Title: At Her Side
Fandom: The Mentalist
Summary: It had taken some time before he finally gave in to the fact that the best way to keep her safe from Red John was to be with her all the time — waking and sleeping. Even though the emotional implications of that were huge and complicated and probably irreversible.
Length: 3,300 words
A/N: So, I should not be writing this in the middle of NaNoWriMo — especially when I'm behind — but I did! I've been mulling over this one for a long time. I hope you enjoy.
Jane was always the first to awaken.
His insomnia had gotten much better during the night itself — almost miraculously so — but he couldn't shake his tendency to wake up somewhere before dawn.
But that was okay. When he woke up with a sleeping — slightly snoring — Teresa Lisbon sprawled across his chest, he was more than okay to wake up first and pass the time simply watching her sleep. Studying her, memorizing every detail of her face and the way she slept was rapidly becoming his favorite pastime.
Some days, he didn't allow himself the luxury and slipped carefully from beneath her, heading downstairs to start a distinctly segregated breakfast of eggs and tea (for him) and pancakes and coffee (for her).
But those days were mostly reserved for when he felt a need to make himself pay penance, to give himself space from the situation that was rapidly growing out of hand.
He was quickly finding that when it came to her, his self-control was deteriorating. Rapidly.
Sometimes it scared him.
It had taken some time before he finally gave in to the fact that the best way to keep her safe from Red John was to be with her all the time. The notion of giving in and giving her — and, really, himself — what they had been denying had nibbled at him for years. But he had always reasoned that distance, denial, was necessary because otherwise she would become a target for Red John.
The aftermath of his stint in Vegas had proved to him that Red John already knew. That Lisbon was already becoming a target.
It wasn't until a taunting smiley face showed up on her condo's door — not in her blood but that of the victim in their latest case — that Jane had realized distance was really and truly not working.
And so he had resolved on the spot to be with her all the time — waking and sleeping. Even though the implications of that were huge and complicated and probably irreversible. He wasn't so sure he cared much anymore what the impact was.
Because if he lost her, if Lisbon died because of him, he was fairly certain he'd lose his last tentative hold on sanity.
Given the way that she reacted jealously to Lorelai, the way she shouted at him that she was not his girlfriend, he knew she would willingly give in if he were to press his advances. That she cared about him. Loved him. No one had gone to the lengths that she had for him.
She was Saint Teresa, patron saint of lost causes, with an infinite capacity to love what was broken and damaged.
He was amazed that that somehow included even him. But he was grateful, in his own way. Because though he was convinced his love for her would be her undoing, her love for him made it easier to be near her, to protect her.
He had counted on that to help him win his suit easily.
What he hadn't counted on was how much her trust in him had been shattered by his time in Vegas.
So when the CSU techs and the team had begun to filter away, leaving them alone with the smiley on her door, he moved behind her, rubbing her bare upper arms. She accepted the comforting touch with a sigh. But when he bent to press a kiss to her temple, she jerked away from him.
"What are you doing?" she hissed. And despite the element of shock, it was definitely a hiss.
He blinked at her. "What's the matter, Teresa?"
Her guard went up immediately. He could almost see it like a physical shield surrounding her. "Don't you 'Teresa' me," she said. "What do you think you're doing, Jane?"
"Lisbon, you're overreacting," he said. "I'm just glad you're still alive."
Her eyes narrowed, and he knew immediately that he'd said the wrong thing. "Maybe you're the one overreacting, then," she said. "It's just a smiley face on my door, Jane. And it's obviously not my blood. Red John is just trying to send a message, a threat. He didn't make an attempt at me. I'm fine."
Jane swallowed against a sudden tightness in his throat. "He could have killed you if he wanted to," he responded pointedly. "I think that's exactly the message he's sending." He wanted to reach for her again, but he knew better than to try. She was still defensive; she didn't trust him. She might even break his arm if he tried.
"Are you staying here tonight?" he asked gently.
She heaved an exasperated sigh. "Of course I am, Jane. This is my home. Where else would I stay?"
Somewhere without a serial killer's mark on the door? he wanted to suggest, but she would just hurl his Malibu home back at him. He wasn't exactly a healthy example of how to behave after taunts from a serial killer.
"Well, if you're not going to stay somewhere else, can I at least stay here?" he asked. When he saw her start to react negatively, he quickly added, "Please, Lisbon. It'd make me feel better."
Her negative expression dissipated almost immediately. She couldn't turn down something that would be good for him. That wouldn't be in her nature. Whatever mixed feelings she had for him wouldn't allow her to deny him some small positive thing.
"All right," she said finally.
That night, he slept fitfully (as always) on the couch with a too-small blanket and a too-soft spare pillow. But mostly he laid awake there, planning his next moves.
His plan started with doing the most responsible thing he could think of to begin winning her trust: be there when she woke up and stumbled her way down to the kitchen.
He already had coffee going for her. He had been tempted to give her tea, but winning her over was probably a task better suited to that darker, more bitter liquid.
As it was, she eyed him warily when she came in and caught a whiff of the strong aroma of brewing coffee. After the first cup, she seemed much more human. Midway through the second, she finally began engaging him in conversation. Simple things, about how he slept and so on. But at least she wasn't shying away like he'd bitten her.
Eventually, he talked her into having lunch later, after the morning had passed in the office. He had passed it off casually. They frequently had lunch together. But at lunch, he complimented her, smiled at her in a different way. He knew she noticed. Despite the impression she often tried to give him, she was very perceptive. Especially when it came to him. She couldn't read him like he could read her, but she certainly knew him like no one else did.
But she didn't respond positively. In fact, she almost began withdrawing again, he feared.
So he backed off again.
Later, he lay on his couch, in the bullpen pretending to sleep, as he rethought his approach.
That planning session led him to behaving himself — ridiculously so — on their current case. To bringing her things like gourmet coffee — and sometimes tea — and treats. She accepted these graciously, and he could tell that he was slowly winning.
By the end of the first week, though, she was suspicious. They had closed their case and she had time now to stop and mull over his actions.
She finally cornered him late, after everyone else had left the office. He was attempting to sleep on the couch while she finished paperwork, but she evidently abandoned her task once they were the only ones left. He could practically hear the impatience, the discomfort, in her steps as she approached.
He opened one eye to peek up at her.
"We need to talk," she said. With all seriousness in her tone.
He propped himself up a little, refusing to sit up all the way. He didn't want to make her fears any worse than they already were, so he treated her seriousness with flippancy. He gestured nonchalantly for her to continue.
She seemed a little put off by his dismissive attitude, but she quickly shrugged it off. "What are you doing?"
He gave her his best petulant look. "I was trying to sleep, actually," he said.
She swatted at him. "You know what I mean, Jane. Don't mess with me. I want to know what you think you're doing."
He lifted an eyebrow. "You'll have to be more specific."
She heaved an exasperated sigh. "You know what I mean, and I know that you do. The coffee and the treats and the lunch and the sleeping on my couch. What are you doing? What do you think you're doing?"
He pushed himself up to a halfway sitting position, frowning at her. "Making you happy?" he said. It was a lie or at least a stretch of the truth, and he hated to lie to her, but the truth wasn't going to help his case. "Lisbon, you really need to smile more."
She blinked at him, obviously unprepared for that answer. "Oh," she said simply. And that was it. His answer had obviously set her off balance. If it hadn't, she would have responded with sarcasm aimed back at him and his own sorrow-filled existence.
As it was, she went silently back to her office.
And he smiled to himself as he settled back down on the couch. Maybe this game he was playing really was better for both of them.
He hadn't intended to sleep with her that first night — he was more gentlemanly than that — but finally giving in had seemed to set off some primal desire in her to have him completely. And, somewhat disturbingly, he'd found that he didn't have it in him to tell her no. Despite all of his biofeedback and talk of self-control, she had him completely at her mercy.
It was, when he'd stopped to think about it later instead of simply reacting to her every touch and every move, inherently terrifying.
The weekend after he'd told her that he just wanted to make her happy, she'd stopped responding to his texts. As the hours wore on, he became too restless. Eventually he found himself at her front door, knocking while wincing at the smiley face that had yet to be painted over.
She came to the door disheveled, as he knew she would be. She looked angry at him, but she opened the door. "What do you want, Jane?" she asked.
That was a potentially complicated question depending on how you took it, he thought, but he decided to answer it as simply as she had intended it. "To talk to you," he said. "Can I come in?"
Reluctantly — after pointedly rolling her eyes — she stepped aside and let him in.
He went into the living room and tried, failing, to control his pacing as he waited on him to join her.
When she stepped into the room behind him, she crossed her arms and shrugged. "So talk." Her entire posture — despite the sweats she was wearing — radiated defensive and maybe even a little bit angry.
"Lisbon, don't be like this," he said, practically begging.
"Don't be like what?" she started, but the look he shot her had her sighing and pinching the bridge of her nose. "Jane, you make yourself a very difficult person to deal with. It's like you're two different people. The one who does crazy things and nearly costs me my job almost weekly and then the guy who brings me coffee and bear claws because he's 'making me happy.'" She paused, and he could see her struggle with words that she eventually wrestled back inside — probably, he thought, a question about his forgotten "love you." "I just don't know what to think anymore."
He had thought for a long time about what he would say to finally win her over. He had chosen words calculated to impact her. He hadn't thought at the time that he would be making a pitch to a Lisbon who was fed up with him and unwelcome to his simple overtures.
He fidgeted before he controlled the reaction. "Lisbon — Teresa, please, don't treat me like that. I — I —" He trailed off slowly, deliberately. "I've kept my distance for a long time because I've been afraid of what Red John might do to you." And because I've been unable to feel unguilty about my wife, he thought, but didn't say. It was a bit of the truth, but it wasn't one that suited his purposes. "It's not that I haven't wanted to be with you every moment of every day. It's that I've been afraid for your a safety." He paused, taking in a deep breath.
"I think that smiley face on the door has proved that he knows, despite the distance I've tried to keep, that I love you," he said.
He watched her eyes widen and her body recoil in surprise.
"And I do," he went on. "I told you that not so long ago, but you let it go because you're loyal and you don't want to pressure me. And for that, Lisbon, I can't thank you enough." He stepped toward her, eyes locking with hers. "But I almost lost you." His voice dropped to a measured whisper. "I almost lost you, and you would never have really known what I felt."
He stepped toward her again, silently thanking whatever powers might be that she didn't back away.
"Jane," she said quietly, and there was the slightest bit of warning in her tone. "You didn't almost lose me. He didn't touch me. Just painted my door. It was pretty brazen, I'll give you that, but he didn't even touch me."
"But he could have," he insisted. "What if you had come home while he was painting it instead of after? Lisbon, this was a pretty bold and direct message aimed at me, reminding me that he could take you at any moment."
She hid it marvelously, but he could tell she was uncomfortable with the line he was taking and his purpose with it. "He could have attacked me at any time before too," she pointed out. "But I'm a cop, Jane, and if he comes, I'm equipped to handle him. You're not going to lose me."
He took another step closer, saw her waver and knew he was pushing her boundaries. He raised a hand to her cheek, ghosting over her cheekbone with his thumb. "I intend to make sure that doesn't happen."
He felt her pulse quicken even as her breath slowed.
Smiling, he leaned in to kiss her.
Her eyes fluttered closed and her breathing hitched. Toying with her, he held back until she was forced to take a breath. Checking the enjoyment he was feeling at being able to make her come undone, he steeled himself and closed the distance.
He had intended a quick, chaste kiss to prove his words about feeling for her. He wasn't sure he was ready for more yet, though he planned to advance on it quickly. The sooner he was with Lisbon 24/7, protecting her at all times, the better.
What he wasn't anticipating was her moan against his mouth, on nearly a decade of repression coming unfurled at the sound.
When her hands wound their way into his hair, his hands did the same to her hair without even a thought. He had a fleeting thought that he should slow this down, that he should feel more guilty. But the thought was just that — fleeting. It was drowned by the feel of her mouth — and then her tongue — against his, against her fingers' irresistible grasp.
When she reached for him, he found himself incapable of even thinking about resisting her.
When he woke the next morning, the guilt he had missed the night before while he was making love to Lisbon (over and over) showed up in force. How could he have allowed his emotions to get the better of him? When so much was at stake here?
That was the first morning he had forced himself to crawl away from her, to put distance between them, to punish himself as he worked through things in his head. Because there was no way he could think clearly with Lisbon against him.
Which was what the problem was in the first place. He was too emotional.
Though, his brain eventually told him, giving in to emotion where Lisbon was concerned is exactly what had gotten him into this situation in the first place. If he didn't feel about her the way he did, if she was just another person, Red John wouldn't be targeting her. And if feelings weren't involved, Jane wouldn't be afraid to lose her and wouldn't be here doing this just to keep a protective space between her and Red John.
Whenever the guilt set in, he left the bed, made eggs and pancakes and coffee and tea, and assuaged his qualms with the reminder that he was doing this for her safety, not just for himself.
He found out quickly that reasoning and logic were not going to help him much with what he'd gotten himself into. She was the wild variable in this scenario, the one that had proven to him that he was still human and capable of feeling, even in the midst of this campaign against Red John that seemed to consume him.
And what a variable she was, a constant contradiction to his best attempts to make plans.
He hadn't planned on falling in love with her, but he had.
He hadn't planned on giving into his urges toward her to save her from Red John, but he had.
He hadn't planned on wooing her slowly, but he had.
He hadn't planned to sleep with her the first time he kissed her, but he had.
He hadn't planned to unceremoniously move in with her after spending one night in her bed, but he had.
He hadn't planned on the fact that being around her all the time made him feel better, feel cleaner, more relaxed and more in tune with the world beyond Red John.
But it had.
She was both his temptation and his saving grace. It was nothing short of amazing how completely and utterly she could fill every important role that needed to be played in his life.
They weren't saying anything about it at work, but then he knew that half the CBI already talked about them sleeping together.
And as for the team, well… Cho would know. Somehow Cho always knew and he just kept things quiet. Grace would likely sense a shift, smile at them behind their backs, but she was probably giving them their space too. And Rigsby would be oblivious unless Cho or Grace tipped him off.
Besides, the real question wasn't whether the team knew or reacted. The real question was whether Red John knew.
Jane had a suspicion that the serial killer did, in fact, know. Just like he had known that Jane loved Lisbon and wouldn't murder her unless he'd truly changed. He was sure Red John was out there watching.
And so he parked the Citroen in front of Lisbon's building every night like a taunt that said, "I'm here. I love her and I'm with her. You'll have to come through me."
He knew it was only a matter of time before Red John took him to task for that taunt, but he intended to be ready and he knew Lisbon would be too.
And in the meantime, he planned to enjoy her presence.