Title: In the Cards
Disclaimer: No, there were no TV shows among my birthday presents. And I don't own Casablanca either.
Summary: Minor spoilers for 5x3, Not One Red Cent, and 5x1, The Crimson Ticket. Jane teases Lisbon about her poker skills, which leads to a conversation that surprises them both. Starts out as friendship but will wander into romantic territory before we're done.
Author's Note: There are already several great tags for Sunday's episode out there, but this story took me on a longer road. I hope to keep it to two or three chapters so it won't become The Story That Ate My Life (I had enough of that with A Change of Plan)!
Last night's poker game had been fun (and profitable), but Lisbon was paying for it now by trying to catch up on the case paperwork long after everyone else had gone home. Well, almost everyone. Jane was back to his old habit of haunting the attic like a mischievous ghost and making unexpected appearances at odd hours. But she didn't mind. She still recalled all too vividly how she'd missed him while he was gone, and knowing where he was freed her mind up to worry about other things.
Now he was demonstrating another old habit, turning up as if summoned by her thinking about him. "Do you need something, Jane?" she asked, looking up at him in the doorway.
"Well, as a matter of fact, you could satisfy my curiosity about something," he replied, coming into the office and perching on her desk.
She leaned back in her chair before realizing that he'd invaded her personal space on purpose. He was trying to throw her off balance for some reason. She sat forward again, determined not to let him. "About?" she prompted.
"The whole office is abuzz with stories about you fleecing the FBI in a poker game last night."
She rolled her eyes. "I didn't fleece anybody. I went to build some goodwill, so fleecing would have been counterproductive. I played a good game and won a little money, that's all. Nothing remarkable, unless you count being in the same room with Bertram for three hours without anybody's job being in jeopardy."
He grinned. "Ah. Building goodwill on more than one front, I see."
"It's only a matter of time before you land me in hot water again. I'll take any goodwill I can get. "
"Wise of you." He gave her a charming smile, which probably would have worked as a distraction if she hadn't known him so well.
"Out with it, Jane. What do you want to know?"
"If you're such a card sharp, why don't I know about it? You never play poker with me." His fake pout was adorably comic, and she couldn't help smiling in response.
"I only like to play when there's a chance I'll win, or at least lose fair and square. Playing poker with you would just give you an excuse to irritate me, something do enough of already."
He couldn't dispute that. "It's nice that you can still surprise me after all these years, Lisbon."
But the slight crinkle around his eyes was saying something different, she realized. He'd slid back into his old habits and their routines like he'd never left, but underneath the surface normality was a riptide of uncertainty. They each kept checking to make sure the other hadn't changed too much, that they could still rely on each other. He didn't like finding out something new about her any more than she'd liked his change of footwear.
Beneath all that glib arrogance, Jane could be as vulnerable as the next person, she knew. Tonight she could see a little insecurity peeking out from behind his practiced composure, wanting to know that he still belonged, was still wanted and accepted after his long absence. She was touched, but she knew he'd reject any outright assurances.
"Why be surprised? I'm a cop who grew up with a bunch of guys. Of course I can play poker."
"True." He let out a sigh. "It was just so disheartening to have to tell all those people who approached me for tips that I had no hand in your mad poker skills."
She chuckled, picturing those conversations. "Well, that's not a hundred percent true, is it?"
"Jane, you've been reading and misdirecting people pretty much every day for a decade now, and nine times out of ten I've been standing right next to you when you did it. I was bound to pick up a few things. Bertram's tell is so obvious I actually had to throw a few hands to keep from ruining the goodwill effort."
He grinned, seeming happy again. "So is this going to become a regular thing?"
"Maybe. Being further down on the career ladder, I have less free time for card games than the rest of them." She looked at him suspiciously. "Why? If you think I'm going to try sneaky interrogations with that crowd, think again. Goodwill is what I'm going for here, not the opposite."
"No, no," he said, completely failing to convince her. "I was just wondering if I was now going to have regularly scheduled time to lay the groundwork for my cunning plans without having to distract you first."
"Well if you're going to threaten me, I'll just have to keep you guessing."
He chuckled appreciatively, then sobered. "I know you know this, but just…be careful."
She let out a long sigh. This was the conversation she'd expected, the one he'd come in here to have. "Jane, I'm not going to make small talk about any leads we get on Red John over a poker game. How stupid would that be?"
"I'm not worried about that. Of course you wouldn't. It's just that this may be the stepping stone to other activities that might seem more harmless. Where you'd be more relaxed."
"In other words, the poker game and face time with the bigwigs might be the gateway to, horror of horrors, a date with Mancini?" She folded her arms and gave him her best "you're such an idiot" look. "So what? The rules still apply. Jane, honestly, you think you're the only one around here who thinks about these things? Have you not noticed that Rigsby's the only one of us with a life, that Grace and Cho and I have all but stopped dating? And even if we did date someone, it could never turn serious because there would always be that little nagging doubt. None of us are going to forget about O'Loughlin. None of us are going to spill any secrets during pillow talk. Any more than you did."
He grimaced a little to acknowledge her point. "It's natural to want to trust people, Lisbon. Especially people with whom you share some affinity, like others in law enforcement. And I know how tiring it can get having to suspect everyone around you except our little family. It just might be better to avoid temptation, is all I'm saying."
"I'm not going to shut everyone else on the planet out of my life just in case. I can't live like that."
"Fair enough." He seemed sad now, she thought. Was it because she was refusing to buy into his paranoia and validate his own choices? Or because he thought she was setting herself up for needless pain? Which, she had to admit, she might be.
She gentled her tone. "I promise you, I'll be careful."
"Good." He smiled, trying for a lighter note again. "And if you ever do want some poker tips, I'm more than happy to show you."
"You're always saying I'm such a terrible liar. What makes you think I'd be a good cheat?" she asked, half-serious.
He gave her a long, measuring look. "You've gotten better at the lying. You even fooled me recently."
"When you told me you wouldn't listen in on me and Lorelei."
He sounded annoyed, but she suspected it was more about his failure to read her correctly than her hearing what he'd said and done. "That wasn't a lie exactly. I mostly meant it at the time. But then I just couldn't go through with it. Anyway, you lied to me first. Since when do you need to know you're telling the truth to sell it? You just didn't want me to rein you in or take you off the case. As if I would."
He dropped his gaze for a moment, then sighed. "All right. I apologize for that. I shouldn't have underestimated you."
"You didn't underestimate me. You just didn't think you could trust me all the way to the end. After all I did, Jane!" The words tumbled out of her before she could stop them. "And now you come in here to warn me I might be hanging out with Red John's latest mole, as if you don't think I realize it. If you won't trust me, at least don't treat me like an idiot!"
He let her words hang in the air for a few seconds before responding. "I do trust you—"
"Saying you trust me isn't the same as acting like it," she retorted. "Put up or shut up, Jane."
He chewed on his bottom lip. "See, this—this is what I'm having trouble with. You've said variations of that to me before, but I never had the sense it was an ultimatum. Now I do. You've changed, Lisbon. I know it's my fault," he added quickly to forestall her reply. "You worried about me all that time I was gone, and now you wonder if I'm worth it. Because we both know I can't be trusted not to do something just as drastic if I think it'll give me a shot at Red John. You look at me differently now, and I hate it, but I know I deserve it."
"I don't…feel any differently about you, Jane," she said carefully.
"But you feel differently about how you feel about me," he replied quietly. "You feel the need to make changes. Your makeup, your hair, your clothes, playing poker with the bigwigs…. You're starting fresh. Next you'll start thinking it's time to step away."
She wondered if he had a point. She hadn't examined her own motives, but she'd been vaguely aware since his return that she needed some kind of reserve to draw on for the next time he hurled them both over a cliff. Still, she was not going to abandon him. If she didn't stand by him, who would?
She shook her head. "I'm not going anywhere."
"But you should." His voice was so quiet now that she could barely hear him, especially since he was looking down at his hands. "You know you should. And I should let you. But I can't."
"I'm not asking you to," she said firmly.
He finally broke the silence with, "Maybe not today. And maybe not tomorrow. But soon…."
She grinned, relieved to be able to put the conversation back on a lighter note. "You do a terrible Bogart impression." She reached out and put her hand on his arm, squeezing lightly. "It's okay, Jane," she said, willing him to read the truth in her eyes as he finally looked at her. "Just…can we keep the unpleasant surprises to a minimum? We were doing so well there for a while."
Before he'd started laying the groundwork for his breakdown. She saw him realize it at the same time she did. Of course she'd been having trouble; his hidden plots were making her subconscious brace for another impact.
"All right," he pretended to grumble. "But it's so much less fun that way."
"Think of it as your contribution to my continued sanity," she said dryly. "And who knows? If you behave yourself, I might give you a chance to win some of my poker money one of these days."
"Oooh," he said in mock excitement, getting to his feet. "Can there be drinking, too? I've always suspected you were a giggly drunk."
"Jane, you don't even want to know what you'd have to do to find that out," she retorted.
"I can guess, but you don't really want me to fill out all my own complaint paperwork, do you? You know you'd just end up doing it over again."
"You could try not generating any."
"Omelets, eggs, etc." He waved a hand as if to dismiss the idea. "I'll leave you to it."
She bent over her work again, but looked up a minute later to find him in the doorway looking at her with a peculiar intensity. "You know that if you ever need my help, with poker or anything, all you have to do is ask," he said.
She smiled. "I know, Jane."
"Good." He nodded to himself and left.
And she did know, she reflected. In fact, she had to remember to be careful what she asked for around Jane. It took only a passing comment about wishing the FBI would disappear to prompt him to commit a whole string of illegal acts and frame a (well, not innocent, but not guilty of the crime they were investigating) man to grant her wish. As long as Red John wasn't involved, she could rely on him, although she might disapprove of his methods. The thought was comforting. Mostly.
Although wondering what he thought she would need his help with in the near future was distinctly NOT comforting.
The next morning, she found half a dozen origami flowers on her desk, the petals made from playing cards.