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i.

She asked to meet him at this cute little bistro and Jane jumped at the chance. He’d do anything, anything to get away from the hustle and bustle of the carnival circuit every once in a while.

Anything to get away from his father, too.

Angela had been very specific about the time and drink she wanted, but Jane didn’t care. As far as he was concerned, she could have told him to jump off a tall building to make her proud and he’d have been all too happy to do so.

Though he wouldn’t quite admit it to himself, he was already more than half in love with her. Then again, Angela Ruskin had this charm about her which reeled in anybody and everybody. He’d never heard a soul say a bad word about her. There had to be a reason for that, and he wasn’t going to argue otherwise.

However, she was late and Angela never ran late. The bubbling fear in the pit of his stomach returned tenfold. What if her father had found out she was meeting him? What if he’d stopped her? What if she’d simply changed her mind and forgotten to tell him? Jane knew that her dad didn’t approve of him; he wasn’t real carnie folk, he’d just tagged along for the ride because of his skills. Whereas she, she was carnie royalty. She deserved better.

Jane sighed. He was never going to be good enough for anybody.

Scowling, he took a sip of the coffee sitting in front of him and grimaced. How could anyone drink this? Why had Angela insisted that it was ‘so good’? Jane had no conceivable idea how anybody could drink that junk.

When the doorbell jangled cheerfully, he glanced up. His look of distaste disappeared in an instant. She had finally managed to escape and join him.

ii.

“I’ve brought some water, sweetheart.”

Charlotte Jane pulled a look of disgust at her father and Jane frowned. He watched as she shook her head furiously, her blonde curls bouncing up and down cheerfully as she did so. There was an intense look of concentration written into her features – something, he noted, which she had inherited from her mother. Really, as far as he was concerned, whatever her mood, whatever her appearance, his little girl was completely and utterly perfect.

“Daddy…”

She stressed out the last syllable to make her point and Jane had to bite hard on his bottom lip to prevent himself from laughing at her. Charlotte hated it when that happened; she liked people to take her completely and utterly seriously. And apparently, this was a serious matter. Laughing was simply not allowed.

“You can’t drink water at a tea party!”

Jane glanced around at his daughter’s bedroom. Apart from the small space cleared around the ‘table’, the room was a complete and utter mess. However, he could see she had painstakingly organized her stuffed animals around said table, awaiting his arrival. He’d promised her that as soon as he’d finished work, he would play tea party with her and he wasn’t going to break that promise.

“Oh really?” he asked and she nodded furiously in response. “Then what do you suggest we drink?”

“Tea, of course!”

“Not today, sweetheart,” he answered back and she pouted. “You’ve already had your cup of tea for today.”

She paused, considering.

“Can we have juice instead then?”

“I think we can manage that.”

Three minutes later and he was sitting cross legged by his daughter, watching her carefully pour orange juice out of her plastic toy teapot. The look of concentration on her face was utterly adorable. Soon enough, she handed him a plastic cup and he took a sip.

Juice had never tasted any sweeter than that.

iii.

Dead. She was dead.

His wife had lost her life and it was his fault.

The last words he’d said to her had been angry, full of spite and vitriol. Angela had hated the fact he had continued working as a psychic even after they had left the circuit together. However, it had been a bug he simply hadn’t been able to shake. He’d needed to keep going. And besides, even she couldn’t argue that it paid well. Without it, they would never have been able to afford the house they lived in. Without it, he wouldn’t have been able to give both her and Charlotte their heart’s desires.

However, she had also been right. Just before he’d left to do that fateful television interview, she had predicted that sooner or later, he would take it that step too far. How could he have known that it would happen so soon? And of course, instead of him paying the ultimate price, it had been her and Charlotte.

“Hit me,” he muttered, his voice hoarse.

A wry smile crossed his features as the bartender poured him yet another shot of tequila. Jane wasn’t sure what number it was, but quite frankly, he didn’t care. As long as the liquid continued to burn the back of his throat and addle with his brain, that was all that mattered.

He wasn’t trying to forget them – Angela and his precious Charlotte – he was trying to forget what Red John had done to them.

It seemed strange that less than twenty-four hours ago, he had been laughing and joking and sharing orange juice with Charlotte. Now, he was actively trying to turn himself into a desolate drunk. How the mighty have fallen.

“Hit me,” he repeated the moment his shot glass hit the bar.

“Don’t you think you’ve had enough, mister?”

Jane pointed an angry finger at the man. “Don’t you dare tell me when I’ve had enough.”

iv.

The blank white walls were closing in around him. A long while ago, he had tried to count how long he had been incarcerated in this hell hole, but he had since lost count. It was a fruitless, pointless task anyway.

Now, he had seen this as being his punishment for his wrongdoings. After all, he had done nothing illegal. The serial killer known as Red John had been the one to actually brutally murder his wife and child. Jane had simply forced his hand, made the man choose to exact his revenge in such a way.

Still, as far as Jane was concerned, his own actions had been reprehensible. It was just a shame that it had taken bloody murder for him to be able to see that.

The distinct tang of fresh paint still hung in the room. Jane knew why they had hastily redecorated it. He could remember the shock of pain in his right arm, the blood gushing furiously out of it. The intense desire to paint a smiley face on the wall. One to mimic the one painted above his wife and daughter’s bodies. If he were to die, he wanted desperately to go the same way as they did so.

Eventually – though in reality it could have been anything between seconds and days – the door clanged open and Sophie Miller, his psychiatrist, approached.

“Please, take these.”

Sophie Miller handed him two round tablets and Jane stared at them, contemplating. He knew what they were for, to treat his supposed insanity, but he loathed drugs. It was the way they messed with his mind, blocked his thoughts and prevented him from using the skills he’d taken years to hone.

Reluctantly, he did so, taking a sip of water to ease them down. He’d learned now. The more he behaved, the more likely he was to escape his prison cell.

“I’d prefer a cup of tea, if you have one.”

The psychiatrist smiled; it was the first sensible sentence he’d said to her since he had begun his stint in this mental institution.

“I’ll see what I can do,” she answered back. “Drink your water for now.”

v.

Once, Jane believed he would never marry again. No woman would ever be able to match up to Angela. And besides, nobody else deserved the hell that he had put her and Charlotte through. He couldn’t inflict himself on other people.

When he first met Teresa Lisbon, he never believed that they would be able to see eye to eye. She was a strict professional, all about the job and doing things ‘by the book’.

There was always that tension running between them. It was partially because of their different outlooks on life, but also because of Red John. If it hadn’t been for the serial killer, he’d never have joined the CBI and never met her. However, they were living for different reasons, fighting for different causes. That meant there was always going to be at least a few stumbling blocks along the way.

Eventually, things got easier. Red John was apprehended, he learned to move on.

So did she.

A ring made of white gold now adorned his finger. The original gold band was worn on a chain around his neck. Despite everything that had happened, he still had to honor Angela Ruskin. It wouldn’t have been right – to either of them – to blemish her role in his life.

Still, Teresa was by his side now. He knew from experience that she wasn’t going anywhere. Loyalty was practically her middle name. Jane had tried to push her away time and time again, but she had stubbornly refused to leave him be.

In the end, they had just stopped fighting. He wasn’t particularly one to believe in it, but if there was such a thing, it was probably fate that they had ended up together.

Now, as they tapped their champagne glasses together, she was his wife.

And he wouldn’t have it any other way.