I really enjoyed "The Red Mile"-the Lisbon/Jane moments were some of the best bickering of the season. But, as has become increasingly the case, I felt like the writer(s) tried to deal with too much in too little time, leaving a few gaps in the story and some of the bits and pieces disjointed from the whole. The episode left me wanting something more, which prompted this tag.

THERE, AND THEN IT'S GONE (Episode Tag to "The Red Mile")

It was late, and he was tired.

He had enjoyed the case. Aliens, con men, expensive Scotch and a murderous mother-in-law. Who wouldn't have had a good time? He'd even finally, finally gotten to say "The butler did it!", even though that hadn't strictly been the case. But "The butler was the accomplice!" just didn't have the same energy, the same snap, the same . . .

The dark and nonsensical ramblings that usually filled his mind during the late hours before he settled into the attic for the night seemed out of place and more empty and foolish than usual.

Today he had sat with a man while he waited for him to die.

Doing a coin trick.

"It's there then it's gone. It's there then it's gone. It's there . . . then it's gone."

The coroner, Dr. George Steiner, the horse's ass as Jane had mockingly called him once, was dying. During the case, after the body of Timothy Hartley had been stolen by masked gunmen, Steiner had approached Jane wanting to help retrieve the corpse. Later, in the victim's lavish study at his wealthy wife's family mansion, Dr. Steiner had dragged the subject of his eminent demise out into the light and thanked Jane for providing him the distraction of helping to work the case.

Jane had pointed out a box of Havana cigars, and Steiner had purloined one with only a moment's hesitation before the butler appeared to run them out. Steiner had proven to be good company: intelligent, appreciative of the finer things, a willing participant in Jane's scheme (provided Lisbon was told about the plan, adamant that she be given proper place). Yes, once stripped of his horse's ass-ery, Steiner hadn't been half bad.

When the coroner invited Jane to his apartment, the consultant had been curious and not too unhappy to comply. He hadn't expected the doctor of the dead to ask him to witness his suicide. Steiner was definite in his decision, not wanting to be the body on the autopsy table. At first, Jane had refused, but when Steiner motioned him to the entry, Jane stalled at the door, realizing the coroner was almost eager for him to leave so he could go about his sorrowful business. He couldn't just leave him there . . . could he?

Jane asked for tea, and Steiner motioned him toward the kitchen, indicating where he kept the cookies in the overhead cabinets. Jane had then put the kettle on while Steiner politely excused himself to go into the other room to ingest a lethal drug overdose. The two men had sat together on the couch, making small talk until Jane had seen it was only a matter of a moment. He had engaged Steiner's attention, disappearing and revealing the coin in a basic hypnosis technique, certain that the dying coroner had known exactly what he was doing and understood his purpose. When Steiner had passed the point of no return, Jane had continued to sit with him, finishing but not tasting his tea. It had all been so eerie and calm, so genteel and macabre.

"It's there then it's gone . . ."

"You still here?"

At some point in his ambling through the CBI building, Jane's subconscious must have taken over. Without realizing where he was going, he had gotten off the elevator on the SCU's floor and apparently wandered to Lisbon's office. She was sitting on the couch, and though both her presence and question had caught him by surprise, he could tell she was just as taken aback by his sudden appearance. Alone in the night and lost in thought, he had managed to find Lisbon in the midnight hour.

"Yeah," was all he said with a teasing quirk of his eyebrow, letting her come to the realization of just how silly the question was on her own. Where else would he be at this time? She had asked it without thinking, an attempt at lighthearted, meaningless conversation before she excused herself, hoping to avoid anything deeper. She'd been doing that a lot lately—filling the space between them with empty words. He was relieved she wasn't pushing him, but the give and take of their relationship had lately become more of a wink and a nod that often left him dissatisfied, though distance and detachment had been his aim since this thing between him and Red John had taken an even more personal turn. Certain she would follow this recent pattern of inanity before she rose to take her leave of him, he was surprised when she kept her seat and swallowed thickly before looking away from him.

Suddenly unwilling to follow his own typical pattern of flight and distance, he looked at her—really looked at her for the first time in days.

She was barely sitting on the couch, literally on the edge of her seat, knees apart, her forearms resting on her thighs in that patently Lisbon way that screamed ex-jock and officer-in-charge and would have looked unfeminine on any other woman of his acquaintance. Her hands were clasped tightly, slender fingers flexing, their tips pressing into her skin. He could see the restless movement of her legs, a slight tremor of irregular rhythm caused by the tensing and curling of her toes in her shoes. Another thick swallow brought his attention back to her face, and though she looked away from him, he could see the movement of her eyes—back and forth, back and forth, as if trying to find something solid on which to land.

". . . there and then gone."

He nearly asked her if she was all right, but stopped short, not wanting to ask a silly question of his own. Of course, she wasn't all right. When he sat next to her left side on the couch, her slight shift away from him did not escape his attention.

"Some case, huh?"

"Yeah."

"How'd Mrs. Hartley take the news?"

"Which part? The one where we told her we found what was left of her husband's body? Or the one where we arrested her mother for murdering him?" She quirked her eyebrow back at him, but she still didn't quite meet his gaze.

"Mm," he grunted noncommittally, turning away from her, his bleary eyes trying to focus on some spot on the floor.

They sat like that for a moment, him not knowing what to say, her dreading his next words and the possibility that she might have to come up with a response. She wondered why she couldn't just get up and walk away.

"I guess you heard about Steiner."

He really hadn't known what was bothering her, or rather, which of the many strange things that had happened over the past few days was causing her unease, but when her only response was a deep, shaky breath, he realized he had accidentally hit the nail on the head. He didn't feel like gloating.

She hadn't been close to Steiner, had only tolerated his presence as coroner at crime scenes. He didn't know why the man's death would affect her so deeply, unless it was something to do with the camaraderie of crime fighting—sort of a "band-of-brothers" thing between cops. But if that were the case, there would have been a memorial drink, a few stories told, and Lisbon would be gone for the day.

"Cho said you were with him when he . . . when it happened."

He suddenly felt uncomfortable. No. Not suddenly. He had felt uncomfortable the instant he caught on to Steiner's plan and subtle request. And he hadn't been exactly comfortable since. He was uncomfortable with the idea of suicide, uncomfortable with the thought of witnessing it. It went deeper than the letter of the law on the matter—he knew the courts realized the difference between attending and assisting. The uneasy feeling hadn't left him in the aftermath during the 911 call, the arrival of the paramedics or the answering of their few inevitable questions. It had pursued him all the way back to the CBI, to the wrong floor, to this couch. It should have at least begun to dissipate by now. He wondered how much she had guessed.

"It's good he wasn't alone . . ."

He was so taken aback by her unexpected words that he had difficulty framing a reply.

". . . No one should die alone."

Again, she swallowed thickly, and he realized she was nearly choking on unshed tears. Lisbon was a passionate woman, capable of great depth of feeling. He both understood and regretted that she saw it as a weakness. Her silent struggle to control her emotions always made her look awkward. Only in anger did she ever act with abandon, her words and gestures flowing in a tantalizing combination of ease and heat. It was part and parcel of why he took such pleasure in antagonizing her. He could not imagine in any way that would do her justice the grace and charm of Lisbon given completely to joy, delight or passion.

Pondering such things, it took a moment for her words to sink in. No one should die alone. She wasn't thinking only of Steiner. He combed through the details he knew of her past, what small part of it he had gleaned from overheard conversations and the scant personal information in her file. The threads of a memory of a past case floated through his mind, and he took them up following them to a recollection of Lisbon gently confronting a drunken, widowed father who had recently lost his teenaged daughter to murder, just short of pleading with him to get help for the sake of his remaining children.

"My father was a good man just like you are. And after my mother died, he was a self-pitying drunk just like you are. Killed himself. Damn near killed me and my brothers, too."

He remembered wishing at that point that he had walked away. Although he was learning something of her she would never have volunteered at that point in their acquaintance, he didn't feel like he had the right to it—something that had never troubled him before. Again, he had to shake off his thoughts in order to focus on her words.

"My father was a good man . . . Killed himself."

He had never wondered how, had assumed she meant alcoholism—that he had drank himself to death. For the first time, he did wonder how and where. And found by whom. He knew he couldn't ask outright. He considered her for a moment, then with the air of someone trying to help a child with a project they couldn't seem to handle properly, he reached over and took her still tightly clasped hands in his own.

"You're going to break something if you keep doing that."

She tried to pull away from him, but the attempt was half-hearted, a sign that she was worse off than he thought. Sliding his right hand to her left wrist and his left to her right, he pried her hands apart, retaining a light hold on her, reluctant to let go. But, knowing he couldn't simply sit and hold her hands, his mind dashed through possible plans and settled on his only two options: either make honest conversation or turn this into some sort of magic, psychic, mind-reading ruse. He didn't know which would make him look and feel more ridiculous.

His thinking was slightly muddled with the realization that not only was she no longer trying to pull away, but that her fingers now lightly curled around and held his own wrists. He briefly suspected that she had planned the whole thing in an effort to ensnare him, perhaps to make it more difficult for him to escape when she started interrogating him over the circumstances of Steiner's death. In the next instant, he was ashamed of himself. Well . . . sheepish at least. Lisbon wasn't so manipulative or deceitful. She would never feign vulnerability. For her it would be as low as feigning tears. A woman in whom there is no guile. Her honest eyes looked up at him, and he was pierced.

"Are you all right?" And he knew that she knew.

"Yeah . . . Yes . . . I guess so. It was all so . . ."

"I know."

Just those two words in that tone—he was certain she did. He was also fairly certain of the answers to his earlier questions about her father.

"I didn't—"

"I know."

"He didn't want—"

"I know. I wouldn't want . . . ," she looked down unseeing at their entwined hands. "I wouldn't want it that way either."

He'd never thought of it before, but it made sense that she would have—that almost any homicide cop that wasn't completely mud-brained would. They'd all stood in the alley or the field or the office and looked down at the poor hapless rotter that had managed to get him or herself killer, past caring that they were suffering the further indignities of dark humor and blatant perusal and touching and . . .

Something cold ran down his spine and he gripped her wrists a little tighter.

"Exactly," she said with an amused smirk, still looking down.

She hadn't seen the glint of startled fear that had shot through his eyes. The sudden picture developed in an instant in his mind's eye—Lisbon, slashed and knife-gored, jade eyes glazed to gray, staring unseeing at the ceiling.

"Jane." She was frowning down at their hands now. "You're hurting me."

He let go of her slowly, and she cradled her wrists, rubbing them gently, still looking away.

"You didn't do anything wrong."

"I know."

"If he had made up his mind—"

"He had."

"Even if you had called—"

"I know."

She nodded awkwardly, and he wondered what emotion she was trying to control now. At least he knew she wasn't angry. It's why he had called Cho and not her. He didn't want her to be angry with him. Didn't want to face that on top of everything else. And, he didn't want her to hear his voice like that—however it had sounded. He couldn't remember now.

The silence dragged out, and now he was feeling awkward.

"He was so certain. I didn't know if it was the right decision, but he was so sure. I wasn't going to stay. I was going to leave, but . . ."

"No one should die alone."

He froze in his explanation. Had he misunderstood earlier? Had she been lamenting a past sorrow or a future grief? A memory of his own, more recent past came to him.

"Nobody is better off alone."

Hightower had said it to him when he helped her escape. She had implored him to tell Lisbon what was going on with Todd Johnson and the Red John mole at the CBI, but he had adamantly refused. Red John would sense a trap, and Jane couldn't risk that. He had been unable to tell Hightower what else he was unwilling to risk.

He slipped back to his previous reverie. Lisbon. They sat, unable to look at one another, him out of guilt and her out of fear and something else he couldn't decipher. Something to do with him? They hadn't talked about Red John in weeks—not since Todd Johnson. Lisbon hadn't even talked to him about Hightower. Why was that? Again, he considered that they hadn't talked about anything really substantive in a long time. The banter was still there, quicker and quirkier than ever—their interaction during this case had proven that. But there was nothing real anymore.

Slowly it dawned on him. Lisbon couldn't afford real. She'd watched him for years, knowing his plans. He was hell bent on going his own way, regardless of the consequences, seeking his demon's destruction, knowing it would bring about his own, refusing to listen. Was she beginning to give up the hope that he would do, what was in her eyes, the right thing? Another echo from his past sounded.

"Can't you see there's people who care about you, who need you—"

She had learned that night just how far he would go to get Red John. Nobody should die alone, but Lisbon knew that sometimes people did.

And the people who care about them and need them find them.

"Hey . . ., you still with me?"

He jolted back to the here and now, her unintentional words wrenching his insides.

"Uh-huh."

"Are you sure?"

"Seriously, Lisbon, are you ever going to tire of asking me that?" He asked in mock annoyance.

She snickered, remembering their stake-out, Steiner posing as the eager bait. She leaned back, relaxing into the couch.

"He certainly went out in a blaze of glory, didn't he?"

"That he did."

He mirrored her position, both of them slumped back, their heads resting against the upper edge of the couch's back, eyes on where the ceiling met the opposite wall. She seemed to consider something a moment then gave in.

"We should have a drink."

"A drink?" He furrowed his brow at her.

"A toast. For a fallen comrade."

"I think George would like that." He rolled his head sideways to look at her. "What do you have in mind?"

"There's the Scotch in the break room." She rolled her head to look back at him, and he could tell she was trying to not smile. "I know it's not the good stuff like what the Cook's keep on hand . . ."

"How did you know?"

"Oh, please. You really think I don't know good Scotch when I smell it? And why did Steiner smell like an expensive cigar?"

"We may have helped ourselves to a couple of things, you know . . . to get a better understanding of the victim."

"Uh-huh," she laughed at him.

"I find it sometimes helps to put myself in the victim's shoes."

"Or in his liquor cabinet."

"To gain insight into his essence."

"Or unlawful entry to his study."

"To lay hold of his being."

"Or just pick up a few expensive cigars?"

"You are not going to let me have this, are you?"

"I thought I was letting you have it!"

"Didn't you say something about a drink?"

"Coming right up!"

She stood to head out of her office. Just after she crossed the threshold, she leaned her head back in to issue a command.

"Don't go anywhere."

"Wouldn't dream of it."

She smiled and turned around to head for the break room, certain he wouldn't leave against her wishes. That day would come—the day when he would be gone, and for her sake alone, he dreaded it. But for now, for this moment he would gladly sit and wait for her on this couch. Gladly . . . right there.

END