Another of my Secret Santa stories for spyglass.
Jane stared listlessly up at the ceiling of his Malibu mansion, watching the shadows dance across it like they were in a puppet show. To his right, a solid wall bearing Red John's macabre smiley-face calling card, which had attained a kind of luminosity from the moonlight. Underneath him, there was a thin mattress, rock-hard and decidedly uncomfortable. To his left, an empty room, the feeling of nothingness it gave second only to the nothingness of his own heart.
Not for the first time, he found himself lying wide-awake, though his body begged for sleep. His mind was busy as always, turning things over and over making the task of drifting into unconsciousness well nigh impossible. He supposed he wasn't making it any easier on himself by choosing to stay in the room where his life had fallen apart, and that was good. He should be reminded every minute of every day exactly what he had lost. How the people he loved had been forced to pay the price for his arrogance and greed.
As dawn broke, he struggled to get up from the mattress, wincing from the pain of lying in an awkward position all night, eyes prickling with tiredness. He took a short shower and put on the first suit he laid his hands on in his closet. As he reached for it, he brushed against one of the flashier, shiny suits from his psychic days and it slithered to the floor. Good. He left it there, not caring if it became dusty and wrinkled from lying on the bottom of the closet. It deserved to rot away, just as the monster he had been when he had last worn it deserved to burn in hell.
He brushed his teeth, and fixed his hair, still slightly damp from the shower. He arranged it just so; making sure the curls sat precisely where he wanted them. He carefully inspected his suit, checking for any creases that should not have been there, and then completed the outfit by putting on shiny, highly polished dress shoes.
He looked himself over in the small bathroom mirror and was satisfied. The illusion was complete. If he had gone to work in any less then the immaculate condition he usually did, Lisbon's suspicions would have been raised the moment she saw him. When it came to the welfare of her team, her sharp eyes missed nothing and she'd have him in her office within ten minutes, demanding to know what the matter was.
People often assumed he enjoyed wearing these suits, but they could not have been more wrong. He found them uncomfortable and constrictive and some days he thought he would like nothing better then to build a fire and burn them all down to ashes. Unfortunately however, the suits played a vital part in keeping up the farce that passed for his life and he knew it would be stupid to get rid of them.
The reason he took such care with his self-presentation in the mornings was only one of a number of defense mechanisms he had put in place against the outside world. To continue working at the CBI, he must never let them guess exactly what a fragile headspace he was in. Lingering somewhere between reasonable and insanity, he regarded his true state of mind like a precious jewel, to be protected at all costs. In the space of a day, he could be so sad that he felt like he wanted to drown himself, so angry he sometimes thought he might actually kill the next person to enter his line of sight, and occasionally so empty and hopeless that he felt that he wasn't even living anymore, but merely existing.
Of course if anyone at the CBI ever figured that out, he could say goodbye to his job and hello to another round of psychiatric evaluations, straightjackets and locked rooms and he had sworn to himself that he would never, ever go through that again. Once had been more than enough. Thank heavens for Sophie Miller, who he had been able to bamboozle into agreeing to his release. It was amazing how easily a woman, even a doctor like her, could fall victim to a smile and carefully worded responses to the control questions she had asked. Admittedly, it had all taken longer then he'd thought it would, but he'd done it in the end.
The second he'd left the facility where he had spent six miserable months, he vowed to never lose control like that again. He knew that on the inside he would always been torn up and conflicted, but on the outside he knew he must be cool, calm and collected. The first thing he'd done that day was to go to a tailor and commission a three-piece suit, coincidentally, the one he was wearing right now.
And so now every morning, he spent a good twenty minutes or so carefully putting on his disguise, perfecting every last detail, ready for another day of playacting at the CBI. It was said that it was impossible to live a lie forever, and that eventually the truth would always come out, but Jane didn't believe that to be true. He found it was easy as long as the person were prepared to fully commit to it, never get lazy, and always keep their guard up, conditions he had readily accepted.
The sun was almost fully up by now and he figured he should be getting to work so he could be in place on his couch by the time the rest of the team arrived.
Jane returned to the dark, empty house exhausted as always. He'd managed to squeeze in a quick catnap before Lisbon got there in the morning, which had sustained him for a while, but by lunch-time, he'd used up the burst of energy and so had spent the rest of the day fighting off wave after wave of tiredness.
Without bothering to get undressed, he collapsed onto the mattress. What he really needed was a solid eight hours of unbroken sleep. He'd been getting by on a few hours here and there at work but he didn't know how much longer he could keep that up.
When he was in this room, his head automatically filled with images of the evil that occurred here. Even though he hadn't witnessed the terrible event, his imagination was more than happy to fill in the blanks for him, presenting every possible scenario in horrific detail.
All night he'd lie there being tortured by his mind and then before he knew it, the sun would be up and he wouldn't have slept a wink.
He had to do something about this. Every day he felt more and more strained and it was only a matter of time before somebody (namely Lisbon) noticed. The first solution that occurred to him was to paint over the smiley-face, but he dismissed that idea immediately. He couldn't simply paint over his past. That smiley-face was a visual reminder of everything he was fighting for, and so he needed to keep it there.
But on the other hand, he couldn't continue his quest for vengeance if he were tired all the time. He needed somewhere he could go where he could relax, and shut his brain off for a few hours. Even though the idea of forgetting about his wife and daughter for even a second made him feel sick to the stomach, he realized that it was a necessary evil, something he had to do if he wanted to get his revenge.
When the solution finally hit him, he hit his head against the wall. The answer was so simple; he could hardly believe it had taken him this long to figure it out.
The next evening he made excuses to stay behind while the rest of the team packed up and left. He settled himself comfortably on the couch and closed his eyes. In the background he could hear ringing telephones and computer keyboards of the staff working back late. The noise was soothing, as it drowned out the screams in his head and he was able, finally, to sleep.
For the next few weeks, he continued to sleep at the CBI, always making sure to wake while it was still dark, so he had time to go home and change. He timed it carefully, arriving back just in time to greet Lisbon as she walked through the door. The arrangement was working well, he was certainly benefitting from the good night's sleep he was getting, and though he wouldn't go so far as to say he was happy with the way things were, he was content.
Lisbon's hand froze in mid-air half way to her apartment door handle. She had forgotten the files she had meant to bring home. In her mind's eye, she saw them neatly stacked on the corner of her desk, right where'd she left them. They needed to be completed and on Hightower's desk by 9am sharp the next morning.
She cursed her own stupidity, and to make matters worse, she couldn't even blame this one on Jane as she normally did. Normally, such oversights were due to him distracting her with a question or some petty jibe he hoped would spark an argument. Sometimes he silently waited for her to come out of her office, and just smiled at her, which she was ashamed to admit served as a better distraction then anything he might say. On this occasion however, he'd been summoned to Hightower's office about something and so hadn't been around when she'd left for the night.
If she got up early enough in the morning, she could get to work early and finish them up then. There was no sense in going back to the office now.
She let herself in, changed, and turned on the television, trying to force herself to relax. She managed to do so for all of five minutes before of course, her thoughts invariably strayed to her paperwork. Most people could easily dismiss their working mindset at the end of the day, but Lisbon had a deep-seated need for professionalism. Even with a tub of ice cream and one of her favourite movies, she couldn't push away the nagging thought that there was unfinished work to be completed. She couldn't stop thinking about it, no matter what she tried, and she knew she'd have no chance of sleeping that night with the paperwork weighing on her mind.
In the end, she resigned herself to what she had always known she was going to do, and reached for her car keys. She'd quickly duck back into the office, get the files, come home, fill them out, and then perhaps she might go to sleep. She retrieved her work clothes and changed back into them, all the while knowing full well that what she was doing was really rather pathetic. It was times like this she wished she had some kind of significant other, who would stop her from doing stupid things like driving back to work in the middle of the night on account of a little paperwork.
Although, she thought as she locked the door behind her, even with the presence of said significant other, she'd probably have done it anyway. It was just the way she was.
Predictably, the CBI building was dark and silent when she reached it, with an eerie kind of stillness. The night guards waved her inside, and she navigated her way to Serious Crimes, turning on as few lights as possible and letting her extensive knowledge of the building guide her through.
When she approached her office, she thought she heard something move, and there was an odd whispering sound like somebody was lurking in the darkness. She continued to her office, and the whispering sound got louder. She noticed it kept a regular pace, and this time she was positive she heard the sound of shifting leather. What could it be?
She peered into the dimness, but as far she could tell, she was alone in the room. Sternly telling herself to stop being so paranoid, she finally made it and retrieved her files. She carefully picked her way across the room, coming to an abrupt halt when she ran into something solid.
She cursed, the sound travelling further in the stillness of night then it would during the day.
"Lisbon?" came a sleepy voice from somewhere below her.
She was so surprised she dropped the files all over the ground.
"Jane?" she asked. "Is that you?"
"The one and only," he answered, quietly. "Why don't you turn a light on so we can see each other properly?"
Lisbon walked over to the nearest desk, and sorted through the objects on it, until her fingers brushed against a plastic switch. She flicked it on, hoping that it was attached to a lamp.
Light flooded the area, and the sudden brightness had them both blinking furiously as their eyes adjusted.
"What are you doing here?" she asked Jane, incredulously.
"Never mind me, what are you doing here? You spend too much time in this office already without adding to it."
She knelt down on the floor and began to gather up the fallen papers. "I had some paperwork I forgot to finish."
And this was so urgent, you dragged yourself back here at" –he glanced at the clock- "almost one am?"
"Hightower wants it ASAP," she said defensively. She picked up the last sheet of paper and stood back up again and as she did so, she took her first proper look at him.
His hair and suit were all rumpled and there was a thin layer of sweat across his brow, but what surprised her most was the horror-stricken look in his eyes as if they beheld some nightmarish creature rather than her. She'd never seen him so unkempt before.
"Have you been home?" she asked him.
He shook his head.
"You've been sleeping here?"
"For how long?"
"Just tonight," he lied. "After Hightower was done grilling me I came and lay down for a minute just to clear my head, and I must have dozed off." He attempted a casual grin, but he could tell by the look in her eyes that she wasn't totally buying it.
"Well you're awake now, why don't you head home and get some proper sleep?" she suggested.
"Or how about you follow your own advice? You look a little worn out yourself."
"Don't change the subject," she said, testily. "This is about you, not me."
"Well I think it's a little hypocritical for you to be passing judgement on my sleeping habits, when yours don't seem to be all that healthy either," he said, pointing at the files she clutched in her hand.
Lisbon was glad for the darkness, so he couldn't see her flush with embarrassment. She had to concede that he did have a point.
"Apology accepted," he grinned, correctly interpreting her silence.
"I did not apologize," she shot back.
"But by not answering, you admitted I was right. That's good enough for me."
"I never said you were right, you just weren't… totally wrong." She was grasping at straws now, and they both knew it.
He chuckled. "You know, it won't kill you to admit you're wrong every now and then," he said. "You might even find it helpful."
"I don't think so."
He sat up, and his face was no longer cast in shadow. The strong beam of light allowed her to notice things she never had before. She saw deep-set lines in his forehead and a kind of fatigue in his eyes. To her great surprise, the seemingly ever-youthful Patrick Jane looked like time had finally caught up with him. But was it really passing time or was it the way he was haunted by his past that made him look that way?
"Jane?" she asked. "If I ask you a question, will you promise to answer it truthfully?"
"Sure, unless the answer is something you won't like, then I'll have to lie," he joshed.
"I'm serious," she said, and the teasing grin faded.
"I'll try," he said. "That's the best I can do."
She nodded, accepting his terms. "How long have you been sleeping at the office?"
He hesitated, and she knew he was debating whether to tell her the truth or not.
"A couple of weeks," he said, and her eyes searched his, looking for any clue that he might be having her on. His eyes were devoid of the gleam they usually got when he was trying to scam her, and the way he kept shifting his feet told her that he was uncomfortable with sharing such a personal piece of information.
She nodded, inwardly marvelling that he had actually taken the question seriously, and hadn't tried to charm or joke his way out of it. This wonderment was also combined with a deep sadness for him, for how terrible must things be at his house that he preferred to be here.
Jane could see that she was dying to ask him why, but was happy that she was able to restrain herself. His head was spinning as he came to terms with what he had just done.
He had allowed her to see a weak spot in his façade, without knowing it he had at some point let his guard down enough to let her worm her way past his defences and into his true soul. He had always thought that there was no possible way for anyone to get into his head, and more importantly, his heart, again, but he found himself proven wrong.
All his efforts the last few years had been for nothing and his careful planning had ultimately found its kryptonite in this woman. This woman with her deep-green, honest eyes that had somehow bewitched him into trusting her, and allowing her to see what kind of person really lay beneath the smiles and magic tricks.
She switched off the lamp and sat down beside him. Now he could no longer see her, but he could still sense her presence and hear her quiet breathing.
"After what happened to my mother, my family all tried to cope with it in different ways," she said, so softly that he had to strain to hear her. "My father struggled to get out of bed all day, and when he did, it was just to drown himself in alcohol. My brothers fought at school, their grades slipped and they were angry all the time. The only times I ever saw them stop fighting was when my father…"
She trailed off for a minute, and Jane imagined just how terrible it must have been to live in the Lisbon house at that point in time.
"It was my job to look after them all," she went on. "I was the one who had to meet with their teachers and pay the bills and come up with a new explanation every time we showed up at the hospital with the same old injuries. I had to lie through my teeth to the doctors and the police, just to try and keep us all together. I had to be everyone's support system and nobody saw the effect it had on me, because I wouldn't let them. I knew if I let myself fall apart, then our family would be finished."
He said nothing, but moved his hand close to hers, not near enough to touch, but enough to show her he was there.
"At night I'd wait until they were all asleep, then I'd put a pillow over my face and scream for hours on end. Some nights, I just sat on my bed and cried but I always spent ages in the morning making sure that my eyes weren't red, so they'd never know what happened. I started wearing heaver make-up so they wouldn't see the bags under my eyes, and worked so hard to make sure my face wouldn't give anything away. I was so sure that I had them all fooled." She paused. "And then my dad passed, and I'll never forget what Tommy said to me at the funeral."
"He said that he and the other two used to sit together in his room and listen to me sobbing. He said they always knew when I had nightmares because they'd hear me whimpering and talking in my sleep. He said the screaming was the worst, and that it sounded like something out of a horror movie."
She sniffled, and he thought he felt her hand inch closer to his.
"They never came in to you?" he asked, surprised that anyone could sit back and listen to someone they loved in such pain, and not want to do something about it.
"No. Though he said they almost did, the first few times."
"Why didn't they?"
"Because they knew it was what I needed. He said they decided that if I only felt comfortable being upset when they weren't around, they didn't want to take that from me. They knew I had to deal with it in my own way."
Silence fell as they both thought about that.
"Look," she said. "I might be way off the mark here, but I think you might be going through something like what I went through right now. And if you need to come here to be able to sleep, I won't judge you or rat you out."
"But you should know that you never had me fooled. I can see right through you, just like my brothers saw through me. I know you're in pain."
He stiffened, but neither confirmed nor denied the accusation.
"Don't worry, I'm not going to start asking questions and sticking my nose in," she assured him. "That's your job."
They both chuckled quietly.
"But I will tell you this. There are people who care about you here, and we've got your back. But you need to start meeting us halfway. We can't help you unless you let us."
Another long silence.
"I'll think about it," he said after a long time.
She reached over and clasped his hand in her own, holding it tight.
"I'm going to go now," she said. "I've got to get this work done, and maybe even get a little sleep myself."
"OK," he said, reluctantly, not making any attempt to separate their joined hands. "Thank you."
She stood up and he unhappily let her hand go.
"See you in the morning," she said.
He heard her footsteps recede as she walked away, leaving him alone in the darkness once more.
As he lay back down on the couch, he thought about the darkness in terms of his own life. The way he lived it now was nothing but inky blackness. She'd given him an opportunity to do something about that.
Did he dare switch on the light?