Stagnation, or the way to keep breathing
Disclaimer: Don't own anything.
Spoiler: up to 2.23 and beyond.
A/N: This is a story I wrote for TLBoss as part of the Summer Secret Santa Challenge over at JF. I found the prompt to be amazingly inspiring and tried to combine other parts of her request into this. Perhaps that's why this oneshot turned into such a mammoth. Anyway, thank you to Grace for being as diligent as always in her editing and to TL for the prompt. I hope you guys enjoy!
Prompt: "Journeys end in lovers meeting." – Feste in Twelfth Night
It's only her second day with the Serious Crimes Unit when her inexperience becomes apparent.
In all actuality, it's nothing that horrible, but the way her boss stares her down, thin lips pressed into an almost frown as she is questioned derisively in the middle of a crowded airport makes it seem as though she has made some egregious error rather than naively checking luggage.
Still, she accepts the reprimand and follows instructions. She's the rookie after all, and that comes with certain expectations, just like she's certain being senior agent has its protocol.
She will learn soon that no one takes more stock in rules than her boss. However, on that particular afternoon as she organizes the team's workspace in the local sheriff's department, she wonders petulantly if Teresa Lisbon ever sports any facial expression other than a scowl or a frown.
Later that day, when Van Pelt meets Patrick Jane for the first time, she realizes that her boss is in fact capable of a variety of facial expressions.
After her initial mistake, she tries so hard to please; it blinds her to everything, including Rigsby's attraction to her. Jane uses this to his advantage, embarrassing them both, but mostly Rigsby. She holds her ground.
She may be young and inexperienced, but she's still a woman and can spot a broken man easily, even one who tries to hide behind magic tricks and sharp wit, while exposing embarrassing facts about others.
Thus, she reiterates her point. It may cement her rookie position on the team even further, since no one else seems keen on disputing Jane on matters of communicating with the dead, but she doesn't mind.
Her blindness lifts a little after that case, and a few days later, she learns that Lisbon is also capable of smiling. She doesn't miss the way her boss carefully deposits the origami animal into her briefcase, and Van Pelt definitely doesn't miss the flicker of affection in Jane's eyes.
She quickly learns that this isn't an uncommon occurrence.
It may be the romantic in her, but that initial exchange makes her smile. It also makes her understand her boss a little better.
Everyone has a weakness.
For Teresa Lisbon, it's Patrick Jane.
Over time, she warms up to Jane.
He seems to take pleasure in entertaining her with little tricks, such as reading her body language to find where she hid the van keys and occasionally arguing with her about her cousin Yolanda's clairvoyant abilities.
She defends her position even when there's little reason to. She'll never change his mind, she doesn't even want to. He may think her naïve, but there's a playful side about him that piques her interest. In short, she's never met anyone like him, in spite of his past tragedy, and he actually kind of fascinates her.
She knows by now at the very least that Jane is amused by her, probably because he finds her an easy target. She's okay with that, mostly because it helps her grow a thicker skin, something invaluable in her line of work.
While Jane and she form an easy friendship, her relationship with her boss is a different story.
It doesn't help that she makes another hasty mistake a couple weeks later, bringing up Lisbon's past after the Tanner interview. She's heard the rumors, understands why the Tanner case hits a little too close to home.
In her vain attempt to show concern, perhaps extend her sympathy, she receives her second reprimand in two weeks. She also succeeds in alienating herself from her boss even further; learns the hard way that Teresa Lisbon does not respond well to pity, even if it's unintended.
Still, she sees how compassionately Lisbon responds to Mr. Tanner, and somehow that's what stays with Van Pelt the longest.
She doesn't fully grasp the extent of Jane's past trauma until they meet Kristina Frye.
The way she turns to Lisbon and says, "you've got your work cut out for you," amuses Van Pelt because if Jane doesn't believe in her psychic abilities, Frye's words could force him to confront the possibility that he's a little more transparent than he thinks he is.
Make him acknowledge that he's not simply a consultant, but rather a member of their team, Lisbon's team, whatever that implies.
Of course, in true Jane fashion, he stubbornly refuses to accept that Frye could actually possess any clairvoyant powers. He launches a personal campaign to prove that she's a fraud and is in fact responsible for the murder, even if all the evidence is highly circumstantial and she had willingly let them question her time and again.
Van Pelt at least partially understands why Jane is so hell bent on exposing Frye. She knows deep down it's because admitting that psychics exist discredits his steadfast cynicism, his lack of a belief in the afterlife, and destroys any justification he may have for his actions.
After all, if there is some way to communicate with the dead, that means his family can see him now, and even though he's on this quest to avenge their deaths, the search is really for him. A way to stay sane, a way not to grieve for them but to suppress his grief, channeling his anger and hurt elsewhere.
Is that something he really wants them to know?
His teasing irks her a little too much at one point, and she calls him on it, a rare, spontaneous outpouring of her beliefs. In retrospect, she realizes that she uses his own technique against him, rubbing salt on an already gaping wound.
She apologizes quickly, but she can see the damage in his eyes, even when he smiles. The guilty feeling lingers for days after, and when she notices the slight shake of his shoulders in that conference room, she doesn't make the same mistake she did with Lisbon, doesn't try to extend any sympathy or show compassion.
She simply shuts the door and retreats back to the bullpen, resuming her work post.
A few minutes later, Lisbon walks in, thumbing through paperwork before depositing it onto her desk with instructions. Jane strides passed them and grabs his blazer, intent on leaving.
Lisbon stops him on his way out, a tentative touch on his shoulder.
He lies, but even so, Van Pelt doesn't miss the flicker of gratitude in his eye.
And it's strange, but she has a flash of Jane watching Lisbon after her exchange with Mr. Tanner so many weeks ago and the same surge of warmth returns.
She turns away from them and smiles.
She's not sure what she interrupts when she barges into Lisbon's office unannounced, but being the consummate professional that her boss is, Lisbon immediately follows her outside.
The brunette is eager to get any information she can on the animal rights activists harassing Sophie Miller and her colleagues.
Still, Van Pelt doesn't miss the look Lisbon throws Jane over her shoulder… or the way his gaze lingers on her as she walks away.
Van Pelt decides she'll start knocking more often.
Her attraction to Rigsby grows. She tries her best to deny it though, and maybe that's why she doesn't think twice about accepting Dan's invitation to dinner when he approaches her by the coffee cart.
She doesn't wonder if he has an ulterior motive and just lets herself indulge in the thrill of a new romance. She doesn't get the slight flutter in her chest around Dan that she does around Rigsby, but it's nice to be courted.
Besides, her job is important to her and she really doesn't need to be considered incompetent or worse, have rumors spread about her. Fraternizing among coworkers is strictly forbidden, and she's the junior agent. If anything were to happen, it would be her head on the chopping block.
She can't afford to risk her job, regardless of how much she likes Rigsby.
Therefore, she suppresses her feelings and puts extra effort into getting to know Dan. She's so caught up in the text messages and the phone calls and the tentative touches that she doesn't make the connection. She doesn't even wonder how coincidental it is that she meets the young ambitious lawyer and two weeks later, Jane ends up temporarily blind from a bomb explosion he was supposed to witness.
It's ironic, but with Jane's lack of sight, she reaches a new level of clarity with the consultant and amasses a better understanding of who Jane used to be.
She's not even that flustered when he correctly guesses about her past, not only because she's used to it by now, but also because his is unraveling before them, making him relive what she surmises to be unpleasant memories that he would rather remain hidden.
She can't begrudge him that; she's wanted to bury some demons herself.
She can't help feeling betrayed when Dan reveals his true identity; it's just so frustrating that she was used by this man to get to Jane. Yet even so, something good does come out of the debacle.
Seeing Rigsby alive, if a little beaten up, finally forces her to face the fact that she can't run from her feelings. They're interrupted and nothing happens, but she takes the moment between them and keeps it close to her heart. It gives her hope.
The next morning she arrives to work earlier than usual, a vain attempt to make up for what she considers a poor judgment call.
She's so focused on getting to her computer, getting back into the swing of things, and proving her worth that she narrowly infringes (yet again) on the pair sitting on the brown, battered couch. If it weren't for the unexpected but surprisingly pleasant sound of her boss laughing, she would have had pretty terrible timing.
Instead, she lingers in the hallway for a moment longer. She's too far away to hear what they're saying, but she's close enough to see the way they're smiling at each other.
Jane smiles all the time, so it's harder to decipher when it's genuine, but she has no doubt this particular one, especially paired with how he stares so affectionately at Lisbon as they talk, intimates only warmth and purity, no farce at all.
Lisbon rarely smiles, so it's far easier for Van Pelt to tell that the brunette is truly at ease. Her boss' smile is far more demure but there's something vulnerable about her in this instance.
Perhaps it's the way she has her body angled fully towards Jane, even if she's simply reclining on the armrest.
She's still reserved, still keeps her physical distance from him, but Van Pelt is certain it's only a matter of time until Jane disables all of Lisbon's defenses, until they finally acknowledge what's been brewing beneath the surface long before Van Pelt got there.
It's only a matter of time until the inevitable happens.
But then, Red John happens again, and the memory of Jane and Lisbon talking comfortably on his couch gives way to dead bodies, a crooked Sheriff, and another situation where Red John slips through their fingers…
She's not there when it happens, but the aftermath of the Hardy shooting is felt by everyone in the office.
Only Lisbon would respond with guilt to someone saving her life. Granted, that someone happens to be Jane and in saving her, he has sacrificed his only tangible link to Red John in a very long time, but still. The romantic in Van Pelt bristles when she realizes that instead of bringing these two closer together, the incident actually pushes them further apart.
Jane spends the stifling summer days in quiet contemplation on his couch. With his arms crossed over his chest and his eyes closed, he looks deceptively composed, peaceful, but even Van Pelt knows better.
He's too calm, she thinks, and way too complacent, which usually means something is wrong. If the lack of suspect complaints doesn't intimate a shift in his mood, then his interaction with their boss certainly does.
He's suddenly careful around Lisbon, even mindful of her privacy, which does not seem to bother the senior agent at all. She spends most of her time in the office, blinds drawn and door closed. Unless she absolutely has to come out to debrief the team or give out orders, sometimes they don't see Lisbon for days, which only exacerbates the new awkwardness between her and Jane, in turn putting strain on the team.
Sometimes, Van Pelt finds herself yearning for the days when she, Rigsby, and Cho would have to take another vehicle to a crime scene because the bickering between Jane and Lisbon was too much to handle. Anything is preferable to the tension underlying all their interactions.
It's subtle but present, and Van Pelt begins to wonder if maybe some demons are too difficult to overcome. Maybe for Jane and Lisbon, Red John will always be that invisible barrier.
But then one day, Lisbon comes into work with a new haircut, and Van Pelt doesn't miss the way Jane's eyes appreciatively sweep over her face, giving her a rare but blatant once over. Lisbon is leafing through some mail and doesn't notice Jane until he is standing right besides her.
"You're looking particularly lovely this morning, Lisbon." He says it so nonchalantly; it's almost as if the last three months didn't happen.
Lisbon looks a little shell-shocked for a moment, her eyes narrowed in suspicion.
"Oh c'mon," Jane lets out a dramatic puff of air, an amused smile playing on his lips. "Can't I give you a compliment every once in a while, especially when it's well-deserved."
Her expression softens immediately, head ducking, a barely detectable flush on her cheeks.
"You can," she smiles eventually, not tearing her eyes away from him.
"Good, because I like having the option." Jane replies quietly, meaningfully.
He holds her gaze until Rigsby barrels into the bullpen, announcing between mouthfuls of bagel that they have a case.
They separate immediately, back to their default roles – Lisbon relaying orders to the team and Jane teetering impatiently on his heels as she debriefs them.
Nothing has really changed, and yet everything has.
For the first time in months, Van Pelt begins to feel like eventually things will return to normal, or as normal as they can get in their line of work.
And they do.
It's almost as if spring snaps back into place and when three days later, Cho insists on taking a second vehicle to a homicide in Vallejo, Van Pelt can't help smiling inwardly.
It's a welcomed sight to see Lisbon kicking Jane's couch again to wake him up. Judging by the whimsical smile on the consultant's face as he trails after her, he's missed it too.
Within two weeks of everything falling back into place, their boss finds her past and present colliding unexpectedly when Senior Agent Sam Bosco joins the CBI… and subsequently has the Red John case assigned to him.
Van Pelt doesn't know the particulars of Lisbon's past working experience with the older detective, but she can tell there's history there and if she notices, then Jane definitely notices.
Between that and the Red John case being taken away from him, Jane's behavior becomes more erratic than usual.
His methods become riskier, calling Lisbon's judgment into question when she lets him get away with it. Perhaps that's why, when Lisbon gets accused of murdering McTeer and fails the polygraph, Van Pelt's stalwart loyalty is shaken just a little; a tiny seed of doubt planted about her boss's innocence.
Cho and Rigsby entertain the same thoughts, but Jane is a little less clear in his opinion. They meet at a café a few blocks from the office. It feels somehow wrong to be discussing their boss like this but they do so anyway, and despite him maintaining his composure (as he usually does), Van Pelt doesn't miss the worry creased into Jane's forehead.
She quickly realizes that his concern isn't for Lisbon's innocence (he knows she didn't do it); rather, he's uncomfortable with not knowing the rest of the puzzle. If Lisbon didn't do it, who did?
At the end of it all, Van Pelt feels insurmountable guilt for doubting her boss, but the realization that for once Jane was the one to get Lisbon out of a sticky situation is a pleasant surprise.
She doesn't mean to be so invested in their interaction, but sometimes focusing on other people is easier than facing your own feelings.
Summer quickly turns into fall; the first orange leaves gather on the sidewalk. In Iowa, the seasons are more distinct, but even here in California, autumn takes a hold of the city, seizing it with a venerable strength, leaving the trees bare, the breeze slightly cooler, and the smell of rain in the air.
The weather brings in cold, seeping the last vestiges of heat left over from the summer, but the warmth inside her grows, manifesting into something she fights harder and harder to suppress every time she catches Wayne staring at her.
He's becoming more subtle, confident in his action towards her. She's not sure if she's falling into the cliché by finding him more attractive now than ever, but it seems to work, because one night she gives in.
Granted, he makes the first move as they case the haunted mansion, but if it were to happen a year ago, she would have fought it. Now it's different, and pretty soon she finds herself doing exactly what she vowed not to when she joined the unit.
Luckily, Lisbon seems too wrapped up in her own personal entanglements to notice the change in the rookie's relationship with Wayne.
Van Pelt doesn't blame her. Whenever Bosco and Jane are in a room together, it becomes a war zone. The animosity between the two men is potent, and it doesn't help that the latter stands for everything the former hates. Not to mention, they each have what the other wants.
Bosco can't come to terms with Lisbon tolerating Jane, and Jane can't handle the fact that Red John is no longer theirs (his). Things nearly boil over when Bosco arrests Jane in the middle of a busy work day because the consultant bugged his office.
Even Van Pelt finds the idea of Jane in prison comical, but she can see the strain it puts on Lisbon, especially with everyone's constant pressure, telling her she has the power to put a stop to it. Bosco will easily bend to her will because he's in love with her.
Lisbon resists, and a little while later it's not even necessary anymore when Jane, the ever-resourceful individual that he is, frees himself from prison and manages to solve their pending case all in the span of just a few hours.
Still, Van Pelt knows Lisbon said something to her former mentor because Bosco doesn't press charges. Though his dislike for the consultant only grows, Lisbon manages to control the situation, mostly because now that subterfuge has failed him, Jane attempts to appeal to Boscov's sense of justice and order…well as best as Jane can.
It seems to work, and at the end of their joint case, everyone lets out a collective sigh of relief when Bosco gives Jane limited access to the Red John file.
For the first time in weeks, Lisbon is smiling, and it's not hard to notice that a lot of it probably has to do with having Bosco back in her life. In just a few days, Van Pelt notices their routine.
Bosco comes by after the work day is over, and he and Lisbon talk for a few minutes. It's very brief, and they leave the office door open but Van Pelt can't help getting pulled in by the low laughter emitting from there.
One night, she's working late. Wayne has a basketball game planned with some buddies from the gym. So she stays longer than usual, completing some overdue reports from a homicide they worked a little over five days ago.
Jane naps peacefully on his couch but at some point, he wakes and rises, stretching leisurely as he looks around.
"Everyone's gone for the night." She answers his unspoken question without looking up from the computer screen.
She doesn't anticipate the silence that follows and turns around to find Jane staring in the direction of Lisbon's office, his entire demeanor reflecting displeasure.
He must notice her staring because he turns to her immediately; a weak attempt to conceal his discontent with a smile.
"Not everyone," He murmurs after a moment, eyes flickering to the floor in a rare unguarded moment. Then he's suddenly up and retrieving his blazer.
He bids her a cheerful goodbye, but the way he pauses just outside Lisbon's door before ultimately continuing down the hall doesn't evade her.
Well good, Van Pelt thinks as she closes up for the night.
Maybe realizing that Lisbon isn't completely his will force Jane to get his bearings in order and reevaluate what's important to him, rather than have him maniacally obsessing over seeking revenge.
A couple of weeks later, Van Pelt realizes her thoughts on the issue are obsolete, considering that one morning, the ritual between Bosco and Lisbon comes to an abrupt close, courtesy of Red John.
After Bosco's death and Minelli's resignation, Van Pelt wonders not for the first time how it's possible that everything can fall so easily back into place.
She sees death every day, understands that the world keeps moving, people keep living, money continues to be made, and children continue to be born; however, when it's personal, all rationale ceases to exist. Nothing makes sense anymore, especially the sheer resilience of her work place.
These walls that have been so violently infiltrated continue to stand, and everywhere around her people still mill about, sometimes smiling, joking, continuing to protect even in the wake of such a ruthless tragedy.
Still, she also knows that the change is in the detail. In the front lobby, another four plaques have been added to the "Wall of Honor," and nearly everyone on their floor, subconsciously or not, sidesteps Bosco's office as they round the corner. The wound is raw, even if no one will verbally acknowledge it.
And of everyone trying to move forward, Lisbon is the one pushing the hardest. Although it's clear from the lingering sadness in her eyes, the tension in her shoulders, and her shorter temper that the senior agent isn't facing her grief, she is simply trying to ignore it.
They discuss it only once over case closed Chinese. They're all teasing Jane about being decked in the head with a baseball when Lisbon, having silently picked at her noodles for the last half hour, decides to call it a night and excuses herself.
She doesn't go very far. Shuts her office door and draws the blinds, the faint sound of typing fills the silence at the table a few moments later.
Jane stares in the direction of Lisbon's office for a few minutes, a flicker of concern in his gaze. Van Pelt picks up on it, and still the words feel foreign coming from her.
"She's not coping well."
Surprise registers even on Cho's face at her admission, making her uncomfortable, but she keeps a straight face, resolved not to apologize for voicing her concern.
"Just give her time," Jane says, unexpectedly calm. He isn't looking at her as he speaks, gaze directed towards Lisbon's office, "she'll be okay."
He leaves the table then, politely but weakly feigning fatigue.
She has no doubt that he waits at the office until Lisbon goes home.
Van Pelt is not sure what changes after that, but over the next few months, Jane seems to try everything in his power to rid Lisbon of the gloom that seems to follow her around like a cloud. His antics are nothing short of amusing, and sometimes his schemes unintentionally distract their boss from her melancholy.
Whether he's getting himself kidnapped or forcing Lisbon into a date with a wealthy thrill seeker, she believes Jane's wholehearted attempt to cheer their boss up is actually working. It's obvious that though the grief still weighs her down, it's lessened now and Lisbon seems more relaxed than she's been in weeks.
One day, when Lisbon emerges from her office with a rare smile on her face and actually stops by the bullpen to ask if anyone would want anything from the coffee cart downstairs, Van Pelt can't help being surprised by the senior agent's consideration.
Unconsciously, she throws a surprised look at Rigsby, who wiggles his eyebrows in response.
Later, when Lisbon suggests they get out early if they want since they're in between cases and she has a deposition to go to, Rigsby perches himself on her desk and between bites of an apple says, "someone got lucky last night."
Van Pelt glares at him, annoyed. Sometimes her boyfriend has no tact.
She's about to tell him so, when she hears a snort behind her.
"What's so amusing?" Rigsby asks, still chomping on the fruit.
"Nothing," Jane shrugs, folding another page of his newspaper leisurely, "it's just amazing how much a ride in a fast car and a nice meal can reinvigorate a woman enough to lead her coworkers to draw erroneous conclusions about her after hours activities."
"Are you saying that you took Lisbon out for dinner last night and that's why she's in such a good mood?" She asks, eyebrow raised unintentionally.
"Yes, I did. Friends do that you know." Jane deadpans, a flicker of justification in his otherwise nonchalant expression.
"Right, friends." Van Pelt murmurs under her breath before turning back to her desk and shooting Rigsby a smirk.
Alas, Jane hears her and folds the newspaper, rising off the couch to come closer to them, an almost predatory look in his eye, the kind he gets when he's about to expose a suspect.
"I wouldn't be making assumptions if I were you, Grace, considering I'm not the one in the midst of a forbidden love affair with a colleague."
The reaction is instantaneous as Rigsby nearly chokes on his apple while she blushes bright red in spite of herself. Jane, feeling extremely self-assured, excuses himself to go make tea.
The rest of the team may know about them, but that doesn't mean they can flaunt it. Lisbon has chosen to turn a blind eye to it, but they shouldn't abuse the privilege.
It's still against the rules.
Jane eventually comes back with his blue cup and saucer in hand, and Rigsby quickly returns to his desk, distracting himself with budget reports. The consultant winks at her as he passes by, but Van Pelt can't help smirking privately.
At this point, the redhead just can't figure out whether Jane knows about his feelings or if he's in just as much denial about them as Lisbon seems to be about hers.
She's not sure what hurts more, the actual end of her relationship with Wayne or realizing that while he was willing to make a major career altering decision for her, she was not willing to do the same.
Either way, she can't stop the tears, even though they make her feel impossibly worse, more vulnerable, embarrassed. When the one person she doesn't want seeing her like this ends up in the elevator with her, Van Pelt thinks this is the beginning of her penance for misleading Rigsby for so long.
She can sense Lisbon's awkwardness even through her sympathetic green eyes, and that's precisely why she's completely taken aback when the older woman calls after her in the parking lot, asking if she has any plans for the night.
Van Pelt can tell Lisbon is nervous, probably more so than she's letting on, and it makes her realize yet again that Madeleine Hightower's arrival hasn't just forced her and Rigsby to question and ultimately terminate their relationship. It has also completely thrown their team's whole balance off, starting mainly with the way things operate between Jane and Lisbon.
To say her boss has been under fire lately is a gross understatement, so when Lisbon suggests they go to the bar around the corner, Van Pelt agrees with little hesitation.
"One drink never hurt anyone," Lisbon explains her reasoning as they enter the noisy waterhole, "besides, way less calories than a tub of Cherry Garcia."
"True," Van Pelt consents through a diluted smile, taking her seat at the bar.
Lisbon orders them two whiskeys, and turns to Van Pelt after the bartender walks away.
"You're going to be okay. You know that right?"
The concern in Lisbon's eye is nearly overwhelming. Van Pelt isn't used to her boss wearing her heart on her sleeve like that, letting her emotions shine through and if anything it warms her from within, reminding her that she has good people around her if she ever needs them.
She also feels a twinge of guilt.
"I'm sorry." The apology is quiet, rueful, made while staring at the beat up maple wood edge of the counter.
"For what?" Lisbon narrows her eyes, clearly surprised.
"For making my relationship with Wayne your problem. We should have never told you; it made you look incompetent in front of Hightower, and that's the last thing you need right now."
The senior agent stares at her for a long time, chewing only slightly on her lower lip as she contemplates. The drinks arrive; lowball glasses, auburn liquid, the smell inebriating all on its own. Lisbon picks one up, tips it to her lips. Van Pelt doesn't miss the slight wince in her expression.
"Trust me, if it weren't you and Rigsby, she would have found something else to hold over my head."
Van Pelt grimaces a little as she takes a sip. The alcohol burns, but it also warms her. The duality is nice, soothing.
"However, that doesn't mean I'll be as understanding next time." Lisbon adds warningly but there's a glint in her side glance that belies the severity of her words.
"Duly noted, boss." Van Pelt assures, if only to quell the regret rising in her once again. Lisbon invariably picks up on the younger woman's discomfort and changes the subject.
The conversation steers away from anything too personal, touching on topics like their latest case, yoga, and books.
In the two years they've worked together, she's never felt particularly close to her superior; however, something shifts in that conversation, humanizing the strong willed detective, making her seem more approachable, warm, like Van Pelt imagines Lisbon would be if she let her guard down more often.
Yet knowing Lisbon's past and the struggles in her present, Van Pelt understands why her boss is so reluctant to open up, to bridge the gap between being just a colleague and becoming a friend. Her leadership is being questioned constantly; her credibility dubious at best, especially with her reluctance to transfer Jane to another team. The evidence of her strain is displayed on her face.
"For what it's worth, boss, I don't think Jane would ever let himself get you fired." She says at some point, alcohol acting as her liquid courage. This is dangerous territory she's about to cross.
She notices that whereas her glass is nearly drained, Lisbon has barely touched hers.
"I wouldn't be so sure," the brunette replies bitterly, taking her biggest sip yet.
"He cares about you too much," Van Pelt says quietly, carefully, watching the amber liquid swirl in her glass.
"Jane cares about himself more than anyone else, myself included." Lisbon counters boldly, unafraid to state her opinion, but even through the confidence in her words, Van Pelt senses a hint of disappointment, despair, as if she wished it weren't true.
She's not sure how to respond to that, considering how convinced the brunette is of her admission, so she doesn't, instead deciding to keep her opinion to herself.
However, later when she comes back from the restroom to find that Lisbon is not alone, she glances knowingly at the older woman, as if to say "I told you so". In turn, Lisbon rolls her eyes and takes another hefty pull of the whiskey.
"Feeling better, Grace?" Jane asks smilingly, stealing a side glance at Lisbon.
"Much," Van Pelt nods, swinging her purse over her shoulder, "I think I'm going to head out."
"Okay," Lisbon agrees, taking a couple bills from her wallet, but the redhead stops her.
"No, you guys stay. It's early."
"We have work tomorrow." The brunette tries to protest, but Van Pelt stands her ground. It helps that Jane seems to support the idea.
"C'mon Lisbon, if you protest anymore I may start to take it personally."
Lisbon huffs in response, "we wouldn't want that to happen, now would we?"
"Most certainly not," Jane says almost flirtatiously, an impish smile on his face as he mounts the stool besides her. Lisbon shakes her head at his enthusiasm as she takes another drink.
Despite the mess that is her love life, when Van Pelt notices the way Jane's hand falls unconsciously to Lisbon's back, his gaze warmly settling on her face, the redhead smiles.
Its high time Jane rectifies Lisbon's misconceptions about how important she is to him.
Except it's not that easy, nothing really ever is when Red John is involved.
Her own guilt over letting Kristina Frye get away (or get kidnapped) fades over time, but the fallout from Jane's encounter with his arch nemesis remains.
Lisbon is convinced that Jane is lying about what happened between him and the masked murderer; she lets it slip during a particularly heated argument with him. Van Pelt walks into the bullpen just as Lisbon says it, to find Jane staring silently but coldly at her, tension sizzling between them. He looks like he's about to say something, but doesn't. Instead, he simply walks out.
That incident encapsulates the interaction between the consultant and their boss for the next few months. It's almost like the aftermath of the Hardy shooting, only worse. This time Lisbon doesn't feel guilt but anger and possibly betrayal, while Jane tries hard to pretend nothing is wrong, even though he's blatantly retreating, pulling away from all of them. He starts spending less time on his couch, going to fewer crime scenes and assisting with fewer cases.
Lisbon's suspicion grows, even as she and the consultant grow further apart.
There are days when they don't even speak.
Perhaps that's why Van Pelt is surprised when she learns that Lisbon called in a favor with the local PD to have someone tail Jane.
Still, she shouldn't be.
By now, she should know that some bonds not even Red John can break.
And nothing is ever as it seems.
She shoots because there's no reason not to.
Jane may be armed, but the man wielding the knife has killed over 15 women, Jane's wife and daughter included. She knows there's no way he can anticipate her move: he is too enraptured by the sight of Lisbon trying in vain to conceal her inner struggle as she pleads with Jane to put his own knife down.
The consultant keeps his steely cerulean gaze on the man in front of him, but eventually his resolve weakens, and all it takes is a single glance in Lisbon's direction for his nemesis to launch himself.
Van Pelt shoots.
She doesn't miss.
The fatal shot to the back of the head causes Red John to fall forward, face first to the floor, right by Jane's feet. She finds a sort of poetic justice in this. Jane's gaze flickers momentarily at her, blue eyes shrouded in disbelief, as if he cannot comprehend that it is all over. The knife slips from his grasp almost without his knowledge.
"I told you to cover the back." Lisbon finally speaks, recovering from the shock as well as she leans down by the body, checking the pulse.
Van Pelt walks up to her, securing her weapon in her holster, before kneeling to Lisbon's level.
"I did." She says quietly, stares tellingly at her boss.
Lisbon's face softens, offering a very small, reserved smile, before her eyes cloud over with worry as she looks up at Jane.
"He's dead." She says, the relief in her voice regrettable but apparent.
Jane gives her an imperceptible nod, doesn't look away.
Van Pelt feels like she's infringing on a private moment and steps aside to call for the ME. Her eyes scan the ancient barn, wondering for the first time if Jane managed to find Red John here, or whether the masked killer lured the consultant here under the pretense of ending this game of cat and mouse for good.
Then, she realizes she really doesn't care about anything other than the outcome.
When they first arrived, Lisbon told her to case the outside, cover the back.
She was never supposed to be in that room.
It's the first order she intentionally disobeys.
All she feels is relief.
With the boys still on retainer with Organized Crimes and Jane on mandatory three-week leave, it's ridiculously quiet in the bullpen lately, especially after hours.
They have no pending cases for the time being, so most of her job revolves around catch up. This doesn't require working overtime, but for some reason she can't make herself leave the office until Lisbon does.
That's how Van Pelt finds herself staring at the computer screen without actually seeing anything. Eyes unfocused, mind elsewhere, the rest of the bullpen shrouded in darkness.
It's only when she looks over the rim of her computer that she notices Lisbon emerge from her office, looking tired but determined.
"I'm not even going to ask what you're still doing here at such an ungodly hour, but since you are here..." Lisbon's voice trails off as she approaches the desk, lip curved into a smirk the only indication that she's just teasing.
"Are you hungry?" She asks, catching Van Pelt completely off guard.
Despite being the only two of the unit present, their recent conversations have all been work related and few and far in between; the way Lisbon stands, green eyes expectantly focused on her makes the redhead think she'd like to change that.
"Starved, actually. What did you have in mind, boss?"
"First of all, I think you can at least call me Lisbon at this time of the night, and second of all, I was thinking we'd order something the boys usually complain about."
Thirty minutes later, as she bites into a spicy tuna roll, Van Pelt can't help relaying her amusement.
"I can't believe this place even delivers so late at night."
"They don't," Lisbon says mischievously as she dips a piece of sashimi into soy sauce, "but they make an exception for their loyal customers in law enforcement."
She admits this with a wink, and Van Pelt can't help smiling at her. The change is barely noticeable, but it's there if you look hard enough. Her boss looks lighter somehow, a far cry from how she has been recently.
"You know I never thanked you." Lisbon says after a few moments.
"For what?" Van Pelt asks, placing her chop sticks down.
She's pretty certain she knows where this is going, and she's not sure how she feels about it.
Lisbon, however, looks perfectly calm; it seems as if nothing, not even the direction of this conversation can put a damper on her recently unburdened spirit.
"For taking that shot, Grace. For disobeying my order."
There's an air of gratitude about her that makes Van Pelt slightly uncomfortable. She can't even imagine the situation if it had turned out differently, if she hadn't been there…
If she had listened to Lisbon's instruction, Jane would likely be wounded, maybe fatally. Even an expert marksman like the senior agent would not have been able to shoot before the inevitable occurred.
Judging by her expression, Lisbon knows this all too well.
"It's no problem, boss. You don't have to thank me for going against your call." She jokes lightly, but Lisbon fixes her with a heavy stare.
"I'm serious, Grace." She says softly, obviously struggling with her words. It reminds Van Pelt that the older woman has always had a hard time expressing her feelings, trusting people with her thoughts and emotions; the fact that she's trying to do so now is only testament to how much the incident affected her.
"If you hadn't been there," Her voice trails off. She looks away for a moment, eyes cast down.
Impulsively, Van Pelt leans across the desk, pressing her hand gently on Lisbon's shoulder. The woman looks startled for a moment, but the expression is immediately allayed, almost relaxed.
"He wouldn't have gotten away," She offers meekly.
They both know it's not true, but it feels appropriate to forgo honesty in favor of cold comfort.
"Maybe not," Lisbon sighs, "but it could have been much worse. I just wanted you to know that I am grateful that you had my back, so to speak."
"Always," Van Pelt nods, hoping her boss understands that despite her occasional foolishness in the past, especially how she and Rigsby handled their relationship, she won't repeat the same mistake again. She understands now that it's more than just respect for her superior.
The woman sitting across from her is now more than just her boss, maybe a friend even.
The air between them is suddenly laden with unspoken words, but eventually it dissipates. They're about to recommence eating when the sound of a cell phone vibrating breaks the silence in the room.
It's Lisbon's Blackberry.
Van Pelt can't see who the caller is, but when a very different smile graces boss's face, she has her suspicions.
She knows that smile, remembers it from her very first case with the SCU.
There's only one person who can elicit such a reaction from her boss.
One Sunday, her suspicions about the identity of Lisbon's mystery caller are confirmed.
She ventures into a coffee shop after a long day of shopping to catch a glimpse of her boss and their consultant tucked away at a secluded table in the back.
They're sitting close to each other, smiling and talking quietly, completely oblivious to everything around them.
She decides not to risk intruding on their moment and happily buys a lukewarm cappuccino from the Starbucks down the street.
It's a rare weekend when the CBI feels practically deserted, but that's how she finds it on this early Saturday afternoon, her sneakers squeaking against the polished floor as she walks down the hall.
She has a date later tonight.
A guy she met at a friend's housewarming party last week.
He seemed intelligent, funny, and was definitely good looking.
When he told her he was an architect, she liked him even more.
She's staying away from men in law enforcement. They haven't really worked out for her in the past.
Earlier that morning, she realized the jacket she wants to wear tonight is sitting as a spare in her locker at work, and that's why she's back here, the last place she wants to be after the hectic couple of months they've had.
She's completely determined to get to the lockers, grab what she needs, and leave, but the sound of rummaging and movement in the bullpen piques her curiosity. She makes a detour by her desk, only to find Jane buried in the corner of the room, boxes full of reminders of his past covering the desk he rarely uses, the couch he uses too much, and the rest of the floor around them.
He's dressed casually - no vest or suit to speak of, which is a little strange in of itself - but add to that the manual labor he's doing, and Van Pelt can't wipe the amused smirk from her face as she walks up to the desk.
"Grace, what a pleasant surprise," He says, shooting her a smile over his shoulder as he debates between the two CDs in his hands.
"Hey, what are you doing here?" She asks, eyes scanning the books piled on top of his desk.
"Could ask you the same thing," Jane finally turns around, grin stretching wider on his face as he tosses one CD aside. "Shouldn't you be primping for your date tonight? I believe the female ritual of preparation begins long before the male even contemplates which shirt to wear or what flowers to buy."
He stares at her expectantly this time, as amused and self-assured as always.
"How did you-…" she gives up midway, uncertain whether she wants to know how he comes by his information.
Instead, she probes him further, "so what are you doing with all this?"
"Oh, nothing. Just some spring cleaning. With a new year soon upon us, it felt appropriate to finally get rid of some of this junk."
He continues on with his task, following some mental organization perhaps. She feels a twinge of discomfort at the realization that maybe there's some symbolism behind his sudden desire to remove traces of his past from storage. After all, these boxes have been here for probably as long as he's been consulting with the CBI.
The timing unsettles her, and there's a sudden weight in her chest, reminding her of the questions looming over her for the last four months. She has to know.
"So you're not planning on leaving or anything?"
Jane looks at her with a hint of surprise.
"You always sort of implied that after…" her voice trails off. Even though the case has long since been closed, she can't refer to it without the taste of bile rising in her throat, "you wouldn't have any reason to consult anymore."
Jane's expression softens with understanding, a small smile on his lips as he steps closer to her, "you have no reason to feel guilty, Grace. You did your job."
He blindsides her, but after years of working with him, Van Pelt feels almost immune to his spontaneity.
"I know," She says resolutely, "I don't have any regrets about it, Jane. I just hope you don't either."
She stares at him head on as she speaks, hoping he won't take offense and unexpectedly, he doesn't. His smile merely grows.
"There are some things I would have wished to be done differently, but I have to say, being alive feels very good, and I do owe that to you. I'm sorry if my gratitude hasn't been very forthright. I hope you know I do appreciate you saving me from being stabbed to death."
He leans over the desk and squeezes her shoulder lightly; his relaxed, jovial expression almost contradicts the gravity of his words and the genuine appreciation in his eyes.
She's a little caught off guard by how casual his tone is, how he speaks about that night without even the slightest tinge of regret. It has been four months, but it cannot possibly compare to the seven years he spent wishing for revenge, so she's almost inclined to believe that he's just doing a fantastic job covering how he truly feels about it.
Still, something about Jane in this moment seems to convey honesty, and she can't imagine that such true sincerity can be faked, even if it's Jane. She realizes very quickly that he seems more peaceful now, less weight trailing behind his words. She means to tell him so when the sound of approaching footsteps breaks her concentration.
"Hey, you ready to go?"
Lisbon must not initially notice Van Pelt standing there, because her inquiry is obviously directed to Jane as she leafs through a stack of papers in her hands.
A very different look crosses Jane's face as the brunette walks in, but before Van Pelt has a chance to decipher it, her boss finally realizes she's there, a mixture of surprise and slight unease evident in her demeanor.
"Oh hi, Grace. What are you doing here?"
"She has a date later tonight and realized she left her favorite jacket at work. It's the only one that matches the new boots she bought, so she had to make the unfortunate trip to work today."
Jane answers for her, and as if on cue, both women roll their eyes, exchanging annoyed smiles with each other.
"Well, now that Grace has cleared up her reason for being here…" Lisbon's voice trails off as Jane chuckles to himself, "are you almost done?"
Jane stands contemplating for a few moments, clearly not finished but in no hurry.
"Well, there's work to be done, but I am starved."
"Which obviously takes precedence." Lisbon finishes sarcastically, glancing at Van Pelt amusedly from the corner of her eye.
"Glad you agree." Jane flashes Lisbon a megawatt smile before lifting a small box under his arm and walking over to her.
"Have a good time tonight, Grace." Lisbon says before she and Jane walk out of the bullpen.
"Don't refuse him a second date, he'll improve." Jane advises, before attempting to throw his arm around Lisbon's shoulder.
Expectedly, she shrugs it off, instead handing him the stack of files and walking a little ahead. Jane looks over his shoulder and winks, mouthing "stubborn woman," as he disappears around the corner.
Van Pelt stands for a few minutes in amusement as the bullpen quiets down again, until her eyes fall unconsciously to the stack of books sitting on Jane's desk.
The top one is a collection of Shakespeare's works. She absolutely adored studying Shakespeare in high school and college; she has a similar volume at home. The print is faded and the paper is smudged, creased on the edges from both sides, implying that the book has been read quite often.
She traces the elegant black leather spine before flipping the book open to a random page. She finds herself in the middle of Twelfth Night Act II, Scene III. She's more than familiar with the comedy, having performed it in high school and later studied it in college. One particular passage catches her eye, only because it's forever intrigued her.
She's a romantic at heart and isn't ashamed to admit it. However, that's not why she disagrees with the court jester in this specific scene. He's making fun of love, entertaining his masters with easy rhymes that provide nothing but a vain understanding of what struggles one must overcome in order to reach his most beloved.
Reality doesn't work like that.
More often than not, the real journey for lovers ends not when they meet each other, but when they realize that they are meant for one another.
Her boss and their unruly consultant are living proof of that.