A/N: Huge apologies for the delay in posting this chapter - holiday, then very busy followed by a horrible tummy bug that swept through the family are my excuses - sorry!
Huge thanks to everyone who has reviewed so far - but that's enough from me.
Jane sat up in bed, arms folded, a slight frown marring his handsome face as he tried to quell the uncharacteristic feeling of anxiousness that had claimed his body. Lisbon was due to arrive at any moment and there were things they needed to talk about. Not just about the case, but personal things too.
Like those three little words she'd uttered, the one's that had kept him going, had given him strength and now kept swirling around and around in his head refusing to be ignored. He'd always wanted her to give him some clearer idea of how she felt about him and now he had it in spades...and then some.
But her unexpected declaration had thrown him into an emotional quandary that he hadn't anticipated. It needed to be addressed and for once in his life he really had no idea what to say. His head seemed to be in constant conflict with his heart over which direction he wanted to take.
Logically, he knew that he should tell her that there could be nothing between them while Red John was still alive; better yet, he was tempted to just ignore the whole thing. He was pretty certain that Lisbon wouldn't broach the subject, which suited him down to the ground. He just couldn't take the chance that if their love was made public, the killer might hurt her to get to him.
But emotionally…emotionally, he wanted to know what it'd feel like to kiss her without restraint, to tell her how he much he loved her and had done for years, to take her in his arms and watch the rosy glow come to her cheeks as he whispered all the things that he loved so much about her, to simply hold her hand, to feel her move beneath him…to finally give in to his incredible yearning for her and just be goddamn happy for the first time in over a decade.
He unfolded his arms and ran a hand through his hair in frustration. Completely ignoring everything was fast becoming the best option. If he started talking, he was worried that his heart might just win out for once in his life.
Of course, the fact that something Cho had said to him that morning kept playing on his mind and was no doubt affecting his judgement wasn't exactly helping the situation either.
For days it seemed as though he'd been dipping in and out of consciousness. In reality, he learned it had only been two but each time he awoken, it had been to find Lisbon sat patiently nearby with a ready smile and soothing words. He hadn't been able to say much in return, just a murmuring of her name before he'd succumb to oblivion again. He'd known what was happening but for once, his body had refused to do what his brain wanted. It had been frustrating to say the least.
So it was with great relief to finally wake up feeling more like his old self earlier that morning, but instead of being greeted by Lisbon's smiling countenance, his gaze had clashed with Cho's stoic expression.
"Where's Lisbon?" he'd asked, his voice raspy from lack of use and a constant stream of oxygen.
"The doctor said you were out of danger so we finally persuaded her to go and get checked out herself," he'd replied curtly. "She was in a real knock down fight with Newland's son. No broken ribs but she's sore. I told her I'd sit with you while she got some rest. How are you feeling?"
"Better," he'd replied, more concerned about Lisbon than his own state. "Could use a drink."
Cho had poured him out some water then helped him sit up so that he could have a few sips. He'd nodded his thanks then the Agent had sat down again and looked at him.
"Boss said you distracted them," he'd commented impassively. "It gave her a fighting chance she wouldn't have had and bought enough time for Van Pelt to get there and kill the bastard. Good job. She'd be dead otherwise."
He still felt as physically sick from that comment now as he had when Cho had uttered the words. Lisbon. Dead. He gave an involuntary shudder and glanced at the doorway. Still no sign of her but she'd arrive soon, he just knew it.
He gazed down at his sheets and stared at the bright streaks of sunlight that cut sharp lines of relief across his bed from where they filtered in through the half closed blinds. His side was beginning to ache a little but he didn't want any more painkillers until he'd spoken to Lisbon. They dulled his senses and he needed to have his wits about him.
He gave a little sigh then let his head drop back against the pillow and closed his eyes as he thought back to the rest of his conversation with Cho. The Agent had brought him up to date on the case and scarily, but sadly not that unusually, there was no real motive behind the senseless killings.
They were no acts of revenge nor were they even some kind of retribution against people who they'd perceived were guilty of some crime with which they'd gotten away.
No. These callous murders were borne out of a tragic accident that had been the catalyst for Zack to recognise and eventually seek to sate his darker side.
Apparently, a little over ten months earlier, Newland, Ben, Wade and Zack had all been out illegally hunting in one of the more remote parts of the Redwood National Park. Being good friends with a number of the rangers, the sheriff had known the areas they mainly patrolled and had no worry of being caught.
Unfortunately, a man by the name of Anthony Grange had also decided to take a hike in the same area. Catching sight of movement though the trees, Zack had taken a shot. It wasn't until they heard the man cry out that they had all realised what had happened.
When they reached the hiker, he was already dead. Knowing the amount of trouble they were in and not wanting to tarnish his career, Newland had made them bury the body in a shallow grave near to the Kinsella cabin. He'd sworn them all to secrecy and carried on life as normal. As Sheriff he glossed over the missing persons report that came in and put the whole thing behind him.
For a few months all was fine until Newland had received a call from his brother saying that Zack had done it again...on purpose this time. He had taken Wade hunting on their own but it wasn't deer Zack was after. He'd gotten a rush out of killing a man and he'd wanted to experience that feeling again.
His father had been livid but because of the initial cover up, Zack knew that there was nothing the sheriff or the others could do unless they wanted to go down with him. After that it had escalated until he finally abducted the first victim that the CBI were aware of, Lance Williamson.
Zack had gotten cockier, revelling in the fact that he couldn't be caught and had merely dumped Williamson's body without telling his father where. Hicks had been the coroner assigned to the case once the body had been found and Newland had wasted no time in threatening him that he would let everyone know of a time he'd caught him performing a certain act on one of the corpses in his charge if he found anything that incriminated his son.
Newland had admitted that Zack seemed to get a kick out of making it harder and harder for him to cover up the killings. Ripped clothes, knife wounds, he even wore one of the victim's baseball caps around town for a few days. It had been as though he'd wanted to see just how far his father would go in order to help him.
As the bodies kept coming, his deputy's began to question why Federal forces weren't being called in and Newland was eventually forced to contact the CBI in order to alleviate any suspicion. Having controlled everything for so long, he had mistakenly thought that he would be able to continue to do so while they were there. He'd assumed that they'd only be around for a few days then they'd go, case unsolved. Unfortunately for him, his son's recklessness had proved to be their undoing.
There were a total of eight further bodies classed as missing persons that the police were uncovering near the Kinsella cabin. Zack had been a busy boy.
Cho had continued to sit with Jane for just over an hour after he'd finished telling him everything before he'd finally made his excuses and left. He'd wanted to grab some breakfast before going to pick up Hicks and take him in for questioning. Jane suspected that despite it outwardly looking as though Newland had fabricated a lie in order to blackmail the coroner into helping him with the cover up, it wouldn't surprise him if there were some truth lurking behind the repulsive accusation. There was something about Hicks that just didn't sit well with the consultant.
The sound of familiar footsteps approaching his room broke into his thoughts and he opened his eyes to stare expectantly at the door. Ever since the time he was temporarily blinded, he'd always been able to tune in the sounds that were uniquely Lisbon, especially if his eyes were closed. It had helped a lot when he was on his couch at the CBI; he could track her movements, even gauge her mood sometimes. He heard her talking to someone and then, there she was, standing in the doorway, a huge smile lighting her face as she saw him and finished her call.
"OK, thanks, Cho. Keep me informed." Lisbon shut her phone with a snap then stared at him a few seconds more before walking slowly into the room. She was pleased to see the colour had finally returned to his face and the last lingering worries she had about his recovery began to fade away as she told him in a relieved tone, "You're looking alot better."
The small smile that had automatically appeared upon his face at seeing her bloomed into a full on grin at her words. She swore her heart just stopped at the sight. There had been times over the past couple of days that she'd been terrified she'd never see it again.
"Feeling it too," he replied as his gaze swept over her form before settling back on her glowing countenance.
He could just make out the angry purple bruising above her eye and across her jaw under the carefully applied make-up she wore and his smile faltered a little as Cho's words came back to haunt him again.
'She'd be dead...'
"The doctor's really pleased with your progress and said that you should be out in a few days," she told him as she came to a halt by his bed.
"Good to know," he replied, seemingly unable to take his eyes off of her.
She gazed back at him then her smile faded a little as she pulled out a small object from the back pocket of her jeans and held it out to him. He looked at it for a moment then reached out and took the precious notebook from her hand. Their fingers touched briefly and he welcomed the usual spark of awareness that accompanied such a casual act.
"I told you I'd give it back to you," she said softly.
"You did," he agreed equally quietly. "Thank you." They stared at each other for a few moments, each thinking back to that emotive time before he broke eye contact and looked down at the unassuming black book.
He ran his thumb over the soft leather cover knowing that the book and the elusive serial killer behind it was the very reason that their feelings for each other had remained hidden, unspoken for so very long. Even when Red John had asked for her death, her head, it still hadn't given him the courage to stand behind his own verbal declaration. Almost as though if he took it back it would somehow mean it wasn't true.
He was such a fool.
"Aren't you going to check that I haven't ripped out any pages or drawn little pictures in there somewhere?" she asked, breaking into his thoughts.
He heard the humour lacing her tone and couldn't help but look up at her and smile.
"I trust you, remember?" he reminded her lightly.
"Really? Best not look at the back page then," she quipped dryly, eliciting a seldom- heard chuckle from the man. It made her feel good to make him laugh. He indulged in the act so rarely. She sat down on the chair next to his bed and tried to contain the tiny grunt of pain the movement caused to her side. Zack's knee's had dug into her ribs when he'd pinned her to the ground and the area was still a little tender.
"Cho told me you had a close call," Jane commented soberly. She looked up at him and clearly saw the concern in his eyes. "Apparently I have Grace to thank for your still being here."
Lisbon looked away briefly and nodded. "It was a hell of a shot," she admitted quietly.
He gazed at her and felt a chill steal through his veins as he took in her sombre expression. A small frown creased his brow as the stark reality of what he could have lost hit home hard.
Was he really willing to keep turning his back on this? On her? To keep ignoring what he felt? What they both felt? What if another ten years were to pass them by? Could he honestly sit idly by, each day fearing that that would be the day she either found someone else or be cruelly snatched away from him by some bust gone bad?
Not only that, but what about his own mortality and how it would affect her if something were to happen to him? Knowing how she felt about him changed things. He was surprised at the realisation but it was true just the same. He no longer had the same death wish compulsion when he thought about apprehending Red John. In its place was an urge to be cautious, to live…and it was all down to her.
He should have been happy at his little revelation, but he wasn't. The guilt that drove him to catch the killer of his family was far too ingrained within him to allow him the respite he craved. If possible it weighed even heavier upon him for even daring to contemplate giving up the hunt. Like he was betraying his wife and child, like he'd never cared for them at all.
He stared down at the book again and felt a sudden urge to just throw the damn thing across the room. He was so sick of it all. He'd become such a slave to his obsession with Red John that even now, after everything they'd been through, what they both could've lost, there was still that part of him that refused to let it go. Especially when he was so tantalisingly near to finally identifying the murderer.
"Are you OK? Is your side hurting?" Lisbon asked, her worried tone crashing into his thoughts.
He looked up and blinked. She was stood at his bedside now, her concerned gaze running over his form as if trying to locate the unseen pain. There she was, coming to his rescue again. Always ready to help him, even when he didn't need it…and God help her but he loved her for it. So much.
But even that wasn't enough to deter him from his chosen path. The depth of his love now couldn't absolve him from the depth of his sins then. He wanted, needed to be free of Red John before he could be with her wholly. And he would, whatever the cost to their relationship now. And he knew it would be high.
Letting the book drop onto the covers, he suddenly reached out and took her hand in a firm grip then tugged her even nearer to the bed. Just one last touch. Lisbon glanced down at their joined hands in surprise then looked up at him with a faintly quizzical expression but he noted, with some satisfaction, that she made no attempt to remove herself from his hold. Not yet at least. He stared at her for a few moments, just drawing comfort from their connection, hating himself for what he was to do next.
"That thing you said…just before you kissed me," he broached in a low voice, echoing her own words from many months before.
He saw the heat of embarrassment invade her cheeks and felt her tense as her eyes widened slightly then skittered away from his. He tightened his grip about her hand fearing that she was about to bolt and only relaxed again when she returned her gaze to his, defiance burning bright in her eyes.
"What about it?" she challenged.
Unlike him, Lisbon wasn't about to retract her words. He mentally applauded her bravery and only wished he had enough of his own to cast off the shackles in his mind that kept him from breaking free of the half life he was living.
"We can't act on it," he told her flatly, feeling his heart sink as he saw her expression turn first cold then blank as she withdrew her hand from his grasp. Feeling bereft at the loss of contact, he continued, "As much as I want to and as much as I feel the same…we just can't. Not while Red John is still around. If he knew for certain how I feel about you…how we feel about each other…it's just not safe. I can't take that chance. If anything happened to you too…I couldn't live with myself. I'm sorry, Teresa."
Seconds ticked by as silence stretched out between them. It wasn't his most elegant of speeches but he found the words weren't quite so easy to say as he'd expected. Jane tried to get a read on her but whatever she was feeling, she was keeping it well hidden behind a mask of apparent indifference.
"Okay," she finally said with a shrug.
Contrarily, her seemingly happy compliance stung the consultant a little and he felt a rush of sudden irritation. He'd expected her to be angry with him at the very least, hurt even, but this ready acceptance bothered him. Maybe she hadn't meant what she'd said after all. Maybe it was just something to say to make him feel better in what she thought were his last moments. A pity declaration. How insulting.
"Okay?" he repeated incredulously, looking at her as though she'd sprouted another head. He let out a derisive snort and added a trifle petulantly, "I have to say I'm a little surprised that you agreed so readily, Lisbon."
"Oh, I don't," she assured him in a lightly mocking tone. "I think it's all bull. Red John's not stupid. I've put my ass and my career on the line for you far too many times to count over the years and he told you to kill me just a few months ago. I'd say it's pretty obvious that he knows how we feel about each other so it's a little late for keeping a low profile now."
"Lisbon…" he began, only to stop when she cut him off, her voice carrying more heat than it had previously.
"You know what I think? I think all that crap you just came out with is only an excuse to protect yourself, not me. You want to be able to go and catch Red John any way you can and you think that by not committing yourself to me, you can do whatever or whomever you want to get that information and it'll be fine…but it's not, Jane. It'd still be wrong in my eyes, I want you to know that."
The blond stared at her as she blew all his poorly constructed reasoning out of the water. He wanted to refute everything she'd said but he didn't. If that's how she chose to take his words then so be it. He knew part of what she'd said alluded to Lorelei and it pained him to know that she thought he'd go down that particular road with her again. But why wouldn't she? Hadn't he told her on more than one occasion that he'd do anything to get Red John? Hell, hadn't he already proved that?
Her phone rang suddenly and she let out a small huff of annoyance before answering it with a curt, "Yes?" She listened to the person on the other end of the line, a slight frown forming on her face before she said, "Okay, I'm on my way."
"Cho?" he queried as she ended the call and put her phone back in her pocket.
"Yeah. He and Rigsby just found Hicks dead at his home. Hanged himself," she explained with a sigh. "I have to go."
Jane nodded and watched her walk swiftly away. He waited until she was almost to the door then called out, "Lisbon."
She stopped and looked back at him but when he wasn't immediately forthcoming she snapped impatiently, "What?"
"I'm sorry if I hurt you," he told her quietly.
Her expression softened for a fleeting second before hardening again as she let out a derisive snort and said, "Don't be; I'm used to it by now." She turned away and took a couple of steps before looking back and adding tersely, "I'm probably going to be caught up with the case the rest of the day. I'll see if Grace can visit you this evening."
Jane lay and stared at the door long after she'd left. It seemed they had come full circle and he was standing on the precipice of yet another great gaping chasm in their tumultuous relationship once again.
The problem was, as much as he hated to admit it, he didn't think that even he could build a bridge big enough to close this particular gap.
END CHAPTER 12
A/N: After all that wait, I do hope some of you are still reading and enjoying! Or am I going to get pelted with rotten tomatoes now? ;) Let me know what you think!