Ruddy Drops That Warm My Heart
Disclaimer: I own nothing related to The Mentalist, just the thoughts in my head.
Summary: "You wanna talk about it?" - Jane and Lisbon have a little non-conversation
Spoilers: Post-ep to Throwing Fire
Author's Notes: This one officially wins for the shortest story I've ever written, at least I think so. It came to me while I was waiting at my doctor's office and I tried very hard to keep it short and sweet.
* Thanks, as always, to my ever-patient, extremely talented beta. Thanks, Joy for your insight, attention to detail and for going way out of your way to find a title for this darned thing.
"Dear as the light that visits these sad eyes; / Dear as the ruddy drops that warm my heart." – Thomas Gray
Patrick Jane hated hospitals.
The cloying smell of antiseptic, desperation and death swirled around him, seeping into the fabric of his three-piece suit. Hospitals were for the weak and Patrick Jane wasn't weak.
Still, here he was in the waiting room of the urgent care ward of Sutter General Hospital, waiting to having his head examined. He would've laughed at the situation if he wasn't sure that it would prompt Lisbon to order a psych evaluation on top of everything.
The aforementioned chestnut-haired spitfire sitting next to him was the sole reason he was even here in the first place. He'd managed to avoid her for the majority of the last 24 hours since he'd been clocked in the head by a rogue fly ball. However, with the case solved and nothing else to distract either of them, the senior agent had finally managed to pull rank and drag his ass to a doctor. Truth be told, he hadn't actually put up much of a fight. Jane would never admit it, but the sudden flashbacks of his formative years were a little unsettling and he knew that he would indeed feel better knowing that there was truly nothing to worry about.
"You wanna talk about it?"
A lifetime of practice made it easy to suppress the start of surprise at Lisbon's soft enquiry. Carefully maintaining his air of disinterest, Jane snuck a glance at the woman beside him. Her eyes were trained over the busy waiting room. A lesser observer might have been fooled into wondering if she'd even spoken at all, but Jane could see the tension stringing along her rigid spine. She was waiting, worried that she'd overstepped some unacknowledged boundary.
A gentle smile tugged at his lips. Teresa Lisbon truly was a marvel. All the years of putting up with his crap and she cared more about him now than ever.
'I trust people; I trust you'.
His earnest words to her from months ago floated through his consciousness. It was true; he did trust Lisbon, more than he imagined ever trusting anyone again. Perhaps this was one of those things he should trust her with.
Making a show of rousing himself from his musings, Jane answered, "Talk about what?"
Lisbon continued surveying the reception area. "Wherever it is you've been going these past few days whenever you space out like that."
Jane's smile grew incrementally. The woman had great intuition, something she didn't get nearly enough credit for.
"What makes you think I wasn't just pondering the case?"
His companion still kept her eyes studiously averted, answering matter-of-factly, "When you're thinking about a case, I can see the wheels turning. In the last few days, you've just been gone."
Jane forced a chuckle to mask his surprise and the inkling of dread that had pricked his mind. She was learning his tells and he couldn't help but worry that she'd soon find her way past all his defences. He wasn't sure he was ready for that. Quickly, he searched his vast mental resources for an appropriate response.
"Well, it seems as though the student has outstripped the master. I guess I can retire now."
Lisbon simply released a decidedly unlady-like snort of derision before turning her attention to a nearby back issue of Scientific American.
Jane watched her cautiously out of the corner of his eye. He wasn't sure if she was deliberately giving him an out or if he'd actually managed to steer her off course. Either way, he knew that he could drop the conversation and neither of them would ever mention it again. It was how they'd always operated, on a purely need to know basis, guarding their secrets close. However, Jane was suddenly struck with the overwhelming need for Lisbon to know about this … about his flashbacks, his dad and the childhood he never had. He just had no idea where to begin.
"My father didn't start out a drunk."
Her whispered confession shocked him into stillness. Jane carefully replayed her words, wondering for the first time if he'd heard her correctly. Lisbon never willingly spoke of her family. However, before he could question her, she blew him away completely by continuing.
"He was a good man, had a good job, coached my brothers in Little League." Her voice grew in strength, filled with determination as the words slipped from her lips even though his boss' eyes were still carefully focussed away from him. Jane was well and truly shocked by her sudden admission, but he held his breath, lest any sudden movement break whatever spell held them in its thrall.
Jane could only figure that she'd intended to use this information to draw him out of his shell, but Lisbon seemed trapped in her own net, the words now tumbling out unchecked.
"When Mom died, it was like something inside him broke, something we just couldn't fix."
Her use of the word 'we' was like a punch to the gut and his hand slipped over hers before he'd even registered the movement, the need for a physical connection sudden and overwhelming. Her trust in him in that moment was wholly unexpected and undeniably attractive. It had been a very long time since anyone who wasn't paying him had ever willing shared a part of themself with him. It was both exhilarating and a little terrifying.
The warmth of his touch dragged Lisbon back to the present and she finally swung around to face him, green eyes wide with startled embarrassment.
Jane gripped her hand tightly, stilling her before she could retreat, desperate to maintain their tenuous connection. He spoke into the heavy silence, hoping that he could somehow repay her.
"My father was never a good man. He was good at one thing: finding a person's weakness and exploiting it. He could do it with anyone, even me."
Lisbon's brow furrowed quizzically, but she didn't put a voice to her question. Still, Jane knew what she was asking.
"Ah yes, my dear Lisbon," Jane replied, drawing his familiar theatrics around him like a shield. "I too had a weakness. I wanted to please my father. I've always been a quick study and I wanted to show the old man that I wasn't a sucker."
Jane laughed, a hollow sound, quickly lost in the bustle of the waiting room. He'd forgotten Lisbon's hand in his until he felt it turn, her palm sliding flush with his and her fingers interlocking with his own. For just a moment, his chest grew tight before he clamped down hard on his wayward heart and pressed on with his confession.
"Thing is, he suckered me too, my dad. He knew my weakness and he used it well. Got me over any moral dilemmas I might have had with any of our 'projects.'" He looked away, suddenly unable to bear the weight of her gaze. "After a while, it got easier and easier and eventually I grew into the fabulously talented fake psychic we all know and love." Jane's sarcasm rang bitter as he desperately tried to make light of the subject. He really had wanted to share, but now that the words were out of his mouth, the vulnerability that went with them was leaving him feeling a little queasy. He didn't do this, pull back the curtain and expose himself, to anyone.
For her part, Lisbon didn't answer; she simply stared back silently and Jane's discomfort grew. He felt small under her gaze and finally tried to pull away. "C'mon, woman, don't look at me like that!" He was going for humour, but to his horror, his voice was tinged with desperation. Lisbon's grip on his fingers held firm.
"It's not a weakness, you know."
"What's not?" Jane answered distractedly, eyeing the triage desk. His sense of self-preservation had kicked into overdrive now that his momentary lapse in judgement had left him without his armour in front of the one person whose opinion mattered to him.
"Wanting to please your father."
Jane huffed in response, wishing desperately for a nurse to call his name. "Yeah, well I'm a regular chip off the old block now. He'd be so proud."
"No." Lisbon's fingers tightened almost painfully around his own and Jane turned to meet her gaze. The pity or judgement he'd expected wasn't there, only a fierce determination that burned into him, warming his heart whether he liked it or not.
"You're not your father, Jane," she whispered. "You're a better man than that."
Jane scoffed at her words, even while a tiny part of him wanted to believe in her conviction. "Oh, yeah? What makes you so sure?"
Lisbon smiled, loosening her grip on his hand, but keeping their palms together. He could swear that he could feel the warm beat of her pulse seeping into his skin and he found it strangely settling. "Because, whether you admit it or not, you have a heart, Jane. I've seen it and though it's still broken, it has the potential for good things."
The tightness in his chest nearly swelled to bursting as that tiny part within him grew so much that he started to worry that he might need to see the doctor about his heart instead of his head. Their eyes held as the bustle around them fell away and Jane felt himself inexorably drawn into her emerald depths.
Someone's rowdy kid stumbled into the row of chairs, jarring them back to reality. Jane smiled brightly, slipping his mask back into place as best he could.
"Since when did Teresa Lisbon become such a poet?"
"Since you got beaned in the head by a baseball. You've been hallucinating the whole time." Her deadpan delivery would've given Cho a run for his money and Jane couldn't hold back the laugh that bubbled up from his chest.
Lisbon's lips quirked into a smile before she relaxed back into her seat. Jane mimicked her posture, drawing their still-linked hands into his lap, tracing his thumb gently over her knuckles. He held onto her like a lifeline, anchoring him in the present and daring him to consider a future.