Title: He Who Hesitates
Author: babies stole my dingo (agilebrit)
Fandom: The Mentalist
Rating: PG-13 (default)
Length: Short story (about 1700 words)
Disclaimer: Bruno Heller is the genius behind these characters; I am but a lowly follower. I make no money from any of this, so please don't sue me.
Feedback: Concrit adored! If you see something that can be improved upon, please let me know, even if it's only a typo.
Written for: Pensive1, who wanted me to make Jane cry.
Notes: There's a boatload of angst here, and no happy ending for anyone. Least of all Jane.

Red John tumbles down the slope of the canyon and lies in a still heap for a few moments. I follow, slipping, sliding, nearly losing my footing and flying headlong, but catching myself in time. I skid to a stop next to him at the bottom, yanking up my pants leg and scrabbling at the military-style knife I've kept strapped to my calf ever since my family's slaughter.

He's still alive, struggling to rise as I approach, but his fall has broken more than one bone. His arm bends in a place that arms were never meant to bend, and he flops over onto his back and stares up at me. One side of his mouth curls into a sardonic grin that I want to carve right off his battered, bleeding face. My grip on the knife is white-knuckled, and I'm panting through clenched teeth.

"Hello, Mr. Jane." Red John's voice is raspy with pain, and blood gushes from his nose and leaks from the corner of his mouth, a cut on his cheekbone and another across his eyebrow. I'm glad he hurts. I've never wanted to see anyone suffer the way I want to see this man suffer. "Best make it fast," he says. "Your team isn't far behind."

For once in my life, I'm speechless. I'm going to let my blade do the talking. It will paint a crimson discourse in this canyon that will be read and commented about for years. The echoes of his screams will never die. I'm done with words. Words got me into this.

I crouch on his right, downslope, pinioning his shattered wrist with a knee. The grin never leaves his face, although a grunt of pain escapes him as the bones grind together. I push the point of my blade under his jawbone, forcing his head back, baring his throat. I would rather take my time over this, but he's right, the team is close and I don't have a second to spare.

His eyes have all the expression of a sociopathic cobra, flat and pitiless. He's still grinning at me, as if at his own private cosmic joke, one that wouldn't be funny to anyone else even if they knew what it was. A tiny trickle of scarlet runs over the blade. One slice, a flick of the knife I've kept sharper than a razor for just this day, and his life will end. I know exactly where the veins and arteries are, just how deep to the millimeter I have to go. I've studied, to ready myself for this very moment.

"What are you waiting for, Mr. Jane?" The tone is mocking, the blood from the lifted brow leaking into his unblinking eye. He's not human.

His skin parts under the blade as I run it from under his chin to the base of his throat, oh so shallowly, blood welling in the trail. I can see the pulse point jumping on his neck, begging me to caress it with the edge, to open it and let his life run out into the sand and the scrub. It is right...


My hand is shaking.

My entire body is shaking.

Forget finesse, just cut his throat, my brain screams at me, do it now-

I can't.

I...am not that person. I have never been that person. And God help me (if there is a God, which I doubt, have always doubted, because how could He let my vengeance get stolen, Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord whispers through my mind, the hell with that, it should be mine, dammit), but I can't become that person in this instant, no matter how much I want it. How much I need it.

My grip on the knife loosens at the same second a red splotch appears above Red John's left eye, and his own blade clatters to the ground, where did that come from? His head jerks backward once and is still, and the gunshot cracks through the canyon less than a second later. Blood and brains and bone explode from his ruined skull.

I jump up and scramble backwards, away from the sack of meat that is now Red John. Some of his cranial tissue (my mind supplies) has gotten on me, scratch that, a lot of his cranial tissue is all over my pants and my jacket, goodness, who knew a head shot would make such a mess, and suddenly I'm surrounded by the team, they've clambered down the hill and everyone's guns are out and Lisbon's is smoking.

"How could you do that?" I whisper. "How could you take that away from me?" If I'd just had a few more seconds, I could have steeled myself, could have exacted the revenge I'd been aching for, for years, could have personally taken his life the way I vowed to so many times, could have kept my promise-

My vision blurs, and I can't breathe. I wrap my arms around my body and drop to my knees, bending over until my forehead touches the ground. My wife's name, my daughter's name, they flit through my mind, but they can never ever pass my lips again because I'm not worthy to say their names anymore, as if I ever was, I failed I failed I failed...

Huge racking sobs overcome me, and I'm tempted, very tempted, to use the blade on myself, my life is over anyway. I have nothing left, nothing at all. My chest feels as though the organs have been scooped out and replaced with a block of ice, and I wonder if I'll get enough air ever again. I wish Lisbon had shot me too. It would have been more merciful than what she did. Tears soak my jacket sleeves, mingling with Red John's blood. We're still inextricably bound together. I'll never get this stain off my soul.

A hand on my shoulder, and I nearly punch whoever it belongs to before I realize I'm still holding the knife. I lift my head to see Cho beside me on one knee, and if that was pity on his face I would punch him, but it's not. "Come on," is all he says, and I sheathe my knife and let him lead me up the hillside and bundle me into one of the SUVs. He climbs behind the wheel and we head back toward Sacramento.

I stare out the window. Tears are still leaking down my face in a steady stream-like a running faucet with a broken handle. Cho, thank God, well, not God, but...someone, is characteristically silent, and I'm grateful that it's not somebody else on the team I'm riding with, because they'd try to draw me out and make me talk about it and then the CBI would have three bodies instead of one to clean up and explain.

After a drive that seems to take hours but doesn't, he pulls into the parking lot. I'm out before he's shut the motor off, and I stalk into the building. People scatter in front of me, gaping, and a fusillade of chatter rises behind me. With single-minded intensity, I grab an empty box from the copy room and start tossing my things into it until I just can't function anymore and collapse into the welcoming embrace of my couch with my elbows on my knees and my face in my hands.

A few minutes later, I sense Cho beside me again. "You're leaving?" he says, not really a question. His tone is matter-of-fact, just what I need.

"Nothing to hold me here now that Red John is dead." I stand up and gather my box under my arm. "Maybe if-eh, probably not."

"You okay to drive?" It's the only ounce of concern he's shown the entire time, and I nod even though I'm really not. "Probably should wash your face first. You don't want to get pulled over looking like that."

So I go into the men's room and look in the mirror. My face is a mess of tear-streaked gore, and I clean myself up as best I can with hot water and paper towels. My jacket is a total loss and I crumple it into the trash can. I can't do anything about my pants.

Cho hands me the box outside the bathroom door. "Lisbon'll probably be in touch," he says.

"Tell them all goodbye for me." My voice is husky, and I don't trust myself to say anymore. I turn and walk away from him, away from the building, away from the people who have tried and failed to be a second family for me, away from the only job I ever had that I actually liked. I toss the box onto the passenger seat, climb behind the wheel of my Citroen, and begin the six-hour drive to my empty house with its horrifying memories.

I notice a manila folder that I didn't put there on top of my stuff, and I open it at a stop light. Cho has left me a note: Here's a copy of the file. Red John had allies. Watch your back. You didn't get this from me. A horn honks behind me; the light has turned green while I've been flipping through the pages. I'll have to give this a more thorough examination when I get home.

"Home." What a laughable thing to call the house where my demons haunt my nightmares when I manage to get any sleep at all. The drive to Malibu is a blur, my motions on the stick and the wheel automatic. My mind is a blessed blank, emotions and thoughts drained away by stress and sorrow and guilt. I drop the box next to the mattress on the floor under the rust-colored smiley face on the wall, and I curl up on top of the sheet with my knees pulled into my stomach and an arm over my face.

The tears come again. Failure beats a kettledrum inside my head until exhaustion begins to pull me into a fitful slumber. I almost wish to never wake up.

Almost. Because Red John had allies. And the team will need my help in hunting them down. I won't miss my next opportunity, won't have to wander, lost and bereft and empty, inside my own mind.

I won't, I think, as more than one kind of darkness overwhelms me.