In Lieu of Retrospection

Disclaimer: Don't own anything.

Rating: T

Spoiler: Six months after 2.22 (Red Letter)

A/N: For SSS, lil smiles requested a case fic, which immediately put me in a state of permanent anxiety. However, I managed to recover and this is the result. I hope you guys enjoy it, and most importantly Rach, when you finally get the chance to read this, I hope it's what you were looking for!

xxx

Part I

The question catches him off guard.

Not only because it's Lisbon who is asking, but also because he doesn't have a straight answer for her. He hasn't really thought about it in weeks, months even, so it's a little weird that Lisbon would bring it up, out of the blue.

Jane is grateful he's facing away from her when she poses the query; it gives him a moment to recover from his surprise.

"Why do you ask?" He deflects, keeping himself busy by pouring the sauce over the noodles and stirring, the strong aroma of spices actually making his mouth water a little.

"I don't know," Lisbon continues, and he can picture her shrugging as she picks apart a piece of bread and dips it gingerly into olive oil, even though he specifically told her not to fill up before dinner.

The reflection makes him smile, makes him think about how well he knows her. He derails the train of thought immediately, finding that path too dangerous as he transfers the penne to two plates.

"Kristina seemed like a very nice woman, I was just wondering why things didn't work out between you guys. It seemed like a good match."

There's a slight sting of disappointment at her words, and Jane can't figure out why. He never really thought Lisbon liked Frye all that much, but as he looks over his shoulder at her and she guiltily swallows another mouthful of bread, he wonders if maybe he'd been imagining it. Perhaps he'd wanted her not to like Kristina, so he'd believed it.

After all, Lisbon never gave off the vibe that she disliked the redhead. At that thought, an unwelcome discomfort sets in, so he quickly pushes the ruminations away, and places the food on the table.

Lisbon's eyes light up as the steam rises from the pasta. Before she can grab the block of parmesan sitting besides her wine glass, Jane is already grating some onto her plate.

She smiles her thanks and pours them both a bit of wine. As the dark red liquid fills his glass, it reminds Jane of his date with Kristina those months back. He still isn't sure how to answer Lisbon's question. Nothing really went wrong between Kristina and him, no dramatic falling out between lovers, not that they really were.

It had started out casually and smoothly, and it faded out in the same way. He didn't feel regret when they'd lost touch, and he can't really say even now who stopped calling whom first. Jane does know, however, that he doesn't miss Kristina all that much, despite her being a fascinating woman and a great conversationalist.

He did have a good time with her on that first date and the couple after that, and he did look forward to seeing her when they made plans, but there was something missing.

At the time he wasn't sure what it was, having been out of the dating game for so long, and really he couldn't be bothered to decipher the mysterious missing piece. It was much easier to just enjoy Kristina's company for the little while that he had than to dissect why it felt almost too predictable to be with her.

He gave up on wondering about that a while ago and now that Lisbon has brought it up, he's even a little amused that Lisbon thought they'd been a good match.

"Why do you say that?" Jane asks after a few moments of silence.

Lisbon looks up from her pasta, quirking her eyebrow, "Why did I say what?"

"That Kristina and I were a 'good match'? I'm just curious." Jane explains, finding the confusion marring Lisbon's face humorous.

She obviously expects him to know the answer, but apparently his keen observational skills do not extend into his personal life.

He could have sworn Lisbon didn't like Kristina…

Her mouth curls a little, and she smiles at him in that way that she usually does when he's said something particularly off the wall. The admiration that he feels is a little bit like warmth spreading through his veins.

It makes him keenly aware of how close they're sitting next to each other, knees almost brushing underneath the table. He takes a hefty pull from his wine glass, if only to find something on which to blame his flutter of excitement.

"You can't seriously be asking me that?" Lisbon stares at him for a moment before realizing Jane has no idea what she's alluding to, "you always complain about being bored, you practically wish for new cases because they're like a puzzle to solve-…"

"Well Sudoku can get a little repetitive, but it's not like I wish for people to die so I can have some excitement, I'm not that morbid."

He's not sure why he interrupts her, but he has this deep need to banter with her, to challenge her in some way…maybe she is right. Maybe he is bored most of the time, but it still doesn't explain anything about Kristina.

"I know," Lisbon agrees, spearing some pasta onto her fork, "I just figured Kristina could be a challenge for you, someone who matches you intellectually and, you know…psychically."

She says this so nonchalantly, as if she wholeheartedly believes it, that Jane finds his appetite fading away very quickly. He sets his fork down and looks at her, as Lisbon continues to eat, finding nothing wrong with what she said.

"First of all, you know my position on psychics, and second of all, you cannot possibly think that I'll only be intellectually stimulated by somebody with similar powers of observation, that's just preposterous."

It's Lisbon's turn to stop eating and lean back to meet his gaze. He looks a little concerned, but in a sort of petulant way that reminds Lisbon of how her brothers used to look when they got mad at her as children, arms crossed over their chests and looks of exaggerated displeasure on their faces.

After a minute, a sly smile spreads over her lips as she playfully nudges him on the shoulder. "Why are you getting so defensive, hmm? Is it because by my admission I've narrowed down your dating pool to clairvoyants, presumed mind readers, and women who claim they channel the dead?"

The teasing words roll easily off her tongue, steering the conversation away from any tension that may have arisen. She hadn't meant to offend him; she was genuinely curious as to why, after finding a sudden interest in the redheaded psychic and spending less time napping on his couch after hours, not a month later he was back to leaving the office with her in the wee hours of the morning.

Her own lack of a social life should depress her, but Lisbon made peace with that a while ago, so all her attention is on Jane and his prospective happiness, because after all she does want him to be happy.

He's become a friend to her, a more permanent fixture in her life, both at work and at home. This is probably the third night this week that they've spent at her house, usually brainstorming about the current case or watching whatever movie was on the TLC network.

She's grown to care for him, and although she was a little caught off guard and perhaps maybe a tiny bit envious when he started spending more time with Kristina Frye, she put her best poker face on and let him know in her own subtle way that she supported him moving on.

They've never really discussed that part of their lives together, not even as they've grown a lot closer in the last six months, but Lisbon is certain he hadn't dipped his toes into the dating pool since his wife passed. Frye, if anything, seemed like the logical choice. So when Jane started to reappear in the bullpen after hours more often, as much as she liked their old routine, she was, still is, curious about this quickly fizzled out courtship between him and the self-proclaimed psychic.

In her reverie, Lisbon doesn't notice Jane watching her intently. He knows she's merely trying to alleviate the tension with her playful jab, but he can't let go of this nagging feeling in his gut, like there's something he's not seeing here.

The more he thinks about it, the more he realizes that there was indeed something missing between him and Kristina. It's not that he wasn't attracted to her, both mentally and physically, and it's not like they didn't have anything in common, but there was still something that didn't quite fit.

He's learned a long time ago, both from people watching and personal experience, that just because something sounded good in theory, didn't mean it actually worked in real life.

After all, when he first joined Lisbon's team, no one thought it would work. They were like oil and water, people said, and yet here they are.

Four years, dozens of lawsuits, and four broken noses later, and they were still partners, still working together now with a better understanding of each other than ever before. It fills him with a sense of gratitude and warmth that he rarely allows himself and just like that, he's grinning and Lisbon raises an eyebrow at him.

It's clear an idea has somehow planted itself in that curly head of his, and she can probably bet a month's salary that she'll be on the receiving end of his next trick.

"So, since we're on the subject of dating, when was the last time you, Teresa Lisbon, had one?"

And she's right.

"Had one what?" She deadpans, reaching for another piece of bread to busy her hands, even though the direction of this conversation is actually making her lose her appetite a little.

Jane fixes her with a knowing, slightly annoyed stare, as if to warn her he knows she's playing dumb to avoid answering him, and he won't let her off the hook.

"A date, dear? When was the last time you were accompanied by a person of the opposite sex to a social function, dinner, film, or mini golf?"

"Mini golf?" Lisbon looks at him archly, hand wrapping instinctively around her wine glass, if only to find something on which to blame her increasingly flushed complexion.

"Meh, you know what I mean." Jane waves her off with his fork, continuing to eat as he gauges her reaction.

It's obvious to them both that he knows she hasn't been on a date in quite some time. Either that or she's exceptionally clever at hiding such occurrences, which is nearly impossible since Jane seems to shadow her every move at work, assessing her moods, predicting her after hours activities, and sometimes even partaking in them.

All this registers pretty quickly in Lisbon's mind, and she realizes that there's no use lying to Jane. So instead as she picks at a piece of broccoli on her plate, she tries to phrase her answer in a way that doesn't make her seem pathetic.

"I don't really keep track, but I think my last date was around the time Van Pelt joined our team."

She ducks her eyes away from him so she doesn't immediately see the aghast expression on Jane's face as he drops his fork with a clink against the plate. He'd expected as much, but to actually hear it causes a slight pressure in his chest that he's not used to.

It's almost beyond him how a woman of Lisbon's stature, intelligence, and looks could last so long without male attention. It alarms him greatly.

"That's almost two years ago," He exclaims, and when Lisbon looks at him with a trace of hurt lingering in her green eyes, he immediately regrets it.

"Lisbon, that's not what I-…"

"No, it's alright," she cuts him off as expected, looks back down at her plate, "it's not like I'm in want of a partner and haven't been able to find one. I'm just busy, that's all."

The slight shrug of her shoulder and the way she peers at him uncertainly but also defiantly through hooded lashes reminds Jane of the vulnerability lingering beneath the surface of this woman each and every day. The fact that he sometimes forgets about that is testament to how incredibly convincing her daily professional façade is.

Guilt wraps around him unwittingly, sobering him as his mind unwillingly reflects on the last year and how difficult it's been for her.

Being accused of murder, then simultaneously losing both an old mentor and a endearing boss, and gaining a new supervisor that seems to be way too harsh will worn anyone out, and he has the sudden urge to wrap her in a hug, pour some comfort into her.

He ignores the possibility that there might be an ulterior motive for his sudden desire for a physical connection and picks up his fork again, back to his default setting, his own façade.

They eat in silence for a few strained moments, before Jane speaks again.

"You know what you need," He says leaning in a little closer, almost pointing his fork right into Lisbon's face.

"What?" she asks, exasperated sigh strategically in place, even though there's a glint of excitement meandering in her eye.

"I think you need a very fun, stress free night out. I don't even remember the last time you had a day off, and apparently you haven't gone on a proper date in a very, very long time-…"

"Stop right there." Lisbon halts him, "I am not going out on a date with you."

Jane looks at her strangely for a moment, leaning back to really study her face, before breaking out into another megawatt smile. "That's cute. Seriously, Lisbon, I find it so very interesting that you jump to the conclusion that I would suggest myself for the role of your counterpart, very interesting indeed."

A year ago, maybe even six months prior, she would have been mortified after this kind of speech, but now, very recently, she's learned to spot chinks in Jane's armor too and holds onto her belief about what he was going to suggest even as he teases her.

"Nice try, Jane, but who were you going to suggest besides yourself? It's not like I have men lining up outside my door." She feels a little smug at her reply to him, feeling a little accomplished that she was able to blindside him a little, even if the truth depresses her.

Jane, however, just looks at her thoughtfully for a moment, eyes narrowed, before he begins listing off names, "Maskowitz from the 3rd floor. The older guy from payroll, not the one who still likes Van Pelt, but the other distinguished-looking one, what's his name? I can never remember. Oh, the weekend security guard, Carl, he practically salivates in your presence. And what about the waiter from that Mexican place you like four blocks from the office, did you even realize he broke two plates Monday night, because he was too busy staring at you?"

Lisbon stops chewing as she looks at him, green eyes shining with a mixture of confusion and slight embarrassment, but there's a sparkle lurking in there somewhere and Jane is the one who leans back self-assuredly now. She stares at him for a moment longer before breaking into the most melodic laugh he's ever heard.

"What?" He deadpans, "it's not like I said anyone of them is half decent, but you definitely do not suffer from a shortage of suitors, I can assure you of that."

He winks at her and resumes eating, but something warm passes through her, and Lisbon can't look away from him, food almost completely forgotten despite how delicious it is.

"So that's it, huh?" She smirks, fingers wrapping around the delicate stem of the wine glass.

Jane looks up at her, a bit confused, "what do you mean?"

"You just dangle the promise of a fun-filled evening in front of me, but you don't deliver, do you?"

It's obvious from the way her eyes sparkle with mischief and her lips curve into a half smile that she's merely joking, but he just returns her smile with one of his own, the one he knows can charm anyone within a half mile radius.

He figures that just to keep the look of mirth on her face, he'll keep his future plans to himself. "All in good time, my dear. You lack patience, anyone ever told you that?"

"Oh shush, you," she quips back, bangs concealing her whimsical stare as she returns back to her dinner.

Jane, however, doesn't tear his eyes away from her, suddenly confronted with the thought that he may have figured out what was missing from his brief courtship with Kristina Frye.

His mouth goes a little dry as he wills this new awareness away, and Lisbon looks at him over the rim of her wine glass with a confused expression, large green eyes narrowed at him in concern.

She's probably about to ask him what's wrong, so when her cell phone rings and a few minutes later she lets him know that unfortunately they have another case, despite his earlier claim that he doesn't hope for murder to get away from boredom, Jane is forever grateful for the interruption.

He wouldn't be able to answer her truthfully and for some reason, with Lisbon being in her home, sharing this meal with her, he really doesn't want to lie either.

TBC…