So, the season finale last night. My heart nearly stopped. Twice. Did anybody else suspect O'Laughlin? I knew the money was on Bertram, but O'Laughlin had some red flags, I thought, any way...
AND RED JOHN. OMFG JANE AND RED JOHN. /WHAT/. I can't even. I had not one, not two, but three multichapter Mentalist fics planned for this summer and all of them featured Red John, who is now dead.
Damn it, Jane.
BUT HE WAS PERFECT. HE WAS BRILLIANT AND CREEPY AND WHOLESOMELY TERRIFYING, AND HE WAS PERFECT.
That is where this fic came from. It's all Red John. It's all Red John, tigers, and his creepy, creepy, eloquent creepiness. Eeeeugh. *shudders*
Disclaimer: I don't own Mentalist. I wish I did, because the last 30 minutes of Strawberries and Cream was the most suspenseful, intense 30 minutes of TV I've ever seen, but nope, don't own.
The King of Beasts
"Then imitate the action of the tiger/Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,/Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;/Now set the teeth, and stretch the nostril wide,/Hold hard the breath, and bend up every spirit/To his full height!" -William Shakespeare, Henry V
Serial killers don't retire.
We'd like to, sometimes, but unfortunately, retirement is not really an option for us, for a variety of reasons.
Even the greatest of us, like Mr. Jack the Ripper or Mr. Zodiac, those proud, vicious demons who slipped into the night like shadows fleeing the sun, never quite retired.
As a matter of fact, I know Mr. Zodiac—delightful man, really, a bit odd, what with the Paradise and the immortal slavery, but interesting—quite well and, once ever thirteen months, he goes and dances under the moon again, as it were. He's simply more discreet about it than he was before.
I have never met Ripper Jack—born a century too late, sadly, I feel as if we'dve gotten on well—but I do not believe he retired either. He simply moved countries and continued his work in silence.
You see, most of us, myself included, are incapable of retiring for two simple reasons, the first of which is this; blood.
Ah, blood. That curious liquid, dark, beautiful, necessary. We all need blood. It carries us, fills our every cell with precious oxygen, swirls and pounds with every breath, every beat of our hearts.
We all need blood. I am not so different from you; I need blood, just the same as you.
Blood is everything. It's art, the hand of God alive and throbbing inside us, roaring in our ears, a great, vast red ocean.
I need blood. You need blood. I just need it differently.
Man was created to be the King of Beasts. Why else were we given two legs, opposable thumbs, and our rather frightening adaptability and knowledge of tools? We were raised from animals, from needing, vicious, growling creatures, and we were given a crown and rule over all our lowly brothers.
We ran with tigers, lions, and wolves, hunted them and with them, fought and struggled and painted our bodies the colors of their fur. We were tigers, and lions, and wolves, and we eked out an existence holding our tenacious rule over them with tooth and claw.
Men are predators.
We hunt and rape and kill and wage wars, tear out the throats of our neighbors. We howl at the moon, when it strikes us, and fight bitterly over every available resource.
We've been tamed, somewhat, over the many centuries. We, perhaps ashamed of our wildness, of how we resembled the predators of the earth, covered up our claws and fangs and long, thrashing tails. We put on sheepskin and learned to bah and bray and follow each other obediently.
We hide the tigers in our hearts and call ourselves civilized.
But we are, all of us, from Ghandi to bin Laden to the Buddha and back again, only pretenders, only actors wearing costumes.
And sometimes, those loose costumes get caught on things, on metaphorical fences, if you will.
Trauma. Pain. Loss. Anger. These things tear at us, and they hook their claws into our fragile façades and pull and pull and pull.
And when they fall to the ground in shreds, the tiger opens his eyes.
Patrick Jane was a mistake. I admit it. I should have just let that insult go, you know. I should have just let him live his charmed, glittering, hollow life.
But he irritated me so. He was a little worm, a lowly, groveling creature, and I was the tiger, the King of Beasts. I could not let such an assault on my person go unpunished.
So I killed his wife and child.
His wife was clean and she smelled of coal-tar soap. She held my eyes as I slit her throat, and for her daughter, sleeping upstairs, she did not scream.
His daughter was less clean and smelled like strawberries and cream. I did not bother to wake her, and I used her beautiful, brilliant blood to make the wall smile.
I used to visit Patrick in the hospital. Remember, this was in my younger days, and I was arrogant and invincible. Besides, I'd never driven a man to madness before, and I was curious.
Yes, yes, I know, curiosity killed the cat.
But I have claws.
I told the hospital that I was a relative, I'd heard the horrible news, how sad it was, I only wanted to help.
(A trait common among people like me: we are charismatic. We mimic emotion so well that you all are naught but putty in our lying, vicious hands. I can get myself anywhere and anyone.)
Perhaps this was my mistake, coming to him. I should have stayed away. He's no fun if he's broken, anyway, but I couldn't seem to leave. I was attached, I suppose. I'd never targeted anyone before, and I felt a bond with this man, a bond I did not want to ignore.
So I sat at Patrick's side many times and I talked to him slowly, reading him poetry while he gazed blank and fuzzy at the white walls.
I was a little mean, I'll admit. I whispered such cruel things in his ears and stitched demons to his heart, snarling angry things like Guilt and Pain and Loss.
I watched him wake slowly, half-sheep, half-tiger, the hunger swelling in his cracked eyes.
I watched him and I laughed, and my tiger roared to his and his roared back to me.
And by then, it was too late.
All men are tigers. We wear sheep skin but underneath we burn so brightly, so fiercely, longing to break from our fluffy, docile wool-bound lives that, sometimes, we can't be held in. We just… snap.
Tyger, tyger, burning bright. Will you dance with knives tonight?
Dear Patrick sleeps—I mean solidly, soundly, dead-as-his-wife sleeps— about once every seventeen days.
He's such an amusing, broken creature. I really did outdo myself. He's pitiful, sad, but amusing none the less. It's so fun to hurt him.
He pushes himself, you see. He shoves angrily, hard, at the world, hunting, searching, never taking the moment to rest. He wants me. His tiger roars for mine and mine laughs and hides in the shadows, playing this game of cat-and-mouse.
I'm rather flattered, actually. I've never had such an ardent admirer.
But I digress.
Patrick sleeps deeply about once every seventeen days, after his body and mind simply can't go any more. (Probably not the best idea for his mental health, but if he had good mental health, I wouldn't even be here.) He sleeps so deeply that he doesn't hear the click of his lock or the creak of his door swinging open, or the soft sound of my feet as I pad across the room.
He doesn't see my shadow spilling dark across his tangled, sleeping body.
I like him like this. One hand is clenched tight and deep into his pillow—is he dreaming of hunting?— and the other curls loose against twisted, rumpled sheets. Has he been chasing me? His face is pressed, lips faintly snarling, as if he can smell me, feel me, only inches away.
I like him like this. He breathes softly, stirs every now and then, long, deadly grace bursting underneath his skin as he, tiger-striped by the moon, wrestles his demons in his dreams.
I am smiling when my eyes find his wrist, trace the pale scar, not daring to touch. My tiger purrs and his rumbles, sleeping for now.
This is dangerous.
He is dangerous. (tyger, tyger)
I am dangerous. (burning bright)
And one day… (in the forests of the night)
I turn and pad soundlessly out, closing the door behind me.
All beasts, man or otherwise, have one fatal flaw.
It is this thing, this deadly, sharp-toothed, thorn-wreathed thing that destroys the world.
Everything boils down to love. Hate, anger, sorrow, all of it leads back to love. I should know better, really. I'm the King of Beasts, after all, the tiger burning bright. I am above love. I am Need, I am Knife, and I am most definitely not love.
But even tigers, those wild, fierce, powerful night hunters, love. Tigers do not love their mates, or another creature, or the pitiful things they hunt. Tigers do not even love blood, really. They only taste it because they must.
No, the only thing a tiger loves is its cub. Cubs are the future. Cubs mean continuation, mean moving on, even though forests burn and rivers dry up and prey disappears.
A tiger loves its cub. Perhaps that is why I made that fatal error, years ago. Perhaps I, arrogant and foolish as I was, sensed that one day, my forest would burn down.
I, Red John, will one day die.
And as a serial killer, that day would be sooner rather than later. The other reason my kind never really retires is this; we are hunted.
Just as we shed the sheep's skin and hunt, others shed their own wool and hunt us. We kill others and they, inevitably, kill us.
All things must die. We all know it. Some of us even accept it, look forward to that day when we stand, tigers roaring a battle-song, and leap into furious, glorious war.
Everything, from the lowly little worm to the mighty blood-stained tiger, dies.
Which is why, I believe, children are so very special to us. Children carry us on after we die. They are our legacy, our legend. They wear our pelts on their backs and carry us into battle, and through them we never die. There is nothing a mother won't do for her child, even if it means keeping quiet while a grinning tiger-man drags a knife across her throat. There is nothing a father won't do for his offspring, even if it means throwing his whole life away and walking the moonlit path of Need and Knife.
We all want children, want someone to carry on our legacy.
I wanted a cub, a child, an apprentice to follow me on my dark path and, one day, when I had fallen, to carry on my good work.
I wanted another tiger.
So I went and created one.
I watched him grow, and felt, perhaps, that fatal stirring thing in my chest. Love.
And we all know that love shatters worlds.
After a time, the games I played with the delightful Mister Jane grew… boring. Not that he was boring, because he remained largely unchanged, but that all of it was boring. During his stay at the hospital, my need for blood diminished, somewhat. I found that torturing him and creating my own network of loyal, maniacal, pitiful servants was enough to satisfy the tiger growling in the back of my mind.
I fell into a sort of semi-retirement, which is about as good as anyone like me can ever hope to achieve.
When Patrick began hunting me, I enjoyed myself even more. I didn't need to kill—though I did, occasionally, because there is no sense in getting rusty—and I kept to myself, letting my network grow and expand.
And then came Bosco. I was already mildly annoyed at losing Harvey—good tools are hard to replace—and then Samuel Bosco entered the picture and tried to take me from Patrick.
I did not tolerate that. Patrick is mine, and I am Patrick's. We are linked—hunter, hunted, hunted, hunter—and it is he I chose, in my arrogance, not Sam Bosco.
So I had him killed.
I think dear Patrick took offence.
That's the way it is with kids, you know? You pour all this hard work into them, do nice things for them, and then they turn on you. I did Patrick a favor. I returned myself to him, waiting, just out of reach, for him to wake and find me. It's what he wanted. I let our game continue.
And then came Kristina Frye.
"Tyger, tyger," I whispered, my hand pressed to his chest, and I think it was then that he understood.
After Kristina, I was finished. I had reached that point all successful killers reach. I no longer craved blood, not like I had before. I was bored. Killing just wasn't it for me anymore. I, like a child outgrowing a toy, had outgrown my chosen hobby. It was time to start fresh, to find new things, better things, to conquer and paint red.
I was ready to leave.
But serial killers don't retire.
So I had to think.
When it senses its death, a tiger goes off into the forest to die. Sometimes other tigers, craving the elder's territory, will kill it. Other times disease will, or famine, or old age. The tigers are noble creatures, even in death.
But the noblest deaths of all were the deaths in the Roman Coliseum. Two tigers, one a little bigger than the other, a little older, a little more experienced, would circle each other in the ring with the crowds roaring and howling above them.
Bets were made and the tigers circled, circled. They flexed their claws and bared their fangs, took swipes at each other.
The crowd roared and howled for blood, and the tigers circled.
The mall is busy, crowded. Happy people go about their business, shopping, eating, other meaningless twaddle. I don't care about them.
I watch Patrick. He's with Bertram. He and his silly team believe that Bertram is my friend, my mole.
My mole is currently off to kill Hightower, that annoying nuisance of a CBI director. O'Laughlin will do the job well. He always has.
Bertram is of no consequence to me. I only watch Patrick.
He's shaking. It's slight, hardly noticeable, but I am Red John, King of Beasts, and I notice these things. It makes us alike, in a way.
Yes, Patrick and I are very, very similar, two tigers cut from the same cloth. That's what made our game, while it lasted, so fun.
But now, now it is time for these games we've played to end.
Bertram shouts at Jane, leaves, and Jane, frantic, makes a call.
My phone rings, I answer.
"This is Agent Lisbon. O'Laughlin is dead."
I smile and listen to the dial tone.
Patrick Jane stands up and walks to me, shaking but steady. What's left of his sheepskin hangs off his body and I can see his eyes, burning bright, gleaming and his claws twitching for my throat.
He knows who I am.
I smile, and our final game begins.
The tigers in the Coliseum circled each other, waiting. The older tiger knew how to inflict pain—he'd been doing this for a long, long time, and he knew how to hurt the other.
The younger tiger was fueled by instinct. He has killed before but he was still new. He didn't know how to make it last, make it hurt. But he was alive, filled with the roaring, howling crowd. His blood boiled, and he growled.
He smelled blood.
I am not an evil man.
No matter what you believe, I am not. I burn brightly and look evil to you, but you are a sheep.
The sheep fears the tiger.
And the tiger, oh the tiger kills the sheep.
"I'm a normal man," I tell Patrick, and hatred and need are tiger-striped across his face. "It's time for me to move on. I'll get a new face, a new life. You should forget me. Get yourself a family."
He doesn't smile or bare his fangs. "I will when you're dead."
I sigh. Ah, kids.
Patrick Jane started sleeping even less after Kristina was returned to him. That was fun, I'll admit it. Breaking her in that way. Killing her while leaving her alive.
I will miss our games.
He slept even less, maybe soundly once every nineteen days.
I still visited him occasionally, while he slept.
I watched his moonlight-striped face and the pale scar on his wrist, and my fingers itched but I didn't dare to touch him.
"How do I know if you are who you say you are?"
I smile then. "Your daughter smelled like sweat, and strawberries and cream."
I see it then. His sheepskin, in tatters, falls to the ground and the tiger is there in all his vicious, bloodthirsty glory.
He's ready to kill me. There's nothing a parent wouldn't do for his cub.
Any parent, tiger, man, sheep, will die defending its offspring. This is the fundamental law of all beasts.
Even kings, mighty as they are, obey it.
The tigers in the Coliseum would, in one smooth burst of motion, lunge for each other.
Claws and fangs and roars, blood splashing red and brilliant, the screaming, howling crowd. Two bodies, orange-black, writhing in the dust.
One bite to the throat, a hoarse, gurgling roar, and then it was over.
The last time I visited Patrick in the hospital, he was not aware. We'd been making progress—minute progress, but still. The doctors, however, that Sophie Miller and her kind, they pumped him so full of drugs that he didn't know anything—who he was, who I was, why he was there in the first place. So I reminded him.
I brought a knife and, together, we sliced the flesh of his wrist and watched crimson blood bead out, brilliant, beautiful.
I almost killed him then and there, intoxicated by the blood, but something stopped me. A moment of weakness, perhaps, my last and greatest mistake.
But it was a good mistake, because we all need to create, to leave something behind. And I was going to create this. I would leave this behind, when I "retired" and died.
I took three of his fingers and helped him paint a smiling face on the wall.
We stepped back and stared at it, and in his eyes I heard the tiger growling.
"Tyger, tyger," I whispered in his ear, and then I walked from the room and disappeared, leaving him with a face on the wall and blood dripping down his wrist.
Patrick Jane is inches away. I can smell him. He smells like sweat, like blood and fear and aftershave. His cracked, hungry eyes stare into mine and my tiger roars to his and I hear it roar back.
Tyger, tyger, burning bright.
Patrick Jane pulls the trigger.
"He who rides the tiger can never dismount." -Indian proverb