like a sucker punch. She was lucky he deployed it only rarely. Usually when he wanted something.

"Come to dinner with me."


He just looked at her, the smile softening into something knowing, almost affectionate; she stiffened under that gaze, although it didn't matter. He saw her anyway. "There are better places to hide from the ghosts of Christmas past. This isn't much better than your lonely little apartment, and you know it."

No point in asking how he knew what he knew; it would only reveal more, lead to conversations she didn't want to have. "You're one to talk. Is that couch the only spot you ever sleep?"

"You saw me there. But you didn't leave." He was ignoring her question, as she had expected. "You knew I was bound to wake up and see your office light on. You didn't really want to be alone tonight."

"You don't know what I want," she flared, and instantly regretted it. She turned away from him, staring resolutely at the monitor and wishing she remembered what she was looking at. "I have work to do."

"Ah, yes. Urgent workplace safety reports." Her head whipped around, and he made a dismissive gesture. "There's an OSHA handbook open on your desk. It's no use, Lisbon. You can't lie to me. What's so bad about going out to dinner with a colleague? We do it all the time while we're working cases."

"I don't see why I should bother to answer," she deadpanned, "seeing as you already know what I'm thinking."

"Of course I know. I'm just curious as to whether you do."

"Jane," she started, then sighed. "Do we have to play this game?"

"It's up to you. You're the one setting the rules."

"And you're the one breaking them."

"No. Just testing. It's a bad habit of mine." He slumped a little against the doorframe. "Come on, Lisbon. Misery loves company. I could use a little myself."

The naked plea in his voice startled her, and she searched his face for some inconsistency, discerned none. His smile had dropped away completely; he met her eyes squarely, but she saw with sudden clarity the deep shadows there, and wondered how often he did sleep besides the moments he snatched on that couch.

If she saw anything real, it was no more than what he intended her to see. But she found herself saying, "All the restaurants must be closed by now. It's late, and it's Christmas Eve."

He straightened up instantly, his eyes rekindling, a chameleon shift from that briefest flash of vulnerability (had she imagined it?) to a more familiar eager mischief. "Not all of them. I know a place. You'll like it, I think."

"All right. But I'm driving."

He held the door for her, and she heard a trace of laughter in his voice. "Of course you are," he said; but for just a moment, she felt his hand at the small of her back, guiding her forward.

* * *

Jane was right; she did like the little Italian place with its red tablecloths, candlelight, and garlic braids hanging from the ceiling. But when he pulled back a chair for her at a tiny table tucked in a dim corner, Lisbon balked. "Isn't this kind of...intimate?"

"That scares you, doesn't it?" he said, unruffled, and stood waiting for her to sit. She glared at him, but did so; he settled across from her, smug nonchalance in every line of his body, in his laughing eyes.

It looked good on him, much as she hated to admit it. "It doesn't scare me. We're coworkers, Jane."

"I know." He waved the waiter over. "And you're worried that this is a date."

"This is not a date."

"Exactly," he said. "So relax. Have some wine. Do you like red? I thought so. A bottle of the Chianti, please," he told the waiter, before she could protest. When they were alone again, he added mildly, "We don't have to talk about it, you know."

"Talk about what?"

"Why you couldn't stand to be at home tonight." His gaze was deliberately gentle, lacking its usual challenge. "Why you're dreading whatever it is you have to do tomorrow."

Tomorrow. She'd almost forgotten. "You're right. I'd rather not talk about it." The wine came, and she sipped it gratefully, feeling him watching her. Memory clamored at the back of her mind, grief and rage and horrifying injustice all as raw as ever. She stared down at her place setting, willed the roar to subside.

"Lisbon," he said, still in that quiet tone, throwing her name out to her like a lifeline. "Being here is easier than being there. You're safe. I won't ask you to explain anything."

He had never hypnotized her—she hoped he wouldn't dare—but she imagined this might be what it was like. She took a breath. "Thank you," she said, and thought, This is anything but safe. You are anything but safe.

"It's the least I can do," he said gravely. "And the most. You still don't trust me." He made it an observation rather than an accusation.

"I trust your skill in the field." If not your judgment.

"Except when I'm reading you."

"How can I? I've watched you work." She rubbed her finger along the lip of her glass, hazarded a glance at him. He looked blandly attentive. It rankled, and she decided to push him. "Only I think you work everyone, all the time. Including me, right now. You never drop the act. And that means I can never really know when you're being sincere."

His face didn't change. "Not so. Everyone has a tell. Even me. You just haven't learned what it is yet."

"I'm no mentalist, I'm just a cop. We learn things by asking questions. So what's your tell?"

He shook his head. "It doesn't work like that. If I knew what it was, I could manipulate it, and it wouldn't be any use to you. No, you'll have to figure that out for yourself."

She wouldn't fall for that bit of misdirection. "What I can't figure out is why the act. What's wrong with being genuine now and again?" What are you afraid of, Patrick Jane?

He sat back in his chair a little, his expression amused. "You would know, wouldn't you?"

"What do you mean? I am genuine."

"You're transparent, my dear. There's a difference."

"I am not transparent!"

"There, you see? You say you value sincerity. You're a woman of great integrity." He lifted his glass to her, a little toast. "But you would give a great deal to confidently hide your thoughts and feelings from me, and you take offense at the suggestion that you're easily read."

"Choosing to be genuine with someone is one thing! What you do is something else. It's a matter of—of consent."

"An interesting choice of words. Being read—even the idea that you might be read—makes you feel vulnerable, to the extent that you characterize it as a violation. It's a loss of power, of control, and you hate that more than anything."

"Wrong," she said. "What I hate more than anything is men who condescend."

"Who assert power over you, real or imagined?" Jane layered self-deprecation into his voice. "I'm sorry. I don't mean to condescend." He leaned forward, placing his hand on the table so that it didn't quite touch hers. "I'm just trying to show my work. I think you'd rather know what I know than otherwise."

"If that's my choice? Then yes, I'd rather know." She thought about moving her hand away, wondered what he'd conclude from the action, left it where it was. A realization struck her. "You don't do that as much with the rest of the team, do you? Show your work?"

He shrugged, smiling a little. "They don't want to know. Most people don't, even the intelligent ones. They enjoy being led. It's why magicians and other charlatans will always have an audience. You, on the other hand," and the warmth in his eyes startled her, "are only interested in the truth. No matter the cost."

"So you show everyone what they want to see."

"It's what I'm good at." He moved his hand back out of her space, then. She pretended not to notice, and wondered if she'd managed to hit a nerve there somehow. "Shall we order?"

They talked shop for awhile, running over recent cases—though not the most recent; neither of them seemed inclined to bring up Sophia—and upcoming trials, each with its own exasperated D.A. The wine was good, complex and heady. Lisbon felt it working in her, aware of the exact moment when the muscles in her shoulders and back unclenched, the knot of agitation under her breastbone dissolving and draining away. Jane was very pleasant company when he meant to be. He launched into a description of their absent team members, mimicking their mannerisms until she couldn't breathe for laughing.

Their food arrived, pasta and meat swimming in rich sauces, and they both paused to taste. Lisbon watched Jane surreptitiously as he savored his first bite: how his eyes fell shut in a moment of sensual abandon, how his throat moved when he swallowed. In the candlelight he looked almost too perfect, all golden curls and flawless features like a Botticelli angel.

He opened his eyes and smiled at her, sudden and brilliant; she looked away, unsettled by the trajectory of her thoughts. She had noticed that Jane was ridiculously good-looking, of course—had noticed both men and women notice it in the course of their work together. It was impossible to ignore. But she had never let that factor into her interactions with him. Had she?

Her cheeks were warm; she hoped he couldn't see her flush in the dim light. Maybe it was just the wine. She'd drained her glass and Jane had filled it again at some point while they waited for their orders; now it was nearly half-empty. She took another sip, groped for the thread of their stalled conversation. "It seems unfair that you know my team better than I do."

"And you lead them better than I could," he said. "They're a good team because of you."

They, not we. Jane held himself apart. It didn't surprise her, but she filed it away for later consideration. "You know me that well, too, don't you."

"Better," he said, as if that was obvious. Then, seriously, "Don't worry, Lisbon. I wouldn't use it against you."

That deserved a raised eyebrow, and got it. "Wouldn't you? What if you had to use it against me?" She hesitated, said it anyway. "To get at Red John, let's say?"

He winced theatrically. "I hope—sincerely hope—that the situation never arises."

"That's supposed to reassure me?"


Again, she remembered how he'd declared his intent to avenge his family, almost throwing the words at her. A warning, and there was another in that single curt syllable. "I'm sorry I brought it up."

"Don't apologize. You have good instincts."

"I know. I mean, I'm sorry I made you think about it."

"It's not often that I don't." He said it quietly, without emphasis, and followed it with a quick grin that she suspected was meant to provide the reassurance his words didn't. "But by all means, let's distract ourselves with gossip of good cheer. Did you know that Rigsby finally declared his love to Van Pelt?"

"What!" Gladly complicit in the change of topics this time, she put down her fork and goggled at him.

"You have to promise not to say anything to either of them," he said with exaggerated earnestness. "It was after Rigsby burned his arm saving that murderer. He was high as a kite on painkillers and wasn't thinking about whether it was appropriate, or anything besides the beauty of a certain redhead. Grace told me all about it."

"I won't mention it to them," Lisbon promised. "What did Van Pelt say to him?"

"You'll be proud of her. It seems she gave a long speech about how she valued her career and didn't want to jeopardize it with an office romance, only to find that the hapless Rigsby had passed out without waiting to hear her answer."

"Poor thing! And she confided in you?" Lisbon tried not to feel hurt. Of course Van Pelt wouldn't go to the boss; she wouldn't have wanted to get Rigsby in trouble.

"Grace trusts me," he said pointedly.

"She's credulous that way, as I'm sure you've noted." Lisbon frowned. "It's funny—I haven't noticed them acting uncomfortable around each other since the arson case."

"That's the best part. Apparently Rigsby has no memory of any of it, and Grace has no intention of jogging his memory by alluding to it." He shook his head. "I have to say I feel somewhat responsible. I did advise Rigsby to tell her how he felt."


"His mooning was getting on my nerves," Jane protested. "Obviously I didn't suggest that he dose himself up with opiates first and pour his heart out to her like a drunken Romeo."

"Rigsby," said Lisbon, laughing despite herself, "is not a subtle man at the best of times."

"I guess I should have been more specific," mused Jane. "I told him to show her love and affection. I could have given him step by step instructions. Take her out to a nice dinner, share a good bottle of wine, make her laugh—"

"Hey, wait a minute..."

"What?" he said, all innocence. "I thought we agreed that this wasn't a date."

"Yeah, so did I."

"As long as everyone's clear on the terms, the technique works just as well for strengthening friendships." He grinned at her, unrepentant. "So, are you enjoying yourself?"

"Surprisingly, yes."

He looked hurt. "Surprisingly? Did you doubt my ability to show you a good time?"

"No." She finished off the dregs in her glass, set it down a little harder than she meant to. "I doubted my ability to have one. I think you noticed that Christmas Eve is not my favorite day of the year."

A beat, as if he was waiting for her to continue. When she didn't volunteer anything further, he said, "In that case, thank you for throwing your scruples and doubts to the wind and agreeing to join me."

"Like you'd have taken no for an answer!"

"Touché," he said cheerfully. "I'm glad you're having a good time, then, in your role as captive dining companion."

"I am." She made a face at her empty glass. "Also, I may be a little drunk."

"Really?" He studied her closely, holding eye contact for a second longer than she expected; she blushed and looked away. "I believe you are. My fault, I think. I forget how tiny you are. That's a compliment," he added, at her scowl. "Your presence makes you seem taller. Imposing, even."

"I still think you're mocking me."

"I mean every word. Everyone who knows you respects you. Including that blowhard Minelli who gives you so much grief." He tipped the wine bottle, considering its contents. "Do you want to finish this off? Might as well. It would be a shame to waste it."

"I can't. I drove us." As it was, she'd have had to wait some time before she would have been happy about getting behind the wheel.

He waved this away. "I'll drive you home. I can drive, you know."

"I guess the DMV really will give a license to anyone. You must have conned your way out of the road test. Anyway, isn't your car at the office?"

"I'll take a cab back," he said, and when she didn't protest further, split the remaining wine between them. "We won't toast to Christmas. Hmm." After a moment's thought, he raised his glass. "To justice."

"To truth," she said, and touched her glass to his.

* * *

Curled in the passenger seat of her little Honda, she watched the play of shadow across Jane's profile. His face was particularly inscrutable from this angle; she thought, incongruously, of a projector screen, blank until the light fell on it. He drove sedately as a grandmother, as if trying to prove a point.

"It's the next exit," she said, somewhat belatedly, and held her breath as he slid the car across three lanes of traffic and made the off-ramp just in time. Under his hands, the Honda—generally recalcitrant and prone to stalling on the downshift—behaved like a vehicle ten years its junior. Traitor.

"That wasn't very nice," Jane said, pulling them neatly up to the light.

"I blame the wine."

He glanced over at her, raised an eyebrow. "You're hardly drunk anymore. You weren't very much to begin with." The light turned green and he let out the clutch, ceded half his attention back to the road. "You could have driven. If you'd wanted to."

The unspoken question hung between them. She was silent for awhile, transferring her focus to the slick-wet road, the rain dusting past the streetlights, a succession of garish Christmas light displays. It would be a grim drive to Lodi tomorrow. Grimmer. It was never a cheerful trip.

She tasted blood; she'd chewed her lip raw. "Turn left at the light," she muttered, ducking her head.

"You okay, Lisbon?"

It was the way he said it, so easily, as if asking each other whether they were okay was something they did. As if he'd let it go should she say yes, I'm fine, give her the lie like a space to breathe in. She guessed that was how he got suspects to open their hearts to him so he could cut out the truth, add another trophy to his set. And now he had hers.

"My mother died nineteen years ago tonight." It floated out as if she was recounting someone else's story. Her voice didn't even shake. "It was a night like this. The roads were slick. My parents were coming back from a Christmas party. They hit another car going the other way on a two-lane highway."

"I think I see," Jane said softly.

Her head snapped up. "No. You don't." She took a deep breath; when she next spoke, she was calmer. "My father was driving. He always insisted on it. He'd been drinking; so had the other driver." She could look at Jane now, see his lips part as he came to some conclusion. She didn't wait to hear it. "They both walked away from the crash. Everyone said it was a miracle that my father lived. He just got a little gash on his face from when the windshield shattered."

A very careful answer: "I'm not sure I would define that as a miracle, assuming I believed in them."

"The other guy walked away and into the night. They never found him." She attempted a laugh, and mostly failed. "They hardly looked. My dad went up for manslaughter, but—" she shrugged—"they couldn't prove he had anything to do with the accident."

"You must have been what, thirteen?"

"Fifteen." She frowned. "Sorry, I wasn't paying attention. We just missed my street."

"Don't worry about it." He executed a clean two-point turn in the middle of the empty road, ignoring her protests. When they were headed in the right direction, he said, "You're going to visit your father tomorrow, aren't you?"

"This time of year is going to suck anyway. I may as well get it all out of the way at once. Besides, Mom's grave is there."

He was quiet for a moment. "I'm sorry, Lisbon."

Yeah, everybody's sorry. "This is me."

He pulled up in front of her building, and they sat for a minute in the darkened car. He took out his cell phone, called for a cab. Lisbon, sorting through a disorienting variety of emotions, discovered she felt awkward as a teenager waiting for her first kiss goodnight. The thought spurred her into action.

"Do you want to come up?" she heard herself saying, as he handed over her keys. "To wait for your cab, I mean."

"I'll be all right. It's not raining too hard." But it was, the drops darkening his hair and wetting Lisbon's face.

"I know what you're doing," she said, "and it's unnecessary. Come on."

They ran together up the steps to her door.

* * *

She came back from making coffee—she hadn't expected him to accept her offer—to find Jane pacing her living room in a familiar pattern. She'd witnessed him casing a lot of homes this way. Now, from the doorway, she saw her apartment the way he must see it: barren, utilitarian, blank walls and little furniture. She'd switched on the lamp in the corner, but it didn't illuminate the whole room and left the rest in a shadowy half-light.

She liked her space, and she didn't collect things. Or maybe she just didn't hold onto them. But he might conclude that this wasn't really home, only a place to stay. The thought crossed her mind that the room looked much less empty with him in it; she quashed it violently.

He turned to her with an apologetic smile. "I think the cab is here already. I shouldn't keep him waiting. Sorry about the coffee."

She set the cups down on her battered table unceremoniously, not bothering to find a coaster. They stood looking at each other; Lisbon suppressed the awkward teenager before she could rise again.

"Thank you," she said. She figured she didn't have to tell him what she was thanking him for, which was good, because she wasn't quite sure.

"I had a wonderful time." His smile warmed her; just then, she didn't care whether it was genuine.

"I—" She didn't want him to go. The realization left her angry, almost frightened.

He saw it, of course, though she turned her face aside as quickly as she could. She felt him step into her personal space; his proximity tugged at her when she would have stepped back, a balance of forces that left her rooted to the spot.

"Lisbon." His hand brushed her cheek, a light touch that shocked her into looking up. "Teresa," he said, in the same gentle voice with which he'd calmed her in the restaurant, and while she was still processing this novel use of her given name, he leaned forward and kissed her on the mouth.

It was an oddly diffident kiss, like a question; he didn't hold her or press his body to hers, and when he pulled back, his expression was watchful, as if he was still waiting for her answer.

"You're using your tricks on me." She was breathless, furious with him, but under the fury she recognized a rising tide of need, as if he'd reached into her and thrown a switch. As if he'd offered her something she hadn't known she wanted. Not this much.

He shifted, and his eyes fell into shadow. "Believe it or not, I did not engineer any part of this evening with an intent to seduce you." As he spoke, though, his hand found hers where it clenched at her side, massaging it until her fist opened of its own accord. She sensed rather than saw his focus on her intensify. "But I could, Teresa. It would be easy." His fingers stroked her palm, and she shivered. "It's much easier, of course, when the subject is willing."

It was so clinical, so calculating that she wanted to hit him. Instead she hissed, "Shut up, Patrick," and kissed him as hard as she could.

It rocked him back as if she had actually slapped him. She saw his eyes go wide and dark, and she smiled against his mouth. Then his hands came up to cup her face, and he kissed her back like he meant it this time, expertly, with tongue and even a brief scrape of teeth over her lip that made her gasp. As if he already knew what she liked. She pressed closer, felt him hardening against her hip, and thought, distractedly: well, there's one thing he can't fake.

She'd never been one of those women who needed men to want her, or even thought about it much, but the knowledge that this one did rushed through her with an almost absurd sense of power.

Again, it was he who broke the kiss; his hands dropped to her shoulders, putting a little distance between them. "Teresa," he said; then, "Lisbon. Have you forgotten that you don't trust me?"

If she only ever kissed men she trusted, it would sure be a short list. No list at all, in fact. But she wasn't about to tell him that. "Are you saying I shouldn't?"

His face went still, just for a moment, but he said easily, "Just noting an inconsistency." He took her hands, establishing another modicum of distance between their bodies. "It's been a while since I've been with anyone."


"After our professional relationship ended," he said with careful emphasis. "It didn't last. It was too soon. I thought--" He looked down at their joined hands. "It didn't help."

"Doesn't help."

"Maybe," he said, and dropped her hands. "You could get hurt, Teresa. Sophia did. She got to know me too well, or thought she did, and I drove her away."

"You're right," she said. "It's a bad idea. And you should know it's been awhile for me, too." He didn't need to know how long. "But it doesn't have to last. I just need—" Unexpectedly, her voice failed her. "Touch," she whispered. "Tonight, I need touch. That's all."

Their eyes met, and she thought of what he'd said to her: you're safe. I won't ask you to explain.

I won't ask you for something you can't give.

He touched her.

* * *

It was not what she expected, going to bed with Patrick Jane; truthfully, she didn't know what she had expected. He took his time, undressing her with agonizing slowness, and she almost screamed at him to hurry up. It made him grin, like he'd won a prize; he murmured, "Shhhh," against her hipbone, laughed when she shuddered under his mouth. It seemed that he had to explore her skin inch by inch as he exposed it, watching her all the time, taking deliberate delight in her increasingly desperate responses.

"I should have known you'd be merciless," she grumbled. His hand lay casually over her crotch, not pressing or stroking, just still like a promise. She bucked her hips up into it—she knew he could feel how wet she was, soaking through the thin fabric of her underwear—and he smirked and took it away.

At her outraged squeak, he slid up her body and covered her mouth with his, gradually deepening the kiss, negotiating her surrender. She'd all but forgotten his hand when he slipped it under the waistband of her panties, stroking her once with his palm and fingers and drawing a long moan from her throat.

"I should have known you'd be exquisite," he said into the sensitive spot at the juncture between her neck and her jaw, and curled his fingers inside her again and again, lifting his head to watch her come. And when she was done, he immediately made her come again, using his mouth this time, holding her still as he tongued her with exquisite precision until she babbled and screamed, beyond speech and embarrassment, and came back to herself to find him smiling like a cat that had swallowed ten creamed canaries. Or, more to the point, a magician who had pulled off a particularly difficult and spectacular stunt.

It was only then that she realized he had remained fully clothed. When she could move again, she turned towards him, fumbling with the buttons of his shirt. But he captured her hand and kissed her knuckles, an unexpectedly sweet gesture that did not fully distract her from its purpose. Lying there, his eyes half-closed, his gaze lazily proprietary as it swept over her, he looked as sated as she, though she could plainly see the evidence to the contrary.

He would touch her, but he would not permit her to touch him in the same way, uncover the same secrets.

"Power and control," she murmured.


She propped herself on an elbow, taking a few seconds before she responded. "That's why you do it. The performance, the analysis. You can see us, but we can't see you."

His expression didn't change, didn't flicker, and she thought suddenly, That's it. His tell was in stillness, an absence of tells. "Are you reading me, Teresa?"

She smiled, reached up to ghost fingers across his cheek, watched him not turn away from the contact. "It's easier when the subject is willing. You told me everything I needed to know, under the pretense of telling me about myself."

He said nothing, but an alertness came over him. He was waiting for her to go on.

"You're tired of not being seen," she said. "You're relieved that I don't want to be fooled. You want me to see you. But you're afraid--" She drew a breath, a soft exclamation. "You're afraid there isn't anything to see. That you are the act, and the act is all you are."

In the silence that followed her words, she thought he might crack, jump up and leave without a word. Instead, he stared at the ceiling as if reading his answer there; indeed, when he spoke, the words were not his own.

"'Shape without form, shade without color; paralyzed force, gesture without motion...'"

For a moment, she couldn't place the quotation, though it was achingly familiar. Then she remembered; she'd studied Eliot in college. Those lost, violent souls. We are the hollow men...

"No," she said, startling them both with her vehemence. "You're wrong, Patrick." She rolled half-over him, above him, so that he was forced to look up at her. His eyes were very green, pupils wide with panic or desire. "I see that you're damaged," she said. "You're not whole. You're not the only one. But I can see more than that. I can see you, and you're not empty." She laid her fingers over his lips when he started to speak. "Let me."

And for a little while, he did.