Title - House of Cards - Part 4/4
Author - Kourion
Summary: Jane takes the doll almost reverently - his fingers tapping along the wood toggle buttons of Rupert Bear's coat. Carefully. Entranced. "I saw him, and I thought of you. Must be the outdated, through spiffy outfit. Circa 1890, am I right?"/ Jisbon-centric
A/N: This may be the fourth part for this ficlet, but essentially I may revisit this story again at a later time. I just didn't want to have another WIP on the go when I already have several. :)
I spent an inordinate amount of time, by the way, fixing all my Canadian spellings into the more "show acceptable" versions. Also- ferreting out ridiculous expressions that somehow have slipped into my speech despite by best attempts for them to have not, eh?
You can thank me by leaving me a quick little REPLY. ;) Any reply (other than an out and out flame) is totally appreciated :)
"Hope is like peace. It is not a gift from God. It is a gift only we can give one another." - Elie Wiesel
TWO WEEKS LATER
I shoulder my satchel bag and breathe deeply before turning off the ignition.
Today's a big day.
Jane is being given off-clinic privileges, and I am his chosen escort for the endeavor.
So I take a sip of stale coffee, then lock the driver's side door and make my way through to the infinitely less guarded building occupying the residents of Ward A.
When I get to the receptionist desk Wanda waves up at me and gives me a slight smile. In the two weeks since Jane has been transferred, I've been at the clinic a grand total of 13 times.
Apparently that's a record or something.
"I'll be with you in a minute," Wanda mouths to me while I take a seat in one of the ridiculously hard and uncomfortable plastic chairs that line the entry way.
"Mmm hmm, yeah I understand, Leonard, I truly do. But I can't extend day privileges beyond the eight hour limit. If you want to have the trip extended for Kristy then you need to talk to her doctor. Mmm, yes. Yes. No, I'm sorry. No, I do get it, Leonard - it's frustrating to have a time limit. Okay, so you'll call Dr. Reeves? Good. No, I understand, believe me. You have the number? Alright, well we'll be checking in with you in about an hour for Kristy. Yes, okay. Yes. Yes Leonard. Good bye. No, I understand. No, Leonard - it's fine. Alright. Bye."
I try to look inconspicuous as I hear the phone reapplied to the receiver with a hefty click.
"Good afternoon, Teresa. How's your day going?," Wanda turns to me fully now and addresses me in a relaxed tone. Far more relaxed than I'd be if I spent the last ten hours fielding calls from families or patients that simply didn't want to return 'home.' I imagine it would be something of a stress to argue about protocol for 12 hours straight with para-suicidals.
"It could be going better, but from the sounds of it - my day is going a little more easily than yours."
Wanda snorts. "You're probably right about that, honey," before she pauses and then adds, "You know - I think Patrick is ready for you. He came by here after lunch. First time since he was transferred, and he came out for lunch! Looked good, you know? Better, I mean. Face not so gaunt. And I could tell he was excited - so you can probably just go right on in, hon. I'm sure he's already ready to go."
I smile, happy to hear that he's doing better.
"So he ate?," I ask hopefully.
"He brought me his crescent roll - told me he had salad, and couldn't eat anymore. You know, he's a sweet one, that Patrick."
He is a sweet one.
A sweet, broken one.
"Salad? He had salad? Yeah, right Jane - that's going to pack the pounds right back on...," I mutter under my breath.
"He's trying, Teresa. That's gotta count for something, right?"
"No, you're right. I just-," sighing, I lift my bag, then wait by the electronic doors until I hear a high pitched BEEP! alerting me as to when I can advance.
"Yeah, I get it honey. But he'll make it through this. He has you."
I try not to smile at the words - at the warmth they generate in my heart.
If he makes it through this, it won't be because of me.
It'll be because he's the strongest person I've ever known.
"You have a good day, Wanda. Don't take any crap from anyone," I say as I pass by, still touched by her words. Their sentiment.
"Will do, Teresa. You can count on it."
I stop, turn. "Oh, and if Patrick comes by here later today buttering you up like I know he's more than capable of doing, tell him Lisbon - as his boss - is ordering him to go eat a peanut butter sandwich right that instant. And if he doesn't eat something substantial, tell him I'll be calling the Goodwill trucks first thing tomorrow morning to come and pick up that ugly couch of his. HE'LL know what I'm talking about. Alright?"
"Alright!," Wanda chuckles as I turn a corner, where I bypass a large reading room.
A few patients linger about in dressing gowns and oversize slippers, but Jane isn't among them.
"Hey Mike!," I chirp to a smaller man with mousey brown hair, and am rewarded with a childlike grin as he temporarily stops working on his 3D puzzle.
"Mmm, hallo, Miss Lisbon," Mike says with brittle words, before he scurries back to work on his miniature replica of the London Eye, mumbling to himself, "I can't get this right!"
I stop walking just long enough to take in the puzzle's construction.
"You're doing alright, Mike. Look how far you've gotten already. You've got to be half way done, right? And you know what they say - slow and steady..."
He nods, face scrunched up, but then suddenly whispers a "Bye bye!" to me.
He's very amusing that way, Mike. When he's done talking with someone, he'll usher a "bye," and that essentially translates to: we are done with this conversation. Leave me alone. Now.
A little more polite in execution, perhaps. But not by much. And the behaviors of most of the patients here are such a far cry away from the suave and refined actions of Jane at his most charming-self that, well - it takes all my will power not to burst out laughing every time I walk through this place.
But to be polite, I whisper a 'Bye Mike' right back, and continue walking onwards.
I'm not here for Mike, anyway.
When I get to the residential hallway, I zip up my coat. The air here is almost chilly and the lighting is this area is a whiny green-white due to the use of halogens. Which in turn means that almost everyone traipsing along looks as if they are suffering from jaundice.
Jane's door is semi-open. Not much. A few inches, perhaps. Not enough that I feel I have the right to waltz right in, and so I listen for noise - either from the television set or from Jane himself.
Faintly, I can hear a theme song. Something achingly familiar. I knock in a succession of five beats followed by three, and quickly here the lowering of the television set a few seconds later.
"Come in!," Jane calls out as best as he can. His throat still sounds incredibly sore. In fact, the damnable man probably has acquired strep throat. I wouldn't be surprised.
He's currently getting over a nasty bout of pneumonia, and today is the first day that he's been allowed any off grounds privileges at all. Even so, he's been allotted a scant three hour maximum, which seriously limits our options. Movies are essentially out, leaving mostly cafes and eateries. But even so - with Jane's sensitive stomach - I'm not about to take him to a buffet. He'd probably wind up vomiting whatever he did eat before we even got half way back to the hospital.
And now he sounds almost mute - his voice strangled and soft. It's been two weeks since he's been transferred, and if anything, his voice continues to sound quieter and more strained each day.
I don't like it at all.
"Hey Jane - it's me," I add needlessly; when I do finally enter, I can see that he's sitting cross legged on his bed - and making no hurry to get up.
He's clad in red socks, sweat pants without drawstrings, and a short sleeved t-shirt the color of sea foam. While any sight other than the wretched straight jacket and the white pants is refreshing, the clashing of colors leaves something to be desired. Never mind the fact that Jane's right arm - now freshly extricated from bandages - still shows the yellow-green remnants of deep bruising, and a faint line of black where the dissolvable thread hasn't yet fully dissolved.
To think that he bit through his own arm makes me sick - and for a couple of moments I'm paralyzed.
Jane seems to realize the source of my discomfort almost immediately, for he then bends over and searches under his bed. When he returns, he's rapidly putting on a large navy sweater-jacket. It doesn't really look like anything he would have ever owned, so I can't help but hope that maybe Van Pelt has visited him without my awareness.
Certainly Rigsby hasn't dropped by despite my persistent nudgings that he should do just that.
The last time I raised the possibility, the man looked like I had just suggested he donate a couple organs without anesthetic or something - before proceeding to gab on about how he didn't "think Jane would want to see" him.
For the next ten minutes.
I get it.
If I feel queasy with a sort of raw guilt that hasn't yet begun to ease up, I can only imagine Rigsby's anxiety.
After all, he had been nothing but brutally rough with Jane that day.
On that absolutely wretched day when everything felt like it was crumbling. When it felt as if my heart was breaking. Just the staggering weight of the very possibility that it could be so!, and Jane's eyes - that wild, strange, disconnected look? That's what had gotten to me the very most.
I knew he was sick.
I didn't know how sick.
But to even consider him guilty? As a possibility?
If someone had skewered my lungs clean through with forks, well - I don't think the pain could have been worse.
What Jane had experienced next was indisputable terror. Terror, clear as day was scribbled clear across his features.
And maybe things wouldn't have devolved if he hadn't run.
But he had tried to flee.
And I think, to Rigsby, in doing so - Jane was admitting to the crimes.
And that's when-
Rigsby was on him.
Throwing him to the floor -
-one powerful, muscled arm taking Jane's skull
-and bringing it down with such ferocity
that Grace screamed.
That's when Rigsby - gentle-giant Rigsby - had changed into somebody who seemed almost as broken as Jane.
So no, I doubt Rigsby's been by without my knowledge.
Because even I can still hear that horrendous mewling noise that Jane made. That hiccoughed crying - his face all puffed up from the force of Rigsby's blows - and that blond head, all sweaty in panic as the crying died away into the sibilant sound of a hiss, like an animal - as he licked away the blood from his mouth.
And then the hissing died away into nothingness.
Into that god forsaken silence.
And that silence was ten times worse.
That emptiness was gutting.
"Lisbon?," and the voice sounds just as quiet as in the memory, but lacking in the same acute branding of fear.
"Are you alright?"
'Are you alright?'
Words that Patrick Jane would have never uttered in his previous existence. Before - before all of this - he would have simply known if I was alright. And if he wasn't 100% positive as to whether I or not I WAS alright, he would have used his mentalism skills to simply goad me into revealing how I was, in fact, doing.
He would never have asked in a voice full of reproachful hesitancy if I WAS alright.
He never would have sounded so confused-
-and he never would have been so nervous.
"Hmm? Oh, I'll be fine," I state quickly, not wanting to lie more than I already have. I shake my head as he studies me a little more intensely.
I shake my head as if my mind is an Etch-a-sketch
-and I can somehow shake unwanted images away by
shaking away what I don't want to see.
"Are you ready to go?"
"And miss my show?," Jane starts, slowly and seriously, before I notice the slightest tugging of his lips and realize I've been had.
"You're such a little brat, you know that?," I mutter as his smile grows even more luminous as I speak. "Those are ugly socks too, by the way. They clash with your t-shirt."
Not that I really care one whit about socks or t-shirt colors.
I just want to get back on familiar ground.
Jane doesn't seem to take the critique too seriously, however; he merely stops his search (he's gotten down on his hands and feet at the present time) and gives me a pointed look, but otherwise gives no indication that he's heard me at all.
"What are you looking for, anyway? Maybe I can help?"
"And mock my shoes on top of everything else? They're green by the way. Just another color to clash with all the other ugly colors, am I right?," Jane quips, his voice sounding more relaxed now - to my relief.
So he was looking for his ridiculous lace-less sneakers.
Slip on Keds, I think.
The alternative option was Velcro strapped shoes - which basically scream DISABLED! when affixed to the frame of a fully grown man. Given that option, his selection of the slip on pair really doesn't surprise me at all. It was definitely the preferable choice, in my opinion.
"Found them!," Jane breathes out a nanosecond later, then drags the lemon-lime Keds out from under their hiding place (which happens to be a duffel bag, lent by Cho, and filled with books) and works them onto his feet.
And I'm right.
The canvas shoes not only clash with his socks.
They also look crumpled.
"Silly me. Here I thought you'd be this pin-tidy person. A place for everything, and everything in its place," I lower myself to the only chair in the room. A mustard yellow thing made of plastic. God awful ugly, just like almost everything in Ward A. "What are you watching, by the way?"
Jane raises his head slightly, squints - almost as if uncertain as to what he had been watching before I arrived. Then recognition streams through and then says: "Oh - The Six Million Dollar Man. Re-runs on Retro-Roar. It's been on all day, interspersed with 'commercials' of School House Rock and Tootsie Roll ads," Jane says slowly.
That's a stupid name for a TV channel, if you ask me.
"This seems borderline familiar," I add a moment later, feeling a slight prickling discomfort when Jane stops his actions midway, one shoe still dangling from his hand. His body - rigid.
I help him finish with shoe #2, and he snaps back to attention.
"You feeling alright?," I test. I mean, pneumonia itself has got to take a lot out of a person. Never mind pneumonia on top of psychotropics. He probably feels awful.
"It's - it's the medication," Jane starts softly, his eyes now fully trained on the bed. Which is another new emotional reaction that's cropped up in the last several months. Before his time here, I doubt he would have ever been ashamed of medication.
In fact, he would have likely flaunted any active prescriptions and made up excuses to cat nap for extended periods of time, instead. He would have milked it for all it was worth, sympathy-wise.
Now he's not only feeling an inordinate amount of shame, he's also taking on full responsibility for the emotional reactions of others.
What's worse - on top of that - Jane doesn't seem to have registered a basic sense of betrayal. He hasn't shown any upset with the team. Not with me, for even thinking it was possible that he could have harmed innocent women, never mind his own wife and child.
He's not even upset with Rigsby.
And I understand that he's relieved, all things considered. That despite the sickening memories he's recently had to face, he at least has been handed back some small amount of hope.
I get that.
What concerns me is the lack of self-preserving emotions he's displayed. Because while he's gone through almost every emotion you'd imagine - and then some - he's failed to exhibit one primary and vital to his very recovery.
He hasn't really gotten angry yet.
Not in any observable fashion that I can see.
It unnerves me, and I hate it, but there's not a lot I can do about it, either. I can't march over there and put a hand on his shoulder and make everything better. I can't hug him and make his pain and grief disappear. And I certainly don't want to work him up, and get him angry. I am scared myself by the well of anger that must exist in his soul.
How deep his anger must run.
Moreover - I sense that he's scared by it, too.
"I don't know if I ever watched this, but this tune sounds like something I know. From a dream, almost. Or a very old memory," I add when Jane doesn't respond to my initial comments.
"You would have been maybe - maybe - two years old when it aired, Lisbon. I was much older, so it makes sense that I would remember it better."
"Much older, my ass. You're not even three years older than me, Jane! How much older could you have possibly been?"
He nods, but doesn't concede the point. "I was at least twice your age. That's a big difference when someone is two."
I roll my eyes. "Jane. Seriously? You would have been a preschooler. I don't think "much older" fits into any discussion having to do with toddlers. Ever. It's like saying "old baby." It's nonsensical."
He smiles at the bedsheets, not at my face - but then his smile drains away as water swirling down a drain.
"What is it?," I test gingerly.
"I remember this was playing in the background when my Dad took me home."
Took him home?
Oh, but then I get it.
Then I get it completely.
"This music was playing in the background," he repeats. "I was so hot and so cold - all at once. With a fever. I can remember. My dad gave me orange popsicles and I was so cold that I almost asked for something warm - but I didn't want to get him angry. I didn't want him to take me back."
No wonder he remembers this show.
This is the show that he has forever linked to his-
Which really wasn't a rescue at all, if you really think about it. It was just a father picking up his kid, and ensuring his son didn't die from god damn scarlet fever. Which would have been a real possibility given that Jane's drug addicted mother couldn't ensure that her child wouldn't be victimized even when she wasn't high.
So Jane's father wasn't really a man who'd win Father of the Year any time soon, but to Jane - he must have seemed like an angel. And this show?
Of course he'd remember this show...
"It felt good to be sick. Really sick, like that. It felt - like nothing hurt. Like I wasn't on earth, just up in the sky. And my dad gave me this pink syrup - it tasted gross - but it made me sleepy and it made me, I don't know - made me not care? I felt like I was floating - my brain was probably frying," and he makes a sound that could almost pass as a laugh, though the sound is devoid of humor.
Jane freezes for a moment, looking indecisive. A moment later he carries on.
"And I remember getting cold, and trying to get under the sheets because suddenly my t-shirt was gone. I remember that I started crying, and I remember my dad started shaking me a little bit, shaking me, asking me why I was bleeding. He was so angry, and I thought he was angry at me."
I swallow, but don't say anything, can't say anything.
"I was too scared to answer, Lisbon. So I just - I burrowed my face into the pillow, and he picked me up, and I screamed. He just said over and over again that I had to get cleaned up. I was so scared though - I thought the water was going to burn me."
His eyes are large and owlish, and something about him suddenly appears dissociative.
"I think - I think someone burned me, once. I think maybe someone burned me for being bad - when I was little," Jane whispers, and I sit down on the edge of his bed - about a foot away from him - and let my hand linger near the base of his skull.
"You were never bad, Jane," I say softly when he stops talking abruptly. "Do you want to tell me more? You can. It's alright."
A shuddering, breathless ripple goes through his body, but he's not done.
I don't think he'll be done for awhile. Not when these are the memories painted across his mind's eye every time he tries to go to sleep.
"What happened?," I encourage softly, almost needing to know as badly as he needs to tell.
"He didn't burn me. He put me in warm water, with bubbles. When he took me out of the water, the water was pink," and now - fear.
His voice shakes, and it rouses me to full attention.
"Jane-," and I gulp down a mass that feels as accusatory and out of place as a tumor. "You don't have to talk about this if you don't want to. Do you want to talk about this?"
"I'm sorry," he repeats, and his breath tickles my neck. "I don't know why I am talking about this. Today was supposed to be good. I'm sorry."
And whatever spell was cast on him is now breaking apart, and he quiets down, frantically wiping at his eyes.
I rub his back and only slow my actions when I feel him tense up.
"It's okay," I whisper against his ear - though I don't resume my motions. I have no idea what an innocuous touch - to me - might mean to him. Because maybe it started small. The abuse. Maybe it started with hugs and gentle touches on his head. Maybe it started with a man - not his daddy, someone else - complimenting him. Telling him what a cute little boy he was, how charming, how good.
Maybe his abusers even told him it was "okay."
As if reading my mind, Jane mutters, "I don't confuse you with them, Lisbon. They never hugged me. They were never nice about it. I mean-"
I get it.
"They weren't gentle. Not ever, it-" but he doesn't finish the sentence. Just gulps down the consonants, and comes back with more staggered speech.
"So I don't get scared when you touch me. I don't get confused or anything-," he trails off again, cheeks now bright red in the dim light.
The TV continues to flash and flicker on its mute setting, a red X splayed across the screen telling us to be
Jane's hands are playing with the hem of my shirt.
Playing with a loose thread.
I'm not even positive he realizes he's fiddling with the cloth that skirts and edges around my waist at all, if you want to know the truth.
"I'm sorry," he says less shakily now, "You didn't do anything wrong and I'm acting like you are going to-," he swallows, "I know you will never hurt me. It's not you, Lisbon. It's just that everything about me is filthy. What they did. It's all over me-"
"Stop. Jane, please stop talking like-"
His eyes flicker with something that looks a heck of a lot like guilt, then.
"You think I'm scared of you? I'm not scared of you! I just feel like I'm contaminating you, Lisbon! It was so disgusting, what they did and-," the words come out in one shuddering mass and tangle of sound.
"Listen to me, Jane," I rasp. "Nothing about you is contaminating me! Nothing about you is - or has ever been disgusting!"
"I am, though, Lisbon. I left him there. With my mother. And those men. He was just a baby, and I just left him there to be hurt like that! It's worse than being killed! But really they did that too, didn't they? They killed him, didn't they?"
His breaths are now coming out in rapid streams of noise - a high pitched wheeze alerting me to the very real fact that Jane is still extremely weak; his lungs are still recovering from a nasty bought of pneumonia, exacerbated my extreme malnutrition.
"You know what he is now! You know what he became. All because of me-"
He cannot afford to get this worked up.
He's already anemic, and stricken with pneumonia.
"NOT because of you," and my words sound like a growl, low in my throat. "You didn't leave John anywhere. You were just a little boy, and you had a high fever. So your dad took you away because he knew your mom couldn't take care of you properly. In no possible Universe are you to blame for this! For any of this!"
Jane's fingers feel cool against my skin, and the fact that he is so focused on the buttons on my cardigan only highlight his profound upset. He's not even meeting my eyes any more.
"You didn't make your mom turn to drugs," I continue a few moments later once I realize that he IS listening.
Listening as if his very life depends on what I do or do not say next.
"And it wasn't your fault that she became an addict. You didn't leave John with her to be hurt. You protected him as best you could for as long as you could, just like you tried to help your own mom."
I take one of his hands, and shake it in exasperation.
"Are you hearing any of this?I know you are listening, but are you hearing?"
He exhales, nods, and I can almost sense how sore his throat must be when he adds, "I knew what would happen if I wasn't there, though. The only way he was safe was when I was there. I shouldn't have let my dad take me away. I should have stayed with him, Lisbon."
"Patrick," I bite out, "the men that hurt you were pedophiles. And when your brother got older, they would have hurt him, too. The responsibility lies 100% with them, or with those adults that knew what was happening to you - but let you or John be hurt. None of it lies with you, do you understand?"
I see his lip clench up behind his teeth then. I see his eyes close into something terminal - and in that moment, I'm reminded of a guillotine coming down and ending all expression. That precise, rapid ending of sight, of sound - as he tries to control his pain and shut it back down into something he can repress.
"You were a terrified little boy. Just like any four year old would have been! No child would have wanted to go back to that! And it doesn't make you complicit just because you tried to stay away from it, either."
"I was so quiet though, Lisbon. For my dad. I tried so hard to be quiet so he wouldn't take me back. The clothes were so clean. I was so clean. I tried so hard to stay there, even though I knew John was all alone. Even though I knew no one would help him! I didn't even ask for my dad to get him too!"
He's too hurt for this to go away with a pep talk.
He's possibly too hurt for this to ever - fully - go away.
"He wasn't even two, Lisbon. He was just a baby. Just a baby. And then I forgot all about him. How could I have forgotten about my own little brother? What sort of person does that make me? To not even remember him at all?"
He makes a noise next to my throat next - a wretched sound, almost bestial. A shrieking kitten, a pig being slaughtered - some hapless creature facing annihilation - and I can feel heat in his expulsion of air.
Blood-hot breaths pelt my neck. Forceful breaths.
"You were trying to survive. You were just trying to survive," I repeat when he reaches out for me of his own volition.
There's no way he'll want to go out today.
He's too upset.
"Jane?," I murmur a couple minutes later, somewhat surprised when he tightens his grasp, "Do you want to stay here today, or do you want to go to the zoo?"
It sounds like a ridiculously stupid question, but I need to know what we're doing. I highly doubt Jane wants an orderly checking up on us, wondering what's the matter.
He's embarrassed enough as it is...
I do, however, realize my mistake as soon as I've spoken.
"I don't want you to leave," he pleads, as if that was ever an option.
I wind my free arm around his back, and let my other rest against his own. Tapping his fingers, I assert: "I never said I'd leave, buster. This is our day, and I'm not leaving until you ask me to go."
"Or until the front desk 'asks' you to return me?," he asks, still in that terribly soft voice and I can sense the fatigue behind his shallow grin.
"Or that," I concede. "Look - we don't have to leave. We can watch something on TV. A movie, maybe? There's got to be a movie starting soon on TV. Or we can play a game. You can teach me how to play Poker - properly, this time. Or we can go out for a bit, maybe get some hot chocolate? Go to a tea shop? Whatever you want to do. You choose."
He pulls back a few inches, and I realize for a man who has only recently been given control back over his own limbs that the choices I've outlined may seem dauntingly numerous.
Finally, he tries with a slight: "I'd like to get hot chocolate with you."
It's more question than anything else, and it makes me want to wince at the sheer vulnerability. Because his voice sounds almost shy; I'm reminded of a school boy whose just asked a girl out on a date. His expression almost seems that uncertain and now - with his cheeks flushed - I actually have to resist an impulse to ruffle his hair.
"Hot chocolate it is, then," I state, resolute.
The last thing I want Jane to do is to agonize over a decision that should really just be fun.
"Come on. Let's get out of here and get some hot chocolates."
Jane zips up his sweater jacket and follows me out the door.
"Aww, cripes," I hiss at the traffic.
It shouldn't be this jam packed.
Not on Duncan and Fletcher Street.
"Did everybody decide to skip work today just to piss me off?," I grumble - more to myself than my companion, although Jane smiles elegantly up at me from the passenger side seat.
Of course. The man has hearing like a bat.
"Yes - just to piss you off," he states - looking so much better in such a short period of time that Wanda's assertion of his resilience is starting to really hit home.
"Are we going to Morris Park Center?"
"I thought it would make sense. They have about a gazillion little coffee shops and book stores and all sorts of selection. Why? Did you want to go somewhere else?"
"No, Morris Park Center is fine. More than fine. Really. We can go to Fuel and get some extra caffeine with our hot chocolate."
"Riiight. Nice try, mister. I'm not jacking up your hot chocolate with espresso, Jane. That's not a hot chocolate anyway. That's a mocha. And you know what Sattler said. Minimal caffeine."
Jane stops fiddling with the stereo knob and gives me a look that almost could pass for one of his classic pouts.
"But there's caffeine already in hot chocolate," he sing songs, before hitting the scan button once more.
"Yes, there is. So you're lucky to even be getting hot chocolate. I mean, your options could suddenly become limited to rosehip or chamomile tea."
I fix him with a stern look, mock though it is. "And are you sure you even care to listen to music? You've been at that for at least fifteen minutes."
Jane suddenly zips up his sweater-jacket to his neck, trembling. He's still cold though I'm not surprised. Now - away from other chronic depressives and hospitalized individuals, his thinness is becoming all the more staggering.
And I knew he'd be cold - hence, the recommendation of a hot beverage, and not an outing for pistachio ice cream or something equally chilling. But I didn't know he'd be this cold, or else I would have demanded he bring a coat.
"I want to listen to music. I don't want to listen to bubblegum pop," he mutters a few seconds later, and I want to smile wholeheartedly given that he just seems so normal right now.
So natural, and unguarded.
And I've missed this.
I've missed my friend.
When I realize he's watching me attentively, I clear my throat and utter: "Try 97.3 FM. It's a classical music station. At this time of the day, it's mostly romantic era stuff. Magical. Christmas-y."
"Oh, you've already sold me, don't worry Lisbon," Jane smiles right back, then hits 'scan' and waits until the radio flips around to the correct station. We listen for a moment as 97.3 tunes in and a cheery selection from The Nutcracker starts up a moment later.
"Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy? I love this piece! Although it's a rather jubilant number to have been composed by such a chronic depressive, don't you think? Makes you almost wonder how melancholics can write such uplifting scores."
Jane takes a breath then, low and heavy - as if short on oxygen. His voice also still sounds cut up and raw, and I motion for him to search the glove compartment. "There's some throat drops in there. Cherry, I think."
His eyes shift from my face to where I am currently pointing, and he slowly unlocks the compartment a moment later, searches around for the proffered lozenges. I am rewarded when Jane extracts a plastic tub of Sucrets and takes one out of the foil enclosure.
"Sucrets are definitely my favorite from the cough drop family, but I wish they still came in a metal tin. It's less special now. They've lost that special aura that made me want to eat them."
"Oh woe is us, Jane," I chuckle, amused - though equally pleased that he's relaxed enough to yammer on about a subject as inane as cough drops. Weirdly enough, it makes me feel like everything is going to be okay.
That everything will be fine, in the end. Even if my friend is currently reading the back of a Sucrets container. Reading the ingredients list of said cough drops as if the secrets of the universe were etched on the box in type 1 font.
"Is your throat sore or not?"
"Little bit," he agrees, popping a Sucrets out of its packaging and into his mouth. "You don't mind if this is on?," he asks a second later, indicating to the heat button.
"Of course not. It is getting chilly lately, anyway. You're just feeling it so intensely because you're a string bean now."
I hear the sound of crunching pause as Jane devours the lozenge, then mutters, "Says Miss Pint-Sized."
I then pull up into the lot for Kindelmaar's Books.
"This isn't Fuel," Jane points out. "Don't you want coffee?"
"Well, they have a bistro here that makes really good hot chocolates and other drinks. Plus, this way we can snap up some more Sudoku books for you," I explain needlessly.
I really don't need to sell him on the venture: Jane is looking up at the red and blue wood sign with interest and in the next breath he gets out of the vehicle, and slams his door shut with a reverberating ping.
"Jane!," I call out - prompting him to turn back around to me and freeze; a look of chastised awareness splashing across his features when I add, "Just - oh, you know. Stay close."
And then I see shame.
Even though he swallows down his discomfort with a smile and pipes back with a somewhat stung: "I know, Lisbon. Stay where you can see me and don't act like a crazy person. I get it."
"I get it," he states again, although this time he's whispering.
Mostly to himself.
We still walk into Kindelmaar's together.
I feel moronic, glancing over my shoulder every five seconds to look at my friend - who is currently slumped down in an unmoving hump, scanning through book after book on the Roman Empire.
I don't feel moronic for keeping an eye on Jane, mind you.
I feel moronic for debating with myself over whether or not I should grab a ridiculously sweet brown bear plush that is googling at me from the shelves.
Grab it, and buy it for Jane.
It would be nothing but an impulsive purchase, to be sure. But it also screams Patrick Jane! - what with its little mock wool jacket and toggle buttons, checkered scarf and galoshes.
It's the quintessential Rupert bear plush, complete with even a satchel bag. Straight from England.
It's the type of stuffed animal Jane would probably love.
If he were five, Teresa.
If he were five...
Regardless, I highly doubt he ever had a teddy bear when he was a little kid, anyway. So it's not a matter of IF would he like it. It's more the question of will I embarrass him if I purchase this?
Will this make him more uncomfortable if I do?
Something's telling me to just buy it. Just buy it, along which a whole whack of Sudoku books, and maybe just stuff a gift card into the satchel bag, too. Say that it comes that way, now.
That the gift cards come with stuffed animals now. I mean, other retailers are doing it.
Because something tells me he could possibly -need- something like this.
Which sounds ridiculous, I know.
But I can't shake the sense that he would like it.
Something soft, and safe, and full of childlike spirit.
Something he never got the first time around.
"Do you know what you want?," I ask Jane freely as he squints up at the overhanging board of beverages.
He looks indecisive.
"What do you want?," he asks softly; I can sense that his shyness is back ten-fold. I mean, there is something undeniably cute about Jane right now. Something almost endearing about his tentativeness. But that's only until I remember that the source of this new found behavior is uncontainable anxiety.
"I think I'm going to get a triple mocha espresso," I state firmly when I hear him shuffle up to read the board with greater clarity, "Maybe even a quadruple mocha espresso."
He blinks over at me quickly, laughs, and the sound is balm to my nerves.
It's a perfect sound.
"You are such a tease," he chuckles. "Have you ever tried the 'Mint London Fog'?," he queries, eyes still squinting to such a degree that I almost wonder if the man needs glasses.
"Or should I not even tempt it? I mean mint and bergamot? Is that too much?"
"I don't think it's too much," I offer, semi-helpfully at best.
I definitely don't think it's too much-
-considering I'm carrying around a children's teddy bear for you.
Because -God- if mint with bergamot is too much then what is Jane going to think of me when I give him a toddler's toy as a present?
The barista comes forward then - breaking me from my musings - and politely asks us for our order.
"I think we'll take one London Fog and one Mint London fog?," I supply, and Jane's eyes suddenly burn with a tender awareness. "Lisbon, you don't even like-," he whispers, looking alarmed.
"Also a walnut fudge brownie for me, and a blueberry muffin, right Jane? Or did you want something else?"
Jane shakes his head - watching hungrily as the woman pulls out the largest blueberry muffin she can find from the display case.
"Would you like it heated, sir? With butter?"
Jane is now eying the muffin as if he's a mouse being offered cheddar cheese.
"Yes, please. To both, thank you."
The woman nods, and gives us a little Christmas Stocking marked with the number 11 for our table.
"I can bring everything out to you in a couple minutes if you'd like?," she queries, while I nod and Jane selects the task of finding the booth furthest away from the windows.
He gets so many headaches now.
I sit down opposite him, and check my watch. 4:11 PM
He doesn't need to be back at the clinic until 6.
We have a solid hour, minimally.
I wait until our barista comes around with our beverages and snacks before I hesitate with my gift. Pushing the beverages towards Jane, I indicate that he should try both.
"Take whichever one you like best," I state when he looks slightly confused. "I'm not partial."
"I can't drink from both - you'll get sick."
"Okay, well - how about this?," I take a serving tablespoon and dip it into the first beverage, pulling up a little Mint London Fog up as if it's soup. Jane takes the bait then smacks his lips together quietly, lost in thought.
"So? Any good?," I inquire.
"Too minty sweet. Like creme de menthe. I don't know if I could drink the whole thing."
I roll my eyes.
"Shocker, that. It tastes like "mint." Oh how could we have ever known, I wonder? If only there had been some sort of CLUE!"
"You're a sarcastic little thing when you don't get your caffeine, aren't you?," Jane says around a mouthful of muffin while I nudge the classic London Fog over his way. He takes it gratefully - but not without the slightest bit of uncertainty.
"Don't worry about it, Jane. I like mint. I like almost any drink that's sweet, really. And this is sweet, you said?"
"Ohhh yeah. It's most definitely sweet. I can already feel the cavities forming in my teeth as we speak."
I put down my brownie, somewhat put-off. "Lovely image, there. Thank you for that."
He nods, grins, then pulls apart his muffin a little more and dunks it in his London Fog while I take another bite of my chocolate confection. A couple bites more, and a comfortable silence envelopes us both; I seize the moment and quickly drop the little Rupert doll in the middle of the table.
Before I lose my nerve...
I wait until Jane fully registers the stuffed animal that's sitting four inches from his plate and try not to smirk when he almost chokes on his muffin.
"What's that?," he points uncertainly, as if he's hallucinating. But then, suddenly - he's smiling.
Thank God he's smiling...
Also - what's more - he's not smiling like someone who thinks the thing is stupid.
He's smiling like he finds it charming, perhaps. Maybe.
"That's Rupert Bear," I state quickly - my voice more ramble than anything else.
"My mom used to read me all the stories when I was little. There's a gift card in his satchel for you too - so you can get some books to take back with you before we leave."
Jane takes the doll almost reverently, his fingers tapping along the wood toggle buttons of Rupert Bear's coat.
"It was an impulse buy, so don't go teasing me about it, alright? I saw him and I thought of you. Must be the outdated - through spiffy - outfit. Circa 1890 or something, am I correct?"
Jane's eyes are still bright, though his smile (previously amused) is now fading away completely.
"I thought if it just makes you laugh, well. Mission accomplished. Feel free to laugh anytime, there."
Although Jane doesn't really look like he's even close to laughing anymore.
He looks like he's close to crying. And that's certainly not the emotion I was expecting; though if I had stopped to THINK at all, I should have entertained it as a very real possibility.
Simply because he probably never had anything like this as a child. Not one tiny scrap of plush or fiber ever meant to be comforting. One could even argue that he didn't have a childhood, and that something so whimsical - after everything he's gone through in the last couple weeks - would have like-lied prompted more pain.
"Jane - it's just a bear," I mutter, my voice low and timber gentle so as to not raise attention from the other patrons. "It's just a silly bear doll. Please don't be upset."
"I'm not upset," he breathes out, before he then wipes his eyes before drawing the doll closer to him.
"Thank you, Lisbon. He's-"
But he doesn't finish speaking, and I know he isn't planning to, either. That he won't. Or possibly can't.
"You're welcome," I say - so slightly that I almost wonder if he would have heard me at all.
Although maybe now is the time for some silence, anyway. Especially as Jane continues to stare up at the plush as if it's a living, breathing thing. A real being. A human child.
"I've always loved this little guy - as long as I've known him. He is one of my very favorites - one of my absolute favorites in the whole world," and I squeeze Jane's hand strongly this time.
Because we both know that I'm not talking about stuffed animals anymore.
He swallows, then nods.
And then he squeezes back.