The Fire Breathes

Chapter One

The house before them looked like a modern Roman villa, terracotta walls beautifully complimenting a stonewash patio leading towards the front door. Palm trees, too well placed to be anything other than imported through a professional gardener, stood proudly among the African daisies and the Cupid's darts – all well adapted to the harsher days of the Californian climate where drought was more common than waking up with a hangover on a Sunday morning. A red-tiled roof gleamed under the sun, impeccable and untouched considering the wilting oak tree from the garden next door looming over the far corner. It would have been expected for a tree in that condition to have many missing leaves dropping onto the roof below it, but the owners clearly had a handyman who cleaned it away regularly. If they were rich enough to afford a house of this magnificence, then they were easily in the price range of getting a decent handyman.

But the cleanliness of the home inside was just as deceptive. Both the outside and inside of the building were spotless, obviously the work of several staff rather than the residents, but the chaos that lay within the bedroom at the front of the house was extremely out of place. Lisbon took a deep breath, she knew that this was coming. She'd see enough messy crime scenes, distorted views that made her want to throw up no matter how much she choked it back and composed herself. It was all part of the job. She'd come a long way in her career, and she counted one of those feats as overcoming the weak stomach she'd had as a child. Perhaps it was the embarrassment her first set of colleagues had given her when she almost compromised the first crime scene she set foot on by vomiting in the corner because of the smell of a badly rotting corpse, or perhaps it was that the shock of things she had seen after that had never been as bad as it had been the first time around. Either way, she had it under control now.

"What have we got?" she asked Cho, the first responder to the scene. They stood outside the bedroom, she could hear the flash of cameras as the forensics unit did their work documenting the scene.

"Victim is Melissa Joliss," he told her, reading from his notes. "Seventeen years old, found dead in her bedroom at seven o'clock this morning by her mother when she went to wake her for school."

"Signs of forced entry?" Lisbon asked, choosing not to comment on how the victim was so young. Still in high school. Still with so much of her life ahead of her. These thoughts didn't help them stay objective to the case.

"None," Cho told her. "No signs of forced entry or an intruder, but someone definitely got in here."

"Evidence?" she asked.

"This," he said, stepping back and gesturing into the room.

Through the open door, Lisbon saw all that she needed to see. The blood in the room was sickening, turning her stomach for a reason other than the needless gore. It was more the placement of the blood that sent bile to her throat, and she swallowed it down with a grimace, not bothering to hide her wince. Blood covered the room, the girl's bed, the carpet, the girl herself...and the wall. But this was no mere blood splatter, no recoil of a weapon had scattered the girls life force on her bedroom wall. The mark was made with a hand, carefully crafted like an artist's greatest accomplishment.

The red face was a sign of all that that were in for.

"Oh, God," Lisbon whispered.

Mark and Amanda Joliss were still in some form of denial that their daughter was gone. Jane understood that, they saw it often. Death is the one aspect of reality that nobody faces without somehow masking it out of fear, as Ernest Becker wrote. In this case, Melissa's parents were masking it with the idea that being found slaughtered in your bedroom with Red John's signature on the wall behind you was a natural cause of death. Yet, the disbelief and the despondency in their eyes told Jane that while they were so desperate to believe that their daughter wasn't the victim of a sadist, they knew the truth. That didn't mean they would be so fast to accept this truth though.

"Are you saying that somebody broke into our house to kill her?" Amanda, Melissa's mother, spoke in a shaking voice.

"Mrs Joliss, we are simply covering all the options here," Lisbon explained to her calmly.

"Plus, if somebody didn't break in and do it, it meant that somebody inside the house did this to her," Jane contributed.

"Jane-" Lisbon warned.

"Are you accusing us of killing our own child?" Mark spat at Jane.

"Of course not, sir," Lisbon stepped in.

"Is there anybody else living here?" Rigsby asked, trying to get them back on track before Lisbon took a swing at Jane. "No other children or relatives?"

"No," Amanda shook her head. "It's just the three of us here. Melissa is our only child."

"Who else has a key to the house?" he continued.

"Just the three of us," Mark said.

"Did Melissa have any guests over yesterday at all?" Lisbon asked.

"No," Amanda whispered. "What does that have to-"

"There were no signs of a break in anywhere in the house, so nothing that would indicate an intruder," Jane said. "Whoever did this knew the layout of the house, knew the weak spots for an entry. Either that, or somebody let them in."

"Nobody visited last night," Mark insisted. "Nobody even came to the door."

"Then it's simple," Jane decided. "Clearly Melissa knew her killer well and let them in of her own accord."

"But she was studying all night," Amanda excused.

"Where was she studying?" Lisbon asked.

"In her room, like always."

"When was the last time that you saw her?"

"After dinner. Maybe...six thirty?" Amanda recalled. "She said she had a paper due at the end of the week and she wanted to get it done early so that she could compare it with her friend's paper."

"What was her friend's name?" Lisbon asked.

"Sarah Walcott," Amanda said quickly. "The two of them have been friends since kindergarten. She lives just down the street."

"We'll need to speak to her; do you have any contact details for her?" Lisbon asked.

Amanda nodded. "Of course, I'll go get them." She got up and left the room, and when she was out of earshot, Mark cleared his throat.

"That face on the wall..." he started. "That's the serial killer, right? What's his name?"

"Red John," Jane nodded.

"It's a possibility," Lisbon said. "There are a lot of personal signatures that Red John uses, and we've found evidence of most of them in your daughter's bedroom, so this will be open to Red John's involvement."

"And he...he killed a lot of girls, right? A lot of people have lost their little girls to him."

"Too many," Jane said quietly. "It isn't fair."

Mark frowned, anger surging up clearly on his face. "You don't know-"

"Yes, I do," Jane told him calmly.

His frown turned from anger to confusion. "You lost one?"

"Two," Jane corrected. "My wife and my daughter. He took them both from me six years ago."

It was the casualness in his voice that made Lisbon uneasy. She was used to the regret, the pain, the unbearable suffering...she wasn't used to him being so cold about them. He never spoke of them so casually.

"So you're the best person to find him," Mark realised. "Because my little girl was taken from me last night and I already want to kill the bastard. Add six years onto that and you've got yourself a cold-hearted vengeance machine."

And that was exactly what Lisbon feared most.

"Mr Joliss-"

"You make him pay, you hear me?" Mark continued to Jane, completely ignoring Lisbon. "You make him pay for what he did to my little girl."

"He'll get what's coming to him, Mr Joliss," Jane promised.

With tensions still running high between Jane and Lisbon when they left the house, Van Pelt and Rigsby chose to ride back to CBI in the car that Cho had arrived in, leaving their boss and the consultant to battle it out in the car. Jane instantly took the passenger seat as it was, so they knew that sitting in the back seat while the two of them argued was only going to make them feel like children when their parents were arguing. So they chose the sensible option, and let them go alone – hoping to God that there wasn't a body found dumped in the car park matching Jane's description.

"He'll get what's coming to him?" Lisbon quoted Jane angrily. "You can't say that to the victim's father!"

"It's what he needed to hear," Jane shrugged calmly.

"No, what he needed to hear was that his child's killer will suffer for the rest of his life in prison," Lisbon corrected him.

"And what does that get them?" Jane asked. "How is that supposed to make them sleep at night, knowing that their little girl was slaughtered in her own bedroom and that her killer sleeps in an allocated bed, gets three meals a day-"

"Jane, Red John will go to sentencing and he will die," she said bluntly. "He will get the death penalty. Capital punishment is legal in California in cases of first degree murder with enumerated special circumstances."

"Unless he's found insane," Jane pointed out.

"He won't be. These are carefully planned attacks-"

"The legal aspect of his trial will take forever," Jane complained. "He'll have time to escape. He'll kill again, and next time-"

"No, there will be no next time," Lisbon insisted. "We find him; he goes down for multiple charges."

"Well, perhaps gas or lethal injection is slightly too good for the man who massacred my wife and daughter," he shot back at her, his voice rising for the first time in this conversation.

"You do not get a say in this," she insisted, like she was talking to a child.

"I do if I'm the only one there," he told her.

They were silent for a moment, her choosing not to berate him about running off and getting himself killed by Red John. It wasn't until she parked the car outside the CBI that she turned in her seat to face him. "What do you get out of it?" she asked.

"Excuse me?"

"If you killed Red John, how would that make things better for you?" she asked.

"He needs to hurt as much as they did," he told her, and she could see the determination for this burning in his eyes.

"As much as they did or as much as you did?" she challenged him. At that, Jane was silent. "Jane, avenging their death is going to change nothing."

"You don't know that," he shook his head.

"Yes, I do," she insisted. "You think that it's going to help you, you think that it's going to take the pain away, you even think that it's going to help them, but it doesn't. It just replaces the guilt."

His forehead narrowed in curiosity. "Lisbon-"

"Whatever you're looking for, Jane, Red John's death isn't going to give it to you."

He stared deep into her eyes. "You seem to know an awful lot about vengeance," he noted.

But she offered him no more words. She just got out of the car and went into the building.

By the time he had waited for the elevator himself, Lisbon was making her way into her office with her coffee. Her words about vengeance, how informed she seemed on how little he would get out of the situation, had him curious. He often found there were things about her that left him asking questions without receiving answers, perhaps that was entranced him so much, what drew him in so much. She was a challenge to him, just as much as he was one to her. She wasn't aware that she could be just as trying on his patience and that he could on hers. Now, especially, she was almost infuriating by catering to his curiosity so much. She clearly had a message to get across to him, but wasn't pleased with how much she would have to reveal to get him to understand it, but they were just opening a Red John case, and she was distracting him.

So he made his decision and followed her to her office. He stopped her outside the door. "Lisbon."

"What, Jane?" she snapped.

"I need to talk to you."

She stopped at the door, turning to face him, which is when he noticed the file in her hands. The Red John file. "Have you done something wrong in the five minutes I've been in the kitchen?" she asked tiredly.

"No, but it's still important."

"Jane, I have a case to solve."

"We have a case to solve," he corrected. "But this isn't about the case."

"Then it's going to have to wait," she told him. "We have a dead teenager and it's leading us to another sociopath copycat or the real Red John. Either way, we have a long few days ahead of us. I have calls to make, visits to arrange, people to question-"

"Lisbon!" he interrupted her.

"Jane, I am busy," she snapped, yet again.

"Five minutes, that's all I ask," he reasoned.

She glanced through the doorway at her office, and surrendered. Halfway. "Two and a half minutes. Speak fast."

He accepted this as the best he was going to get from her. "You said that avenging their deaths would do nothing," he prompted.

"Are you going to waste your two and a half minutes repeating what I've already said?" she complained.

"How do you know that it'll do nothing?" he asked her straight out.

"Jane, I do not have time for this-"

"The phone calls can wait for a few minutes," he assured her.

"No, Jane, they can't!" she told him. "Not for this case. If this is genuinely Red John then we need to find him before he kills another innocent person. We can't afford to waste time on this. When did you stop caring about catching him?"

"I didn't, you know that," he told her. "I just want to have a conversation."

"Well, we don't have time for one now," she shot him down.

"I just wanted to know-"

"Jane, I said that earlier because I've been there, ok? I've been there. I've been where you were and I acted like an adult with it. Now, go away."

It happened so fast, that the door had long since slammed in his face when he realised her words. He frowned at the closed blinds, knowing that if they weren't there he'd no doubt see her making her phone calls, taking a deep breath before to calm herself down. She'd been where he was. But what did she mean by that? He'd been in many places, good places, bad places. Mostly bad. However, he'd never read any of that from her. He knew that she had lost her mother, suffered abuse from her father, raised her brothers, sacrificed her childhood...but he'd...he'd not been in any of those places. What place had she been in that related to his feud with Red John?

"What did you do this time?" Rigsby asked, as he walked back to his couch.

Jane was still stunned. "...I think it was something someone else did."

A/N: I know I'm naughty to start another story before finishing Pursuit of Happiness, but as that one is nearly over I thought I'd start a new one. Yes, this is a Jibson story, but it's also a Red John story. We're going to find out secrets about Lisbon, that this chapter hinted, that will bring her and Jane closer together than ever. It's also going to deal with the poem that Red John recited that time when Jane claimed nothing was said to him. This story actually started as a one shot of Jane working that out, but it soon stemmed into all of this. Thank you, Alex. for putting me in the mind of a serial killer, it's a change for me to write something like this rather than something romantic. This is hopefully a proper case fic, so I hope you all enjoy it :)