Title: Tumbling Down
Fandom: The Mentalist
Summary: Her mind has become her fortress; she's built up a levee to hold back all her emotions. And, one day, without preamble, the levee comes tumbling down.
Word Count: 577
Characters: Cho, Grace
Genre: Hurt/Comfort, Friendship
Warnings: None
Spoilers: Requires knowledge of S3, especially of the finale; very, very vague (and miniscule) spoiler for 4x01
Disclaimer: I am not Bruno Heller or CBS. I own nada and am making no money off of this story.

I'm fine.

I'm fine.

I'm fine.

It's Grace's constant refrain—to her family, to her team, to all the nosy busybodies at the CBI who don't even know her.

Her mind has become her fortress; she's built up a levee to hold back all her emotions. She doesn't think about him and she especially doesn't think about that day, when it all went wrong. It's far easier to stiffen her backbone and try to shed her old self.

She's been weak.

She's been a fool.

No more.

So, no, there can be no tears, no excuses, and no counseling. She's far too strong for that, now. She can let no one else see her—truly see her—again. She repeats that mantra to herself, day after day, reinforcing the walls of her levee. She thinks she's getting stronger every day. The face that looks back at her from the mirror is not the same person she was.

It happens without any warning. It's a day like any other and she's out canvassing a neighborhood with Cho for leads. They have been walking this same stretch of sidewalk in silence for five minutes and they've seen no one. A business man passes them, in a hurry to get back to his life, and it's there, on the air, for just a moment: Craig's cologne.

That's all it takes; Grace freezes. Her mind goes blank and she finds she can't remember how to breathe or how to walk. With no preamble, the levee walls come tumbling down.

She tries to take a deep breath to steady herself and it comes out a sob. Cho turns back to her. She stumbles slightly and can't right herself. The only thing that keeps her from falling down is Cho's arms, strong and steady as they catch her. Now that her walls have fallen, she can no longer hold back the tears that have been threatening to overwhelm her since it all ended. She cries for all she had, for all that she thought she had, for what she lost, and all that she would never have. The emotions are powerful and frightening and she feels like she could get lost forever in them. Even in the darkness of her tears, she can feel Cho's hands warm and solid on her back, holding her back from the brink. And she knows he won't let go, won't let her tumble into the abyss.

The tears slow eventually and her heart returns to its normal rhythm. She pushes gently back from Cho, standing on her own two feet once more. Cho looks at her for a long moment, neither of them speaking. She coughs nervously and looks away. She would not last two seconds in an interrogation with Cho.

All he says is "Your mascara ran." Cho produces a handkerchief. She takes it with a watery laugh.

She should hate herself for her moment of weakness—and she does—but still, for just a moment, she was held and the burden was not hers alone. She cannot read Cho well, but she knows, instinctively, that there is no judgment in his eyes. She also knows that he will keep this secret.

Without even asking, Cho takes them the long way back. Her eyes are dry and her smile is back in place when they get there.