Alright, here it is. The last chapter. I hope it wraps up the story to people's satisfaction, especially as my reviewers have (as usual) been so lovely. Personally I like it, but I might be a bit biased.
Jane watched as Mr. Martin left Lisbon's office. The man clearly needed time to grieve and to sort out his life. But even from across the room the consultant could tell that the sudden widower hadn't taken the news as badly as he could have. Jane supposed Jack. Martin would have some comfort knowing that his wife had died to protect one of the many children she cared about. Lisbon had done her work well. Lisbon… she probably needed a distraction; he was sorry that the one he intended to provide probably wasn't ideal. He'd considered waiting another day to have this conversation with her (he had to admit he had no idea what 'this conversation' would entail, but it was clear to him that they both needed to talk), considered waiting until things had died down, until they were less raw. Except at the CBI nothing ever really died down. And not talking was what had gotten them into this mess in the first place. He was afraid that if they let this opportunity go by one of them would find another excuse to delay and it'd be another month of awkwardness. That he absolutely would not stand for. He'd gotten a small reminder of what pre-Hardy Lisbon had been like the day before and he certainly wasn't going back to the robotic post-Hardy Lisbon if he could help it.
Still, it was with some trepidation that he walked up to Lisbon's office door and knocked, barely able to contain his grin. Well now she'd know something as up since he'd taken the time to actually announce his presence instead of just walking right in. He poked his head into her office when he heard her call out.
Grinning at her he tried to gauge her mood. She looked a little tired, but she certainly didn't look like her emotions had been put through an industrial washing machine and then hung out to dry. Still, she'd gotten awfully good at hiding herself away from him of late so he couldn't be sure. "How'd it go?"
She sighed, "About as well as can be expected. He seemed to take some comfort from the fact that his wife had died to protect a child. Said now he can tell his kids their mother was a hero." Then she smiled softly, "Of course he couldn't stay long, needed to pick the younger two up from school, and then take Suzie to soccer practice. It seems he's drawn up a chart of exactly what needs to get done when."
"You think he's going to be okay." It wasn't really a question. She looked almost content.
"I think he's going to find a reason to live in his kids."
"That's good." He told her. Her face had fallen slightly after her last statement, and he felt the need to say something else before she got too caught up in her own head. "The conversation couldn't have been easy for either of you." Jane said softly. Conversations like that never were under normal circumstances. When you considered what she'd been through… Although he had to admit if someone had had to tell him what had happened to his wife, he'd have prefered it be someone like Lisbon. Someone who gave a damn.
But Lisbon had read something else into his comment, something else entirely, and her voice had gone hard. "I can handle it Jane. No need to worry about me."
He sighed, glancing at the floor before running a hand through his hair. He'd forgotten about that. He hadn't meant to make her defensive, to make her angry. Unfortunately, he figured he'd probably see her angry more than once before the afternoon was out. And not the fun version of angry-Lisbon, where she was mad at something he'd done, but it'd blow over in a few minutes, but the real angry-Lisbon. The angry-Lisbon he was afraid of, because that woman's anger was often tinged with hurt; she wouldn't forgive and forget so easily. So he tried to do what little damage control he could, "That wasn't what I meant Lisbon. I know you can handle it. You're one of the most competent people I've ever met. What I said earlier, well, that was just mean, and very unnecessary. And I'm sorry I said it. I don't really know why I did, well in a way I do, but I don't think it was for the reason you think." He glanced at her. She seemed surprised by the apology, not a good sign in his opinion. He opened his mouth to continue, but she beat him to it.
"Jane, we need to talk."
Well, at least he wasn't in this alone. "Yes, we do. But not here." She raised her eyebrows, leaving her question unspoken, so he continued. "Somehow I don't think we're going to want to have parts of this conversation in your office. It might become difficult to… control the volume, and we definitely don't need anyone listening in. Besides, neutral ground might be better."
She acknowledged his point with a shrug of her right shoulder. "I assume you have somewhere in mind."
He grinned, "I do. Follow me Agent Lisbon. I know just the place."
Lisbon wasn't sure what she'd been expecting when she'd gotten into the passenger seat of Jane's crazy car. But she had to admit the city's botanical gardens weren't high on the list. "This is your idea of neutral ground?"
He shrugged. "It's the middle of the afternoon on a weekday so there aren't going to be that many visitors, meaning we're not likely to be disturbed. Also, there are lots of areas that are fairly sheltered thanks to all the trees and shrubs that are planted here so our conversation will be fairly private. It's pretty, which I thought would be a plus given the expected subject matter, but it's public enough that if you kill me you'll have a hard time disposing of the body without being discovered."
His reasons made sense she supposed, well except… "You forget Jane, I'm a highly successful CBI agent, trained in solving murders. Do you think that after all the time I've been doing this that I haven't figured out any number of ways to commit murder and get away with it?"
"I guess I was hoping none of them involved killing someone with your bare hands in a botanical garden."
She smiled, but then her face turned serious. "Alright, well, we'd better pick a spot and get this over with before this place gets busy. Any suggestions?"
"There's a place over here modeled after the gardens of a traditional English manor house. They're all surrounded by hedges so it's pretty enclosed."
"Alright, lead the way." Lisbon tried to control her rising anxiety. This conversation could go really, really badly, and what then? She couldn't imagine throwing Jane off her team, even if it was just to request that he be transferred to another, and not thrown out of the CBI entirely. What would he do? He'd probably go crazy if he wasn't somehow still after Red John. She gave herself a mental shake. Jane was willing to talk, and so was she. They both wanted to fix what was wrong. That had to be a good sign. She had to think positively.
They wandered into one of the hedged areas, and sure enough no one else was there. "So," she said. "Here we are."
"Here we are." Jane agreed. "I think we both agree that we have some issues to work out, correct?" When she nodded he continued, "These issues began roughly after the Prescott case." She nodded again, so far so good. "Well, do you want to start or shall I?"
She took a deep breath. "Why don't we continue where we left off in my office? Why did you say it? What possible reason could you have for questioning my competency in front of our colleagues? In front of the team that I supervise, who need to be sure I'm in control? In front of the local authorities, who've called me in because I'm supposed to be able to handle this sort of thing? I don't think I've given you any real reason to question my abilities. I've hauled you out of more dicey situations than I care to remember, so why?"
She saw her attack hit home, even though he had to have been expecting it. "Okay, well first of all I'd just like to point out that there's nothing I could ever say that would cause your team to question your competency Lisbon. Those people would follow you to hell and back if you asked them, but right now that's really beside the point. Why did I do it? I've been wondering the same thing. I think part of me was a bit concerned," he held up a hand when she opened her mouth to say something, "not about your competency, but about you. No matter how competent you are those cases can't be easy for you, and I'd like to believe that a small part of me was actually concerned for your welfare. But you were right, if that was all it was, I should have gotten you alone. And I don't think that was all it was. I think part of me wanted to hurt you, plain and simple." Lisbon took a step back from him like she'd been slapped, placing both of the benches in the centre of the garden where they were standing between them as he continued. "You'd been ignoring me for weeks. Well, maybe not ignoring me, but shutting me out, not responding. You weren't treating me like a friend or a colleague, but like a tool you used to solve a case, so I think I wanted you to react, even if you screamed at me and threw me off the team. I wanted you to know what it was like to have someone question your judgment like everyone had been questioning mine since that fateful day. Because since then you'd barely said a word to me, barely raised a finger when I was sent on that stupid "vacation," as they called it., didn't call to see how I was doing, and as far as I could tell didn't do anything at all to stop what was happening."
The hurt she so clearly read on his face did nothing to soothe her guilty conscience. When he paused for breath and she jumped in almost screaming, "I know! Believe me, I know. I'm sorry I didn't do anything. I didn't know what to do! You were so angry with me afterwards, which I'm not blaming you for. I just… I thought some time apart might be good, might give us some perspective, might help you cool down, help you come to terms okay? Clearly it was a bad idea. I'm sorry I didn't even try to fight for you. I'm sorry the plan didn't work out. I'm sorry I couldn't risk letting Red John kill you. I'm sorry we didn't even get Hardy. And I'm sorry that you had to choose between saving my life and killing your only lead to Red John, but you know what? I'm not sorry I'm alive! And I'm not sorry you're alive! And I'm not sorry Maya Prescott is alive either!"
Jane watched her as she paused to catch her breath, her shoulders literally heaving with emotion, she refused to meet his eyes. "What the hell are you talking about?" he asked before he could stop himself. He'd had no idea this had… that she'd felt… He paused to collect himself, and took a step towards her. She still wasn't looking at him. He wanted to see her eyes, but knew that if he touched her she'd pull herself back even more. "Lisbon, listen to me, I'm not mad that you came early." When she glanced up in disbelief he continued, "Okay, so I admit I was for a little bit, but that's who you are. You told me that you wouldn't let me shoot Red John the last time he was in the picture. You gave me fair warning. If I'd been thinking logically at the time I would have realized it. It's who you are Lisbon. You're a very just person. I knew that, still do. Sure, I tried to outsmart you, but I knew that at the same time you'd be trying to outsmart me. Turns out this time you won." He paused and she turned towards him ever so slightly. In a gentler tone he continued, "Lisbon, what do you think went through my head before I shot Hardy?" She didn't give him an answer, but then he hadn't been expecting one. "There were literally seconds between when he shot his deputy and when he pointed the gun at you. You didn't even have time to grab your own gun. There was no time for 'Hmmm, Lisbon appears to have a gun pointed at her. Well that's regrettable. Normally I would save her life, but if I shoot Hardy I might never find Red John. On the other hand, I have known her for almost six years now, and she's become a friend so I'd really rather she not die. Besides, if I let her get shot then I'll have caused another innocent person's death thanks to Red John. So, even though Hardy might be able to give us valuable information about Red John, I guess I'd better save Lisbon.' You know what there was time for? There was time for 'Crazy Man has GUN pointed at Lisbon! GUN pointed at Lisbon = Really bad. Must save Lisbon.' Of course I shot the lunatic who had a gun pointed at you. At the time it didn't even occur to me to do anything else! Besides, even if I had let him shoot you what then? I don't think Hardy would have come quietly!" He paused for breath, "Did you honestly think I would let you get shot if I could stop it?"
"No. Well, not really, I mean I don't think so, but Jane, when Red John's involved you go a little crazy sometimes, and I don't always know how sane you are. I'm sorry Jane; I'm sorry I doubted you, I'm sorry you had to do it, it's not your job to…"
"Would you stop apologizing? None of this was your fault! Lisbon, have you felt guilty all this time? Is that was this is about?"
"Well, if I'd…"
"What? Exactly what would you have done differently?"
"I don't know! I wouldn't have waited longer, because then Hardy might have shot you in that basement, and then we might never have found Red John plus you'd be dead. But maybe if I'd thought to check whether Hardy still had his keys…."
"No one thought to do that; he was knocked out. People don't tend to worry about suspects who are unconscious escaping custody."
"I still should have checked."
"In which case he might have just found some other way to get a weapon, or he might have killed himself rather than talk. We'll never know. I told you Lisbon, you can't fix everything."
"Well I can try!" Ah, there she was, fiery Lisbon. He'd never been so relieved to see her in his life.
"And I hope you never stop."
That threw her off. "What?"
If she'd been any other woman he'd have reached out to hug her. As it was he moved between the two benches so only one was separating them. "I hope you never stop. You're probably the only reason I'm still alive, and you're right about one thing, if I'm dead I can't get Red John." And even if we have slightly different approaches, I know I need you to help me. I can't believe you didn't realize that. I thought it was obvious.
"You also can't get Red John if you play right into his hands all the time either."
"You have a better idea?"
"Yeah, we find out more about him and then figure out a plan of our own!"
"Oh, is that all?" Why hadn't he thought of that? Probably because they knew next to nothing about Red John.
"I admit I haven't figured out exactly how to do it yet, but it's got to be better than what we're doing now, which is basically rush in and hope nobody gets killed!"
"I told you I don't care if I get killed!"
"And I told you I do!"
"Fine. I suppose I'll have to live with that. Literally. But only if you promise that you'll stop feeling guilty about what happened. None of it was your fault, and I don't like it when you shut me out. We're on the same side, we need to stick together."
"Fine. I'll try not to feel guilty, but as for us sticking together you what about you? It's not like you've been all nice and friendly the last little while! You've been needling at me since you got back, since before that actually. What you said this week was just the most obvious example. At best you've been snide with me, at worst malicious, veiling all your insults and little slights so they came out of nowhere. And you're surprised that I thought you were mad at me? What else was I supposed to think?"
"I'm sorry Lisbon. I'm sorry for that. I thought that I was fine with it, I thought I wasn't mad at you." She opened her mouth to say something, but he ignored her and continued, "And I wasn't, not for what you think at least. I was mad about what happened sure. I wasn't happy that Hardy was dead, but like I said, I know why you did it. Then I got sent away like a child who needed reprimanding, when all I'd done was shoot a kidnapper and a murderer who was about to kill again."
"There was nothing I could do about that Jane. It was above my head."
"It was my boss's boss's boss. There was literally nothing I could do."
"I know that now. At the time I wasn't in the most logical frame of mind, which doubtless you'll remember. Besides, you didn't even look angry about it. Didn't even try to fight for me." Oh that had hurt. He hadn't realized it at the time, but now, looking back, when the one person he could always count on had seemingly turned her back…
"What did I say about that?"
"I honestly thought some time off might be good for you Jane. Thought maybe we could use some time apart. And I didn't know what to say. I felt like it was my fault. I thought you were mad at me. I thought you blamed me."
"Yeah well, at the time… and whether you like it or not, I felt guilty, like I should have done something, stopped it."
"There was nothing you could have done."
She shrugged again, "Doesn't matter. I felt guilty."
"And that's why you shut down afterwards. Why you wouldn't talk to me."
"I was only ever a little mad at you Lisbon, once I'd calmed down a bit. Mostly I was mad at life, and at Red John. And then you were being so distant. I thought you figured I was a liability and wanted to cut me out. I kept remembering your face when you told me that you were done with my crap, that you'd had enough. Even though I knew the fight was staged, still… I kept…" She'd sounded like she'd meant it, and that had frightened him.
He'd been worried that she'd thought he was a liability? After all the crap he'd pulled, all the times she'd stood between him and the department. All the times she'd had to rush in and save him, or send Rigsby, or Cho… Sure this was more serious, but it was also Red John, even the head of the CBI had been prepared to cut him a little slack. "No, NO Jane. I… I just…"
"Something finally happened that you couldn't fix."
"Yeah." And he hadn't been the only one who'd reacted badly to that.
"I wasn't mad at you either Jane. I was mad at myself, and mad at life. And I didn't think you were a liability. Okay, sometimes you are a liability, but I can deal with it." She grinned, "I think I've gotten pretty good at it over the years. I didn't want you off my team and I didn't mean to make you feel like that was what I wanted. I just felt like I needed to apologize, but I wasn't sure what for, or how to do it. I mean, you've been trying for years to get Red John, and then when you finally get a step closer… well, you know what happened. And even if I knew logically that it wasn't my fault… I guess I thought the time off would give me a chance to figure out how to fix it." She paused, before dryly adding, "Unfortunately I didn't come up with anything." Then stepping over the bench between them to look him in the eye, she added more seriously, "You're part of my team Jane. I protect my own. The only thing that would make me cut you from the unit is if you ever intentionally threaten the life of one of your teammates. I just, I didn't know how to help you Jane."
She was relieved when he smiled. "Well at least my little enforced vacation gave me time to think about things a little more logically."
"So some good did come of it."
"Precious little. If I'd been at work we probably would have been forced to talk sooner."
"So despite the delicate nature of the situation, management's solution wasn't quite as successful as they could have hoped."
"Is that what they were calling it?"
"Did you laugh?"
"Ah there's the smirk. I've missed that over the past few weeks."
"Shut up," she said good-naturedly.
"Can we go back to the way things were before? You know, I do something insane, you roll your eyes, or yell at me, or both, I wear you down until you give in, or I just do it anyways, then depending on what it is you either lecture me or try not to laugh. So far it's been a pretty good system. We are solving a fair number of cases."
"Depends. Does your little scenario mean you won't abruptly stop talking or change the subject whenever I walk into a room?"
"God, Lisbon, I'm so sorry about that. Honestly I didn't realize. I was too wrapped up in my own little world. I thought that you were the one who'd changed, which obviously was not the case. I didn't know why you weren't talking to me, so I was trying to make you react, make you be you again. And then, the other day, I really think I just wanted to make you angry. You were scaring me. You were too calm all the time."
"Basically you were behaving like a three year old who'd lost a toy."
He grinned, "Basically."
She sat down on the bench behind her, and waited for him to do the same. When he was settled she spoke, "Can we at least agree that we both want to stop Red John, we just disagree on the eventual outcome?"
"And can we agree that it would be better if we're both alive after he's been stopped?"
"Then Jane, we've got to come up with a strategy of our own, one that doesn't involve suicide missions, or doing exactly what he wants us to do. We've got to change the game so that we're in control. That means not doing the first crazy thing that pops into your head because it might work. If we're going to catch Red John then we've got to do it on our terms."
"Fine. We'll bring him down." Holding out his hand to her, he waited for her to shake it. "On our terms." She knew that she was smiling. She couldn't help it. Besides, he was too.
Then his smile faded, "I'm still going to try and kill him you know."
"And I'm still going to try and stop you."
"As long as we understand each other." Then he grinned, "You see Agent Lisbon, isn't everything better when we have these little talks of ours?"
She just laughed, right before she punched him in the arm. After the past month, the he deserved it.
Rigsby couldn't stop watching the clock. They'd been gone for almost two hours now. "What do you think they're doing?"
"Don't know," Cho told him for the third time.
"They're probably just talking." Van Pelt pointed out. "They've been getting along a bit better since yesterday. I'm sure they're just trying to work things out."
"Either that or Lisbon's taken him to a remote area to hide the body." Cho interjected.
"How do you think she'd do it? I'm guessing single gunshot wound to the head."
"Nah, too messy, too much evidence. Suffocation's easier. Then you dump the body somewhere it'll never be found, like a bog or something. It would actually work fairly well; it's not like anyone but us would ever notice that he was missing."
"Guys quit it. This conversation's morbid. I'm sure Lisbon and Jane are sitting at a coffee shop somewhere calmly and rationally…"
Whatever Van Pelt had been saying was abruptly cut off by a kerfuffle down the hall, "JANE!" they heard their boss yell.
"Yeah, real calm," was all Rigsby had time to mutter before Jane came running through the bullpen, waving to his colleagues and grinning before running out the other side.
He was soon followed by Lisbon herself, who was not running, but stalking down the hall after him. "Jane! I do not CARE if one of the magician's laws, or whatever the hell they are, states that I have to locate the missing item myself. If you don't tell me where you hid my car keys I will throttle you. And after that I will bring you back to life, and then throttle you again! Don't even bother trying to hide! I may not know where you put my keys, but I know each and every one of your hiding spots, even the one in the broom closet!"
The three other members of the Serious Crimes Unit glanced at each other and grinned. "You know, if she really wants to look like she's mad at him, she should try to keep the smile off her face," Van Pelt pointed out innocently.
Rigsby lay back in his chair, resting his head on his hands. "Thank god," he said with feeling.
Cho, on the other hand, didn't say anything, just calmly got up from his desk and headed for the door.
"Hey, where're you going?" Rigsby called after him.
"You really think I'm going to miss this?"
Rigsby and Van Pelt glanced at each other, before jumping from their chairs and running after him. This was going to be good.