Sleeves Stained Red

1

Summary: It seems the calm that so often comes before the storm has instead followed in the wake of its recession.

In a single smooth and seamless gesture the day is laid to rest as evening invokes the sky. The golden glow of the autumn sun takes its final bow and the horizon is set aflame with violet clouds and a crimson haze. Its beauty is enough to coax adoration from even the most cynical of men.

And yet, by you, the entire scene goes unnoted.

Your team is slowly working their way toward you. Personal belongings and unfinished paper work load them down as they scan the room for items whose absence would make the weekend impossible. Your movements catch their eye and it pulls a bit at your heart to see the slightest signs of worry cross their faces. The closing of your latest case has draped a heavy cloak of caution along the shoulders of every member of your team. Death is permanent, always, and yet with the dawning of Red John free days you all still feel the need to fear.

"Everything ok, Boss?" It's Cho who works up the nerve to speak as you all come to a stop along the inner corridor.

There's a need to comfort in you, it's strong and demanding and you know reassurance is what they're truly after. To hell with the truth, white lies were created to enforce the greater good.

"Everything's fine. Go home, get some sleep, enjoy the weekend." There's disbelief in the set of their eyes but respect holds a higher accord and they take your assurance and continue toward a hopefully eventless forty-eight hours.

You watch as they enter the elevator and catch the end of a conversation that was most likely started before you arrived. They'll spend a few hours together. Perhaps share a few slices of pizza followed by a few more glasses of their brand of liquid comfort.

You can't blame them or their need for comfort.

Haven't you come back here in search of your own?

You enter the bullpen and the floor is indeed deserted. There's a stillness here and yet it brings no relief. It fills every pour, every fiber, every breath to the point of suffocation. There's nothing affirming or forgiving in its presents. Instead it cloaks everything with a shadow of caution. Like a breath held in anticipation. It's heavy weight a reminder of the voids you've left unfulfilled. Of the lives lost and those which will never be the same again.

It's as if, even from the grave, control has not yet been released from the malicious hands of a man whose name leaves you with a longing to never mention again. There's an inkling of humor in that realization. How even in death, in pure justice, you're all still searching for something. Something you yourself understand will never come.

As you feared the couch is empty. As soon as death was declared, he was gone, mentally first and physically not long after, his need for solitude evident in every step he took.

That was three days ago.

Your breathing falters as you remember the darkness in his eyes the last time they met yours. Your need to sooth painted across every one of your features and his lack of acceptance equally so.

You walk toward the couch and wonder, as your heart pounds in your ears, if his form will every grace its length again.

As you finally turn to leave, there's a motion that catches your eye. There in the break room, its presents enhanced by the glow of the setting sun, the faintest curl of steam rising from the kettle.

He's here. He hasn't left you.

The knowledge lifts your spirits and the corners of your mouth. A reaction you'd refuse to allow to surface had the floor not been deserted. You force yourself to keep a slow and steady pace as you count your breaths and time your gate.

The blinds in your office have been drawn, an action you've had no time to execute yourself today. So you know he's here, and you know he can hear you coming. It hurts a little to know he'll take those few precious seconds to mask his feelings, install his wall of humor and deflections.

As you approach the door you wonder if you have the strength for his aversions and deception tonight. You're weary to the bone and your heart has been tugged so many times in his direction you can't help but pray the thinning seams that hold it all together can make it through whatever it is that's waiting for you both.

You pause a moment, your hand curling around the smooth surface of the handle and you rest your pulsing brow to the cold clear glass.

You've never been here before.

Red John has been the purpose of your years together. The driving force that brought him into your life is gone.

And you're absolutely terrified it means he's going too.

If he were anyone else you'd never question your worth. But Jane is a different story, so little of what's above the surface derives directly from what's beneath. You're important to him, you're important to each other. But for all you know your emotional attachment is something he's no longer capable of.

So with your heart in your throat you drum up the energy to push aside the last barrier between you.

He's seated not in his usual corner of the couch but perched, ankles crossed, on the edge of your desk. When your eyes meet, he's already rising and the robin's egg blue cup and saucer meet in a symphony of clatter that's so un-Jane-like it startles you both. He composes himself quickly, a half second at most, and sets the ceramic duo down on your desk and takes a cautious step forward.

You've barley entered your own office, only far enough for the door to swing closed with a gentle swoosh behind you. He leaves a span between you only large enough to keep your body heat from mingling. His hands go to his pockets and you cross yours eventually grabbing a hold of your elbows.

You're both faced with the inability to look each other in the eye. His stance is filled with awkward movements and nervous energy. Yours with your usual uncertainty, but thankfully over the years you've managed to master it gracefully.

"I'm sorry I left the way I did." He shuffles his feet as you realize how out of character a true and meaningful apology from this man is. Even with force or guilt it's practically unheard of. You feel your face grow warm and your eyes fill. "I would hope you understand that I had somewhere I needed to be."

"Malibu." You say it before you think it. You can smell the salt clinging to the air you share and his hair has more of a wind tossed look then a hand tossed one. And of course you know him well enough to know he would need to be close to them.

Your voice is watery, filled with an emotion you yourself could not explain. You mentally walk yourself though your calming method and drag your lower lip in and bite down hard. The taste of blood helps remind you that you have no business bringing your emotions here and you're ashamed you actually have.

He shocks you both a little when he closes the distance between you and his hands find purchase along your upper arms. The scent of salt is laced with the scent that can only be Jane and it invades what's left of the little sense you were clinging to.

Your together always, the job demands it, but never like this.

"Hey," He leans in, forehead bumping yours gently as his grip on you tightens. "Lisbon,"

"I'm sorry." You're embarrassed now and overwhelmed by his nearness, so you take two steps back and end up flush with the door, the wooden slats of the blinds pulling at your ponytail and the handle jabs your waist.

Your retreat in turn causes his advance. His eyes meet yours for the first time and you find them filled with something you've never seen and don't care to learn. He's upset, angry even and you have no idea why. His grip on you is gentle regardless of what's evident on his face, his hands returning to their previous hold and pull you forward.

He leads you to the couch and you sit, perched on the edge, elbows to knees, face in your hands. Your voice comes out so soft it's practically a whisper, and you're pretty sure it's laced in a mockingly humorous tone.

"I was afraid I'd come back and-"

"-and I wouldn't be here." He lets out a deep sigh and his breath slides along your face like a whisper, a few errand strands of your hair caress your cheek. You realize then he's crouched before you and when you finally open your eyes his face fills your view. He's no longer angry, more hurt than upset.

"I know I've hurt you." Of course he does, what doesn't he know.

You begin to deflect, your embarrassment once again taking hold of your pride and dragging it to the surface of your emotions.

But he silences you with the touch of his left hand to your cheek, his thumb grazing your lips. The contact is so new its warmth lulls you into silence.

"I know I've left more bridges burned in my wake than I've mended fences, and almost always you've received the short end of that stick. But you're the reason I was able to take that ride and finally lay the most consuming chapter of my life to rest. How could I not come back?"

His hands frame your face as the tips of his fingers gently graze your hairline.

"Where else would you have me going Lisbon?"

You're afraid to speak, don't know if you can. You're pretty sure he isn't leaving but your tender heart can't be sure.

"We've never been here before." The tears you've managed the push passed are threatening again. "This case has consumed you for so long. It's the only reason I even know who you are. I've just been so unsure of what would come next. What you would do, where you would go. I've never really stopped to think of what would happen after."

And what it would mean to me if you left.

He practically reads your mind, and you find for the first time you're thrilled to exhaustion to not have to spell it out.

"And you're wondering where that leaves you. Wondering if now that my mission is complete I'll go back to where I came from, or worse, go off and start over, start something new. Without you, without any of you."

He makes it sound softer than he should. Because no matter how gently he's made the statement there's still an underlying selfishness to it.

"I made a promise to myself that should the day come that I could honestly and truly breathe a Red John free life I would close that door and never open it again."

He pulls his hands from your face then and holds them between you, his eyes visible over the tips of his fingers. It's then that you realize his ring is gone. Not just switched to his right hand, or hidden in a pocket or dangling from a chain around his neck. You know in that moment it's gone.

"Where else would you have me go, Lisbon?" He asks again, a small smile on his face.

It's than you finally smile, through a veil of endless, silent tears. He does his best to seize them but there's nothing to be done to damn them. You pull him close than, arms wrapped around his neck and press your face into the crook of his shoulder. You give a watery laugh in your delight in this new found nearness and tighten your grip.

He stands than, taking you with him. Your face pressed into his shirt front his vest scratching your cheek. His face is buried in your hair and you can hear him inhale deeply. His arms snake your waist beneath your blazer and his grip is tight enough to bruise your ribs.

You couldn't care less. He isn't leaving, he's staying.

Some moments later his hold relaxes a notch or two and brushes the hair from your tear stained face.

"Why don't I drive you home."

And you find yourself once again speaking before you think,

"And you'll stay?" He grins as you blush a deep and rather unflattering shade of crimson

"I don't mean it like that, I just- I don't-"

"Don't worry, I'll stay. I don't either."

A/N: Please forgive me, it's been awhile since I've posted and above all this is my first Mentalist attempt so tread gently with comments of inconsistencies. Thank You!