Red-breasted Sapsucker

Disclaimer: I own nothing related to The Mentalist, just the thoughts in my head.

Rating: K+

Summary:"C'mon Dr. Doolittle, time to go." - Jane and Lisbon discover some unexpected sides of each other.

Spoilers: sort of a post-ep to Red John's Footsteps, but not really.

Author's Notes: This story started out as a small vignette inspired by my own little friends who come by my place every winter looking for handouts. I started writing this before the finale, but didn't finish it before the final episode managed to blow my thoughts out of the water and turn this into something much longer. It's still a vignette, just a little more in-depth than I'd intended it to be. I'm also hoping to win the prize for most unusual use of the word 'red' in a title ;-) Hope you enjoy it.

* Thanks, as always, to my ever-patient, extremely talented beta. Thanks, Joy, for cheerfully putting up with my repeated enquiries of "are you done yet?" and for reigning in my rampant use of commas.

She had half a mind to just leave him there.

He could walk the sixty or so miles back to Sacramento. However, the certainty that he'd probably enjoy it quickly put the kibosh on that plan. The fact that he had the keys to the car was the final straw.

Agent Teresa Lisbon settled her hands on her hips and huffed out a sigh of frustration as she scanned the now empty picnic site. Her wayward consultant was nowhere to be seen. She was used to Jane wandering off like some recalcitrant child, but today she just wasn't in the mood to play the exasperated mother. It was getting late and they still had to drive back to the office.

The team had received the call just after lunch. Some poor hiker in Castle Crags State Park had been looking for a little privacy to answer Nature's call and had ended up finding a body instead. The boys had just barely suppressed a groan and VanPelt's shoulders had slumped noticeably at their boss' 'gear up' order, their hopes for a quiet Friday afternoon dashed. Jane, of course, had been the exception. His eyes had lit up and his trademark grin had grown impossibly wider when she'd divulged the location of their case, mentioning something about it being the perfect place for a picnic.

For what had probably been only a split second, he'd snagged her gaze and Lisbon had found herself wondering just what a picnic with Jane might be like: a lazy summer afternoon, free of the darkness that tended to dog them both. However, just as quickly as the thought had formed, she'd forcibly shaken it from her head and herded her team out the door.

Now the body was safely on its way to the State Morgue and Cho, Rigsby and Van Pelt were already headed back to headquarters to run some background checks before calling it a night. They'd interviewed every pertinent witness and hounded all the local LEOs and Lisbon just wanted to get back into that contraption that Jane called a car and have him drive them both back to the office so she could get organized tomorrow and get some much-needed sleep.

She just needed to find Jane. Lisbon refused to call out to him, refused to give him the satisfaction of knowing he'd given her the slip. Instead, she zeroed in on his most likely escape route and set off down the trail that wound through the mature fir and cedar to the edge of the Sacramento River that cut its way through the mountain park.

Under any other circumstance, she would've let herself enjoy the beauty of the area. The air was heavy with the fragrance of warm conifers, cut by the crisp scent of fresh water. For a moment, she could've sworn that she could hear the shouts of her kid brothers on the breeze, hidden among the raucous calls of crows, drawing her back into another time, a time when things had been much simpler. She could almost feel a familiar presence by her side as she made her way along the sun-dappled trail.

Refusing to let her memories pull her down any deeper into the dark eddies of her subconscious, Lisbon forced her aggravation with Jane's disappearance to edge out all other thoughts. She'd mastered the art of compartmentalisation a long time ago.

Now that she was again fully focused on the task of finding her errant consultant, Lisbon's frustration mounted with every step she took away from the picnic site and their waiting car. After years of working together, Lisbon was used to Jane's antics; despite her better judgement she sometimes even enjoyed them. One way or another, they always seemed to get results. Today, however, they were only keeping her from a hot shower and her comfortable bed.

Scanning the shoreline for signs of life, Lisbon was beginning to entertain the idea that he was hiding behind a tree somewhere just watching her suffer. She was about to turn back and wait him out when she caught a glimpse of his reddish-blonde curls through the foliage along the riverbank. Carefully picking her way among the brambles, she emerged at the water's edge a few feet away. Jane showed no signs of having noticed her arrival, affording her a chance to observe him in a seemingly unguarded moment.

The scene was confusing. He was sitting on a weathered log, facing back into the trees, instead of out over the water. He held out his right hand, supporting the weight with his elbow braced on his knee. His palm was outstretched, like some sort of offering, his gaze trained intently on a tangle of branches.

Then she saw it.

A sudden flash among the leaves caught her eye before a tiny black and white bird darted out from the cover of the leaves to alight on Jane's fingers. Lisbon sucked in a surprised breath and held it as the little creature seemed to pick through the contents of Jane's offering before selecting a seed and disappearing just as quickly as it had appeared. Then, as though emboldened by their comrade's success, two more birds flitted out onto his hand, snagging a seed each before disappearing back under the cover of the forest.

Soon, the consultant was overrun with the hungry little beggars, each taking their turn, replacing each other on his palm, some waiting their turn, perched among the curls on his head. They weren't quiet about it either, chittering and whistling almost merrily. However, amongst the chatter and the rush of the nearby river, Lisbon could make out a much different sound. She could distinctly hear the low murmur of Jane's voice. He was apparently talking to his new friends.

She had never seen him like this, so unabashedly happy, so ... peaceful. Jane had an uncanny knack for seeming relaxed and often jovial in just about any situation. However, Lisbon had learned over the years how to spot the darkness behind his bright smile and the sharp, dangerous edge to his smooth demeanour. It had become impossible to miss when they'd been hunting Red John less than a month ago. Since then, the darkness had been slowly slipping back behind easy grins and silly tricks, but Lisbon wasn't sure he'd ever get back to where he'd been before sacrificing his best lead to his family's killer to save her life.

She'd never been quite so glad to be wrong. The shadows were gone for the moment, his eyes open and his smile softer than she'd ever seen it. She was surprised by the solid tug deep within her chest that seemed to want to pull her closer into his orbit. Lisbon took an unsteady step forward and broke the spell with the sharp crack of a branch breaking beneath the heel of her boot.

Jane's feathered friends scattered for shelter and he looked up, quickly spotting the source of the disturbance. His smile grew wider, but Lisbon fought to hide the disappointment that settled over her like a cloud as she watched the veil slide back over his eyes.

"Oh, hey Lisbon," he said brightly. "Did we solve the case?"

She ignored his comment, but gave him her very best scowl. "C'mon, Dr. Doolittle, it's time to go."

Jane chuckled, clearly amused by her dry wit. "Oh, c'mon, Lisbon. Don't you want to meet my friends?"

Although she rolled her eyes and answered, "No, I want to go home sometime this decade," Lisbon couldn't keep herself from eyeing the sunflower seeds in his palm longingly, dying to try her hand at the role of human bird feeder.

The consultant sighed dramatically. "Why do you even bother, Lisbon? We both know what you really want."

Lisbon tried desperately to tamp down the flush she could feel warming her cheeks, terrified for a moment that he truly could read the somewhat unpartnerly thoughts that had slipped to the front of her mind at his words. However, when she finally forced herself to meet his gaze, she could find no sign that he'd noticed her momentary lapse. Instead, he simply patted the space on the log next to him encouragingly. Huffing out a long-suffering sigh, she sank down onto the tree next to him.

She started when he took her hand in his, turning it over and gently opening her fingers.

"Relax, woman," he all but crooned in her ear. "You need to offer them some incentive to come out of hiding." Before she could respond, he dropped a handful of seeds into her palm.

Regaining her composure, she arched an eyebrow. "Does Rigsby know that you've stolen his stash?"

Jane laughed. "I'm sure he does by now."

Lisbon's answering chuckle became a surprised gasp at the sensation of tiny cold feet tickling her fingertips. Tearing her gaze away from Jane, she glanced down to find herself staring into two little eyes hidden by a black mask. The diminutive bird seemed to regard her curiously for a moment. Then digging his beak through the collection seeds in her palm, he selected the perfect size and disappeared into the shadows of the forest. This scout must have given the 'all clear' again and suddenly Lisbon found herself surrounded by fluttering wings as they truly began to feed.

Jane felt a curious constriction around his heart as he watched her. His goal had been to get her to relax, to release some of the tension she carried around with her all the time (a good chunk of which he knew he caused). There was just one thing he hadn't counted on. As the layers of stress slipped from her shoulders like an old coat, they seemed to find a place within him. However, it was a different kind of tension, one he hadn't felt in a long time.

He couldn't take his eyes off of her. Everything about her seemed softer somehow. A wide smile lit up her features, erasing the years and sorrows, giving Jane a rare glimpse of Teresa without the swagger and the scowl that got her through each day.

However, his treacherous mind wouldn't simply allow him this peace. For a terrifying moment, the late afternoon sun dimmed around him and Jane was once again assaulted by the memory of a stunned Lisbon on the wrong end of Hardy's gun. It wasn't the first time he'd relived that moment in the last month and just like every other time, he found himself tortured by the 'what ifs?' What if he'd been too late? What if Lisbon had stuck to the plan? What if he'd chosen differently?

Jane had always been prepared to die in his quest to exact vengeance from Red John, but he'd never expected his death to matter to anyone. He'd also never expected anyone else's death to matter to him anymore. He thought he had already lost everyone that meant something to him, but somewhere along the way he'd realised that the idea of a world ... his world, without Teresa Lisbon left him heartsick.

Fear had enveloped him in that split second she'd been vulnerable, sharp and all-encompassing and he'd done the only thing he could. Remembering it now tightened a band around his heart, causing an alarming spike in his pulse. Sucking in a deep breath, Jane closed his eyes, willing the darkness back to the deepest corners of his mind and forcing himself to focus on the here and now.

His momentary struggle hadn't gone unnoticed. Opening his eyes, he found himself swimming in pools of emerald green, marvelling at just how in tune with each other they seemed to be. Jane quickly flashed her his most disarming smile, attempting to reassure her that all was well. Lisbon furrowed her brow in silent consideration, and decided to leave him be, returning her attention to her new feathered friends.

'I think you're wrong. I think you'd choose life.'

Her words to him that night played like a broken record through his memory, the chorus getting louder with every passing second that he watched her surrounded by nature in all its living glory. As her affirmation reached a crescendo in his mind, Jane was forced to admit that Lisbon had been right. He had chosen life ... he'd chosen her life and as the long rays of the evening sun lit her skin with its warm glow and an honest-to-God giggle slipped from her lips, Jane had never been so glad to be wrong.

The part of his heart that beat solely for vengeance had shattered that night as he'd watched his best lead to his family's murderer slip through his fingers. However, that part had grown a little smaller lately, overpowered more and more by the part that beat faster every time he caused a flush of pink to rise in Lisbon's cheeks.

He wasn't sure what it said about him that this discovery had come as a surprise, but it had. For someone who made his living observing people, he'd apparently been alarmingly blind to Lisbon's hold over him, yanking him back from the brink every time he stumbled too close to the edge. He'd never wanted saving, still didn't. However, Lisbon, as always, didn't care about what he wanted and was putting him back together whether he liked it or not, one tiny shard at a time. And like the ungrateful cad that he was, he was fighting her every step of the way.

Gazing at her now, it was as though a dam had been breached. Memories and emotions crashed over him in a swirling maelstrom of confusion. He needed to do something, say something ... anything to calm the storm and give himself a chance to regroup and regain some ground within his psyche.

Searching for a topic of conversation, he finally landed on, "Mountain Chickadees."

"Hmm?" she answered distractedly.

Jane smiled, a wave of relief washing away the lingering unease. This was normal. This he could control.

"Your little friends," he continued. "They're Mountain Chickadees, a common bird in this area, easy to train."

"I know," she replied absently, dropping a new handful of seeds into her outstretched palm to feed the now rather demanding hoard.

Jane regarded her thoughtfully, intrigued by this new insight. She did know. Nothing he'd just said had been news to her. Interesting.

Suddenly seized by a flash of inspiration, he pushed himself up off the log, momentarily scattering Lisbon's admirers before making his way down the riverbank.

Aside from the short interruption in the feeding frenzy, Lisbon hardly noticed his departure, her senses lulled by the now constant rhythm of fluttering wings. It left her mind to wander and it had currently stalled on the man who'd just left her side.

Sitting here, in the woods with him, she could almost pretend things were normal, or whatever it was that passed for normal between them. However, she knew that she was fooling herself.

Jane was a liability.

He was a ticking time bomb, destined to self-destruct and God help anyone unlucky enough to be caught in the shockwave. She knew this, had known it from the moment they'd met, but she just couldn't seem to bring herself to do the smart thing and cut him loose from the CBI. Sure, their solve rate would likely drop dramatically, but it would be a hell of a lot safer for her team, for the public, for her ... for her heart.

The fact that her heart even factored into this debate was a large part of the problem, but there it was. He'd somehow managed to weasel his way in, around all of her defences, past the walls she had built after she'd realized that love just wasn't enough to save a man from himself.

Not that she loved Jane. That would be ridiculous. Lisbon just wasn't sure she was up to watching another man she ... another man she cared about tear himself and everything around him apart.

'Can't you see there are people who care about you, who need you?'

Lisbon flinched as her entreaty that night rang through her memory, though her voice sounded different, younger. Still, Jane wasn't her father. He'd shown signs of improvement in the last few years. At the very least he pretended to improve, that is until Red John's latest appearance had sent him sliding right back to where they'd started.

She sighed, one step forward....

She was pulled from her musings by the sensation of something being draped over her head. Instinctively, Lisbon reached up with her free hand to pull it off.

"Ah, ah, ah! I put a lot of work into that. Don't you go ruining it," Jane chastised from behind her.

Forgetting about the chickadees, Lisbon twisted in her seat to face the consultant, who was grinning broadly down at her. Brows furrowed, she reached up again, this time feathering tentative fingers over what felt suspiciously like a daisy chain that now nestled in her dark hair like a crown.

"Ah, lovely," he gushed, reaching out to adjust his creation ever so slightly. "It's perfect. You look very Maid Marian, Lisbon."

She glared up at him, but before she could conjure up a retort, Lisbon was shocked into silence as his fingers dropped from the flowers and threaded through her hair, pulling an unruly piece out of her eyes and settling it gently behind her ear.

"Actually," Jane continued thoughtfully. "With your complexion, Snow White would be more appropriate."

His fingertips ghosted across her cheek and the moment stretched well beyond anything she could consider safe. Her gaze was lost in the sea blue of his eyes, trying to sort out the confusing array of emotions that coloured his irises.

Suddenly, a raspy call, sounding remarkably like the shower theme from Psycho cut through the din of the forest, shattering their bubble of awareness.

Uncharacteristically rattled, Jane snatched his hand away like a kid caught in the cookie jar and shot his gaze up towards the canopy. "What in the world was that?"

"Red-breasted Sapsucker," Lisbon answered automatically.

A surprised chuckle escaped his lips. "Now there's a bird with an unfortunate name," he replied, his voice tinged with amusement.

She smiled, pleased to finally be the one doing the explaining for a change. "It's a type of woodpecker; feeds on sap that they get from drilling holes into live trees."

Jane, however, was still stuck on the bird's designation. "It really is a great name." He grinned wickedly. "It sounds almost dirty."

Lisbon laughed before adding, "You think that's good, it has a cousin out east called the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker."

The consultant's eyes actually twinkled with merriment as he clapped his hands together. "Oh, now that's a good name. It sounds like something you'd hear in some old western. 'C'mon out here and face it like a man, you yella bellied sapsucker.'"

Jane's weak attempt at a John Wayne impersonation sent her into a fit of laughter, and he joined her, enjoying the rare moment of escape from the seriousness of their jobs ... of their lives.

Her chuckles subsiding, Lisbon wiped away the few tears that had escaped her lashes. However, when she opened her eyes, the look on Jane's face put her back up immediately. His expression was a worrisome mixture of assessing and triumphant.


A self-satisfied smile tugged at his lips. "You're a birdwatcher."

To her horror, Lisbon could feel her cheeks warming under the weight of his stare.

"Oh, c'mon, Lisbon. It's nothing to be ashamed of. Birdwatching is one of America's fastest-growing pastimes."

Sighing, she conceded defeat and acknowledged his declaration. "I picked it up as a kid."

Jane was positively gleeful. "Oh, I can just see it! Little Teresa Lisbon with her binoculars and her fieldbook."

She couldn't control the shudder at his words and of course, he noticed, his expression sobering and his eyes searching.

"But it's not a good memory."

Anger and fear welled up inside her, creeping into her voice as she answered, "Can't you leave anything alone?"

To her utter amazement, Jane didn't push any further. Instead, he slipped his long legs over the log and sat back down beside her. Reaching into the bag between them, he grabbed a handful of seeds and thrust out his hand, waiting for the birds to return.

Silence settled over them like a blanket, at the same time comforting and stifling. The chickadees had apparently grown impatient and had moved on, so they just sat there, staring into the trees. Lisbon was about to give up and steer them home, when Jane suddenly spoke.

"I used to come here with ... before-"

She drew in a silent breath at his unexpected admission, holding the air tightly in her lungs. She was afraid to move, lest she snap him out of the haze of his memories. They didn't do this ... didn't talk about their lives before Red John, before they'd met, and Lisbon was completely enthralled, his voice drawing her further into his world. The mask had slipped ever so slightly and she was entranced by what she saw.

"We used to drive up for the day, a chance to see the mountains, have a picnic. The birds were tame then too. Must be something that each generation learns. Anyway, they used to flutter around the picnic table." He paused, taking a slow careful breath. "I remember the sound of her laugh when they'd land in her hair. Her mom would always worry they'd get tangled in there."

Lisbon's heart clenched at the hint of a wistful smile that tugged at his lips. When no more words came, she ventured carefully, "When I told you where we were going, you seemed happy to come here."

When Jane finally looked at her, the force of his gaze nearly knocked her back physically. His eyes were sad, but not the utter devastation she was used to seeing in those rare moments that he acknowledged the ghosts of his family. Despite her better judgement, she felt the warmth of a tiny spark of hope light deep within her.

"It doesn't always hurt to remember. Sometimes, I can focus on the good stuff." His smile grew a little brighter and he leaned in closer, whispering conspiratorially, "It's something I learned from you."

Lisbon swallowed a gasp, her heart swelling almost painfully, but doubt and the rational part of her brain quashed the feeling almost immediately.

'This is Jane,' she vehemently reminded herself. 'He makes a living telling you what you want to hear.'

Still, as she held his gaze, his eyes were clear and genuine and for just this once, she let herself accept his admission for what it truly was ... a seemingly honest gift.

They settled back into silence, staring at the tangle of branches reaching for the sunlight along the riverbank. Tension stung along Jane's spine like a bow as he eyed the woman next to him, sneaking glances whenever he was sure she wasn't looking. She was wrestling with a decision and Jane couldn't help but hold his breath. He'd meant it when he'd told her that she could trust him, that he would always be there for her. Now as he watched her struggle with her innate wariness, Jane found himself hoping she would, for once in her life, just take him at his word and let him in, if only for a moment.

He understood why Lisbon didn't trust him. Hell, in her shoes, he definitely wouldn't trust him either. Still, somewhere along the way he'd discovered that he needed her trust, even more than her help and her expertise. Somewhere along the way, she'd found a part of him, buried deep in the darkness of his soul, a part he'd long thought dead, and dragged it into the light. Somewhere along the way, she'd made him want the impossible.

"My mom was into birds."

Lisbon's words were quiet, small, nearly swallowed up by the babbling of the water.

Beside her Jane froze, stilling even his breath. He wanted to lean in, to offer support, but he knew it would only send her skittering back behind her walls. Instead, he waited, watching as she slowly edged out of her shell.

Finally, she continued, "She taught me how to identify them. We ... ah ... we used to go for walks through the woods, along marshes, fields, different places every time, and she'd teach me about the birds, pointing out all the different colours, shapes and sounds."

A gentle smile tugged at the consultant's lips at the image she painted, his heart warming curiously to the thought of a young Teresa, freckle-faced and messy hair, mucking through woodlots and wetlands. Her voice, a little stronger now, drew him deeper into her past.

"For my fifteenth birthday, they bought me a pair of binoculars, nothing fancy, just some set from Sears, but I loved them. I took 'em with me everywhere, keeping lists of the birds I saw. It was our thing, Mom and I. Dad and my brothers had hockey and football, we had birds."

Lisbon suddenly glanced up at him, her eyes searching his. Jane forced himself to keep his expression open, to let her see only earnest support in his gaze. She smiled weakly in response and he fought hard against the urge to pull her to his side. Then, just as quickly as it had appeared, the lightness left her face, shadowed like a cloud passing over the sun.

Swallowing painfully, she pushed on, cutting her eyes back to the trees, "I kept going out after she died. I guess it was my way of staying close to her, y'know?"

Jane nodded slowly, silently urging her on. It would've been easy to draw out her secrets at this point. She'd opened the door and Jane was well-versed at guiding people over the threshold of their memories. Still, he held himself back, determined not to betray her trust and to let her find her own way, ready to take only what she was willing to give. He just never expected this much.

Her voice had waned again and her whole presence seemed smaller somehow. "After a while it became an escape. Dad... Dad started to get worse and I needed to get away now and then. I just needed some time to myself focussed on something other than holding my family together."

He had a pretty good idea where this story was headed and Jane was surprised by the hot surge of anger that suddenly flowed through his veins at the thought of anyone harming the woman at his side. Lisbon's ability to read him must have been better than he thought, because she quickly rose to her father's defence.

"Dad was never violent. Even drunk, he was more depressed than anything. But I guess my absences finally got to him. I don't know what set him off, if he was afraid I wasn't going to come home or the binoculars reminded him of Mom, I don't know. Anyway, one day he cornered me coming back from one of my walks. We, uh ... we argued and he just lost it and grabbed my binoculars and threw them to the floor. I'd never seen my dad so mad. I've never gone birding since."

An upsetting heaviness settled over Jane's heart as she finished her story with a sigh of resignation. Everything felt wrong. He may have only just learned about this facet of Lisbon's life, but the idea that she'd abandoned something that she had obviously loved bothered him ... a lot. Sure, he'd discarded many pieces of his life in the last five years, but Jane was learning the importance of holding on to the ones that mattered and for Lisbon, this mattered.

Shifting subtly, Jane nudged her side. "You never thought about picking it up again?"

Lisbon started, as though waking from a dream. "Huh? No," she answered distractedly. He watched, heart sinking in resignation as she collected her thoughts and carefully rebuilt her walls before elaborating just enough to hopefully change the subject. "Life got ... busy. Then I moved out here and there's just never been a good time."

Jane rolled her words over in his mind carefully, trying to piece together the secrets of her past from the precious snippets she'd allowed him, trying to find a way to make things feel right again. However, before he could open his mouth, Lisbon dragged herself out of whatever spell she'd been under and jumped up from the log.

"C'mon Jane, we really need to get going. I want to get home sometime tonight."

She carefully slipped her flower crown from her brow, slipping it over her arm before taking off towards the trail without a backwards glance, the picture of professionalism once again. Jane sucked in a deep breath and forced himself to follow, shaking his head to clear the cobwebs in his mind, while his heart tried desperately to cling to whatever it was they'd just shared.

The brightly-wrapped box on her desk stopped her in her tracks. Cautiously, Lisbon made her way deeper into her office, scanning the shadows in the corners for any unwanted surprises. She felt ridiculous, but after a certain consultant managed to sneak a pony into her office for her birthday, she felt somewhat justified in her wariness.

Slipping into her chair, Lisbon eyed the gift appraisingly. Her birthday was months ago and nothing special had happened today. Sure, they'd closed the case, but that hardly warranted the giving of gifts. It could've only come from one person. The rest of her team were much too frightened of her to be leaving un-called-for presents on her desk. Sucking in a deep breath, she finally gave in to her curiosity.

Pulling off the paper didn't help, revealing only an unmarked box. However, upon lifting the lid, all the air in her lungs rushed out in a startled gasp. Slipping her hand inside, Lisbon carefully pulled out a beautiful pair of Swarovski SLC binoculars. Trust Jane to go for the top of the line.

Excitement and resignation warred within her as she turned the lenses over in her hands, admiring the workmanship and testing the weight and balance. They were beautiful, but like the emeralds he'd tried to bestow upon her nearly a year ago, she knew she couldn't accept them. What kind of message would it send? Before she could get too attached, Lisbon made to slip the binoculars back into the box. However, as she moved the tissue paper to one side, she caught sight of a card nestled among the wrapping.

Gently placing the lenses on the table, she slid her finger under the lip of the envelope, her hand trembling ever so slightly, not entirely sure she was up to reading anything he had to say. They'd never spoken of their 'moment' by the stream. Jane had been uncharacteristically silent on the subject. While she hadn't really expected him to trot out his latest revelations in front of the team, she'd braced herself for some private comments, but they'd never come. Steeling her resolve, Lisbon pulled out the card and went straight for the inscription inside.

His hastily scrawled words sent a wave of emotion welling up in her throat and gathering behind her eyes.

'Some things are worth holding onto. If you're willing to teach, I'm willing to learn.'

The hammering of her heart against her ribcage was all she could hear as his words swam in her mind, daring her to hope, daring her to believe that he meant it.

Suddenly, Lisbon dropped the card; snagging her briefcase and her new optics, she quickly left the office.

Jane usually loved the quiet of the bullpen at night, the gentle hum of the computers lulling him into a tenuous sleep. Tonight, however, they only offered a blank canvas upon which his racing thoughts could paint out endless scenarios. As much as he hated to admit it, Jane was nervous. Pushing the envelope with Lisbon was what he excelled at, what he looked forward to to get him through each day. He just really didn't want this gesture to backfire.

He'd bought the binoculars the day after their trip to Castle Crags, but it had taken him a week to work up the resolve to give them to her, to convince himself that they were both ready for this. Another flash of Lisbon staring down Hardy's gun reminding him of how quickly life can change sealed the deal. Still, the doubts wouldn't leave him and this uncharacteristic uncertainty was off-putting.

His churning mind was brought to a screeching halt by the sudden appearance of a familiar shadow across his eyes. He feigned sleep, hoping she couldn't see through his apparent nonchalance.

"Pick me up at 7:30 tomorrow, Jane. I want to get going before the heat of the day."

A slow smile spread across his lips, but he didn't open his eyes, content to revel in the imagined image of a resolute Lisbon glaring down at him, brand new binoculars settled around her neck.

"So, are you going to teach me about the Red-breasted Sapsucker?"

Jane grinned, finally allowing himself a glance. However, she was already gone, her purposeful footsteps disappearing toward the exit. Still, he caught the words she threw over her shoulder before slipping into the elevator, "Eventually, and if you're really good, I'll show you where to find a Blue-footed Booby."

His grin became a delighted chuckle as he settled back into the worn leather of his couch. For the first time in a while, he eagerly awaited the dawn.