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Spoiler: 1.23 (Red John's Footsteps)
A/N: This takes place during 1.23, after Jane visits Rosalind and the following day when Jane and Lisbon meet Sheriff Hardy. Written for the Jello-Forever May Challenge: Empty Promises.
Dedicated to Grace for doing such an amazing job editing and listening to me ramble about this, and to Chibi, just because she somehow always manages to remind me that I am a hopeless romantic at heart.
"So lay all your troubles down
I am with you now…"
She doesn't pretend that this is anything more than it is.
Her past experiences, with love and otherwise, have afforded her the privilege (or curse) of hindsight. So instead of convincing herself of things that are simply not there, she prefers to take everything at face value.
Some might think that's highly pessimistic of her, but Lisbon prefers to think it's realistic instead, even maybe a little practical. It certainly saves her further disillusionment and possible heartache.
Except, she can't pretend that it's just sex either.
It's not love, but it's not pure physical gratification. If it was simply that, then she wouldn't be feeling this uncomfortable weightlessness, as if she's floating in limbo, no steady ground beneath her feet, nothing to anchor her.
It terrifies her.
It doesn't excite her. She's not spontaneous, never has been. She prides herself on knowing exactly what her next step will be and what results it will yield. Spontaneity, the idea of not knowing, petrifies her, takes her back to a time when she had so little under control. It's almost expected that she would be overcompensating for her unstable childhood. However much she doesn't want to be that person, wants to move past her demons, she isn't quite there yet.
There's still not a day that goes by that she doesn't stop and wonder what the hell she's doing.
There is no way this can end well.
And really, when it's all over, she won't have anyone to blame but herself because she should have known better, but she allowed herself to be drawn in anyway. It's more than his charming smile and extremely talented hands; the thing she appreciates most about the man currently trailing his fingers enticingly up and down her naked thigh is that he never once lied to her, at least not outside of work.
As devious and undermining as he is in the office, he's the exact opposite when they're alone. He doesn't delude her, doesn't offer what he can't give, doesn't cloud her mind with empty promises that are just like nicely wrapped packages with nothing inside.
Even though Lisbon isn't sure what it says about her that he still gets to have her after that kind of candor, at least she can be grateful that he knows her well enough to understand that she would see through all his empty promises and lies; just as she has with every other person in her life who has somehow disappointed her.
And there hasn't been a shortage of that.
A twisted sense of gratitude creeps into her chest, prompting her to thread her dormant hands through his curls, pulling him up to face her. She intends to kiss him, finally succumbing to the tingling sensation of his fingers as they dance along her bare skin, but once their eyes meet, her movement stills as realization washes over her.
He's been far less controlled tonight, his touch is still gentle and even somewhat teasing, but there's an obvious undercurrent of something, something like urgency, smoldering beneath the surface. It's only now that she's looking into his troubled and oddly vulnerable blue eyes that she realizes just how much he's hurting.
She's almost completely naked while he's still fully clothed, and yet she feels like he's the one lying bare and exposed before her, an outpouring of every bit of frustration and anger that he usually keeps bottled up inside him.
One look is all it takes before dread grips her like a vice, almost paralyzing her. She realizes she has no idea how to comfort him.
This thing between them only truly blossomed after the Renfrew case, so she doesn't know how to deal with him like this. She knows how Jane is with Red John cases but has never had him in her bed during one before, and it's unsettling.
She doesn't like not being in control, and his dark cobalt stare signals that he might be slipping away from her, reverting to the deep, dark place in his mind to which no one is privy. She presses her hand to his cheek, shivering unwittingly as she encounters stubble, remembering the rough feel of his cheek as he slid down between her thighs, but it only lasts briefly. Regardless of how intoxicating he is to her, her concern doesn't ebb away, refuses to be replaced by pure desire.
Her worried eyes probably give her away because the second she tries to speak, Jane silences her with his mouth, teeth nipping gently at her lower lip, just the way she likes it. She moans involuntarily into their kiss and suddenly, she knows there will be no words exchanged between them for awhile. His hand is already slipping inside her underwear and his lips trail down to her breast and then she's gripping the couch cushion.
Later, when he's inside her, moving with deceiving ease and determination, she can almost convince herself that everything is still okay, that it's not guilt eating away at her as she shudders beneath him.
Neither one of them falls asleep after; instead they lie in comfortable silence, soaking up the feel of their warm, sweat soaked bodies pressed together so intimately.
She feels the tension radiating from him, even as he absentmindedly teases his fingers along her hipbone and over the curve of her back, marking each vertebra until he reaches her shoulder and then back again.
His lips ghost over the shell of her ear as he holds her close and for a moment, the way they're lying, her head on his shoulder, leg draped over his hips, as his chin scratches the crown of her head proves to be too much.
She knows it's a little selfish because she should be the stronger of the two, give him a semblance of peace and tranquility during this whole ordeal, but if she spends any longer in the refuge of his arms, her defenses will crumble. She won't have anything to protect herself against wondering what it would have been like if they'd met in a different time and under different circumstances.
Ignoring the flicker of hurt in his eye, she disentangles herself from his embrace and grabs the closest article of clothing to shield herself against the chill in the room as she heads into the kitchen for a glass of water.
After all, if she starts to distract herself with things that will never happen, she won't be strong enough to protect them both when everything unfurls. Knowing their track record, it's very likely they will be the ones left picking up the pieces.
She's not foolish enough to think they'll catch Red John this time.
So to maintain a little sanity, she has focused her attention on finding Maya Plaskett.
The same can't be said for Jane; even a fool could see that.
No sooner does the thought enter her mind than Jane appears in her kitchen, leaning against the wall by the fridge and looking intently at her as she switches on the tea kettle. His eyes sweep over her with a flicker of longing, but it's brief because when he meets her stare again, the expression on his face can only be described as that of quiet turmoil and deep thought.
She feels a sense of doom approaching before he even speaks.
Ten minutes later, she's pacing the length of her living room as Jane sits on the couch, hands resting on his elbows as he watches her, two cups of tea growing cold on the table that separates them.
She's not sure what terrifies her more, the fact that he's right about Hardy or the fact that his plan is absolutely ridiculous. She snuggles deeper into his shirt, fighting vainly against the chill running up and down her spine as she connects the dots.
Everything is suddenly very clear, all the pieces of the puzzle falling into place as if by a magnetic pull.
The break in at the Plasketts, Hardy incessantly chewing nicotine gum, everything makes absolute sense, except the motive. It's obvious by the contemplative look in Jane's eye he's thinking the same thing.
He's able to piece together a picture, but the motive is still a mystery and she knows it bothers him greatly. He also still doesn't know where they're keeping Maya and thus has resorted to this absurd scheme, and it won't work. She can see the holes in it already.
"I think we need to run a background check on Hardy, figure out who he really is, I'll have Van Pelt-…"
He cuts her off, a tinge of desperation in his voice, "No. Grace needs to focus on finding the connection between the name Roy Taliaferro and Red John. I know it's not just a coincidence. He's been planning something, something big, and if she finds a link, it will lead us to where Red John is."
He sounds so determined, so resolute that Lisbon knows there's no stopping him. She's tried to reason with him before, has attempted everything short of threats, but she knows it won't deter him.
If she doesn't agree, he'll find some other way to lure Hardy out and it will be far more dangerous than the plan he has now, if it even comes to fruition.
She heaves a sigh, running a tired hand through her tangled curls, fatigue setting into her bones, making it hard to breathe, let alone think.
"How can you be so sure Van Pelt will find something?"
It's a useless query and they both know it, but she can't help but try. Try to fight him on this, because if she doesn't, she wouldn't be who she is, just like Jane wouldn't be who he is without his clouded desire to punish the man who murdered his family.
Briefly, Lisbon wonders who he will be without this purpose of his, once this is all over, but it's too much to think about, especially now. She stops pacing and perches herself on the edge of the coffee table, across from Jane.
Their knees bump together awkwardly, but the touch of his bare skin still threatens to unravel her, so she concentrates hard on his face, memorizing the curve of his lip, the familiar creases around his eyes, and her hand reaches out of its own accord, to rest on his surprisingly warm shoulder.
"How do you know Van Pelt will find something?" she repeats herself, but he doesn't have to answer her because they both know he's rarely wrong about these things.
"I just do," he says, staring straight ahead. "He's setting out clues for me to follow."
"He's setting a trap, Jane."
She can't help it. It's probably completely useless, but she has to say something. She can't sit by and watch him step into another trap that Red John has so easily laid out for him.
It happened with Renfrew and it's happening again, and it's very likely that the outcome will be the same, or even worse.
The familiar chill is back again, and she fights the prickle of frustration, of anger, knowing that if she begins to argue with him, he'll simply walk away. She's never deluded herself into believing that she could stand in Jane's way when it comes to Red John.
It's impossible and selfishly she doesn't want him to leave. At the same time, she can't handle watching him walk into this so incredibly blind. She realizes her decision is made even before he's asked her.
She vowed a long time ago that she would protect her unit, and Jane is a part of it, even when he was still just a colleague, but more so now.
There are certain truths that are set in stone.
Red John is a vicious murderer.
Jane is wholeheartedly obsessed with finding and destroying him.
And she's his shield and sword, his protector, and there's really not much she can do about that now.
"I have to do this."
He breaks her reverie, cerulean eyes focusing on her in the dimness of the living room, still communicating everything he can't truly say.
She nods, too exhausted now to say much else.
They sit in silence, each lost in their own thoughts, and Lisbon doesn't even realize she's chewing on her lower lip until she feels Jane's thumb prying the battered flesh from between her teeth.
He smiles at her almost wistfully, and she ducks her head, blushing. It's uncanny the effect he has on her, but she knows, has seen it in his eyes that it's mutual, at least on some level. It gives her a sense of comfort, a little bit of peace in the chaos she knows is about to ensue.
"Look on the bright side," he says, strong arm snaking around her waist. His voice is soft but a little broken, perhaps still concerned that she won't go through with it, "It's very likely that wherever Red John is, Maya is there too, and if we get to him, we find her."
He seems hopeful, but Lisbon doesn't even want to begin dissecting the fractures in his reasoning, the fact that Maya could already be dead, or that Jane could easily himself get slaughtered before they ever find the poor girl.
However, the way he looks at her makes her keep silent, unable to verbalize her worries. They both know she's the only person who could ever agree to this, and even though it should make her feel foolish and uncertain, it fills her with purpose.
Maybe if he trusts her enough with this, he can…
But no, she stops those dangerous thoughts before they take root. She refuses to indulge in fantasies, instead takes things for what they are. He's not using her, but needs her to get to where he has to go, and she'll do it because that's who she is.
"Promise me something." He breaks their silent staring contest, hand reaching up to run across her cheek, "promise me you'll follow through."
Maybe a year ago, she would have felt exposed, uncomfortable under his knowing gaze, but not anymore. He knows her well, knows exactly what she's thinking. Instead of being bothered by it, Lisbon feels somehow empowered. He needs her; she can see that beneath the dark walls of his irises.
He is also trusting her with something, and even if the deep seed of dread is already planted and sprouting in the pit of her belly, she knows she can't deny him. She won't let him walk into his unprotected.
She nods despite her uncertainty because she's never been one to walk away from a promise.
The smile that graces Jane's lips is electric and incredibly seductive. He leans over, extending his finger to her a bit childishly,
She's a little caught off guard, but she knows he's only trying to lighten the mood between them, make her feel more at ease. Despite everything, she gives into it, finds solace in the flicker of something warm in her chest.
She reaches out and curls her pinky around his, smiling back ruefully.
Then she shrieks as Jane unexpectedly pulls her into his lap, eager hands ripping apart his own shirt. When a buttons flies off in his haste to rid her of the garment, they smile at each other, low chuckles escaping between kisses.
And Lisbon can no more stop herself from indulging in silly fantasies of what ifs, than she can shield herself from the feeling that everything is about to become infinitely more complicated.
She's not sure what prompts her to say these words to him, especially while they're in the room where Red John took refuge just a few hours before. However, she does remember how fear and anxiety seized her as she sat in her car, knuckles white from being so tightly wrapped around the steering wheel as she watched the barn from a distance.
She was supposed to wait for him, had promised that she would, but it felt so wrong to be there. The wind was too still, the sun was too bright, and the wheat growing around the property seemed not to even sway.
Instead everything around her remained motionless, and with every passing second, the pressure in her chest kept expanding, and her throat kept tightening. Just as she thought she would no longer be able to breathe, she found herself sprinting out of the car, dry air filling her lungs, reassured that she was doing the right thing.
Everything happened so quickly, that even when she had Hardy tackled to the ground, relieved to see Cho and Rigsby descending the stairs, she'd still refused to believe that she'd done something wrong.
Not even the way Jane admonished her for showing up on time as she held Hardy at gun point really convinced her. She knew he was angry, would probably be so for a while, but this was his life at stake here.
As much as it doesn't matter to him, it does to her and perhaps that's what makes her utter those altering words to him, inadvertently exposing herself to him, more vulnerable than she's ever been in his presence.
Her hands shake in her pockets as her eyes overflow with unshed tears. She's not sure who they're for, but knows she's exhausted, both physically and mentally. When he looks at her with his broken eyes, telling her in not so many words that he's a hopeless case, instead of wanting to maybe punch some sense into him, all she wants to do is wrap her arms around him.
Tell him that he's done so much good, that he's not the same man he was before, and that he doesn't have to spend the rest of his life with his own albatross around his neck.
But she knows she's said too much already. As much as she wants to be strong for him, give him more words of comfort, she knows they will fall on deaf ears.
Even if she was the one who broke the promise this time, she won't be the one who feels sorry for it. She refuses to believe even as he looks at her with anguish, speaking with barely restrained despair, that he would sacrifice himself for Red John.
So she flees, escapes the stuffy dungeon, away from the darkness and into the cool night air.
Her eyes first fall on Hardy, on a stretcher, handcuffed, and she feels a bit of comfort, a little confidence, aware that there is a shred of hope that he will talk, even if it's unlikely. Then she looks Maya and she smiles. Even though the girl is visibly shaken, has gone through a terrible ordeal, she's still alive, and Lisbon once again feels justified in her actions.
At the end of day, she's an officer of the law. She's not out for vengeance but for justice, and today she did her job.
She feels good.
And that's probably her biggest mistake, because when the first shot rings out and she finds herself facing down the barrel of a gun, the only thought that crosses her mind is that Hardy is aiming for her, not for Maya, so at least all of this will not be in vain.
She reaches for her gun instinctively, but knows it's too late, sees the crazed and predatory way Hardy narrows his gaze at her as he points the gun and her eyes close for a split second, but the searing pain never comes.
She hears a shot fired but knows she wasn't hit, and when she opens her eyes to find Jane with a shotgun in his hand, she almost wishes she were dead, because the implications of this are far too great.
The terrified look of shock on Jane's face, and the firearm in his hand are like something out of a well made horror movie. It sends a jolt of suspense and nausea through her automatically and roots her to the ground.
She's unable to think, feel, or do anything. Her feet only carry her towards Hardy's body when she sees Jane hunching over him, the bastard laughing in Jane's face even as he chokes on his own blood. It's only when the last vestiges of life seep out of Orwell Tanner's son that she dares to look at Jane.
He tries to shield himself from her, turn away, but his despair is written all over his face. This new edge of vulnerability scares her, but not as much as the realization that Jane has saved her life, has killed for her, and she holds her breath as he gets up from the ground, dusts his pants off, and steps away from Hardy.
Paramedics and officers crowd around the body, asking Lisbon if she is alright, sending countless questions into the air, but she doesn't hear them, doesn't respond to anyone. She just seeks Jane's eyes out as he stands on the periphery.
She's not sure what she's searching for, what she's hoping to see in his gaze, but when he looks at her, those dark irises captivating her even at a distance, the relief she feels is slight but present, a sliver of hope in all this madness.
Because despite the mix of turmoil and anger swirling in his gaze, there's not even a hint of regret there, and Lisbon knows there's no use pretending anymore.
It's not love, but it's something.
Now it's out in the open, and there's nothing they can do to hide it away again.
Sometime during the frenzied aftermath, Jane disappears and she doesn't try to find him.
She takes a moment to recuperate and then she's back to her usual authoritarian self, giving out orders to anyone in the vicinity that looks like they may be in need of a task. She's rougher than usual, but smiles sweetly at Maya as the girl sits in the back of the patrol car, shivering but probably not from the cold.
Lisbon can almost sympathize with her.
Rigsby and Cho appear out of nowhere, their expressions somber, but their presence comforting, as is their lack of inquires. At least they can deduce what happened for themselves. When Rigsby produces a granola bar and hands it to Maya with a bottle of water, Lisbon is forever grateful for his enormous appetite and his gentle smile.
He suggests that she should take a break, let him and Cho handle the paperwork.
She doesn't listen to him of course. She also doesn't let the teenager out of her sight as she goes over the logistics, feeling a twinge better with her boys by her side, even though there's a constant tug at her heartstrings, because there's still one person missing, one head of curly blond hair that she hopes will appear in the milling crowd of law enforcement officers.
Its early morning by the time they finish up, and Maya is fast asleep in the back of the patrol car. Both Cho and Rigsby look exhausted, and she sends them home, then searches for the officer who will take her to the Plasketts.
In that moment, when she's not even thinking about him, Jane appears by her side, holding the car door open for her silently. She gives him a defiant, questioning stare because despite her initial relief, she can't help feeling a little abandoned.
The natural question of where he's been dances on the tip of her tongue, but she doesn't say anything, keeps her facial expression as stoic as possible as she slides into the backseat.
Maya shifts in her sleep and somehow her head ends up falling on Lisbon's shoulder.
She puts her arm around the girl and when she looks ahead, she catches Jane's eyes in the review mirror.
Silently, he lets her know that as much as he wishes to, he doesn't (cannot) regret saving a life either.
For the first time in over a day, Lisbon lets herself relax.
He walks away again, but this time she keeps an eye out on him and as soon as the Plasketts disappear into their house, she follows him, walking into the greenery neighboring the sprawling residence.
He's leaning against an orange tree, peeling the fruit while staring off into nothingness. He appears the picture of calm, but that worries her even more because with Jane, appearances are but a farce, just what he wants people to see, nothing more.
They stand for a few minutes in silence, the smell of orange zest in the air, the breeze brushing pleasantly against her and right now, that's all that matters.
Jane is safe, Maya is safe.
As much as she should be saddened, secretly Lisbon thinks Hardy deserved his fate. Even though Red John is still out there, she feels a sense of triumph because she didn't let him trap Jane in one of his fatal games, and she managed to save one sister.
For that, she refuses to feel guilty.
Sure, she has broken a promise, but some promises, just like some rules, are meant to be broken, meant to be empty to serve a greater purpose. She's convinced of that now more than ever.
"I'm not sorry," she whispers, the breeze swirling her words around them, as they stand together in the shade.
"I know," Jane replies, and his calm, reserved tone should rattle her but it doesn't.
In his brevity, he's told her more than he ever needs to. He may not be happy with what happened, but for the moment, he's content.
Lisbon chooses to accept it for what it is, appreciate that she has this to share with him and that he's willing to share it with her.
She inches closer to him unconsciously and her pinky curls around his.
In turn, Jane offers her the last of his orange.