A big, bottom-of-the-heart THANK YOU to all readers and reviewers; you guys made posting this story such a great experience! Also, major THANKS go to tromana and MentalistLover. Although they don't know it, both of these people helped this story get finished. And now, on to the last chapter!
Chapter Forty: Ruby Slippers
Lisbon led the way down the CBI corridor. Jane crutched along behind her, and Penny ambled next to him, her brand-new hot pink Converse tennis shoes squeaking on the tile. Cho and Rigsby brought up the rear.
A few yards ahead, Van Pelt stepped out of an open office door. She saw them coming, and smiled like the desert sunrise. "Jane!" she beamed, trotting over to give him a hug.
Jane patted her awkwardly. "Hey, Grace…"
Van Pelt stepped back, looking him over. "But what're you doing here? I thought you were supposed to stay in the hospital…"
Lisbon gave the young agent a dark look. "Don't ask."
Rigsby, too, was shaking his head in warning.
Van Pelt raised her eyebrows. "Oh…Okay."
"Is Cardelli here yet?" Lisbon asked.
"He's waiting in your office." Van Pelt smiled sweetly down at Penny. "I can take you to see your dad, now, if you want – he can't wait to see you." She held out a hand to the little girl.
Penny looked up at Jane.
"It's okay," he assured her. "Go ahead."
Slowly, Penny reached out and took Van Pelt's hand, letting the agent guide her to the bullpen. The rest of the herd followed more sluggishly.
Jane's hand was heavily bandaged, but it still twinged whenever he put weight on the crutches. He was saving the good pain pills for sleep. Judging by the way that one Vicodin had utterly knocked him out on the ride home, Jane had a feeling they were going to come in handy.
Hobbling past one of the interrogation rooms, Jane spotted a man sitting inside. A smug-faced man in a business suit, looking bored as he played with the chain on his handcuffs. Jane paused. Lisbon walked back to stand next to him. Cho and Rigsby filed past.
Jane peered through the glass at the bored, smug-looking man. "Is that…?"
"Buck Hoskins," Lisbon confirmed. "CEO of Durenko Sports, Inc."
Jane kept staring, something cold and black settling around his heart. Abruptly, he pushed through the door and into the room. Lisbon waited on the threshold while Jane limped over to the table, his gaze riveted to Hoskins.
The CEO glanced up, eyebrows raised. "Uh…can I help you?"
Jane looked down on him, all steel and ice. "She didn't know anything."
"Laura Jorsten didn't know anything. You killed her for nothing." Jane's voice shook, just a little.
Hoskins opened his mouth, but Jane didn't wait around to see what would come out of it. He turned and limped out, leaving the CEO to stare after him.
"You okay?" Lisbon asked, once they were back in the hall.
"He won't get away with it, you know," she told him.
They reached the bullpen in time to see Jeff Cardelli carrying his daughter out of Lisbon's office. Penny's legs dangled as she perched on her father's hip, her arms tight around him. Her pink shoes were the brightest thing in the whole room. Cho had bought them for her at Walmart, along with a crisp white t-shirt and blue jeans. It made Jane smile, thinking of Cho picking out pink shoes.
Cardelli saw Jane, and hurried over to him. Very gently, Cardelli set his daughter down and reached out to shake Jane's unbandaged hand.
"Thank you," Cardelli said earnestly, his voice rough and raw, his hand squeezing Jane's. "Thank you for protecting her…"
Jane nodded, shifting uncomfortably. "Sure, sure…"
They let go, and Cardelli looked down at Penny. "Don't know what I'd've done, if…" His voice trailed off. He glanced up at Jane again. "Well, you know."
Jane did know. He swallowed roughly, studying Cardelli's face. The man's eyes were red and wet with heartbreak, but his hair was combed today. His shirt was clean and tucked. He was trying, at least.
Penny stayed close to his leg, fiddling with a crease in his pants.
Cardelli gazed down at her, tracing delicate patterns in her shiny hair. "I wish I could've been there for her," he said softly. "She's been through so much…"
"She'll be all right," Jane told him. "She's stronger than you think. You both are."
Cardelli nodded, then cleared his throat gruffly. "Well, Baby Girl, you ready to hit the road?"
Penny looked up at her father. Then she looked over at Jane. Slowly, she let go of Cardelli's pant-leg and wandered over to the consultant. Without a word, Penny wrapped her arms around Jane's waist in a tight hug.
Jane stroked his hand one last time over that gleaming copper hair. "Take care of each other," he instructed. "Okay?"
Penny nodded, releasing him. She walked back to her father. Cardelli scooped her up in his arms and they headed out through the maze of desks. Right before they rounded the corner, Jane saw her peek over Cardelli's shoulder.
Jane smiled and gave her a little wave. "Bye-bye."
Once they were gone, Jane sagged. The crutches dug into his armpits, and he turned wearily, aiming for something big, brown and leather. Jane settled into his couch with a deep sigh. He noticed that Lisbon had discreetly slipped into her office while he was talking to Penny's father. Jane laid his crutches on the floor and propped up his blue, plaster-encased leg so he could see the two signatures: "RIGZ" (with the 'Z' made into an elaborate lightning bolt) and a simple "K.C."
At the moment, "RIGZ" was sitting on a stool in the middle of the room, trying to catch Skittles in his mouth. The rainbow candies, tossed not-so-expertly by Larry from the Missing Persons Unit, were already littering the floor and several nearby desks. The two men were trying to get Cho to join in the game.
He just looked at them flatly and declared, "You're both idiots."
Van Pelt was watching from her desk, part amused, part fretful. "Guys, you should stop…Someone could choke."
A red Skittle pinged into the "I *HEART* YOGA" mug on her desk, and she giggled in spite of herself.
Jane raised himself up on an elbow and turned to see if Lisbon had heard. He saw her shake her head and roll her eyes. He smiled and flopped back down on the couch.
Lisbon hadn't been in the mood to sign his cast at the hospital. Jane would get her and Van Pelt on board later. Right now, there was only one thing he wanted to do: Jane sank deeper into the cushions, enjoying the familiar creaks. He breathed deep and smelled leather, Skittles and cinnamon perfume. He closed his eyes, and heard a candy crack off the window, followed by Lisbon's brisk footsteps.
"Okay, guys – time to knock it off."
Jane smiled to himself.
There's no place like home.