a/n: I apologise for any canonical errors. I have not yet watched season four but am acquainted with the basic facts and hopefully you can forgive any discrepancies.
dear in the headlights
Rummaging in our souls, we often dig up something that ought to have lain there unnoticed. –— Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
It seems to make sense at night. Two glasses of red wine, her favourite song, his favourite perfume, and it makes sense. He sweats, lithe and golden with the moonlight coming through the window. She groans, clutches at the bedclothes with desperate fingers, pretends she doesn't hear the name he gasps.
Afterwards, he rolls over and goes to sleep and she showers and cries. It's a pattern. Easy. Reasonable. It's dark out, so it makes sense.
In the morning, her pillow is damp and his side of the bed is empty and none of it makes sense at all. The light is too bright, she's an idiot, he's Jane and the world doesn't spin right any more. All the dogs in China sat down at once, she thinks as she readies breakfast, and maybe it's a good thing he never stays because he never sees her mad in the mornings, laughing to herself in her underwear with her feet jammed into her sister's old slippers.
The dogs sat down, she'd told Rigsby three lunchtimes ago, when he'd drawn her aside and asked what was wrong. The dogs all sat down. She hadn't meant to say anything but she'd met Jane's eyes by accident across the room and he'd displaced her just by being.
("Rigsby cares too much," he'd whispered to her the previous night. Sort of sadly, too, not even spitefully. "Not just for you. I mean, you especially, obviously. But about everything. Justice. Bets. You. Me. Lisbon. Cho. All of us, all of it. He cares so much."
You care, she'd wanted to whisper back, You care just as much. But she hadn't, and she won't think about why she didn't dare.)
Today Rigsby is pestering her in the kitchen. She's making coffee for herself and Lisbon, tea for Jane, and trying not to hear him. He's talking so calmly, so reasonably—she is affected, she is trying too hard to feel normal, it's okay not to be normal, things have happened, Grace you're not listening to me—and she is concentrating on the cup in front of her and trying not to realise that she can make the perfect cup of tea for Jane these days.
"Grace," Rigsby is saying insistently, "Grace, look at me. Grace."
She looks because looking is what the normal her would do and she makes a face and throws the teabag into the trashcan without needing to watch.
"Grace," Rigsby says again, and she thinks maybe he just likes the way her name sounds in his mouth, "Grace, I want you to—"
"Is that my tea?" another voice interrupts, and quick clever hands are descending between them to prise the cup from her before she can react, "Hope you've improved your tea-brewing skills, my dear Van Pelt."
"Do you, Jane," she replies curtly, not bothering to turn to find his face. She's not sure if it's because she's angry or because she's scared and she doesn't think she wants to know, either. She watches Rigsby watching him instead, and reads him like an open book. (This is what every other human is like to Jane, she realises—he reads everybody the way she reads Rigsby. If it feels to him the way reading Rigsby feels to her then she's sure she's glad she doesn't have that skill. It's exhausting. Sickening, even.)
Rigsby is suspicious and conflicted and he's known something has been going on here since he popped over to check on her one evening and found Jane's car outside her building. She knows he doesn't know what, but it's enough to make the veins on his forearms rise thick and dangerous as his fists clench.
"Rigsby," she says quietly, reaching out to touch the very tips of her fingers to his arm, "Rigsby. Are you okay?"
He relaxes, untenses, and his eyes float down to find hers as Jane's footsteps retreat behind her. He's lying when he replies, "Yeah. Yeah, I'm good."
"Good," she murmurs, "Good. I—that's good."
As she walks back to her desk she wonders if there's any of them telling the truth any more.
Three weeks later she snaps. He already knows something is up. She has not left the bed to shower the way she always does, and so he has heeded the unspoken signal and not presented her with his back to fall asleep.
"If this is about Rigsby," he begins, but she cuts him off with a hiss before he can continue. Her gaze is fixed on the ceiling but she can feel his on the side of her face, burning patterns there. When she does not respond he heaves out a great sigh and she hears him shift on the bed next to her. She wonders if he feels guilty, and hates herself for hoping that he does.
"You know," she says suddenly, piercing the quiet, her voice curiously light, "My sister killed herself when I was fourteen. Just—I was right there in the bedroom. We used to share. Bunkbeds, you know? She was on the top one because she was older. And she just… she took some pills. She thought—she'd seen a show where pills made a girl die quietly. And she thought… that's why she got them. She didn't have anywhere else to go to die so she thought she'd get some quiet ones so she didn't wake me."
She has his full attention now. She can feel it pressing against her, probing gently, but she doesn't look. Her gaze is stone, locked to that small spiral on the ceiling, her tone as casual and calm as ever despite what she is saying.
"But they were messy. I was asleep and I sort of woke up. Slowly, you know? Like when you've been having a nice dream and the light comes through the window over your face. The beds were shaking, kind of, and she was making this funny sort of gasping noise. Like she always used to do when girls in movies did something she thought was stupid. And I thought she was just being weird, so I told her—I said, Sarah, shut up. I'm trying to sleep. And then she just… she said my name. Like a cough. But I knew it was my name."
His fingers press against hers under the bedsheets then, insistent, but she pulls her hand away like he's burning her. She wants to tell him that she can't stop now it's coming out but she can't, if she stops she'll stop forever, and she can't do that. Not now, not now.
"I thought she was joking, but I knew something was wrong at the exact same time. Weird, right? How that happens? Anyway, so I stood up," and her breath catches here, heaving faster, "And I climbed up the ladder a little bit to see her. And she was clutching her throat and sort of crying and gasping and she just stared at me. Like an animal, like when a deer realises the hunter has it pinned. Wild and crazy and so so scared. And I couldn't do anything. I couldn't even scream, I—I just froze up. I just stood there and stared at her and she was saying sorry, over and over, and I couldn't, I didn't, I just—"
There is a twist of movement beside her and before she can evade it an arm is slipping under her shoulders, another folding her into a bare chest, lips against her hair and lies against her skin.
"Shh," his voice whispers, strong and quiet like a mountain, "Shh. Grace. It's okay, Grace. It's okay."
Her breath comes back to her all at once, shuddering and gasping, retching, choking, and he just holds her and holds her and holds her.
"It's good," he says at one point, just loud enough for her to hear through the waterfall pounding in her ears, "It's good to say it. It makes it easier, I promise. Honestly, Van Pelt, Grace, it does."
It takes her four tries to heave out her answer between sobs but she manages eventually.
"Then why don't you?"
After that he comforts her silently, and later on when she needs more than an embrace he is tenderer than he has ever been, watching her face and not imagining her somebody else, whispering her name and looking sad only on her behalf and not his own.
It should feel like a triumph, but instead it feels rather like a tragedy.
The next morning she leaves before him for the first time and drives all the way to Lake Berryessa before she turns around and comes back. Lisbon chews her out for being late, and it's all "You've been off lately, something's up with you, are you sure you don't want time off," but Lisbon is Lisbon and it's been the fact of it from the start that she does not do girly chats or talking about feelings. So Grace just mumbles out apologies and ignores Jane asleep on the sofa and tries not to think about how the way Rigsby looks at her makes her heart hurt. Emotions are far too complicated for this time of the morning, so she makes herself a cup of coffee and sits down in front of her computer and loses herself in numbers and names and cross-references.
Jane wanders out before too long, and obviously she doesn't notice because she's ignoring him, kind of. Rigsby is at her desk the next moment, his voice low and urgent.
"Grace, seriously," he says, one hand on the back of her chair and one on her desk, looming over her, jealous and concerned and desperate all at the same time, "What is up with you two? You and Jane, I mean. Something's weird, even Cho's noticed, I mean—Grace. You're not listening. Again."
She isn't, so she shakes herself and apologises. It takes her a long uncomfortable silence to find the right answer.
"I just—he sort of… he gets it. Almost."
Rigsby's expression morphs into one of hopeless confusion, and he leans closer as he begs, "Gets what? Please, Grace. He gets what?"
"Just… what it's like. Getting stuck inside your head."
He ends up mouthing helplessly at her then, and so Grace stands up and walks out of the building without another word.
She goes to Jane's house. She doesn't know why, or how—she doesn't really know anything these days apart from what it feels like to suffocate inside your own skin. She picks the lock of the front door with ease (another thing he taught her, after how to best arrest a suspect and what to do if a mad guy points a gun at your head—the answer to both is hope Lisbon arrives soon—) and wanders in through the empty house. It echoes, aches, mourns, and the feel of it sends goosebumps racing up and down her limbs.
She climbs the stairs, conquers the corridor, and turns the handle of the room with curious detachment. It's so cold inside this house. Colder still inside here, with the big red face on the wall and the single bare mattress sitting quietly beneath it. Once upon a time Grace believed in ghosts and this room would have left her gasping and terrified. But she's known Jane too long, too intimately, and ghosts hold no terror for her at all. Why bother making up monsters when there are enough in the world already?
She sits down gingerly with her back against the wall and her feet stretched out in front of her. Her eyes drift up to watch the clouds against the sky, the mattress soft beneath her, and she wonders if walls remember fear the way the body does (choking, retching, Grace, Grace I'm sorry).
Jane finds her before long, and she supposes that she's not surprised. The door opens slowly, he appears there, and he seems impossibly sad as he takes a step closer.
"Thought you'd be here," he says, shutting the door behind himself, "You're getting predictable, Van Pelt. Isn't that every girl's nightmare?"
"Go away," she murmurs softly, her head lolling sideways to regard him, "Just go away. Please."
"It's my house," he reminds her, and before she can protest he's sat next to her on the mattress gazing at that same square of blue sky through the opposite window. He draws his knees up, rests his arms on them, and they sit there for a long and silent while.
When something finally breaks the quiet, it turns out to be her. Her head twists sideways, her hair swings into the gap between them, and her eyes are caressing his face like she can get the answers if only she's tender enough.
"Can you make it stop?" she whispers, the sound sliding against his eardrums, "Everything was okay and then it wasn't and now I can't breathe properly and I want you to make it stop."
His fingertips find the line of her jaw, his leg the length of hers, and he sighs softly.
"I can't, Grace. I'm sorry."
She takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly, hesitantly, and then all in a rush. Her head droops sideways, her hair pooling beneath her cheek as she lowers her face to his shoulder.
"I nearly did it," she confesses so quietly it's barely louder than an exhalation of breath, "I nearly kept a lid on it. I thought maybe—but then you and Lorelai." She stops abruptly, because he has shifted beneath her cheek just slightly, enough to alert her to his uncomfortableness. But she has talked too much now to stop, and she needs to explain to him, anyway. Or maybe she doesn't need to, she just wants to, and that might be the scariest thing yet.
"I mean, it's like—you never, the whole time, not since Red John… and so for you to do that, to—well, you know. With her. It just… and then your face. I couldn't help it, I just…"
"You invited me back to yours because of my face?" he asks, and she doesn't have to look to know he's smirking, his attitude suddenly so light again, and so she presses a hand down hard on his thigh, nails digging in enough to hurt, and he hisses and moves away and there's a tiny bit of triumph but not nearly enough.
"Because you looked so sad," she retorts, pulling her head away, retreating to the other end of the mattress, "Because you looked like you were throwing yourself to pieces and I thought that maybe you could teach me how to not feel like that. You seem to recover so quickly, after all."
He is silent for a long while after that, his face shadowed as he gazes at his lap, and then before she realises it his head is up and his eyes are burning into hers and he looks desolate and furious at the same time exactly.
"I don't—I can't…" he trails off, and then attacks with renewed vigour, "There's no such thing as not feeling like that. My wife, your sister, my daughter… they're gone and you can't ever feel like they're not because they'll never not be gone. And I'm not like you. I don't even get to look forward to seeing them again."
She smiles, then, and moves back to sit against his side, something comforting about the feel of his suit against her bare arms and the warmth of him against the cold of her. He murmurs a "What?" as he raises a hand to trace the shape of her smile, and she shakes her head and presses her face into his shoulder to reorder her thoughts before she answers.
"Oh, Jane," she says, "I've known you for far too long to believe I'll see her again."
It wasn't funny, but she was smiling, and it's still not funny, but he's smiling too. His head wilts down to rest against hers, and his fingers drift down to toy with hers, and they sit under the red face like that for hours.
That night they go back to hers and drink too much red wine and sleep together for the final time. They fall asleep together, spines curved over each other, hands on skin and legs entwined and safety feels like this, she reckons. Like a fuzzy head and Jane's face against her hair and his arms around her waist and the whole warm weight of him pressing against the length of her.
The next morning she makes him breakfast and he drives her to work and he kisses her once in the elevator on the way up to the office. He doesn't say sorry, and neither does she. Instead they part as the doors open and she moves past him into the office and greets Rigsby and he makes a witty comment to Lisbon when she says something snide about his lateness and Grace laughs and he catches her eye and she thinks, okay. It's okay.
(Well, it's not at all okay, but it might be. One day, far away, if they live long enough to be old.)
a/n: I very much prize favourites, but if you would leave a review at the same time as favouriting it would be even more appreciated.