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I'm Stretched So Thin

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I can’t hold on
To what I want when I’m stretched so thin
It’s all too much to take in
I can’t hold on
To anything watching everything spin
With thoughts of failure sinking in

--Linkin Park, "By Myself"

~*~

Teresa Lisbon stared bleakly at the door as it closed behind Jane's back, and she numbly walked over to slide the deadbolt home. She felt dazed and everything seemed a little out of focus. Almost like she was living in a dream world, that none of this was real. The lights are on, but nobody's home. Poor little Reese. The last time she'd felt like this, she'd been 12 and they'd just put her mother in the ground.

She shivered. It suddenly felt too cold in here. Wandering over to the wall to adjust the thermostat, a random beam of sunlight danced off the glass of her only picture of her brothers all together, catching her attention. Nearly snatching it off the table, she stared desperately at the smiling faces frozen inside. They'd all been so happy, once. Now they couldn't even occupy the same state, fleeing to opposite ends of the country as soon as they'd been able.

Why do I fuck up everything? Teresa thought bitterly, feeling tears burning a path down her cheeks. She shoved a fist in her mouth, trying in vain to stifle her sobs. As a teenager, she'd nearly killed herself trying to not only complete high school with good grades, but raise her little brothers as well as care for their broken father. All she'd ever wanted was to fix their shattered lives. Instead, she'd made it worse. At least before she'd taken over, they were all still speaking. And, much as she knew it wasn't entirely accurate, she couldn't help but feel like their father would still be alive had she done a better job. Been able to fill Mom's shoes like she should have. Too late now.

Then there was the inscrutable Patrick Jane. The hardest of all her hard luck cases. Yeah, she knew what people said about her: she was a sucker for the lost causes, the strays, the ones no one wanted to deal with anymore. With Jane, she'd thought she'd done an okay job. She guessed he was less of a wreck currently than when she'd first met him. But that was before she found out he intended to murder Red John, not caring if he'd die as long as he took the monster with him. So she'd failed him, too.

And now she had ruined her own life as well. Maybe she didn't actually remember what happened Tuesday night, maybe her team believed in her innocence, but none of it mattered. Even if she didn't actually pull the trigger, evidence said she did. What was she, her career, her life, worth if she didn't stand by the evidence? Nothing. The sum of her existence, her responsibilities, was all contained in what she could show for it. Unfortunately, she couldn't think of anything she could show that would absolve her of guilt. She wondered if she was thinking about the McTier situation, her brothers, her father, Jane, her own life, or all of it. She supposed it was irrelevant which one she needed the absolution for – all the earthly tasks God had appointed her, she'd failed.

Heart pounding in her throat, Teresa suddenly felt like throwing up. Or screaming until she blacked out. Is this really all I am? Failures wrapped in sins and tragedy? What a hollow waste of a life.

Feeling unexpectedly enraged, she violently flung the picture she'd been cradling at the opposite wall. It shattered next to the door, sending shards of broken glass everywhere. She buried her face in her hands and allowed her misery to swallow her whole.

Abruptly, someone began hammering on her door, making Teresa jump like a scalded cat. The hell?! She gaped wide-eyed at the door, as she heard a familiar voice call urgently from outside.

"Lisbon? Are you hurt?" Jane sounded frightened.

What's he doing here? I told him to leave! He was supposed to leave! Dammit Reese, this is JANE – he NEVER does what he's told. She glared at the door balefully. "Jane?" she rasped irritatedly. "I told you to go. I'm fine, just–" she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror, red-eyed, frizzy haired, pale, looking like an extra for an Evil Dead movie. Well, maybe she'd better not try to explain what she was 'just'. The crazy man could probably hone in on her lies through a closed door like an aural bloodhound. "...go. Please. Now. I accidentally dropped something." Shit. I shouldn't have said accidentally, that's too big a lie.

"C'mon Lisbon," he responded. Damn him if she couldn't hear the smirk in his voice! "No use lying to me, remember? Now do be a grown up and come open the door so we can have this conversation face to face, hm?" He said, lazily patronizing.

Teresa gritted her teeth. Don't do it. Don't feed the beast. He's provoking you on purpose! Don't– "Excuse me?" She snapped back. Oh, fuck it. "Screw you, Jane. This is my home. I don't have to let you in. Go. Away." There. Take that, you arrogant, presumptuous ass. She ignored the fact that her rationale probably made her sound like a 5-year-old telling her parent she didn't have to do her chores.

There was a short silence on the other side and she almost thought she won.

"Teresa," Jane's voice was like steel now. Aw, man. Does he have to say my name like that? He'd always inflected the 's' as though it were a 'z', making it sound far more exotic than it deserved. It had always made her feel special. She scowled resentfully at the floor, hating her reaction.

"Let me in, or I will come in regardless," Jane continued. "You know I can. It's up to you."

Teresa ran her hands through her hair in aggravation. "Sure it's up to me, you son of a bitch," she grumbled under her breath. "You'll come in whether I want you to or not, but of course it's my decision! You have a perverted definition of choice. Bastard."

She heaved a sigh. "F-fine," she bit out, loud enough for him to hear. "But after you see for yourself that I'm absolutely fine, I want you to leave." She waited for his response, absently clenching and unclenching her fists.

"Of course," he chirped happily. Uh oh, that was too easy. What did I say wrong?! "After I see that you're fine."

Wondering if she hadn't just made a deal with the devil, she walked to her door and unlocked it, opening it just far enough for Jane to get a look at her. "See?" Damn, voice broke. She cleared her throat. "Fine." Oh, huh. Cramps. Has it been a month? She gingerly rubbed a hand over her abdomen, feeling the dull ache deep inside that signaled the imminent start to her period.

Noticing Jane's eyes locked onto her movement like a heat-seeking missile, she stopped, only to immediately feel light-headed. She reached up to rub her scalp, trying to force the feeling away.

Teresa was caught off guard when Jane stepped up in her face, towering over her, and she jerked her chin up to keep his face in sight. So she was completely unprepared when he bent down and hauled her into his arms, clutching her tightly so she couldn't move.

Pole-axed, she merely blinked at him. Huh? What the... "Jane," she grimaced as her command voice failed and came out as a screech. She tried shoving at him. God, for a couch potato he's built like an ox! "Let me go!"

"No."

Confused and annoyed by his placid and simple refusal, she retorted, "What do you mean, 'no'?" She saw his gaze drawn to the shattered picture on the floor, and she suddenly felt raw and exposed, going still in his arms.

Jane walked to her sofa and, as though handling delicate china, set her on the soft cushions. Not wanting to be in such a submissive position, she began to shove herself upward. He caught her shoulders and held her gently but firmly, catching her eyes with his. She couldn't look away. He looked so concerned for her. It'd been so long since someone had worried for her, instead of the other way around. Subdued, she stopped resisting.

"Lisbon," he began, and she was surprised by the emotion in his voice. "You're hurting. You're afraid. You're starting your cycle, which is depleting what precious little energy you had left. You obstinately persist in inserting yourself into my personal affairs, even when I neither deserve nor desire it."

Well, that last part's true enough, Teresa thought acidly. And who the hell does he think he is, bringing up my 'cycle' like that?! That's my business!

"Let me be here for you now, all right?" he finished softly, pleading with her. That tone he used was the same one he'd had just before he'd left her apartment the first time. Aside from those two times, she'd never – not in all her years with Jane – heard it before.

Feeling unbalanced, she looked away. She knew how to deal with angry Jane, wounded Jane, revenge-obsessed Jane, sneaky Jane, curious Jane, and bored Jane. But this new personality...the sincere caring she saw and heard now, she didn't know quite what to do with it. And, as with any unknown in her life, she regarded it with distrust.

Teresa decided to pretend she hadn't heard his little monologue. "You said you'd leave after you saw I was fine," she pointed out sourly, resolutely not looking at him.

"And I will," his voice rang out, filled with mischief. "But as of now, you are not fine. You are the very definition of un-fine. When I think you're fine, I will absolutely show myself out."

Somehow, she just knew he was wearing a shit-eating grin. Damn it. That's why he agreed to my terms so quickly earlier! He knew I stupidly gave him a perfectly valid escape clause. Ugh! Yet she strangely didn't feel very upset about it. "I hate you," she remarked, although she might as well have been commenting on the weather for the utter lack of annoyance in her voice.

The smart ass consultant could tell she didn't mean it, too. "Liar, liar, pants on fire," he quipped merrily. He got up and went to her kitchen, peering around curiously. "Where do you keep your cups?"

What? That was a random topic change. "Why?" She watched him searching her cabinets with suspicion.

He gave her that innocent little boy look that she both hated and adored in equal amounts. "I'm going to make you a nice cup of tea."

My life is falling apart and he wants to make me tea. She suppressed the impulse to laugh hysterically, not wanting him to worry more, or worse, psychoanalyze her.

Teresa felt rather self-satisfied that in this, he would not get his way. "Don't have tea," she informed him almost happily.

"Meh, who said anything about needing tea? I have tea. I just don't make a habit of carrying cups everywhere."

She stared at him as if he'd sprouted horns. That's absolutely nuts...but it's Jane, so I guess it makes perfect sense. "But you carry tea with you? Jane, you're so weird." Weird was an understatement.

He stared at her. She gave in, sighing. "Cups are in the top cupboard on the left of the sink." Annoying, pushy, know-it-all.

"Thank you." Jane found a pot, filled it with water, and fiddled with her stove until it came on. Then he faced her, leaning back against the countertop, crossing his arms purposefully. "Now how's about you tell tell me why you broke that lovely picture of your brothers?"

Teresa's heart sank and she frowned. She'd almost forgotten her dark thoughts she'd been having just minutes ago. Having zero desire to catalogue each and every thought and feeling so he could take them apart for his examination, she shut down that avenue instantly. "We're not discussing that."

He shrugged blithely at her as though it didn't matter at all when she knew he had to be dying of curiosity. "Okay. Then talk to me about why you're giving up so easily over this mess when you've been in worse situations with nary a flinch."

And there it was. The words she hadn't even had the nerve to think of much less speak aloud. It did feel like she was giving up. She had the uncomfortable feeling of being as clearly seen as a bug under a microscope. She swallowed hard, nervously tracing patterns in the worn lining of her sofa. It had been her mother's favorite piece of furniture, and the familiarity of it was grounding. No. She would not let Jane manipulate her like this. Casting about mentally for something to use as a distraction, her mind latched onto his earlier comment about her time of the month. Seriously, that's breaking the guy/girl code of silence in a huge way! That's the golden rule: men don't notice periods, and women don't call attention to random boners.

Staring fixedly at the wall so he'd have nothing to target in her eyes, she remarked, "Didn't anyone ever tell you it's rude to mention people's private biological functions?"

"Stop deflecting," he said, irritation laced in his voice.

Ha! That's rich, coming from you of all people! Jerk, she seethed silently. "I learned from the best," she retorted boldly.

Apparently getting tired of their bout of verbal judo, he shoved himself away from the counter and walked to the sofa to drop to his heels next to her. "Lisbon. Teresa." WHY does he have to say my name like that?!

Against her will, she felt her head turn and she looked at him, reluctantly touched by the soft, concerned look in his eyes. He surprised her by taking her hand, aborting her fruitless pattern-tracing she hadn't realized she'd still been doing.

"Don't shut down," Jane urged, an emotion she refused to name in his voice.

He had to ask that, in that tone, saying my name that way. And I'm going to cave. Again. Damn. It. It really did piss her off, how easily he could read her. Then she remembered the reason he was here to read her at all, and she felt the misery and self-loathing rise up. She felt herself start to panic. She couldn't talk to him about this. It wasn't even about wanting to or not anymore; she could not. If he knew, he would leave her too. That was intolerable.

"Please, Jane," she hated herself for begging. "Please don't make me give up more of myself than I already have." She lit on an idea just then. Two can play at this game, pal. "Please...Patrick."

She could see the surprise in his eyes. Teresa Lisbon never used his first name, ever. It caused him to hesitate instead of verbally tearing down her walls into itty bitty fragments. Oh, she knew full well what he was capable of. He was the most observant human being she'd ever seen. It sometimes felt like everyone around him, herself included, waltzed through life imagining what clever beings they were; meanwhile they were actually all merely playing Checkers and then there was Patrick Jane, way up above them, playing Chess. In this world, he was the apex predator and everyone else, lowly prey. Her sole advantage was that he had a heart, much as he liked to claim he didn't, and sometimes she could use that against him.

Just like now, she thought, seeing the capitulation in his eyes. But there was something else in that calculating gaze, too. He looked...possessive? Well, that's different.

Without warning, he carefully lifted her back and slipped in behind her, pulling her down to recline on his chest. She froze. Okay, who is this man and what has he done with my Jane? "What exactly do you think you're doing, Jane?"

"It's all right, Teresa," his voice like warm honey. "You're exhausted. We don't have to talk. Just relax. I'll be here. I won't leave you. Everything will be all right. Trust me." His arms were like solid bands of iron around her, and he began rocking her like a child, back and forth in a hypnotic rhythm. "You've had to be strong for everyone else, let someone else be strong for you now."

She couldn't help herself. Everything inside her was screaming not to risk it, but she was just so tired of handling everything on her own all the time! Feeling tears prick at her eyes, she turned and all but crushed her face into his neck. She allowed all the rage, grief, and worry pour itself out of her. She shook with the force of her tears, but took care not to make a sound. She was afraid if she started to sob earnestly, she would never stop.

He was warm, solid, and holding her as though she meant something more than his boss. For just a moment, she could pretend that the outside world and all its troubles didn't exist. That they were just two people who lo–cared for each other. And for that moment, she felt cherished.

The moment was rudely interrupted by the hissing pot of boiling water demanding attention. She sat up to free him to fix the tea. After a few minutes, he returned to her side with a steaming cup and a washcloth.

Teresa took the cloth first and blotted her eyes. I bet I look like a million bucks right now, she thought sarcastically. She took the tea and sipped at it carefully, minding the temperature. She raised her eyes to meet Jane's. "What if I really did do it?" She hated the vulnerable tone in her voice, but she desperately needed reassurance.

He definitively shook his head, not doubting for an instant. "I know you. You didn't. There's a logical explanation for this, we just have to find it."

"And if there isn't one?"

He looked disdainful. "Of course there is. Lisbon, any fool with eyes should realize that you're too principled to act on your own desires above the law, even if you should. Whoever framed you for this should have picked someone else as a scapegoat. I'm not concerned with wondering whether or not you think you did it. I'm more interested to find out who had the opportunity to get close enough to you to drug you and steal your fingerprints."

Teresa gaped at him in shock. Could it really be that simple? "Drug me? Someone drugged me and that's why I can't remember Tuesday night? But how? Who?"

Jane flicked a hand at her dismissively as though batting away a mosquito, and she resolutely suppressed her impatience. He can deal with the fact that us poor mortals need things explained. "Of course it was a drug. Nothing else could block your memory so selectively; hypnosis is no good in this case because you can't hypnotize someone to do something they absolutely do not want to do, especially locking away a portion of your memory. It was probably a benzodiazepine, most likely lorazepam or – Lisbon? What is it?"

She felt her entire brain come to a screeching halt at the mention of lorazepam, her body going ice cold. Feeling her hands fisting in rage at the betrayal, she told Jane through a clenched jaw, "Lorazepam. Doctor Carmen, the shrink they're making me see. He...he prescribed it for me before. I didn't like taking them, so I stopped. But I'm missing pills, pills I know I didn't use. Or don't remember using."

They shared a look that told her that for once, they were completely in synchrony.

"Well," Jane mused, an unholy grin beginning on his lips, and it was like the sun emerging after a storm, "Lisbon, I believe it's time for us to bait a hook to reel in a killer."

Teresa smiled widely at him, feeling light and carefree for the first time in days.

She knew it was dangerous to think so, but she couldn't help it: she knew, no matter the obstacle, that he'd always save her when she needed.