Again, written for Nellie, as part of the jello-forever Summer Secret Santa. Prompt: Most men live in quiet desperation, Henry David Thoreau.
So, I realized, I somehow managed to write three fic, none of them containing much introspective!Lisbon. Which is shocking in and of itself given how much of that I usually write, but it was also requested. So, to remedy that, I co-opted another fic I had rolling around in my head for a prompt. And it features, as requested, introspective Lisbon. Not sure when exactly it's set, but somewhere in the middle of Lisbon's depressive period in the second half of season two and definitely after the Mashburn ep. Hope you enjoy.
Disclaimer: I don't own the Mentalist or its characters.
Hopelessness, Carelessness, Recklessness, Resolution, Relief
She had a system.
First the reports were filed. Those to do with the victim's first, which were then copied, and copies sent to the appropriate locations. Following that she wrote any reports related to team performance, and finally she always ended with Jane. He had his own category because he had so many types of reports: complaints, reprimands, requests for psychiatric evaluation, requests for consults, reports on his conduct, etc. After those were finally finished, she checked her e-mail one last time for the night to make sure she hadn't missed anything. Then she went over her schedule for the next day so she knew what she had to do. Lastly she checked in with her team. Made sure no one was still around. If they were it meant there was probably a problem, and if there was a problem she should know about it. People weren't usually still at the CBI by that point anyway, especially if her reports were numerous. Often everybody'd left already, except for Jane of course.
It was a good system. It worked. It was practical, sensible and unbelievably efficient.
She hated it.
She felt like her whole life was a system. Everything was planned and thought out. Sure, it worked, but she was miserable.
But that's how it had to be for Agent Teresa Lisbon. She didn't get to be the person who went out and did something stupid, who slacked off, who had a little extra fun. What if someone saw her? What if something happened? Who would she call? The team? She could just imagine Rigsby or Van Pelt showing up to get her out of trouble. It'd be a nightmare. She was the one who cleaned up messes, not the one who created them.
It was far better to stick to her self-imposed rules. No more than three drinks unless she was already in her own apartment. Stick to the speed limit, wouldn't do for a responsible CBI Agent to get a ticket. Be polite and diplomatic whenever possible. You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. And besides, who knows who the guy you yell at in the morning may turn out to be. You might need him later that afternoon.
Oh, it was all very sensible.
But she was so sick of being sensible.
She spent all of her time being sensible. All of her time taking care of everyone else. And where had it gotten her? Sure, she had her own team, but for how long? Her job was in danger because she couldn't control her consultant. He refused to be sensible. Why should she? She tried to be there for her employees and half the time they spurned her help, or even just plain ignored her, preferring to side with her aforementioned insane consultant, who was apparently, among other things, more fun.
Fun. She had vague memories of what that was like.
Jane was right; she didn't get to have a normal life. She wanted one, but she didn't think it was possible.
All she had was the job. And some days she wasn't sure she even wanted that anymore. She couldn't remember the last time she'd left the office before six. She couldn't remember the last time she went out with her girlfriends. Did she even have any of those anymore? Did they even count if the relationship consisted of a half an hour on the phone every two weeks?
She didn't have a life.
She had a thankless position in law enforcement. Hell, forget being underappreciated by everyone around her, it didn't even pay well. She felt like she was sleepwalking through it. Go in, fill out reports, clean up messes, try and control her people, achieve some sort of mediocre success, feel like she's sold her soul, compromise, be tactful, don't scream, smile, nod, acquiesce, agree, try to keep up.
She couldn't stand it anymore.
She just wanted something, anything, to be different.
She was sick of the rules, sick of being miserable, desperate and unhappy.
The only time she remembered feeling anything more positive than apathy was when she tackled a suspect to the ground about a week ago. That had felt almost good. Like she was doing something.
Everything else just felt grey.
Why couldn't she be like everybody else?
Maybe it was time to give it a try.
Lisbon watched the clock in her office switch from 4:59 to 5:00. Technically her workday was done, even if she was only halfway through her daily routine.
Oh screw it. Time to break the rules. If she had to sit there one minute longer she'd scream.
She grabbed her jacket, shut off her computer, turned out the lights and locked the door, all in under two minutes. Then she flew down the hallway, and down the stairs (she was in no mood to wait for the elevator) without so much as a backwards glance at her team.
She wondered briefly if any of them noticed. That'd give them a bit of a shock if they did. Might even worry them a little, the boss going home at a reasonable hour. The idea gave her the tiniest spark of satisfaction. Good. Let someone else worry for a change.
Suddenly she found herself outside. The breeze felt good on her face. She almost smiled.
Patrick Jane's eyes popped open in shock. That sounded like Lisbon stalking down the hallway. But it couldn't be Lisbon. It couldn't possibly be any later than five. And Lisbon never left work that early. She'd have barely been halfway through the day's paperwork.
He checked his watch. 5:02.
That wasn't a good sign. Not a good sign at all.
He glanced at Rigsby and Van Pelt (Cho's facial expression would be almost useless in this case). Both junior agents looked mildly shocked, and Van Pelt's expression also contained a hint of concern.
"I take it that was Lisbon leaving for the night," Jane surmised.
"Yeah," Van Pelt said distractedly.
"She sure flew out of here," Rigsby added. "You think something's wrong?"
"Maybe she just realized she's just late for an appointment," Van Pelt suggested half-heartedly.
"Maybe," Jane agreed. But he didn't think so. He was more inclined to agree with Rigsby. He'd been watching their boss lately. More so then usual. She'd been, well... different. Something was rotten in the state of Lisbon.
He was determined to find out what.
Lisbon sat in her SUV, the windows rolled down, stupidly pleased as she watched her speedometer creep up slowly. She grinned to herself. Driving 15 miles per hour over the speed limit may not sound like much, but it meant something to her. She was breaking her first rule.
She wondered idly what would happen if she did get pulled over. Should she flash her badge? Claim an urgent case? Maybe tell the officer that the case was meant to be kept on the down low as much as possible so she hadn't wanted to use her siren. Lisbon almost laughed. If she got the right cop she bet she'd be able to talk him into anything. With the right tone of course. Or maybe, her grin turned mischievous, maybe she should keep the CBI out of it as much as possible. Maybe try and flirt her way out of the ticket.
God, how long had it been since she'd done that? Flirted to get something. Had she ever done that? She wondered if it'd even work. She'd probably feel guilty afterward, but it might be fun. And she needed fun.
Lisbon rolled her window down another couple of inches.
God it felt good to be out of the office.
Suddenly her cell rang. She frowned. Should have know the law would catch up to her somehow, one way or another. She checked her caller ID and her expression switched from annoyance to amusement when she read "Patrick Jane" on the screen.
She dropped her phone back into her purse without answering. It wasn't a case. Someone else would have called if it had been. No, it looked like her impromptu exit had been noticed. Well, Jane could lie on his couch and stew about it for all she cared. Let him be the one to worry for a change.
She didn't want to think. She just wanted to drive.
The next morning Lisbon walked briskly into her office at her usual time. She was as alert as ever, if a little tired. Driving around the city until almost midnight, only stopping to get gas and grab dinner from a fast food joint will do that to a person.
But it was worth it, if only for the brief act of quiet rebellion.
She glanced into the bullpen. It didn't look like anyone was around yet. Unsurprising, she was early. She unlocked her door quietly and stepped in her office.
She probably should have been startled to see Jane napping on her couch, but really, it was almost expected.
"Do I even want to know how you got in here?" she asked him dryly.
"Probably not," Jane replied as he sat up and stretched. "You're in early," he observed.
"I'm always in early," she retorted quickly. "Beat you in most of the time."
"You look tired," Jane said slowly, his eyes darting around her face, checking for clues to a puzzle he wasn't quite sure how to solve yet.
If Lisbon minded the attention she didn't show it. "Thanks for that Jane," she told him dryly. "I'll have you know you don't exactly look alert most of the time either. I'll be fine."
"I'm sure you will," he murmured, lost in thought. "Late night?" he asked.
"Of sorts," she replied noncommittally.
Jane sighed internally. Apparently whatever it was she'd decided not to talk about it. Unsurprising, but it did nothing to lighten the unease he felt in the back of his brain. "I called you, you know," he added lightly.
"I know," Lisbon said. "I listened to my messages late last night. You said it wasn't important so I figured I'd just ask you about it today," she explained. "What's on your mind?"
Jane frowned. She'd listened her messages late last night, implying that she'd probably gotten it when he'd called her at 5:30, but had just decided to blow him off. Another bad sign. He knew he was annoying, but the Lisbon he was used to didn't blow off her team. It didn't matter what it was about, or what time it was, she just didn't. This was genuinely worrying, couldn't tell her that; she might shut down on him. So Jane simply shrugged his shoulders. "Nothing much," he told her lightly. "You just left in kind of a hurry yesterday. I was surprised, wanted to make sure nothing was wrong."
Lisbon's hands stilled on her desk where she'd been flipping through her in-box. She hadn't expected him to be quite so direct about the whole thing. Normally Jane was all evasion and tricks. He really was worried. She ignored the jolt of triumph that thought provoked and quickly resumed shuffling, but she knew it was too late. Jane being Jane, he'd have already noticed. "I'm fine," she told him, looking at the files and not in his eyes. "Just had a sudden urge to get out of here. Needed a bit of fresh air, you know. Nothing to worry about."
"You're sure that's all?" Jane double-checked.
Lisbon put her files down in mock exasperation and met his eyes then, "Yes Jane, I'm sure. Just felt like a change of scenery. Don't worry. I'm pretty sure worrying falls under my job description anyway. I just wanted a night off for a change."
"Alright, if you're sure," Jane told her.
"I am," she replied firmly.
"So what'd you end up doing?" Jane asked lightly.
She'd been so hoping he wouldn't ask her that. "Oh, nothing much," she replied evasively. "Went for a drive, got some dinner, nothing to write home about."
Jane frowned. She'd been out late enough that she was tired this morning and she'd done nothing but drive and get dinner? He placed a tentative hand on her forearm. "Lisbon, you know you can talk to me if something's wrong, don't you?"
Lisbon glanced up again in surprise, "What?" she asked.
"If something was bothering you," Jane clarified. "I know I'm not the easiest person in the world, but if you ever needed someone to talk to…"
"I'm fine," Lisbon insisted. She really didn't want to talk about it, though she did appreciate the offer in a way. "Like I said, I just wanted to get out of the building at a reasonable hour for once."
"Okay," Jane said, deciding a strategic retreat was in order. Whatever was bothering her she obviously wasn't ready to talk to him about it. Yet. "I'm going to go make some tea, do you want anything?" he asked.
"No thanks," Lisbon told him easily.
Jane nodded before turning to leave. When he reached the threshold he turned, "Remember Lisbon if you ever want to talk…"
"I know," she told him. Then she sighed. "Thanks Jane. I appreciate it, I do, but really, I'm…"
"I know, you're fine," he replied. "Just making sure."
"Go make your tea," she ordered playfully.
Lisbon shook her head as she watched him leave. She should have known she couldn't leave early without someone noticing. Especially with Jane around. She frowned. Jane. Her consultant appeared to be quite concerned actually. That was, well, she wasn't sure she liked the scrutiny, but on the other hand, it was almost… it was almost nice, and not in Jane's usual selfish or even slightly manipulative kind of way. It was just… genuinely nice.
She shook herself. Time to get back to work. Joy.
That night she waits until almost eight before leaving.
She knows if she leaves anywhere near early two days in a row more than Jane will be concerned about her. Jane himself is bad enough; she doesn't want to deal with Van Pelt's doleful looks, Rigsby's endearingly awkward attempts at opening that conversation or Cho's blunt interrogation.
So she waits until the rest of the team is gone. She's pretty sure Jane is still puttering around, but since he sometimes spends the night in the bullpen she has absolutely no intention of waiting him out.
She considers another night of driving, but in the end it's not what she's in the mood for.
She wants something more interactive.
Oh, not with people she knows. She still doesn't want to be seen exactly. But she wants something. Something like a bar, or maybe a club. A couple drinks, maybe some dancing with a complete stranger.
Normal people did that right?
Her mind made up Lisbon heads to the ladies room. She'll probably end up dropping her car off at home (she's nowhere near reckless enough to drive after having a couple of drinks), but she didn't want to spend any time there. There's too much chance that once she stepped in her doorway and saw her apartment that she'd realize there was any number of things she should be doing with her night. Responsible things. Things that followed her rules. And she didn't want to talk herself out of this.
So she added a little extra make-up right there at the CBI. Not too much, but it made a difference. And she took her hair out of the ponytail. If she shed her suit jacket once she got to her car she'd be all set. She looked like she's going out, not like she was going to spend her evening organizing her closet before watching a movie on the couch, a nearby stack of files the only thing keeping her company.
It was sad that that thought's enough to make her smile to herself.
Snapping her purse shut she grabbed her coat and heads out past the bullpen. She knew she'd better check in on Jane. He'd probably notice the make-up, but leaving without acknowledging him for a second consecutive night would be worse.
"Night Jane," she called from the doorway.
"Night Lisbon," he replied, opening his eyes.
As she expects his eyes widened when he saw her. "Going somewhere?" he asked, in an attempt to be casual.
Lisbon summoned up a smile. "That," she informed him, "Is none of your business. I'll see you tomorrow."
"See you tomorrow," Jane said softly, watching her walk out briskly.
Leaving early one day, a night out the next? Something was definitely up. And he wasn't sure he liked it.
Even with stopping for dinner, it didn't take long for Lisbon to find herself at a bar. Nothing too fancy, but not a dive either. Just something very middle of the road. With a dance floor.
It was perfect.
She slid onto a stool, caught the bartender's attention and ordered herself a whisky sour. She was just finishing her second when someone tapped her on the shoulder. Lisbon spun on her stool to face a guy about her age. His hair was spiked up to such a ludicrous degree, but other than that he was pretty cute so she sent him a smile.
"What's a pretty lady like you doing all alone in a place like this?" he asked her, in what was clearly an attempt to be smooth.
"Just relaxing after a long day at the office," she replied truthfully. "Trying to work out the kinks in my neck from sitting at a desk all day."
"You feel like working out the kinks on the dance floor?" her admirer asked.
Lisbon's smile grew ever so slightly, "Thought you'd never ask."
"Name's Mike," he mentioned, holding out a hand.
"Teresa," she replied in turn. Teresa. Tonight she got to be just Teresa.
Mike lasted for a few dances until he got a call he just has to take. Lisbon didn't mind so much though, she wasn't looking for long-term, or even something that'd last an entire evening, just some human contact. She took advantage of the break to head back to the bar for another drink. She'd barely gotten there before Joe, an accountant from out of town, offered to buy her one. Joe is followed by Owen, who is followed by Marco, who was actually a pretty good dancer. Lisbon felt like she was gliding, or maybe floating around the floor when he took the lead, though part of that may have been the alcohol. And if his hands strayed to slightly less than appropriate locations from time to time she certainly didn't stop him. May have even encouraged it. Though she's alone in her cab on the ride home. She regretted the decision briefly, but she had to be at work before nine the next morning, and who wants to deal with the hassle of getting rid of someone before then?
Instead she made sure to drink a couple of glasses of water before falling exhausted into bed. It wasn't a perfect night, but at least it was different.
And if Jane noticed the hollows under her eyes the next morning he doesn't comment on it.
She never let it affect the job. During the work day she was as calm and collected as ever. She could be a bit reckless in her personal life if she wanted to, that was on her. But she refused to let her own potential self-destructive issues put anyone else in a position where they might be harmed. She's seen what that's like, and she won't to be the cause of it. So work didn't suffer, not when Teresa Lisbon was in charge. Whether they appreciated her or not, her team depended on her. And she wouldn't let them down. Them or the victims.
She even decided to stay in the next day, be responsible again, maybe catch up on some sleep (though she did rebel slightly by still refusing to clean her closet). Besides, if she had continuously arrived at the office looking half dead then Jane would eventually say something, and sooner rather than later.
Of course the day after that her consultant decided to hypnotize a potential witness. Lisbon spent hours dealing with the aftermath before deciding she'd had enough. And she was so frustrated that it only took her about thirty seconds to decide that she's not going home to her empty apartment.
She was going out. And she was going to drink alcohol. And she was going to dance. She didn't care about the consequences. She was doing it anyway.
Let Jane notice and worry about it if he must. He obviously didn't consider how his actions affected her, why should she consider how hers affected him?
And with that Lisbon fell into a pattern. She started breaking her rules after-hours, just because she could. To prove to herself that she was still a human being, and not some sort of emotionless law-enforcement robot with no human connection in her life.
And a part of her enjoyed breaking them: driving late at night, speeding, ignoring petty traffic laws, going to bars, drinking more than she should, rubbing up against strangers. Not the most rewarding use of her time, but it beat looking around her empty apartment in despair. Still, she never quite got to bringing someone home. For one, part of her balked at the potential danger of a complete stranger with who knows what on his mind in her apartment, for another, part of her wanted it to mean something. Even if it was just a one night stand. She didn't want to be just the girl who was drunk enough, or attractive enough in dim light, or stupid enough to go home with some guy. She wanted to be special. Just for a few hours. She didn't want to just be the best someone can do. And that's what it always felt like. Like she was some sort of consolation prize, to be thrown out in the harsh light of day.
Still, three days out of five she didn't go home after work. She either drove too fast around the city or she found a bar.
She knew Jane had noticed. She'd watched his eyebrows raise every time he saw her wearing more than her usual amount of make-up just before she leaves. And she saw his forehead pinch together in concern each morning that she drags herself into work half-asleep and desperate for that morning coffee. But the man had apparently decided not to say anything, so Lisbon just ignored him.
She wasn't exactly sure if what she was doing always made her feel better exactly. But at least it made her feel something.
Jane was utterly and completely flummoxed.
At least one day a week for almost the past month Lisbon hadn't stayed late. And half the time when she did leave at her usual time she was wearing much heavier make-up and then coming in the next morning looking exhausted. All signs pointed to their lovely team leader getting a social life.
Which would have been good for her (she worked way too hard, it wasn't healthy), except that her overall demeanour didn't contain any of the other indications of more regular healthy social interaction. She wasn't more relaxed, she wasn't happier, she never mentioned new friends or anybody or even anywhere new, even obliquely in passing. If anything she was even more subdued on the job than before. He'd known something was up since Bosco'd been killed but...
Jane's jaw tightened.
As always, it all came back to Red John.
If the serial killer'd done this then Jane'd kill him. Actually, he'd kill him anyways. Now he'd just have to tack on another hour or so of brutal torture before death.
Jane didn't like this shell of a Lisbon. He was worried, to a degree that surprised him. She couldn't keep on like this. She looked half dead walking around the office some days. It couldn't be healthy. And if she wasn't developing a regular social life then where was she going all those days?
Jane almost grinned. Well, there was only way to figure that out.
Clearly he needed to keep a closer eye on her.
So he followed her a couple of evenings. Saw her drive her SUV significantly faster than she ever would've on the job (barring some sort of high-speed chase after a suspect of course). But he was shocked the first night when she didn't even stop anywhere. He was even more shocked the second evening when he saw her head into a bar (one that she was clearly not frequenting to meet anyone specific), and she didn't leave until just before last call, though he was relieved to see that she left alone, if a little unsteadily.
Jane frowned to himself. What on earth was she trying not to think about so much? He'd been hoping the new behaviour was just a phase, but it had been going on nearly a month now. And Lisbon was no happier, nor was she showing any signs of stopping.
He was worried something really self-destructive will be next.
Lisbon idly pushed her pen around her desk, trying to ignore the now-familiar feeling of desperation that was brewing just below the surface.
She knew she'd be going out again tonight, but she didn't know what to do. She didn't feel like just driving, and gas was so expensive that sometimes it almost wasn't worth it.
But she also wasn't in the mood for an anonymous bar. She was sick of seeing the same types of guys, of the way they touched her. She wanted to go out, but, but with someone she knew. She, she wanted to feel like the only woman in the room. She wanted someone who knew her. And she wouldn't meet that type of guy in a bar. But the idea of going through the whole awkwardness of a first date didn't appeal to her either. She cringed at the thought of sitting across from some completely inoffensive guy in a sweater-vest while they desperately tried to find something they had in common to keep the conversation going. No, she didn't want the hassle of a relationship, but she also didn't want a stranger.
And there's only so much you can do in a bar, even if it has a dance floor. After a while, it's not all that much fun.
Could any of what she'd been doing be considered fun?
I mean, she has had some fun in the last year. She's certain of it. She must have. She's sure she'll remember something. Why can't she? Then, just before she was about to give up, Lisbon's mind flashed to disjointed memories, of Jane giving her a pony, of yoga with Van Pelt, of tackling suspects, of trying to beat Jane at his own game, of teasing him, of watching Jane get his comeuppance when another psychic pushed his buttons, or when he was toying with a multi-billionaire. Listening to Jane and Walter Mashburn bond had been strangely entertaining.
Lisbon sighed, all of those had been fun, but they'd also all been about work.
Maybe she should try and find a nice normal guy and go on a date, even if it probably would be uneventful. After all, maybe her luck had changed.
When was the last time she'd been on a date? Lisbon put her head in her hands. Now that really had been ages ago. The closest she'd come in recent months was when Mashburn had tried to ask her out. She'd said no of course. Not only was he basically amoral, he was also a potential suspect in her murder investigation. Which meant he was off limits. Of course he wasn't a suspect anymore. And he probably hadn't been interested in her simply because she was handy. The man was seriously wealthy. He could have any woman he wanted. There had to be some reason he'd chosen her, even if Lisbon had no idea what that was. She flashed back to that case, smiling to herself. Mashburn had been kind of fun though, and the attention had been flattering. He obviously wasn't an idiot. And she didn't actually think he'd ever actually hurt her, not physically at least. He was just bored.
Like she was.
Lisbon grinned to herself and opened her web browser. She had an idea.
About ten minutes later Lisbon heard a knock on her door. "Yeah?" she called out distractedly.
"Hey Lisbon," Jane said.
"What do you want Jane?" she asked dryly.
"Do you have plans tonight?" Jane asked.
"What?" Lisbon replied, surprised. "No, why?" She actually did sort of have plans. She was dying to get out of the office, but there was no way she could tell him how she was spending her time. He'd just pick it to death until she got embarrassed or killed him, or both.
Jane was pleased by her answer. Obviously her random trips to the bars of Sacramento weren't planned ventures. Somehow that made him feel better. "Well, I was thinking," her consultant started, "It's been a while since we've done something all together, you know, as a team. I thought we could all go out tonight, for dinner."
Lisbon froze momentarily, glancing at her computer screen. If she wanted to follow through on her wild idea, she'd have to do it tonight. "That sounds really nice Jane, but can I take a rain check? I just remembered I do have something tonight that I can't get out of. But I'm free pretty much any other evening this week or next, if that's okay?" She watched Jane's face fall. "If it's not I could try and..." Lisbon started.
But Jane recovered quickly. "No, no," he insisted. "Don't change your plans. I haven't asked anyone else yet, so why don't I figure out their schedules and we'll consolidate."
"Sounds good," Lisbon agreed.
"Alright, then I'll just leave you be," Jane told her. He knew a strategic retreat was in order. For one, no way would Lisbon actually confide in him, and for two, he needed to figure this out. Clearly these little outings were starting to mean a quite a bit to his boss. And with Lisbon direct confrontation was very rarely the right way to go. He turned to leave her office, sending her a slight smile.
"Hey Jane," she called after him suddenly.
He turned back halfway, "Yeah?"
"It's a really good idea, going out to dinner. You're right, we should do it. Tell everyone to work something out" she instructed. "We'll call it team bonding."
Jane grinned slightly, "I'll see what I can do." He promised. His grin faded when she looked away. Lisbon was acting very un-Lisbon like. He was worried. Because the more he thought about it, the more he knew something was radically wrong in Lisbon land.
He needed a plan.
Back in her office, Lisbon was formulating a plan of her own.