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A New Man

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It started when she surfaced from red hell where her team was dead and three red johns painted their bodies, the walls and the floor with their blood, still bright with oxygen, with life. Three red johns, asking for her help to complete the task. As if it was a normal day and of course she would comply with the needs of the various law enforcement agencies they represented. Assist them to successfully complete their mission. And she was part of that mission.

Her team was scattered around the bullpen, pouring blood, their slaughterers bathed in it. All dead. All gone. Even Jane, in the midst of drinking a cup of tea, his bushy golden curls still as he lay on the floor with blood streaks on the back of his jacket. The familiar copper tang landed on her tongue and spread like a flash chemical reaction to fill her nostrils and lungs, sting her eyes. So much blood. She preferred to suffocate.

All were dead. It was her turn. One red john stepped up and slashed at her throat. Run! She had to get out of there, get away from these murderers or they would kill her next. Her feet slid in a bloody smiley as she attempted to turn, arms thrashing as she tried to regain balance and maintain headway at the same time. Sticky congealed blood grabbed the soles of her shoes and made her stumble. No! They would catch her! So much effort and the suffocation was stealing breath she needed to fuel her escape.

Taking one last lungful of air, eyes opening wide at the strain, she was in another place. A room. It didn't matter. She had to get out of there, too. Someone stopped her with a touch so gentle it almost wasn't there, and yet unyielding, words so low she couldn't hear them. Her arms started to flail, winding up her muscles to leap off of the bed. The bed?

But one large hand held her wrist gently to the mattress and the other stroked her hair, touched her shoulder, spoke soothing words of safety. A kaleidoscope of color . . . Flowers? His face. His beautiful eyes. Jane? Jane was saying it was all right, that she was safe. How was he alive? All that blood. Flowers. Hospital. She was in the hospital and Partridge was dead and Red John had caught her. But it was all right now. She was safe. Jane had her, stroking her hair and her shoulder as tender as a father, as tender as a lover and it was all right. Jane was alive and she was safe.

Lisbon had played that waking scene over and over in her mind since that morning. What had she seen in his eyes? He'd never looked at her that way before, held her gaze so long, so quietly. It was the longest she'd ever looked in anyone's eyes. Her mind hadn't been right, and it must have made her see things like she was still dreaming. His face was tinted red everywhere, flushed . . . and lined so differently, as if Jane had been filled with a liquid pink light that blushed every cell . . . and the weight of it, the pressure, had disintegrated the mask of who he used to be, opening his flesh. And a different man was looking at her. A man she trusted. A man who forgave her for acting against the deepest alarms of his heart. No recrimination. Just that look in his eyes. She hadn't realized that his normal animation could be a mask over that kind of depth. Where in Jane's soul did the bottom of that look end? In her soul, it never ended; it could see anywhere . . . and it invited her to look back--.

It was a crazy dream that scared her, that was all, and she tried not to think about it.

They were easier in each other's company now. Their case discussions were more relaxed and felt like real partnering. But he hadn't stopped looking at her that way. Mostly, his face had returned to normal, but there were times, when she surprised him, that she caught him looking at her with his new blushing flesh. So soft. So hurt. So beckoning.

It was her fault he suffered. She felt embarrassed, guilty to see the effect on him of what she had done. She had reviewed the crime scene photos. What he must be reliving in his mind every time he looked at her and thought of that moment. The moment when he had seen her marred face. Depersonalized and left as a message to him. Alive when his wife and daughter had been sliced to ribbons. How he must wish that their places had been reversed. She almost felt ashamed that she had lived. And she turned away from Jane in those moments, allowing him to recover so that she could forget her sin for a little while.

.x.x.x.x.x.


Nothing mattered but her. Nothing. What did that mean?

He had tried to reach her all day after their fight in the desert, where she'd left him eating the crunching white dust from her spinning tires. Stubborn! She terminated his calls. If only she had answered, he would have been there with her. Where her partner belonged.

Had she left him? It was a question that dug to the pit of everything he was, forcing him to leave multiple messages when it was clear she was ignoring them. He didn't know what message to leave anyway, stumbling on every one. Had she left him? Was he still her partner?

He didn't know if he could live without her, seeing her every day, being her partner. He had no life without her. What did that mean?

And then she was gone. Missing.

And then she was found. In a house where Red John had killed, where he painted her face with the murdered man's blood. Marked Lisbon instead of a wall. Laid her on a mattress to protect her from the filthy wood floor. A message to him. See? You can't take care of her. Just like you couldn't take care of your own family. But I will let her live. I will give her to you. Even see that she lies comfortably. But I mark her as mine. Mine to give. And he had marred her face with his mark, embellishing it to make her clown-like, a toy. Red John's toy.

Jane didn't care how or why she had lived. Only that she had lived.

No one had been there for her. Not even her partner. And he was in shock. Stumbling through the aftermath, focused on her.

It was left to him to clean her face when they were through gathering evidence and taking photographs. What was wrong with her? Why didn't she wake? Would she ever wake? Had he made her undead, like Kristina?

The blood was drying, sticky, and he had to wipe her face so much to get it all off. He was afraid he would hurt her skin, it looked so delicate. But she could not wake and see herself with Red John's mark! And he would not suffer her to be so defaced one moment longer. Washing her reclaimed her. Returned her to herself. Made her his again. What did that mean?

He had to be there when she awoke. The rest of the team, Bertram, even a security detail were nowhere to be found. She couldn't wake alone. Why didn't they care about her? Where had they gone? What were they doing that could be more important than Lisbon?

And he had been there. Petting Lisbon as gently as he would his Charlotte. From the moment he saw her first struggle to surface, through the attempts to flail her arms and jump out of the bed still dreaming. He wanted to pet her, soothe her, touch her forever. But he only did these things until she was fully conscious, aware and talking to him. Forcing his fingers to curl away from her when he no longer needed to touch her to make her know she was safe.

She had gentled quickly under his touch and his words. Only to start talking about the case again.

And when she was safe, he left. To pick up their work. To think. And to find that fiend, Red John.

The days since looked normal. And they mostly felt normal. But at times he was overcome, looking at her. How beautiful. How wonderful. How alive. How he had almost lost her.

Jane could tell it embarrassed her when she caught him looking at her, thinking these thoughts. She would turn away and give him time to recover his composure. She looked so sad. He had let Lisbon down when she needed him most. And she couldn't bear to look at his weakness. She had forgiven him; it was her nature. But at times, Jane was sure that his presence reminded Lisbon that he had betrayed her, belittled her.

Why did it matter so much?

And suddenly he knew why. He knew what his anguish meant. He was in love with her. So deeply, there was no getting out. It was the worst timing. But he had no control over it. And, after what had happened in the desert, she would surely hate him for it.

All this came to him, sitting on the couch in her office as Lisbon worked at her computer. He could feel his face heat and redden, almost go slack. His mouth begin to work as he tried to manage the emotion coursing through him. When he looked at her, she was already gazing at him, as if she didn't know who he was anymore and couldn't look away. Her eyes watered, and then she stared at her knees, working her small hands over them.

.x.x.x.x.x.


Lisbon couldn't take it anymore. She couldn't stand to see his pain and know she was the cause of it. There was no way to apologize for being alive. She would try.

Jane watched her get out of her chair. Standing, she seemed indecisive, but rolled it to the couch to sit in front of him.

"I'm sorry."

He looked at her, completely confused.

"I'm sorry, Jane."

"What? Why? You have nothing to be sorry for, Lisbon. Nothing."

"I should have listened to you." Maybe he would let her off without the real apology.

"What?" What was she saying? Why did she think that was important? "No. No. It doesn't matter. It only matters that you're alive."

"But I shouldn't be."

Jane had no idea how to respond, what to say to this. He just looked at her, bemused, despairing, and waited for her to continue.

"I should be dead."

"No. Never." He felt suddenly queasy. "Why would you say that, Lisbon?" He watched as her hands did strange, flighty things that he had never seen them do before, and reached out to take them into his own hands. "You're safe," he muttered to her fingers as his large hands gently swallowed them whole.

Suddenly, she did feel safe. Her hands were in his and it was the safest place in her world.

"He let me live, Jane." Fat tears rolled down her cheeks.

"That's good. It's wonderful. I'm so grateful."

Lisbon started to cry, her shoulders shaking. Sounds Jane had never heard her make came unbidden from her throat as she tried to strangle them back.

"It's all right, Lisbon. All right. You're safe now." He squeezed her hands a little and she looked up at him, her complexion already blotchy and wrecked.

"But . . . but . . . . how can you forgive me?"

"Forgive you? No, Lisbon. It doesn't matter about the phone tracking. You should hate me for saying those things to you. For not being there with you when you went into that house."

"No. No. That's not what I mean." She was having difficulty talking and crying at the same time.

Jane couldn't watch her misery, her pain. She seemed so alone, so lost. When he pulled on her hands, she immediately got up and sat next to him on the couch. And he just as quickly wrapped his arm around her shoulders, pulling her close and lowering his head to talk to her. "What could be so bad? Huh? Tell me. I'm your partner. It's all right."

The words erupted from her like bitter gall and she nearly choked on them. "He let me live, but he killed your family, Jane! I know you're thinking why did he kill them and let me live?"

Jane was broadsided. Shocked. How could she think such a thing? How could she think he-. "No! It's not like that! It was never like that!"

"Yes!"

"No! I never thought that! Never! Don't you know, Lisbon? I love you. I'm in love with you. I can't live without you anymore. My family's gone. I can't bring them back. But you're here with me. With me, Teresa. Be with me."

He was squeezing Lisbon so tight, her body was scrunched, her head crammed against the side of his chest, neck crooked at his armpit.

He loosened his hold as he turned to her and she raised her head to look into Jane's eyes.

"How could you love me?"

"How could I not?" He smiled wanly-- all their troubles, all the obstacles tumbling like acrobats forced behind them for the moment. "You don't want me to?"

She nudged him for his tease. "I didn't say that. Just, how could you?"

Jane hugged her again. "It's easy, Lisbon. So easy. Don't ask me to analyze it. It doesn't come from there."

She put her hand on his heart and he covered it with his own. "I want to say 'I love you back,' Jane. Because I know that wasn't easy for you to say. But I'm too confused right now to say anything about how I feel."

"It's okay, Lisbon. Everything is all right."

She didn't have to say the words. Because he knew. Everything she did told him. More than words could ever say. When everything settled, she would remember, too, that she already knew she loved him. Had known for awhile. Ever since Orchid Lane.

He'd only known his feelings for a few days. It had taken almost losing her to make him realize them. And here she was, comfortable in his arms, accepting his love. It was more than enough for now.