Disclaimer: The Mentalist isn't mine. I'm making no money off of this, virtual pinky swear. Also, title comes from this quote, attributed, as far as I can tell, to Nietzsche: "Of all writings, I love only that which is written in blood."
Summary: Every coffin Cho's ever helped carry has weighed just slightly more than the last Maybe before, maybe things could have been different. But there are no happy endings now.
A/N: This is massive angst. Angst to the max. Angst like whoa. Warnings for character deaths and general unhappiness. Also, it's kind of unapologetically meta. But hey, on the upside? There's Cho!
"Only That Which is Written in Blood"
He's carried this weight before. Five times, as a matter of fact: once when he was sixteen, twice when he was twenty, once when he was twenty-seven, and once when he was thirty. The first coffin had been his uncle's. He'd been a slim, peculiar little man. His death had been sudden, an aneurysm. No one had seen it coming. Sudden or slow, it never mattered. No one expected it to actually come.
Only God, his mother would've said. God's the only one who knows. He takes when purpose is served. We are ready. We are whole.
But Cho doesn't believe in that. You can't be whole with pieces missing.
And there are pieces missing.
The only thing in this coffin is an arm.
He's spent a lot of his life reading. He's always liked to read. It's an easy way to pass the time, makes stakeouts and waiting rooms more bearable. There have been a lot of stakeouts, a lot of waiting rooms, a lot of waiting.
Cho's read a considerable amount in his day. He knows the tale of heroes and villains.
In the best stories, the classic stories, a hero isn't a hero without a villain. A protagonist must have an antagonist. A nemesis is more important than a soul mate. There are other characters involved: sidekicks, victims, lovers, ghosts, but the tale is never about them. There is only hero and villain, black and white, good and evil, yin and yang.
Cho's never been any of these things.
Someone, he doesn't remember who, one described Van Pelt as the heart of the team. Cho supposes it's because of with her looks. She's attractive. People like an attractive woman. She's also young, sometimes naïve, a child in her mother's clothing. She tries too hard to be taken seriously. Someone with a gun shouldn't have to try.
She's a good agent. She's intelligent. She works hard.
She isn't the heart.
A team shouldn't need a single heart. A team shouldn't center around a single person. Five people, five hearts, five sets of lungs, all inhaling and exhaling, all breathing for themselves. A team should be a supported structure, a tall building, a long bridge. One faulty support shouldn't be enough to cause the whole thing to give way.
But teams can become codependent. At least, this is true in stories. The hero can never die in the middle of the book. Where would the other characters turn; what would they do? The plot would lose focus; the meaning would fade. There is no story without the hero to guide it. There is no doubt in Cho's mind who this story belongs to. Jane's prologue is tragic. His quest for vengeance, the narrative. If the team must have a heart, surely, surely it is Jane.
But Jane had laughed at the notion. He'd said, "Rigsby's the heart."
Cho attends the funeral reception. There is a plate of cheese and crackers on the table. There are at least seven different types of cheeses, all cut up in perfect one inch by two-inch rectangles. He doesn't know who did it. He doesn't know why anyone bothers. He doesn't know why he came here, except that it was expected of him.
Van Pelt is sitting on the couch. He sits beside her for a while, although he doesn't know what to say to her, and she doesn't say anything at all. Tears roll unapologetically down her cheeks. He touches her shoulder briefly, and she looks up, surprised, that anyone's even there.
He leaves her when she looks away again, one hand going to the gold cross around her neck. She mutters something that he doesn't quite catch. He assumes its something from The Bible. He got an earful of that at the funeral, so he doesn't ask her to repeat it. Prayer doesn't hold any more comfort for him than those perfectly cut up cheeses. He hears people echo platitudes to one another, better place and in the line of duty. Those words feel tired, worn out, a crumpled handkerchief brought out in times of grief. He heard those words when his father died, his uncle, his fellow soldiers, his friends. Those words fell from his mother's lips.
He doesn't understand any of this.
Cho sees Minelli across the room and steps into the kitchen to avoid him. He wouldn't know what to say to the older man. He can't help but harbor some resentment. Minelli burned out, left the CBI, ducked his responsibility as easily as Cho just ducked the conversation. It's not that Cho blames Minelli for what happened. It's not that Minelli did anything wrong. It's that their team is on faltering life support, trying to remember the sound of a forgotten heartbeat, and Minelli doesn't look tired, only sad. He's not struggling to keep breathing.
It's not fair to resent the man for getting out when he did, for moving on, but Cho does.
Lisbon is in the kitchen, trying not to cry.
"Boss," he says, stepping toward her. She turns away from him, embarrassed, then surprises them both by suddenly giving him a hug. Her arms wrap tightly around him, like he might disappear. He doesn't. He holds her close and asks her if she's tried the cheese yet.
She laughs and that's worth something.
Jane never shows up.
One night, Cho falls asleep at his desk. He wakes the following morning, Rigsby's name tumbling out of his mouth. Jane is standing over him. He's made him a cup of coffee. Cho thanks him, drinks it, and gets back to work.
Later that night, he's still working as Jane passes out on the couch. In the morning, Cho makes him a cup of tea. Jane thanks him, drinks it, and gets back to work . . . the way he works, at least, which mostly consists of lying there, thinking. Anyway, it's a routine. Cho likes routines, understands them.
Lisbon doesn't like this one, but she only orders Cho to go home at night. She doesn't actually make him.
Cho buys a toothbrush to keep under his desk.
The night Rigsby died, they were celebrating a solid lead in the Red John case. They'd arrested yet another accomplice. People were sick. It was ridiculous. Mary Alice, the latest pawn, had failed to give them anything to go off of yet. On the other hand, she had been in custody for seven hours and was still breathing. It was something of a record.
They ordered pizza.
Three slices in, Rigsby went out to his car to get something. He never did say what. It didn't sound important. Cho only went to Rigsby's desk to borrow his stapler. That was the only reason he saw it first, the message that was surely meant for Jane, a small, red smiley face made from smeared pizza sauce.
Cho dropped the stapler. He ran. He ignored Lisbon shouting after him, ignored the odd looks from his co-workers. He didn't stop to draw his gun. He didn't stop. Could he have run faster? He doesn't know. He doesn't think so. He doesn't know.
He got to the garage just in time to see Rigsby open the driver's side door. The vehicle exploded.
The force of the blast knocked Cho into another car that he wouldn't remember hitting. When he woke up, the fire had been put out, Rigsby's arm had been collected, and Mary Alice was dead.
Jane smiles more now. It's all white teeth and sharp edges, biting remarks that are less clever than they are cruel. There are hints of his old charm, but these are mostly staged. The ghost of vulnerability that once shadowed him is gone.
It's a strange thing to miss about someone, his vulnerability. In many ways, Jane had once been a broken child, a boy distracting others around him with bright colors and clever tricks, but never quite healing that fragility, that house of glass cards balanced within him. Cho never sees that lost child anymore, never sees anything that cannot be used as a weapon. He doesn't try to read anyone's mind, doesn't present gifts, doesn't flirt with Lisbon. It's clear he still cares about Lisbon, when he bothers to remember that the universe is larger than him and Red John.
It should've been Jane, Cho knows. Jane should've seen that red smiley face; he should've seen Rigsby open that car door; he should've been knocked halfway across the garage. Or maybe if Jane had been the one, he'd have gotten there in the nick of time. Maybe this all could have been avoided if the sidekick hadn't attempted to play the hero.
Or maybe there is no destiny and there is no hero and there is no God.
Van Pelt still believes in God. She's given up being naive in favor of being righteous, and her wrath is a thing to behold. Cho avoids incurring it whenever he can. She and Jane no longer get along. She blames him for Rigsby's death, of course, but she also blames him for his lack of faith, for laughing when she tells him that he's going to Hell. She says that the Kingdom of God is a real place. It's nothing she hasn't said before, but the desperation in her voice now is telling. Because if she's wrong, then there's no Heaven, and if there's no Heaven, then Rigsby's gone.
But Rigsby is gone, and Cho knows, because he still shoulders the weight.
Eventually, Elise leaves him. She says she could handle being attacked; she says she could handle Cho's violent background, but she couldn't handle loving a ghost. She says that touching his face is like touching paper, something rough and thin shaped to mimic his presence. She says that she won't even have that imitation soon, that his quest for vengeance will end his life the way it's broken his heart.
Cho's just surprised that she bothered to stay around this long.
He misses Elise, but he isn't sorry. He doesn't regret letting her go. He does what needs to be done; she knows this. Everyone knows this about him. Anyway, she doesn't have her facts straight. This isn't his quest for revenge. It's Jane's. It's always been Jane's. Cho's just along for the ride, that's all. He isn't a hero.
Because Cho doesn't believe in vengeance. Red John's death won't solve anything. Rigsby won't come back from the dead, and Jane won't find some inner peace. The team will never be whole again. There is no such thing as a happy ending. Cho doesn't believe in vengeance, but he does believe in resolution.
And this, this is going to end. It's got to end.
One way or another.
Rigsby's been dead for ten months when they catch another of Red John's accomplices. If Cho wanted to count the number of people willing to kill for Red John, he'd need more than one hand. That sickens him. He is still capable of feeling sickened by the things humans will do to one another. What should also sicken him, but doesn't, are the sounds, like mewling, coming through the closed door. There is no cat behind the closed door, just Jane and Red John's pawn.
Jane isn't the one mewling.
Cho had offered to make the man talk. Cho knows how to make a man talk and quickly. If he had gone in, they'd have a name by now. But Jane had wanted to do it.
A scream, and then a whimper. Cho isn't horrified, just impatient.
Jane comes out fifteen minutes later with the name. Cho checks on the suspect, makes sure he's still alive. He is, and bleeding less than you would expect. His eyes are pale and empty. No one's home.
Cho forgets Red John's name almost the second that he learns it. It's so innocuous. It doesn't suit a killer. One of the first lessons you learn on the force is that evil can be named Henry or Ted or Miles. Evil can be your mild-mannered accountant. Evil can have a wife and kids and coach Little League. Cho knows this; he's known it for years, but still, he can't bring himself to think of Red John as anything but Red John.
And Red John's not done, not by a long shot. This is still his game, after all, still a chess match with a body count. Jane has Red John's name. He has his identity.
Red John? He has Lisbon.
Of course, Red John can't kill Lisbon outright. That's now how this kind of game is played, wouldn't make for a good final battle, a thrilling conclusion, a well-earned and satisfying end. He calls to make arrangements. He wants Jane to meet him alone. Cho already knows how this will play out. He knows what will happen when the hero and villain showdown.
First, there will be this discussion: Red John and Jane are two sides of the same coin. Jane's more like Red John than he wants to admit. Red John and Jane are somehow one. Then Lisbon will intervene, she'll say that Jane's nothing like Red John at all, unless he stoops to Red John's level. Jane's wife and child wouldn't want this. Red John will taunt Jane some more. He will likely quote something profound, something by Shakespeare or John Milton or maybe even William Blake.
Then, and only then, will they battle. The battle can end so many different ways. Cho can see it in his head, as clearly as if it was happening before his eyes.
Red John could win. He could kill Lisbon and Jane, and he could get away, find a new city and a new hero to play with. Or Jane could kill Red John, but lose Lisbon in the crossfire. Or, Jane could save her too. He could save her and kill Red John, or he could save her and refuse to kill Red John. This is the ending that Lisbon wants. It might not be the ending that Lisbon gets. She could live to watch Red John and Jane kill each other. Or they could all die, hero, lover, villain.
There aren't enough ways that Lisbon and Jane both live. These aren't good enough odds for Cho.
Fortunately, he knows just how to improve them.
Jane runs off by himself. Van Pelt tries to stop him, but Cho doesn't bother with that. He shadows Jane instead. He follows carefully in the distance, not allowing himself to be seen. He finds a good place to set up. He watches the climatic moment through the scope of his rifle. Red John talking, then Jane, then Lisbon. She must be telling Jane to choose life. Red John must be quoting by now.
Jane has a gun in his hand. He must be trying to choose.
Cho chooses for him when he shoots Red John once in the center of his forehead.
Lisbon isn't significantly hurt. Shaken up considerably, of course, but mostly undamaged, only a broken wrist to show she was even there at all. Van Pelt accompanies her to the hospital, after staring at Red John's body for three and a half minutes. There's a look on her face as she stands there, satisfaction, even smugness. It's the look of the righteous woman breathing in the scent of brimstone and her enemy's flesh.
Cho supposes she'll be okay.
He thinks Lisbon will be okay too, although it may take awhile. She was missing for 72 minutes. That's barely an hour, but a lot can happen in an hour. Cho never expects to know. He'll keep an eye on her.
Jane's just standing there, staring at the red space where Red John's body used to be.
Cho comes up beside him. Jane doesn't look up. "Nice shot," Jane says.
There is silence between them, for a while. The only sound is breath and the occasional cricket. Jane's crying, but the tears are silent, almost like an afterthought trickling down his face. "Are you going to be in trouble?" Jane eventually asks him.
"Probably," Cho says. There are agents waiting to question him. He'll have to give his statement. He hasn't been arrested yet, anyway, and that's something. He'd rather not be arrested. He won't regret it if he is.
Jane finally turns to look at him.
There's something in his eyes, some kind of blue lightning, begging to be released. It's anger; it's close to wrath. Red John was MY kill. He was mine, MINE to destroy. Cho thinks Jane might hit him. But Jane doesn't hit him. The lightning fades into pale dust, and Jane's whole body deflates, like a balloon. There's nothing left to him, Cho realizes. There's nothing left with Red John gone. Maybe once, maybe before Rigsby, maybe when the team still had a beating heart . . . maybe they could have had a better end, something happy, something more fitting. Maybe Jane could have chosen life, and Lisbon could have chosen Jane, and Cho could have been the best man at Rigsby's wedding to Van Pelt. Maybe if someone else had been the one to die, maybe if Cho had been the one to die, if he was that arm beneath the surface, and Rigsby was the one standing here right now. Maybe ten months ago there had still been a chance, but that chance is gone now. Jane can't choose life now. He's been living off of vengeance instead of air, and now there's nothing left to keep him tethered to this earth.
Lisbon may have wanted the ending that favored justice over revenge, but Jane? The only ending that's ever made sense to him is the one where he and Red John kill each other.
Cho's robbed Patrick Jane of that, his own version of a happy ending.
Cho still isn't sorry.
He had to try to save them all, the only way he could.
Jane finally steps back from the red stain in the grass. He looks up at the sky, and something passes over his face, an expression that Cho can't quite decipher. Jane shoves his hands in his front pockets and flashes Cho a quick, brilliant grin.
"I'll be seeing you, Cho," he says.
But Cho knows this isn't true.
Van Pelt eventually leaves the CBI. She goes to work for a task force in Washington, something to do with serial crimes. Cho hears from her now and then. She's dating someone new now, someone religious, someone not in law enforcement. Cho guesses, but never asks, that he doesn't look anything like Rigsby. Cho wishes her luck.
Lisbon doesn't quit. She thinks about it, for a while, but instead hires some new agents, and they solve crimes together. Cho's on the team beside her. He doesn't get arrested. Eventually, after a few years, he even gets offered a promotion, the chance to lead his own team. He turns it down. He knows his place.
It's here, right beside Lisbon. He's her right arm, and she's his left.
Sometimes, they talk about the others. Most times, words aren't necessary. They don't laugh so much, but they still smile. They kiss once. It's nice. But they make better friends, so they never allow it to go any further than that. Lisbon dates a little, and he's supportive. She's the only friend that he has left.
Jane's body is found a week after the showdown with Red John. The coroner has trouble committing to a cause of death. He didn't commit suicide. He wasn't murdered. He wasn't ill. He just . . .died.
Cho isn't surprised.
Jane's coffin is heavy. Every coffin Cho's ever helped carry has weighed just slightly more than the last. When Jane is put into the ground, Cho continues to carry the weight.
There are no pieces missing, not from Jane, anyway. Cho hopes that Jane is whole. He hopes that there's a Heaven, and that Rigsby's waiting in it, eating something greasy and telling bad jokes. Most of all, Cho hopes that he gets put into the ground before Lisbon.
Because, someday, this weight is going to crush him.