In my other multi-chapter stories, I've woven Jane and Lisbon's relationship around a single criminal investigation. I went for different approach in this one. We'll see how it goes.

I do not own any part of "The Mentalist" or its characters.

A MIDWINTER'S TALE

1. NOT HOW THEY WERE

He had called her on Sunday.

It wasn't like him to do it—it's not how they were. But she had looked so dejected when she left on Friday. She had told him she knew she would lose her job over him when she had signed on to work with him. By then she was the only unit leader who would. But when one of his stunts had gotten her suspended for this second time, he knew it had hurt her. Just because you see the train coming doesn't mean you won't feel the impact.

He was fairly certain Hightower operated under the three-strike rule. Things had gotten better between Lisbon and her boss since he had embroiled them both in his schemes a few times. He thought if Hightower had a taste of it she might ease off. But bringing her a little too close to the precipice had only heightened her sense of self preservation. She didn't want Jane kept in line just for the sake of the bureau anymore. It was much more personal. He could tell she liked Lisbon. He could tell she even liked him. But Madeleine had established her priorities long before she had come to the CBI. If Lisbon's job had to be lost to protect her own professional agenda, then so be it. He had started to feel as if his own golden self was showing a bit of tarnish now that Hightower had seen firsthand that the metal wasn't entirely pure, entirely precious.

In spite of Lisbon's one-time plea for him not to shut himself off from the team, he had kept up the pretense of not wanting to be close to them. He cloistered himself in his well-deserved purgatory in the attic, rarely partook of closed case pizza, never did magic tricks in the bullpen anymore. But Lisbon, bless her, had forged ahead, acting like it wasn't happening. She wasn't in denial. She just plunged headlong into making him be part of their family. She didn't lecture him anymore. She just wouldn't leave him alone. In spite of his having tried for months to separate himself from her and the team physically and emotionally, the look on her face when she left on Friday after the dressing down from Hightower had pierced him through. He didn't remember ever having such a strong physical reaction to someone else's hurt.

So, he had called her on Sunday. He wasn't surprised when she didn't pick up the first two times, but when by afternoon she was still ignoring his calls, he knew something was wrong. No matter how angry or hurting, she would never withhold herself from him to that extent. He drove to her apartment, noting her car parked in her assigned drive. The complex was peaceful, everyone inside, probably cozying up to watch movies and enjoy hot chocolate to ward of the chill of the wet, mid-winter's day. Californians were very thin skinned when it came to their weather. They'd never survive a Midwestern winter.

He walked along the manicured path feeling somewhat unsettled, uncomfortably aware that he felt at loose ends because he couldn't contact her. He wasn't prepared for the apprehension that gripped him when the doorknob yielded to his hand, and the breeze that suddenly blew past from behind him slowly pushed the door open, pulling an answering puff of wind from inside, probably from a broken window upstairs.

He stepped into her living room and stood silently, patiently, taking in the sight of the space, waiting as if the chaos would speak to him. And, of course, it did. The disorder was violent, indicating a struggle, wild and frantic, lasting for several minutes. There had to have been more than one of them. He stood in the middle of the room, slowly turning in a circle to take in as much as he could in one sweep. When he caught sight of the blood smear, a small handprint that swept along the lower wall toward the door and still seemed to desperately cling to the frame in one last attempt to resist being taken, he inhaled a sudden, frenzied breath and called Cho.