For an instant, Russo stared at Jane in shock, eyes wide with surprise. Jane yanked the knife out of his chest, prepared to strike again if necessary. Before he could, however, Russo let out a soft hiss of breath and then, with no further fanfare, his eyes went still and fixed.
He slumped forward, landing in a graceless heap on top of Jane. Jane dropped the knife on the floor and grunted in surprise as the weight of his enemy fell on him. He lay there for a moment beneath the other man's body, stunned. It was done. After ten long years, he'd done what he'd set out to do. He blinked at the red ceiling, unable to believe that it was over. That he and Lisbon were still alive, and Red John was really dead after all these years.
"Jane!" Lisbon's voice was frantic.
"I'm okay," he said faintly.
Lisbon unceremoniously heaved Russo's body off of him, shoving it off to one side without so much as a second glance as she focused on Jane. She blanched when she looked at him, his shirt soaked in red. "My God, Jane," she said, sounding desperate. Her hands went to his chest and stomach, her fingers worming their way under his shirt and vest to explore the flesh of his torso. Jane thought idly that it felt rather nice to have her touching him this way, but then he realized Lisbon was examining him for evidence of injury.
"I'm okay, Lisbon," he repeated.
"You're covered in blood," she said, her fingers still searching for the source of the blood.
"It's is all his," he informed her. He struggled to a sitting position. "I'm not hurt."
She let her forehead drop to his shoulder. "Thank God."
Jane lifted her chin with his fingertips and stared at her, eyes wide. He cupped her cheek in his hand. "You're alive," he said wonderingly, feasting his eyes on her.
"We're alive," she corrected him.
"You were amazing," he said fervently. He felt giddy with relief. They'd really done it. They'd killed the monster, slain the dragon. And he had Lisbon to thank for it. Beautiful, strong, breathing Lisbon.
She shook her head. "I was lucky. He was a better fighter than me. The only reason I'm still alive at all is that he was determined to take his time killing me." She shuddered. "Like a cat playing with its food."
"Lisbon, you held off an experienced killer who was twice your size, and who had a knife, while you were bleeding and unarmed. Not to mention the fact that you managed to slip me that pocket knife right under his nose. I maintain that you are amazing."
"I couldn't have done it without you. You saved me at the end."
Jane shook his head. "You saved us both. I can't believe you got us out of that."
"We're not out of it yet," she reminded him. "We're still trapped inside a building with God knows how many of Russo's followers, and we have no idea where we are."
"That's a very glass half-empty way to look at it," Jane commented.
"Jane, we killed Red John. The man who, as you put it, addicted his followers to his affection and approval. Somehow I don't think they're going to let us just walk out of here."
"Don't be such a spoilsport, Lisbon. I'm sure we can handle a few minions, after what we've just accomplished. We defeated Red John. He'll never bother us again. Don't you want to take a moment to savor our victory?"
"I want us to get the hell out of here. We can celebrate once we're safe again."
He sighed. "What do you suggest?"
Lisbon looked around the empty room. "We'll have to hide behind the door and try to take them by surprise when they come to check on us. I'll have to disarm at least one of them if we're going to have any shot at getting out of here alive."
"Might not be for awhile," Jane pointed out. "Russo told them not to interrupt. They're not going to want to risk incurring his wrath unless they absolutely have to. It could be ages before it occurs to them that something might be wrong."
Lisbon shook her head. "No choice. We'll be too exposed if we try to leave the room without knowing what we're walking into. And we have to move away from this spot. We're sitting ducks sitting here in the middle of the room like this."
No sooner had the words left her mouth than the door swung open and the barrel of a very large gun nosed its way into the room.
Jane and Lisbon both started and clutched at each other instinctively. Jane surreptitiously angled his body so he was between Lisbon and the door and looked up at their would be assailant.
It was Cho.
The muzzle of the gun dropped. "Oh, good," Cho said, his voice as expressionless as ever as he took in the sight of them huddled together on the floor. Only his eyes betrayed the slightest flicker of emotion. "You're still alive."
Without waiting for a response, he turned his head to address several people in black Kevlar who were crowding in behind him. "We're clear," he called over his shoulder. "They're alive."
Lisbon's jaw had dropped nearly to the floor. "What are you doing here?" she said, flabbergasted.
"We came to rescue you." Cho glanced at the body on the floor. "Guess we're a bit late on that score."
"I'd say you're right on time," Jane said. "You saved us the trouble of fighting our way past an unknown number of armed guards and hoofing it into the woods to make our escape on foot in unknown terrain- how many of Russo's followers are here in the house, anyway?"
"About twenty, give or take," Cho answered. "All armed to the teeth. They weren't expecting us, though, and we took most of them without too much trouble. Gregson's dead, and a few others, but we took the rest of them alive."
Lisbon got up and crossed the room as the members of the SWAT team started to edge past Cho and make their way into the room to secure the scene. One of them stooped and pressed two fingers to Russo's neck, checking for a pulse. "Suspect is dead," he announced.
Jane looked over at the body, still unable to quite believe Red John was really gone. That he truly couldn't hurt them, or anyone else, for that matter, ever again.
Cho looked at Lisbon. "Sorry we didn't get here earlier, boss."
Lisbon put her arms around Cho's neck and hugged him. "I'm just happy to see you," she said sincerely.
Distracted from his contemplation of Red John's body, Jane turned his attention to Lisbon. Oh, sure, he thought grumpily. Cho shows up at the eleventh hour with a team of armed men and gets a hug. After being by her side for the whole ordeal, all Jane got was a cursory examination for injuries.
He was going to have to change that, he thought. Soon.
Cho hugged her back. "Me, too."
Jane got up and joined them as Lisbon released her second in command. "How the hell did you find us?" she wanted to know.
"Van Pelt's list," Cho responded. "This was one of the properties listed in her search results."
"There were over twenty properties on that list. How did you know which one we were being taken to?"
Cho grimaced. "We guessed."
Lisbon stared at him. "You guessed?"
He nodded. "We didn't know what to do. Rigsby told us Russo said he was taking you somewhere else, so we knew he wasn't going to kill you at the theater. We had Van Pelt's list of search results, but we had no clue which one he might have taken you to. Van Pelt said that if Jane were there, he would have figured out a way to narrow it down. She said we needed to think like Jane. So that's what we did."
Jane was flattered. "Do tell. How did you manage such a feat?"
Cho ignored his superior tone. "Fourteen of them were in major metropolitan areas, and ten of those were office buildings. We couldn't see him taking you to an office building, and tactically speaking, it would be easier to transport you, kill you, and get rid of your bodies without being detected in a less populated area, so we eliminated those first thing. That left nine properties."
"How did you narrow it down from there?" Lisbon asked.
"By then we were really desperate. Rigsby said if he were Russo, he wouldn't want to drive too far. He figured after waiting so long to get his hands on you, Russo wouldn't want to wait any longer than he had to for his real fun to begin. So we excluded properties that were over four hours away. That took care of another six."
"How did you know which of the three remaining ones he'd taken us to?"
"We didn't. But Van Pelt remembered Jane mentioning Hardy visiting his uncle's cabin in Redding, and one of the properties had a Redding address. We didn't have anything else to go on, so that was the one we picked."
"But how could you be sure you picked the right one?" Lisbon persisted.
Cho shook his head. "We weren't sure. We took our best guess and bet the farm."
Jane clapped him on the shoulder. "Hell of a guess. Well done."
"So we're in Redding?" Lisbon said.
"Not in Redding proper," Cho answered. "This place is on the side of a mountain, overlooking Lake Shasta."
"Is Ben okay?" Lisbon asked.
"Ben's fine. He's with his mom now, and about half a dozen armed guards."
"Rigsby didn't stay with them?"
Cho shook his head. "He wanted to come."
"What happened after Rigsby left the theater with Ben?" Jane asked.
"After you guys went inside, it was pretty bad. Rigsby was freaking out. Van Pelt tried to get closer to the theater to get a better look at what was going on, but before she'd taken three steps towards it, someone fired a shot at her. They couldn't have been aiming at her—it missed by a mile. It was a warning shot, telling us not to come any closer. So we took cover behind the car and were forced to wait there without any idea what was going on. Finally one of them called to Rigsby and told him to come inside. That was pretty bad, too. Rigsby went inside and Van Pelt and I were stuck there wondering if we were ever going to see any of you again."
"When Rigsby came out, he had Ben, but there were three guards with him. They pretty much had the upper hand because we couldn't get to them without risking Rigsby and Ben. They made us get back in the car, and they dosed us all with something to knock us out."
"They drugged Ben?" Lisbon said, horrified.
Cho shook his head. "No, they put Ben in Rigsby's lap and left him awake. Rigsby woke up first, because Ben was flailing around on his lap and crying so loud. Rigsby brought me and Van Pelt around, but by that time, you guys were long gone."
"How long were you out?" Jane wanted to know.
"About thirty minutes, give or take."
"Why didn't they just kill you?" Lisbon wondered.
"Russo was planning to kill the two of us," Jane answered. "If he killed the rest of the team, he'd really have no one to play with, afterward. He might have found it a poor substitute for messing with me, but it would be better than nothing, once we were gone."
Cho resumed his narrative. "Once we were all conscious again, Van Pelt said we should go after you. Rigsby and I agreed, but we had no clue where to look for you. The only lead we had was the list of properties, but there were too many of them. We couldn't get to all of them, and if we went to the wrong one, we knew we'd be too late. We tried to think of some other way to find you, but we had nothing."
"So you guessed," Lisbon said disbelievingly.
"Yeah. Once we decided which property to target, we had to act fast, because you guys were about an hour ahead of us by that time."
Jane frowned. "How'd you get here so quickly, if you were delayed that long?"
"Chopper," Cho said succinctly.
"How the hell did you get a helicopter?" Lisbon demanded.
Cho grimaced again. "Bertram."
"You brought Bertram in on this?" Lisbon said, shocked.
"We didn't have a choice. We needed a way to get up here quickly, and Bertram was the only one we could think of who had the pull to get us a chopper. We went to his office and told him Red John had you two, and if he wanted to prove he wasn't working for him, he'd get us a chopper that could leave Sacramento in less than thirty minutes."
"He could have warned Russo, if he really was working for him," Jane pointed out.
Cho shook his head. "No. Van Pelt confiscated his gun and phone and watched him like a hawk to make sure he didn't have a chance to double cross us. He agreed to help us get a helicopter, on the condition that he get to come along. Naturally, that made us pretty suspicious, but we didn't have much choice at that point. If he was working for Russo and we'd left him in Sacramento, there was too much of a risk that he'd find a way to tip him off."
"He's here?" Lisbon said.
"Yeah. Turns out he's not working for Russo, though."
"How do you know?"
"We were pretty far outnumbered when we first got up here. We only wanted to bring people we'd worked with before from SWAT, and after Maldonado, we weren't all that confident even in them. But we had to act fast so we didn't have time to be paranoid. Since we couldn't afford to be choosy, we picked ten guys and had to hope for the best. We confiscated their phones, too, and Van Pelt did something to jam the signals on their radios so they could only communicate between units."
"What does that have to do with Bertram being innocent?"
"Like I said, we were outnumbered before local PD arrived on the scene. One of Russo's people got past our defensive line and came around our rear flank. He tried to take out Van Pelt. Bertram still didn't have a gun, but he hit the guy across the back of the head with a fallen branch before he could get to her. Then he took the gun off the dead guy and shot two more of Russo's people before they could pick any of us off. By that point, we figured he wasn't out to betray us."
"Van Pelt's okay?" Lisbon asked anxiously.
"Yeah. She and Rigsby are upstairs rounding up the last of Russo's people."
"Where's Bertram now?"
Cho shrugged. "Who knows? Probably busy calling every media outlet in the state to tell them he led the team that caught Red John."
Of Lisbon's disapproving look, he blinked. "What? Just because it turns out he's not a serial killer's accomplice doesn't mean I have to like the guy."
"Hear, hear," Jane muttered.
A paramedic approached them. "Ma'am?" she said to Lisbon. "If you'll come with me, I can dress those wounds for you."
Lisbon looked down at herself. She had long, shallow gashes along her arm and collar bone, in addition to the tiny cut on her neck. All in all, not bad for having been in Red John's clutches for the past several hours, but she supposed she looked a bit of a mess. "All right."
"I'll come, too," Jane declared, reluctant to let Lisbon out of his sight.
Unfortunately, once they'd trooped upstairs, Jane was forced to take evasive maneuvers to avoid being poked and prodded by overeager medical personnel himself.
It was the state of his clothing that was attracting this level of unwanted attention, he decided. His pants were all right, but his shirt, vest, and jacket were all soaked in blood. Cho was still with Lisbon, so he decided it would be all right to leave her for a few minutes. The likelihood that the paramedic was a last holdout of Russo's people in disguise was slim anyway. Besides, he had plans. Plans which did not involve being covered in the blood of his nemesis. He escaped a second paramedic who showed signs of wanting to run latex gloved hands over his body and slipped upstairs in search of something else to wear. Surely at least one of the minions kept a change of clothes in the place.
He found a room on the second floor with two sets of bunk beds and two dressers. Excellent.
He rummaged through the drawers and found several shirts to choose from. Most of them were entirely unsuitable, of course. Too big. Too small. Too… plaid. Then there was one that was plainly meant for a woman. Finally he selected a plain blue button down and held it up to himself for inspection. Ah… just right.
He spotted a tiny bathroom off the corner of the room and decided he may as well take advantage of it to clean himself up a bit. He put Lisbon's badge in his pants pocket where her wallet was, then stripped off his jacket, vest, and shirt. He used the plaid shirt as a makeshift towel to scrub the blood off himself. Ablutions completed, he put the blue shirt on and examined his reflection in the mirror over the sink. Not bad. It was a bit tight across the shoulders, but it would do.
He scooped up his bloody clothing and deposited it in a plastic bag he'd found in the bathroom. He assumed the forensics people would be tiresomely disagreeable if such a large quantity of blood evidence went missing.
He paused, staring at himself in the mirror, and took stock of himself. He supposed he ought to feel traumatized, he reflected, after all he and Lisbon had been through. Remorseful, perhaps, for having taken a human life. Or at the very least, conflicted about the implications of the fact that his decade long quest was over. Perhaps he ought to feel empty, aimless because he had nothing to work towards after finally reaching his goal. But in truth, he felt exhilarated. They'd done it. They'd defeated Red John. And frankly, after witnessing what the man done to Lisbon, and knowing what he might have done to her, if Russo had held onto the knife even a moment longer, Jane couldn't summon up even the smallest shred of remorse for having ended the man's life. He was just unspeakably relieved that he'd stopped him in time; that this particular monster would never bother them again. Lisbon was alive and mostly unharmed. Ben was alive. Cho, Rigsby, and Van Pelt were alive. He was alive.
He could have a life now, he thought. He could solve nice, boring murders during the day, and (assuming she'd have him) go home to Lisbon at night. Lisbon, who had saved him.
Lisbon. Lisbon was in love with him. She'd said so. Out loud, and everything. He'd always known she cared about him, of course, and even that she was attracted to him. He flattered himself that he knew her well enough to do a creditable job of seducing her. But at a fundamental level, he found it strictly incredible that Lisbon could love someone like him. Not as one more member of her little flock of self-designated charges—he knew she had the capacity for that. But as the man who would walk beside her through all the joys and trials of the years to come. Before, he hadn't allowed himself to hope for anything more than a desperate wish that he could keep her alive through the final confrontation with Red John. Now, hope rushed in and filled every corner and crevice of his brain previously devoted to the destruction of Red John. Lisbon loved him. And now he had the luxury of proving to her how very much he loved her in return.
Suddenly, he needed to see her. Right now.
He grabbed the plastic bag and left the room. He took the stairs two at a time on his way back to the ground floor.
He found a member of the unit of the forensics unit straight away and handed off the plastic bag—the reunion scene he had in mind did not include an armful of bloody clothing between them.
His burden thus disposed of, he scanned the room for Lisbon's petite figure. The whole place was crawling with cops—members of the local PD had joined the SWAT unit by this time and were milling about the place, cluttering up the view.
Before he'd taken two steps inside the room to get a better look, his search was interrupted by a red-headed blur nearly bowling him over as it flung its arms around him.
Oof. Van Pelt's upbringing by a football coach had never been more apparent to him as she nearly took him down with the ferocity of her hug. "Thank God you're okay," she said into his shirt.
He patted her on the back awkwardly, resisting the urge to murmur, 'there, there.' "Come now, Grace. Surely you know it's going to take more than one genius serial killer and twenty of his best minions to keep me down for good."
"Sure," she sniffed, pulling away and giving him a watery smile. "This was all part of your plan all along, wasn't it?"
"That's right," he said. "Don't let anyone tell you otherwise."
Rigsby came up to them and hugged Jane, too. Jane clapped him on the back and tried not to wince. It would really be kind of ironic if he managed to escape a serial killer with hardly a scratch, only to have his ribs cracked by a member of his own team.
"Glad you're all right, man," Rigsby choked out.
"Never better," Jane said, easing out of Rigsby's painfully tight grip. "Ben's all right?"
"He's okay," Rigsby said. He looked at Jane. "I'll never forget what you did for me," he said seriously. "Never. You and the boss."
Jane hated being thanked. "Meh," he said dismissively. "All in a day's work. Speaking of the boss, where is she?"
"I saw her a few minutes ago," Van Pelt said with a frown.
They all turned to look around. Rigsby, who could see over the heads of most everybody in the room, spotted her first.
"There she is," he said, pointing to the other side of the room. "Over there, talking to Bertram."
Jane's followed the trajectory of Rigsby's pointing finger and his eyes landed on her at last. She was standing in front of a giant fireplace, talking to Gale Bertram. She had gotten cleaned up, as well. She was still wearing the red dress, and her feet were still bare, but her wounds had been cleaned and dressed, and she had washed her face—the bright red lipstick was no longer in evidence. She looked damn good, in fact.
"Excuse me," Jane said distractedly to Rigsby and Van Pelt as he stared across the room at the object of his affection. His gaze locked on Lisbon, he missed the amused glances they exchanged behind him as he started towards her.
Bertram broke off in the middle of his sentence when he noticed Jane approaching the two of them, his eyes fixed on Lisbon. "Jane!" he said, sounding almost jovial. Lisbon turned and gave him a little half smile when she saw him. She was utterly enchanting. Bertram, oblivious, continued talking. "Congratulations. Very well done. I heard you—"
"Not now, Bertram," Jane said without taking his eyes off Lisbon. He grabbed her by the hand and dragged her a few steps away into a relatively secluded corner of the crowded room. It wasn't the most romantic setting in the world, but it was the best he could do under the circumstances. Well, given that the circumstances included about a thousand cops between him and the door and the fact that he couldn't wait another minute to finally know what she tasted like.
He stopped and turned to face her. Her eyebrow quirked upwards and her mouth formed that adorable pout as she frowned at his clearly agitated demeanor. "What's the matter, Jane? Is something wrong?" She pitched her voice lower, and leaned closer to him. "Did one of Russo's followers escape or something?"
He stepped towards her, cupping her face in his hands, and kissed her.
He got about five seconds of sublime perfection before Lisbon broke away.
"Jane," she hissed, scandalized. "My boss is standing right there."
He licked his lips, tasting her there. "I don't care."
She followed the movement of his tongue tracing the seam of his lips with her eyes. "There are like—a hundred people in here," she said weakly.
But he noticed her pulse had skyrocketed and she was breathing rather unevenly, so he didn't take her objections too seriously. He kissed her again.
When his lips met hers for the second time, Lisbon forgot all the very sensible reasons it was not a good idea to kiss Jane right now. To hell with it. His wide full mouth, long coveted, was finally hers, and she was damn well going to enjoy it. She sighed into his mouth and pressed closer to him, curling her fingers into his collar and pulling him towards her at the same time. He made a low noise in the back of his throat which she felt all the way down to the bottom of her toes. He buried his hand in her hair and the other found its way to the small of her back, pulling her flush against him. There was no distance between them now.
She kissed him hungrily, greedily; she couldn't get enough of his warm hands and hot mouth. She wanted to devour him, but had to content herself with lips and teeth and tongue. She bit into his soft lower lip, sweeping her tongue along the succulent edge of it, tasting the slight coppery tang where his lip had been split earlier. She continued her assault, demanding entry into his mouth. He granted it eagerly, his mouth meeting hers with a desperation that matched her own.
She couldn't have said how much time elapsed as they stood there, swaying slightly on the spot as they ravaged each other's mouths— it might have been only a moment that passed… or perhaps the birth of several stars. When they finally came up for air, all she could think was that she was really, really glad she hadn't gone to her grave without knowing what it was like to kiss Patrick Jane.
Reluctantly, she let him go, recovering just enough rational thought for a tiny voice in some distant corner of her brain to tell her this probably wasn't the best time and place to ravish her consultant. Admittedly, that little voice was having a little trouble making itself heard over the haze of lust clouding her brain. Her fingers twitched, wanting him again. Her gaze lingered on his mouth again for a moment, and then she raised her eyes to meet his. Jane was staring at her with a big, dopey grin on his face that she'd never seen before. She stared back at him in shock. This is what he looks like when he's happy, she realized with a jolt. A warm feeling, sharp and thrilling, blossomed in her chest at the thought. I did that, she thought dazedly. That dopey grin was because of her. She smiled back at him; her own smile, she was certain, was at least half as foolish as his.
"Good God, woman," Jane said, shaking his head. "If that's what the path to peace is like, I might not survive the journey."
"What?" Lisbon asked, still somewhat dazed.
Dimly she became aware that people were clapping in the background—clapping for them. Or rather, the spectacle they'd just made of themselves. Rigsby had started it—she could see him grinning like an idiot on the other side of the room, clapping louder than anyone in the place. Van Pelt, next to him, let out a long wolf whistle. Even people Lisbon didn't know had joined in the good-natured applause and were grinning in appreciation of the unexpected show they'd just been treated to. She flushed, acutely conscious of the utter abandon she'd just exhibited. In front of a room full of her colleagues, no less.
Jane, of course, took it all in stride. He took Lisbon's hand in his and raised their joined hands above their heads as though they were taking a curtain call. He bowed theatrically, Lisbon half bending with him automatically due to their linked hands.
Everyone laughed, and clapped harder. The amount of whistling multiplied tenfold.
They were separated then, as people started to come up to them, shaking their hands and clapping them on the back. Lisbon found herself being kissed on the cheek by total strangers, as though this group of Kevlar-outfitted men were her brothers, exuberantly expressing their joy at their favorite sister's happiness at her engagement party. Though an occasion less like an engagement party than the final capture and killing of a serial killer, she could hardly imagine.
Rigsby waded through the crowd to the front of the queue, Van Pelt following behind him. He kissed her on the cheek in his turn. "It's about time," he said to her with a wink.
Lisbon blushed and punched him in the arm. "Shut up."
Van Pelt elbowed Rigsby out of the way and gave Lisbon a hug. "I'm so happy for you, boss," she whispered in her ear.
Lisbon hugged her back. "Thanks, Grace."
When the parade of congratulators had slowed to a trickle, Bertram came up to them. "Yes, well," he said, looking at Jane somewhat askance. "I can't say this is exactly a surprise, but I must say I wasn't expecting you to be so… public about it."
Jane shrugged, unrepentant. "I didn't want to wait any more."
"Hm." Bertram didn't look angry, but he didn't exactly look happy, either. He shook his head. "Well, I suppose there's no harm in it, as long as you conduct yourselves professionally in the office."
"I promise I will behave just as professionally as I always have," Jane said solemnly.
Bertram, understandably, did not look comforted by this.
Lisbon, eager to get her boss's mind off the topic of her relationship with her consultant, asked, "Will we be heading back to Sacramento soon, sir?"
"It will probably be a little while yet," Bertram replied. "You'll have to give your statements, and the techs have to finish processing the scene." He smoothed his tie down. "I'll have to give a statement to the press, of course. The local media outlet is sending a television crew up here to conduct the interview. Once that's done, you two can ride back to Sacramento in the helicopter, or you can catch a ride with one of the squad cars."
Jane raised one index finger. "Can I ride in the back of the trunk with Lisbon?"
Lisbon elbowed him in the ribs and blushed furiously. "Jane!"
"What? It's my new favorite way to travel."
Lisbon turned to Bertram. "We'll ride back in the helicopter," she said firmly.
Bertram shrugged, indifferent. "As you wish." He raised his voice, calling to two agents across the room. "Avery! Lansing! Come over here, will you?"
Avery and Lansing duly trooped over to Bertram's side.
Bertram gestured to Jane and Lisbon. "Take down their statements, would you? Want to make sure we document the chain of events while it's still fresh in their minds."
"Yes, sir," Avery said, with Lansing echoing a beat behind.
Jane grimaced. There were several events from that day he'd quite frankly prefer to forget which he feared would nonetheless forever be burned in his brain.
Avery addressed Jane. "You and I can use one of the rooms upstairs," he said. "It'll be quieter up there."
"There's a study off the main hallway here on the ground floor," Lansing told Lisbon. "I can take your statement in there."
"Can't you just interview us together?" Jane objected. "We were together the whole time, anyway."
Avery shook his head. "That's not how it works."
Jane looked ready to argue the point, but Lisbon forestalled him. "It's all right, Jane," she said, patting him on the arm. "The quicker we go, the quicker it will be over." She gave him a small smile. "I'll see you after, okay?"
It was with ill grace that Jane permitted himself to be separated from Lisbon. Giving his statement to Avery was tedious and irritating. Especially when the younger man periodically paused with his pen over his notebook and exclaimed, "No shit! Seriously?" after Jane had recounted some of the more shocking parts of the narrative. Really, if he had been on Lisbon's team, she never would have put up with that level of unprofessionalism. In any case, retelling the whole of the story seemed to take forever, and being forced to recall the most terrifying moments of the day—the moments when he'd really thought he was going to lose Lisbon for good—was not making him any happier about being parted from her, even for the length of an interview.
"Wow," Avery said admiringly when Jane was finally finished telling the story. "Agent Lisbon is seriously badass, isn't she?"
Jane glared at him. Now that he had kissed her in front of a room full of people, he felt entitled to stake his claim more overtly than he ever had done in the past. Previously, he had been forced to employ much more creative and subtle means to discourage any potential admirers who cast their eyes in Lisbon's direction. One more perk of Red John being gone—he was finally able to act freely where she was concerned. Glaring was so much more efficient.
Avery straightened. "Uh—not that I meant that as anything more than a strictly professional observation," he said hastily. "I mean—she's totally not my type, anyway. I like blondes," he added lamely.
He was lying, of course—what man, after seeing Lisbon in that red dress, could credibly claim that she wasn't his type?-but Jane appreciated the effort. "Yes," he said, relenting. "You're quite right. She is seriously badass."
He left Avery to his notes then, intending to find his favorite badass senior agent and determined not to let anyone part him from her this time.
She was nowhere to be found. He checked the study Lansing had mentioned, but it was empty. He managed to track down Lansing, but Lansing merely informed him that he and Lisbon had concluded their interview fifteen minutes before and he didn't know where she had gone afterwards. Jane decided that next time he saw Lansing and Avery, he was going to put frogs in their pockets. And not origami frogs, either- real ones.
He searched the house, checking the rooms on the top floor, and even, reluctantly, venturing back down to the Red Room to see if she might have gone back there for some official reason or another when he couldn't find her anywhere else. There was no sign of her.
He went back up to the ground floor, feeling disgruntled. He peered out the living room window to the front drive, where Bertram was standing and pontificating about the CBI's crack investigators and their commitment to bringing killers to justice, blah, blah, blah. He thought Bertram would have wanted to parade Lisbon in front of the cameras, to add an attractive, humanizing element to the whole sordid mess, but she must have escaped his media-hungry grasp because she wasn't there, either.
Operating on the theory that she would have wanted to be as far away from Bertram and the cameras as possible, Jane finally found her outside, behind the house.
From the back door, the ground sloped down away from the house. Trees had been cleared from the side of the hill immediately below the building, providing a spectacular view of the lake below. The pale golden light of early autumn glimmered off the surface of the lake and streamed through the leaves of the trees framing either side of the house as the sun dipped towards the horizon. Lisbon was sitting on a low wooden fence a little ways away from the house, her bare feet hooked over the bottom rung as she watched the sunset over the lake.
She half-turned when she heard him behind her. "Hey," she greeted him.
She turned back to the sunset. He hesitated, watching her for a moment, then climbed up and sat down next to her on the fence.
"You have to admit," she sighed. "Russo picked a beautiful spot to brainwash his followers."
He stole a glance at her. "Yes. It is beautiful," he agreed.
He wanted to put his arm around her, to pull her close. But the moment the thought occurred to him, it was as though a layer of ice crystals had formed in the cavity of his chest, paralyzing him. What if this wasn't real? What if she wasn't real? What if he'd broken from reality at last? What if she was still in that basement, and the sight of her being tortured by Russo had caused him to become well and truly unhinged? What if she was lying dead on the floor of the Red Room and his brain had manufactured this splendid illusion because he couldn't cope with the reality of her death?
She bumped him gently with her shoulder. "You okay?"
He released a breath he hadn't known he'd been holding. She was here. She was real. "Fine."
"You sure? It's been a bit of a day."
He had to smile at her incredible understatement. "Yes, it has been that," he agreed.
"You're not upset?" she double-checked.
He looked at her sharply. "Why would I be upset?"
She shrugged. "The person you've devoted the last ten years of your life to finding is dead. I can't imagine you don't feel a bit… unsettled."
He shook his head. "I'm just grateful everyone I care about is still alive," he said truthfully.
Lisbon clearly didn't believe him. "You can't just… be fine, all of a sudden. All these years you've been chasing him, you've never properly mourned your wife and child. You'll need time to grieve, now that he's gone."
"I'm not saying I won't have some things to work through, now that he's gone. But can I start working through my grief tomorrow?" Jane asked. "Today, I just want to celebrate the fact that Red John is gone and we're all still alive to tell about it."
"I suppose," Lisbon said, looking disconcerted.
He paused. "Are you upset?"
"Why would I be upset?" she said, turning his words around on him.
He looked down. "I killed Red John. I know you didn't want me to."
There was the briefest hesitation, and then she said firmly, "It was the only way. He was going to kill us, Jane, and you stopped him. If someone had to die, I'm just glad it was him and not you."
Noting that tiny moment of hesitation, he wondered if he would ever be able to convince her that at that final, critical moment, at least, he had not been thinking of revenge; his head had been too full of her. He sighed. At least he had time, now, to win her confidence. But that would come later. For the time being, he would accept her words at face value. "Okay."
"And as much as I hate to admit it," she added with a sigh of her own, "I am relieved we don't have to worry about him plotting any more devious schemes from the inside of a jail cell. I'm glad it's really over."
"Do you think we got all his followers?" Jane asked. "He seems to have invited quite a number of them to his big show."
"I doubt it," she said, frowning. "There are probably a few more slightly more sane ones out there who make a bit more of an effort to maintain covers as normal people. The team will have to go through the employee records at the iron properties companies. Plus his army records; we'll have to see if he recruited anyone else through other trainings or other some other means through his military connections."
"Later," Jane said hastily, not wanting to set her off on a new mission straight away. "There are other things that need to be done before addressing any of that."
She raised an eyebrow at him. "Like what?"
"Celebrating, remember? I don't know about you, but after today, I think we deserve a little celebration before putting our noses straight back to the grindstone."
"Fair enough," Lisbon agreed.
He inched closer to her. "What form of celebration would suit you best, Lisbon?"
"Nothing very exciting, I'm afraid," Lisbon said with a sigh. "I've had rather enough excitement for one day. All I want to do now is take the longest hot bath in the history of the planet."
"That sounds like an excellent way of celebrating," Jane agreed, trying without success not to be distracted by the mental image of Lisbon in a bubble bath. "Where are you planning to take this historic bath, if I may ask?"
"I was thinking my apartment," she said warily. "Where the hell else would I take a bath?"
"You could come over to my hotel," he offered. "It has a pretty nice bath."
She looked at him askance. "No offense, Jane, but there is no way in hell I'm taking a bath in that flea-bitten hotel of yours."
"What, the extended stay hotel?" he said, surprised. "Oh, I'm not staying there anymore."
She blinked. "What do you mean?"
"You moved?" she said incredulously. "To where?"
"I have a room at the Loiree Grande now."
She gaped at him. "You're staying at the Loiree Grande? Since when?"
Jane thought about this. "A few weeks, give or take."
"That place is like four hundred bucks a night!"
Jane shrugged. "It's close to your place. After Russo sent me the lamb, I wanted to be able to get to you quickly if I needed to, and given all your complaining about my 'hovering,' I didn't think you'd be willing to let me move in with you."
Lisbon looked thunderstruck. "After ten years of staying in that horrible dump, you moved to a five star hotel to be closer to me because you thought Red John was going to come after me in the middle of the night?"
"Pretty much," Jane said. "So, what do you say?"
She shook her head. "I say you're spending entirely too much money on that hotel. Why can't you just get an apartment like a normal person?"
"No, I mean about the bath. Do you want to come over?"
Lisbon looked completely flummoxed. "You're seriously inviting me over to your hotel for a bath?"
She hesitated. "It's only a few blocks from where I live," she said at last. "It makes more sense for me to just go home."
"Nonsense, it's far more sensible for you to come over to my hotel tonight."
She raised her eyebrows. "Sensible isn't the word I would choose."
"Sensible is a perfectly appropriate word. You want a bath, and the hotel bath is far superior to the one you have at your apartment." He leaned closer to her. "It has a sunken tub. With jets."
Lisbon looked torn, as though she were trying to figure out whether he was serious or not. Jane sighed inwardly, realizing that despite the kiss they'd shared—that searing, mind-bending kiss—and all that had been said before, it was going to take Lisbon some time to adjust to the concept of his romantic interest in her. Apparently, her view of him as the devoted, revenge-obsessed widower was more deeply entrenched in her mind than he'd realized. He supposed he really didn't have anyone to blame for that but himself, he reflected. Hadn't he encouraged her to believe in that image through his own behavior in a vain attempt to maintain distance between them? He'd have to remedy that. It might take some time, but he'd convince her of his intentions in the end. He met her eyes. "I'd like you to come over. Bath optional."
She stared at him, searching his face for some evidence of trickery. Finding none, she wavered, and then finally muttered, "Yeah, okay. I'll come over."
"Excellent," Jane said, unruffled by her less than enthusiastic response, now that he had secured the answer he wanted. "I'll even spring for the fancy bubble bath they sell at the hotel gift shop."
"See that you do," she said archly, looking a little rattled by what she'd just agreed to.
"Consider it done. As for tracking down the rest of Russo's minions, that shouldn't be too hard, now that we've finally gotten the better of the man himself. But we'll worry about all that later."
She hesitated again. "We will?" she said tentatively.
"Yes," he said with certainty. "But not yet. We're going to take at least a week off, first. You are going to worry that I'm about to have some kind of emotional breakdown now that Red John is finally gone, but you won't be able to be too worried, because I'll be there, under your watchful eye. For my part, I am going to make sure you take a real vacation for once in your life. Preferably to a beach somewhere. And there will be no bulletin boards allowed," he added sternly, as though she had suggested they bring the Red John files along with them to the beach.
"So… you're staying, then?" she asked, fixated on that one critical element. "With the CBI, I mean?"
"Of course," he said, surprised. "Where else would I go?"
She looked away. "I don't know. Anywhere."
"Ah," Jane said, realizing with a sickening jolt that she truly believed there was a fair chance he might vanish into the night, never to be seen or heard from again, now that Red John was finally gone. Invitations to bathe at his hotel notwithstanding. God, he was a fool. Truly, Lisbon's confidence in him was the greatest casualty of his long, bitter effort to conceal his true feelings for her from Red John. Well. He'd just have to set matters straight on this point. "As it happens, the only way I'm going anywhere is if you're going, too."
"And now you think we're going on vacation together?" she clarified, relieved that he wasn't leaving, but unable to quite wrap her head around the idea of the two of them going on vacation together.
"I don't 'think' anything, Lisbon," he said, with absolute self-assurance. "Tomorrow, or perhaps the day after, you and I are going to the beach."
His arrogance was still infuriating, even if the picture he was painting with his words was unbelievably tempting. "What makes you so sure I'll agree to that?"
"Well, for one thing, you're in love with me," he said. He felt light at the thought, as though a strange buoyancy had filled up his chest and might cause him to float away at any moment. "I feel fairly confident, therefore, that you will succumb to my charm and allow me to persuade you eventually."
She froze. "I…"
"Don't bother denying it. You said it yourself," he said cheerfully. "Out loud, and everything."
"Under duress!" she protested, annoyed at him bringing up her confession so casually.
He waggled one finger at her. "Ah, ah. No take backs, Lisbon. Don't think you're getting out of it now."
"No take backs? What are you, ten years old?"
He shook his head. "I should have known it would take nothing less than the threat of torture to get you to talk about your feelings."
"As opposed to you, who are always so forthcoming on the matter of your emotions," she said sarcastically.
"Yes, I suppose you have a point there," he mused. "Very well. Under the circumstances, it seems only fair to tell you that I'm in love with you, too."
She actually looked shocked. "You are?"
He rolled his eyes. "I'm going to have to speak to someone about revoking your detective credentials, Lisbon, if you really haven't figured that out by now. I've been pretty obvious, when you think about it. Really, how could you possibly ignore all the evidence you have at your disposal?"
"Evidence?" she squeaked.
"Yes—the romantic poetry, what you call my 'constant hovering'… How could you not know?"
"You never said anything," she said defensively.
"Neither did you," he pointed out.
"That's different," she protested.
"I thought you knew," she said, shame-faced. "You're always going on about how transparent I am. I figured it was written all over my face. I thought if you felt the same way, you would have said something. That not saying anything was your way of protecting my feelings."
"I couldn't say anything," he said seriously. He scrubbed a hand over his face. "I knew he would come after you, if he knew. I thought if I hid it from you, he wouldn't be able to see it, either. Guess I was wrong about that."
"I thought—I thought you were still in love with your wife," Lisbon said haltingly.
He brought her hand up to his mouth and kissed the knuckles. "I will always love Angela," he told her quietly. "But I am in love with you."
"Okay," she whispered, that bright, dangerous hope flaring up inside her at the words, threatening to consume her. She closed her eyes, and tried to let herself feel the words for real, after all this time. Perhaps she could avoid being burned by the fire, if she let herself feel them.
He put his arm around her. "I've been thinking about what you said," he told her.
"You said bringing down Red John was our life's work. Yours and mine."
"Yes. And we did it," she said in satisfaction, leaning into his side. "We brought him down."
"The thing is, I'm not so sure that's all I want my life to amount to."
She frowned. "What are you saying?"
"I'm saying I think I'd like my life to be about building something up, not tearing something down."
"Building what?" she asked, almost afraid of the answer.
"Building a life. With you."
She swallowed. "You want to build a life with me?"
"Yes," he said simply.
She looked at him, sure her heart was in her eyes, but still uncertain of her words. She was so in love with him it was terrifying. "I'm really bad at this," she blurted out.
"That's too bad for me, isn't it?" he said, unfazed. "Because you're the only one I'm interested in building a life with."
She looked at him sharply, and he had to chuckle at her look of consternation. "I hate to break it to you, Lisbon, but I'm not in the habit of inviting just anyone to take a bath at my hotel," he teased. He gave her a gentle squeeze of reassurance, and added, more seriously, "I know it won't be easy. All I'm asking is that we try. So what do you say? Do you want to build a life with me?"
She hardly knew what he was offering, or what he was asking of her in return. But it didn't matter, did it? Recent events had proven that she was incapable of walking away from him, no matter the cost. And God help her, she wanted him so badly, she'd agree to damn near anything, if it kept him with her. She would take whatever he was willing to give, and she would give him everything she had in return. Surely that was enough to, as he called it, build a life together. "Yes," she said at last. "I think I'd like that."
He beamed at her. Her eyes dropped to his mouth, her pupils dilating and her lips parting slightly. She kissed him then, softly and sweetly. Jane thought he would never get enough of that taste, as long as he lived. Apparently, she felt the same way, because she deepened the kiss, drinking him in like he was a cool glass of water and she was a woman dying of thirst.
When things had progressed to the point that Jane was mildly concerned they might fall off the fence if they weren't careful, Lisbon reluctantly drew away. "I suppose we ought to go back to the others," she said without enthusiasm. "They'll probably be ready to leave soon."
Lisbon, for whom action immediately followed resolve, moved to climb down from the fence, but Jane held her fast, not wanting to release her from her place by his side. "Not yet," he said. "Let's stay here, just for a few more minutes."
"As nice as it is here at the moment, Jane, I really don't want to miss our ride back to Sacramento."
"They won't leave without us, Lisbon. Please. Let's stay. Just for a few more minutes. I want to watch the end of the sunset."
She cast her eyes over the shimmering golden lake. It really was beautiful. "Okay," she agreed. "We'll stay for the end of the sunset."
Jane wrapped his arm around her more securely and fixed his eyes on the horizon, entranced. He didn't want to miss a moment of this. Because as he sat there with Lisbon by his side, a new path was unfolding before him. A path full of green leaves, golden light, and emerald eyes. It looked fascinating and inviting, and surprisingly free of shadows.
It looked like the path to peace.