A/N: As always a HUGE thank you to everyone that left a review for the previous chapter, guests and logged in readers alike - you're absolute stars the lot of you :)
A quick note to jw: I'm so flattered that you couldn't wait until I'd finished the story to come to read the last couple of chapters! Gives me warm fuzzies inside :)
And to my wonderful beta who hasn't been able to help me out for the past few weeks - I'm thinking of you, hun.
Now onto October...
"But when you smile at the ground it ain't hard to tell,
You don't know you're beautiful"
~ What Makes You Beautiful ~ 1D
October 20th – 5.53pm
We caught a case last week where a man had a tragic background vaguely similar to myself.
Family killed in a car accident, him the only survivor. The other driver not convicted due to a technicality. The almost insane thirst for revenge…and he got it. Much good it did him. He just swapped one prison for another. Not that he seemed to care.
It was like sitting there and looking at a cracked mirror image of myself. What I could have become but for one person. There but for the grace of Lisbon, go I.
To say it was uncomfortable viewing is an understatement but there was one thing about his situation that finally forced me sit down and take a good, long hard look at myself.
It's been way overdue but, as is always the way, the solution to what appears to be, at times, an insurmountable problem is generally very simple.
Life is peculiar like that.
It's also confusing and frustrating. A source of joy and love and sadness and remorse…but at least I'm still here. At least I have a life to experience all these sometimes wonderful, sometimes turbulent emotions.
And that, I believe, is the crux of my problem…and my guilt.
I was so absolutely certain that my remorse was all tied up with my unhappy past that I didn't bother to look for another cause. Didn't even entertain the idea that my reluctance to take off my ring was for any other reason than my part in my family's untimely deaths and my need to make some inner peace with that.
And although that much is true to a certain extent, I soon realised it wasn't the basis for dragging my feet over its much delayed removal.
It's actually to do with the fact that I didn't die.
Years ago, Lisbon said that she thought I'd choose life…well, she was wrong. I never did. Oh, I admit I had moments of compunction over leaving her behind, I mean I loved her, even then…just not enough. Not like now. My vengeance was everything to me back then. There wasn't anything I wouldn't or didn't do to get it…with the odd exception. The entire time I searched for Red John, I was so certain that I knew what the inevitable outcome would be when I finally confronted him. Ultimately, I was prepared to die.
So when I didn't, I just wasn't emotionally equipped to deal with it. Like the man who lost his family in the car accident I developed some warped kind of survivor's guilt, I felt bad for not actually dying…and I believe that's the real reason I've found it so hard to move on now.
I'm punishing myself for still being here.
For trying to forge a new life…maybe even have another family one day when everything inside me is telling me that I shouldn't even be alive. I shouldn't be having the opportunity to go on. That I should have sacrificed myself like I unthinkingly did my wife and daughter…
Fourteen months after the event and I've finally figured it out. Better late than never I suppose but it still bothers me that I was so quick to see in another what I was so blind to see in myself.
But at least I understand my guilt now. What's more, I found I came to terms with it far quicker than I'd expected. It's much easier to forgive myself for living than it is finding some rationale for getting my family killed. At least Red John's death went some way to help me deal with that.
I glance down at my hand and smile. My ring is feeling lighter by the second now. The compulsive need to wear it is not nearly as strong as it was and I've decided that when we go back to Lisbon's place tonight, as has become our habit, I'm going to take it off.
"Jane, can I see you in my office please?"
I look up from my book with a ready smile, which rapidly fades when I see the troubled expression on Lisbon's face. Something's happened. Something bad by the look of it. I immediately put my book down on the couch and get up to follow her, keen to find out the problem. I only hope I can help.
"What's wrong?" I ask as soon as I shut the door to her office behind me.
"Sit down," she requests with a nod of her head to the chair on the opposite side of her desk.
She's not looking at me directly and a sense of foreboding starts to inch its way up my spine as I do as she asks.
"Well?" I prompt when the silence stretches between us for a few moments.
"Valley State just called me," she begins casually and my stomach plummets. Lorelei is incarcerated there. "They said they've not been able to get hold of you this week and wanted me to pass on a message."
"Lisbon, I can explain…" I quickly try to cut in but she's having none of it.
"I'm sure you can. You have an explanation for everything, don't you?" she replies acerbically.
I can see the anger simmering away just beneath the surface of her strained but still calm exterior and know it won't take much to make her lose it. I decide to try and diffuse the situation.
"Look, I didn't want to bother you with it," I say dismissively. "It's no big deal."
Her mouth tightens grimly at my words my hopes of this not turning into an argument take a downward turn.
"As your superior I have a right to know when a prison inmate requests a visit from one of my team," she snaps curtly.
Really? She's trying to make this about work?
"Well, I'm sorry Agent Lisbon but as I declined to go I didn't think it was important," I retort, feeling my own irritation start to rise. "Besides we both know what this is really about, so stop acting so put out."
"Oh? And what's that?" she asks brusquely.
"You're upset because you think I harbour some kind of romantic feelings for Lorelei even though I've told you many times in the past that I don't," I state matter-of-factly.
She stares at me in silence for a few seconds then I see her anger melt away, leaving disappointment and hurt in its place. I'm confused…and a little concerned because I can't help but feel that I've let her down in some way.
"You think I'm jealous of Lorelei?" she asks in disbelief then shakes her head with a sad, wry smile and continues, "I'm not. I just don't like the fact that you hid this from me, Patrick." Her use of my given name tells me this is serious and when she looks down briefly before returning her gaze to mine, I note with growing trepidation that there's a look of defeat in her eyes as she adds, "How can we have any kind of relationship if I can't trust you to be honest with me?"
Her words are spoken so softly and yet I feel the sting of every single one of them as if I've been slapped. How the hell do I answer that? Whatever I say will have already been contradicted by my actions in connection with Lorelei.
Still, I have to try…
"Teresa, I admit I should have told you about the calls; I made a mistake…"
"It's not just the calls," she interrupts sharply then noticeably brings herself up short and lets out a sigh. "You know what? I'm not doing this here. Just go. I'm done."
Where my stomach had fallen sharply before, now it starts to rise and I feel the nausea sit at the back of my throat at her words. I have to know what she means but dread it at the same time.
"With the conversation?" I ask, trying to control the quiver in my voice but failing miserably. "Or with us, Teresa?"
"Both!" she snaps incensed and my breath catches in shock. But then I breathe again when I see her look immediately contrite. She closes her eyes and pinches the bridge of her nose before saying wearily, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean that. I'm just angry and tired and hungry…not a great combination for me. I think I'm going to go home. Alone."
She opens her eyes and I nod silently. She gets up and gathers her things together quickly then, after bidding me a cursory goodnight, she leaves.
I go back to my couch heavy hearted and sit down feeling dejected. I have no-one to blame but myself and although I know she doesn't really want to see me, I also know that I can't leave it like this. It's the kind of thing that will fester and, for once, I don't want to just ignore it in the hopes that it'll go away. I want to make it right.
I try and occupy myself for an hour but my book no longer holds my interest and there's only so many cups of tea even I can drink so I spend most of the time simply sitting and thinking of what to say to save our relationship.
If I'm not careful, I could easily ruin this for good…if I haven't already that is…
Lisbon is understandably upset and even though she apologised, I know that she wouldn't have said what she did in the first place if there wasn't at least some part of her that had meant it…however deeply buried.
I check the clock and see it's time to go. I make my way down to my car then drive over to her apartment, stopping to buy some take out on the way. Partly as a peace offering, partly because I know she won't have eaten anything despite her admission to hunger. She just doesn't look after herself well enough.
I pull up outside her place then get out of my car and walk up to her apartment. I take a deep breath then exhale slowly as I knock firmly on the door and wait. After a few moments the door opens slightly and Lisbon scowls at me silently.
Not a great welcome.
"I brought food," I say holding up the paper bag with a smile.
She eyes the bag suspiciously then, to my relief, opens the door wider so that I may enter. I place the food down on her kitchen counter then turn to see that she's walked over to the far side of the room. The atmosphere feels awkward and everything about her stance is prickly and defensive; from her sullen expression, to her folded arms and rigid posture. I sigh inwardly at the task I have before me but I don't balk. She's worth it.
"I thought I told you I wanted to be alone," she says suddenly. "Why do you never listen to me?"
"I do…I just chose to ignore you this time," I reply lightly.
"You always ignore me," she mutters as she looks away.
I let her remark slide and take a couple of steps towards her only to stop when she visibly stiffens even more if that's possible. Despite her seemingly outward rejection of me, I take heart from the fact that she did let me into her home. Somewhere deep down she must want to sort this situation out as well.
"I'm sorry I didn't tell you about Lorelei," I begin sincerely. Her mouth thins into a grim line at the mention of the other woman's name but it needs to be said. "I thought that after the first call she wouldn't bother me again so I didn't say anything."
Lisbon shakes her head and rolls her eyes.
"You just don't get it do you?" she retorts unhappily. "You should have told me anyway, whether they called again or not."
"Why? Because of work?" I counter wryly.
"No…because we're supposed to be together," she argues irately. "That's what couples do, Jane. They don't hide things from each other, they talk, they share…and it's not just this thing with Lorelei, you do it all the time."
Guilty as charged but I feel I have a valid reason.
"It's only because I don't want to see you upset," I try to explain, hating the way she keeps making veiled references to us parting ways.
"I'd rather be upset and know you've been honest with me than have this feeling of…of betrayal that I have right now," she replies angrily. "This feeling that I don't mean anything to you." She stops suddenly and I can see the anger abruptly leave her taut body making her sag a little as she adds with obvious pain, "You hurt me."
Oh, God. Is this really what my own irrational fear and confusion has done to her? I've been so wrapped up in sorting out my own issues by myself that I didn't even realise that at the same time I was effectively shutting her out.
I close the distance between us to come to stand in front of her. My hands fist at my sides where I so badly want to touch her but won't because I can practically feel the rejection emanating from her tense, diminutive body.
"You mean everything to me, Teresa," I tell her earnestly.
The disbelieving look she gives me is like a knife to my heart and suddenly, nothing seems important anymore. Not my ring, my house, my demons, my misguided urge to protect her…all I know is that the three little words I've been too afraid to utter are now the easiest thing I'll ever have to say.
"I love you."
I hear a slight hitch in her breath and her eyes widen as she stares at me in shock. I can feel my own heart slamming away nervously in my chest but whatever happens now, I'm glad that I've finally told her. I've wanted to for so long now and I just pray that down to my own stupid foolishness it's not too late.
I watch her face carefully, anxious for a clue as to what she's thinking. Then, just when I'm about to make a stuttering apology for revealing such feelings, her stunned expression slowly fades and a light blush stains her cheeks. My throat tightens and I find breathing just that little more laboured as her lips suddenly quirk up into a small, shy smile and she looks down, biting on her delectable bottom lip.
I don't think I've ever seen her look more beautiful…or I've ever felt more relieved.
I say her name softly and when she looks up at me demurely from under her lashes I lean in, unable to hold back any longer. I need to seal my declaration with a kiss. As my lips meet hers she yields to me willingly, our arms wrapping around each other so tightly that I'm sure we'll never let go. The kiss is fierce and sweet and desperate and tender as I think we both know just how close we came to losing each other.
Finally I'm forced to relinquish her mouth in order that we can both draw breath, but I don't loosen my hold.
"If I'd known this was the best way to stop you being angry with me I'd have told you how I felt years ago," I joke with a grin.
"Yeah, well, don't think it'll get you out of trouble every time," she retorts with a smile.
"I won't," I assure her, suddenly solemn. I want her know how serious I am. "And I won't keep things from you from now on, Teresa, I promise."
She winces slightly then shakes her head.
"Don't promise; do it because you want to, OK?"
"I will," I agree sincerely. I know we still have a lot of things to work out but at least this is a start.
She nods and pulls away a little.
"I'm starving. What did you get?" she queries with a smile of anticipation.
I follow her lead to drop the subject for now and kiss her again before I let her go. We dish out the Chinese I stopped to pick up on the way then sit together on her couch and eat our food as she watches some reality show on the television while I just watch her.
I'm well aware she hasn't said she loves me back but although I'm a little disappointed, I'm not worried. Unlike myself, she shows me how much she cares every single day just from her simplest of actions. And considering how upset she was over everything, I know I need to show her that I mean what I say before I should expect her to make any kind of commitment, verbal or otherwise, back.
It's late by the time we've finished our dinner so I make a move to leave. We share a lingering kiss in her doorway then I bid her goodnight and walk over to my car with a spring in my step I haven't felt in years.
When I get in, I grip the steering wheel and the light from one of the street lamps catches my ring, drawing my attention as it glints brightly. I look at it with a smile and allow myself a few moments to reminisce about things past before I slowly reach over and pull it off.
I clasp it tightly in my hand for a second then resolutely put it into my vest pocket for safekeeping. My finger feels naked without the familiar metal band and I'm sure it'll take a little getting used to, but after today, I'm ready.
Finally, it feels right.
END CHAPTER 10
A/N: Please review if you liked it - let me know what you thought, I'm always eager to know :)
To be honest, as of this morning I only had just under two pages written for this chapter due to a truly hectic week - it's nearly Christmas apparently - so I'd just be happy if made sense! LOL!