Work Header


Work Text:

He had been blind and deaf for a moment, and then seen, the smoke clearing, the broken windows and the bleeding faces. After that he went about as usual—quiet, courteous, rather gentle; but there was a spot on his mind that was not sane.
--G.K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday

When Teresa was seven years old, she'd found a hummingbird.

She'd been knocking around in the backyard after baseball practice. Saw the family cat batting at something on the ground, and went to investigate. She shooed the tabby away when she saw the tiny bird flapping on the ground. Its throat shimmered emerald green as it struggled, getting dirt all over its feathers. Its wing was broken. Mangled.

Damn cat.

But she'd been sure it just needed TLC. She'd made a white bed of cotton balls in the bottom of a shoebox and placed the hummingbird gently inside, stroking its smooth, pretty throat with her finger.

She fed it sugar water with an eyedropper. She hadn't known better than to hope.

Its frenzied struggling slowed, giving way to fewer and fewer sporadic bursts of motion.

She'd been going through a phase where she couldn't stand sharing her parents with her brothers. She had wanted to be really special, not just one in a crowd. So she'd kept the small creature a wonderful little secret under her bed.

The next day she found it dead.

She'd sat down on the floor of her bedroom and cried. Then she wiped her eyes and buried it. She never told anyone.

Years later, when her mom died, she learned what real grief was. The years that followed taught her more and more. She watched her father self-destruct, and met the heartbreak at the center of everything. We try, and even when we succeed, we still fail. Everyone dies.

She learned so much about loss.

But she never forgot her first, small taste.

Since Red John had gotten hold of him, Jane was always locking himself away in the attic. His sleep patterns had deteriorated, something she wouldn't have thought possible. He'd gotten little enough sleep before. Now it was like he didn't even see a reason to bother going somewhere to rest. Like he'd given up on it. He was living upstairs, in a one man shantytown. Wearing a suit he would wear again tomorrow. Not bathing regularly.

All he needed was a shopping cart full of aluminum cans and a penchant for talking to himself and he'd be the very picture of a broken homeless person. She thought about men coming back from Vietnam and living on the streets because everything was so horrible inside their minds that they just couldn't try anymore. She thought about mental patients with no place to go and no way to hold down a job.

She half-worried he already talked to himself. How would she know?

The only thing she didn't worry about was suicide. It was Jane’s special irony that, even as Red John drove him crazy, he was the reason that Jane would never let go. Revenge gave him a reason to live. Jane's interactions with Red John formed the most sad and perverse relationship she'd ever had to bear witness to. As a cop, that was really saying something.

She hated to think of him alone, always thinking of that man, letting Red John own his life.

She felt the burden of trying to keep him together, keep him functional.

She was relieved when she realized that Rigsby was making a concerted effort to get Jane to hang out in the bullpen more. Every time Jane passed by on his way back up to the attic, Rigsby would draw him out. Ask a stupid question that would get Jane holding forth on some topic or another. Ask him for a trick.

It was sweet of Rigsby, because more often than not Jane lashed out at him for his trouble. He must have known what was going on, but Jane had a hard time saying “no” to Rigsby's transparent requests. He'd do the trick, answer the question, give a condescending lecture on the importance of Elizabethan theater. Pop Art. Opera. Whatever.

Lisbon almost let her guard down. Then it all fell apart.

She didn't see any of it. She just heard the sound of breaking glass from inside her office, and came out to see what happened.

By the time she got there, Jane was making his escape to the elevators.

Rigsby looked shell-shocked.

Lisbon looked at the floor, scattered with red roses and broken glass. Agent O'Laughlin had sent them over for Van Pelt.

The flowers had been pretty, though not very professional.

“What the hell happened?” she asked.

“I don't. . .” Rigsby started, running his hand through his hair nervously. “I don't know.” He gave her a guilty look. “I barely touched him, boss,” he said imploringly.

He didn't need a lecture on why even “barely” might be too much.

“Get this cleaned up,” Lisbon said instead. “You get to tell Van Pelt what happened,” she added.

Rigsby looked suitably chastened.

Jane didn't come down the rest of the day.

At the end of the day, Lisbon caught up on paperwork. The fading sunlight glowed warmly over her desk, and the boring forms soothed her with their monotony. She loved putting things in order. Now and then, she looked up and saw people filter out past her office windows. She let herself hope Jane might be among them. He wasn't.

Around 6 p.m., she straightened her desk. And then she straightened it again. And again.

Her stapler took a trip around her desk, making a circuit. It started in the upper right hand corner. She moved it to the left. Then down. From there it went into her drawer, and then out and back again to the place it had started.

She identified with that stapler. It moved around and around, but it never got things right. Never found the answer.

Lisbon was self-aware enough to realize that her train of thought was ridiculous, but the sense of futility didn't go away as she stared at her stapler.

She continued staring at it for a minute or so, seated on the edge of her chair, frowning.

She decided to let herself really think of what do to about Jane, since trying not to made her project existential angst onto office supplies. Which was frankly embarrassing. And useless.

So, Jane.

He was sitting up there alone. He was so bad off that having Rigsby―the nearest human equivalent of a harmless, excitable puppy―brush up against him sent him into a tailspin.

That was pretty bad.

The thought was enough to get Lisbon up on her feet, heading upstairs.
She slid the metal door back, and stepped in.

The room was lit only by a lamp at the empty desk. She thought for half a beat that he must have snuck out of the office. But then she glanced over and saw the outline of his body on top of his makeshift bed.

She shifted awkwardly where she stood. He was part of an inert, lumpy, unmade mess of linens on a board that was resting on, of all things, two sawhorses.

Lisbon breathed in, and sighed, unsure what to do.

The cool air tickled her nose, smelling of dust and a faint whiff of sweat.

It was chillier up here than down in the offices. The central heating didn't quite reach. She rubbed her arms and that gesture turned into another, a sort of self-hug, arms tucked in, gripping each other. If he were awake, the self-comforting body language would have been like a neon sign flashing everything she felt to Jane.

She turned away from the sight of him there, thought about how to salvage this. She should have gone in with a plan. Something worth waking him up for. She'd done so much better last time. But she could fix this. She'd order take out for them. Or she could go pick up food and get him a space heater from the nearest Target before they closed.

She looked back over at his pathetic make-shift bed. She'd get a comforter, too. Something in green, maybe. And an air freshener.

She got her head together, framing her mental list, and then stepped back out. Slid the door closed quietly.

She returned an hour later and found him up. He was sitting at the desk writing in a book. When she came in, he closed it and swiveled to face her.

"Working late?" he asked, politely curious.

His shirt was still half untucked from his nap, and his vest was unbuttoned.

"What can I say," she shrugged, "your dedication has inspired me."

He tilted his head. "I'm not a good life model, Lisbon."

At a loss for words, she half nodded and half shrugged, noncommittal. It was true, but she didn't want to admit it.

"It's cold up here," she said, still standing in the doorway. "Why don't I drive you home?"

She'd left her bags downstairs, hoping the heater and comforter wouldn't be necessary.

“Where would that be?” he asked. “I don't have a home,” he said plainly.

He seemed to be in one of those moods where he decided to tell her the horrible truth in matter of fact tones.

She'd been wishing he would talk to her, but now that he seemed open to it she didn't know what to do. The words were sticking in her throat.

"You have an apartment," she said, ignoring the opening he'd given her. "I can take you there. We could eat first. I got take out."

His lousy eating habits had gotten worse, too.

"You go on," he said. "I'm fine."

He seemed disconcertingly satisfied with the situation.

Maybe he'd intended the glimpse of painful honesty to drive her away?

Two could play at that.

"Jane, this room stinks," she said, walking forward as she spoke. "It's cold and miserable. I don't know how you're sleeping here. You shouldn't be sleeping here." By the time she was finished, she was standing three feet off his nose, staring down at him. "Whatever you're doing, you can do it tomorrow."

He blinked at her. "Is this a request or an order?"

"It's a request."

"And if I don't comply?" he asked, gesturing at the room. "Will you block off the door, have my things removed?"

She leaned down, looking him dead in the eye. "Jane, we both know I don't have the heart to take anything away from you -- you could decide to hang a shower curtain and take sponge baths in the kitchen sink downstairs and I'd try to find a way to make the brass put up with it."

His lips curled. "Quite the picture you paint," he mused.

Clearly telegraphing the move so he had plenty of time to reject it, she reached out and touched his hand.

"Please come with me," she said.

"I can't," he said. "Well, I could, but it wouldn't help. I'll sleep more here than I would at the apartment. When I'm there all I can think about is being here, doing work."

He didn't have to say which work.

"You can bring the file with you," Lisbon said.

He shook his head, seemingly frustrated with her now. "I've tried. Don't you think I've tried? It doesn't work."

A burning ache blossomed in her throat. She felt desolate and ashamed. Helpless.

She straightened and stepped away. Paced back and forth, staring at the floor.

The feelings he was trying to live with weren't rational. She couldn't talk them away anymore than you could make an argument that would convince an agoraphobic that going outside was no reason to panic. The panic was inescapable. They didn't want it, but they couldn't reject it.

She pivoted on her heel, facing him. "Do you feel safe here?"

"I feel... safer," he said.

Safer. Not safe. Because he never really felt safe, just more or less unsafe.

There was a tight pressure against her temples now. It throbbed in time with the burning ache in her throat. She raised her fingers, pressing them against her head. She took calming breaths. It would be about as wrong as you could get to make him have to handle her emotions over his problems. He was barely keeping his head above water.

"You don't have to fix this for me," he said. "You do more than enough already."

"When I'm at my apartment," Lisbon confessed, "all I can think about is this place. And you... haunting it like this."

He looked at her for an appraising moment, and then changed the subject. “You said there was food.”

“Yeah, it's downstairs.”

“What'd you get?”

“Lasagna and garlic bread.”

“Okay. Do I have to go to it,” he asked, “or will it come to me?”

Lisbon sent him a glare. “What do you think?”

Jane stood, raising his hands in a gesture of defeat. “Okay, okay,” he said, walking toward her. He flourished his hand out theatrically, “Lay on, McDuff!”

She'd left the bag of food on the table, and her other purchases beside her chair on the floor.

Jane noticed them immediately. “Been shopping?” he said as they sat down. He looked up at her, eyes twinkling. “Is it my birthday already?”

Lisbon shrugged, pulling out the food boxes, laying napkins and plastic forks on the table. “I got some stuff for your...” she searched for the right word, “room,” she said, settling on the kindest word that wasn't a lie.

They'd gotten to the point where it would be ridiculous for him to say “you didn't have to.” Obviously she did have to. So he just nodded and dug into the lasagna like a starving man.

She took a bite and watched him. Thought about how she should have bought him some packaged food, too. Granola bars, dried fruit, something like that. Things that would keep.

In the bright kitchen, she could see how tired he was. His eyes were puffy, and there was the faint impression of the sheets on his face. For once, he didn't try to insult her intelligence by turning on the charm. Just ate his dinner, bleary and quiet apart from a compliment on the garlic bread.

It was delicious. Hot and buttery rich. Comfort food.

Jane polished off his meal in record time and made himself a cup of tea while he waited for her to finish.

After a minute, he got impatient.

“Can I open my presents now?” he asked, giving her a grin.

Lisbon rolled her eyes. She nudged the bags toward him under the table with her foot. “Have at it.”

He grabbed them up and pawed through their contents, muttering “are you trying to tell me something?” when he came across the air freshener, looking pleased with the small heater, plumping the pillow, and pulling the comforter out at once. Its pattern was black zebra stripes against a vivid purple background. She'd started to get a staid blue plaid one, then thought better of it.

There should be something in that damn attic that made him smile.

It worked. He even laughed. “Why, Lisbon, how tawdry!” he said. “Like the inside of a charming purple bordello.” He gave the comforter a snuggle, and looked up at her with a smile in his eyes. “I always wanted to live in my very own house of ill repute.”

Despite her protestations, Lisbon liked it when Jane went off on a tangent, drunk on words. There were some turns of phrase she could tell that he just loved to say. Something about the way he drew them out, seeming to take sensual delight in the sounds.

Having finished her lasagna, she set her fork down and smiled. “I figured as much,” she said.

She got up, threw the food containers away and then grabbed the heater, pillow, and air freshener. “Let's get you set up,” she said, heading for the elevator.

Jane shuffled along behind her. When she got to the elevator, she turned and saw that he'd wrapped the comforter all around him like a papoose.

She couldn't help smiling again at his tousled head peeking out of all that bright, zebra striped purple.

“You could start a new fashion,” she said.

“Yeah?” he said, and then made a haughty face, sucking his cheeks in like a starving model. “Darling,” he drawled, “I'm ready for my close up.” His tone had just the right note of bored narcissism.

“God help me,” she said. Again telegraphing her move well in advance, she lightly punched his shoulder through the thick comforter. “I've created a monster,” she moaned.

The elevator dinged, and she turned to step in.

He came in after and the doors slid closed behind him. The lift drew them up.

Jane bounced lightly on the balls of his feet next to her, looking absurd. It was a good look. He was alive and wrapped up in all the comfort she could give him. It hadn't fixed anything, but they were both a little warmer. That was something. At least it wasn't nothing.

It had to be enough.


Before you know kindness
as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow
as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness
that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day
to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.

--Naomi Shihab Nye, Kindness