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Scarlet. Crimson. Red.

Three stages of a relationship. Based on Crimson Casanova.

 

 

Scarlet.

 

Kimball Cho looked up from his computer for the fourth time in fifteen minutes. The office was gradually clearing as everyone finished the days’ work and left for the evening. Rigsby and Van Pelt had headed out hours ago, sent by Lisbon to have another talk with Paul Frick.

Lisbon was still in her office, frowning at her computer while she typed quickly. Earlier she’d muttered something about cleaning up after Jane again and shut the door with an annoyed bang. Cho figured it had something to do with Wolcott because when the man had left two hours ago with his lawyer in tow, he had that look of impotent anger that only Jane could inspire.

Cho could sympathize and he glanced over to the sofa where Jane was sprawled out. All Cho could see was gold hair and one leg on the floor. But even so, he knew that Jane had his hands crossed on his chest, that his eyes were closed, and that he was smiling that Cheshire Cat grin he wore whenever he was about to do something that he considered hilarious. Or clever. Or hilariously clever.

Cho rolled his eyes and returned to his own report on the Frick interview. He left out the part where Jane had barged in and took over the conversation. By now, it was a common occurrence and didn’t warrant any mention. Just as by now, he was used to the twin emotions of frustration and irritation every time Jane interfered.

Although, he remembered with a little jolt, this time he’d called Jane on the interruption. This time Jane had apologized. And it wasn’t the usual apology, shallow and false, his focus already on something else. It was honest and said with the deference he usually saved for Lisbon for when he’d truly pissed her off.

Of course, then he’d gone and ruined it by insulting Cho’s wardrobe.

He was pretty sure Jane had been joking. About shopping. For clothes.

It was a joke, right? It was so absurd and bizarre—with anyone else it would have been a joke. Cho would have simply looked at them and they would’ve backed off or laughed to show they were screwing with him. But Jane was something else—you never knew what was coming next. Maybe he hadn’t been joking. Maybe it would be best to sneak out while Jane’s back, so to speak, was turned. He could be out the door and on the elevator in about—

“What are you doing?”

Cho jumped and grabbed the edge of his desk. “Will you stop doing that?” he hissed. Jane was right behind him, bent so close that Cho could feel his breath on the back of his neck. He gripped the desk tight and didn’t shiver.

“By my count, that’s only twice.”

“Yeah, well, twice is two times too many.” He rolled his chair back, forcing Jane to retreat. He turned.

Jane was leaning against Rigsby’s desk with his hands clasped together, looking expectantly happy. “Ready to go?”

“You were serious?”

Jane raised one eyebrow. “Of course.”

He closed a file folder and pushed it so it lined up perpendicular to his keyboard. “I have clothes.”

“No you don’t.”

“You’re not going to tell me your plan?”

“Oh, you’ll see.” Jane got up and clapped his hands, like a kid. “In time. C’mon.”

Cho hesitated. He peered around Jane to find Lisbon staring at them. She was watching them with that blank look of appraisal she got when faced with another Jane problem. He looked up at Jane. “Do we really have to do this?”

“Yes, and stop whining.”

He started to say that he wasn’t whining but he knew it would come out whiney, so he just stared with his own blank look.

Jane wasn’t fazed. He pulled Cho out of his chair and put an arm around his shoulders. “You’re the only one that can do this. They’ve all seen me and Rigsby couldn’t handle it.” He leaned in confidingly close—he’d eaten an orange earlier and his breath was sweet. “You’re my secret weapon.”

He was squeezed Cho’s shoulder and was gone, out the door with a ‘follow me’ wave before Cho could argue or protest.

He picked up his coat and cell with a sigh. He left without another glance at Lisbon, all the while trying to get rid of the odd fantasy of Jane, eating an orange, one piece at a time.

***

“No.”

“C’mon, it’s not that bad.”

“No. I can’t afford this.” Cho pulled away from Jane’s grasp and gazed up at the sign above the tall, frosted glass doors: JR Pierson Clothiers, Sacramento, Since 1905.

He should have known better. Should have known that Jane would bring him to the one store in Sacramento that he’d sworn never to go in again. He shifted from foot to foot, measuring the distance to Jane’s car—it was only a hundred or so feet away. Still, Jane was quick and determined—Cho could probably make it to the car but there was no way he’d be able to get in before Jane was on him…

All around, the early evening traffic moved discreetly back and forth. So did the passersby. In fact, he thought sourly, the whole place screamed of discretion.

“I can’t afford this,” he repeated, this time a little weakly.

Jane smiled and bounced on his toes. “Of course you can. That’s what that crayon piggy bank is for.”

“To waste money on a suit I’ll never wear again?”

Jane bumped his shoulder against Cho’s and grinned. “Sure you will. On a hot date with a hot lady friend?”

Where did he come up with these things? “I busted someone here, two years ago. They don’t like me.” It was a feeble excuse and by the pitying look Jane gave him, obvious as well.

“Then you’ll know the store’s layout and we can breeze through.”

Cho tried one more time. “There’s a Kohl’s a couple blocks down. On J Street?”

Jane didn’t say anything, but his smile changed and Cho’s heart sank. It was the smile Jane rarely used—gentle and entreating, without a hint of guile. Then Jane stepped close and placed one hand lightly on Cho’s lower back, touching with just his fingertips, finally pulling out the big guns. He cocked his head and looked deep into Cho’s eyes and said, “Please?”

Cho sighed. Yeah, he should have known, but he could still salvage the situation. In and out, that’s how it would be.

***

The falling sun shone through the frosted glass doors, making the store glow. When a customer pulled the doors open and strolled in, Cho realized the glow wasn’t due to the setting sun, but because the street lights had come on. He looked at his watch again. They’d been at this for almost two hours. Suit after suit until he thought he’d scream. Or shoot Jane because he still had his service revolver. Or maybe both: shoot and scream, scream and shoot.

“How about this?” Jane held up a jacket that had probably been gathering dust for the last thirty years. It was a midnight blue and had scarlet pinstriping on the wide lapels and cuffs.

“Are you kidding?” Cho rubbed his face and locked his fingers behind his head trying to press away the building headache.

The two sales clerks—no, ‘associates’ as the man had corrected Cho when he’d made the mistake of apologizing for Jane’s rudeness—were standing by the register, not even bothering to hide the fact that they were staring. They hadn’t, at first. Not until Jane had waved them away with a casually dismissive, ‘I’ll be the one to dress my friend, thank you.’

That had been just the start of Cho’s embarrassment. It was clear what the older man and the much younger woman thought. He didn’t remember them from two years ago, but they looked at him as the other clerk had—with a snooty suspicion that bordered on dislike. Jane had just grinned when Cho grabbed his arm and tried to force him out of the store. Then he proceeded to tear through the racks, leaving Cho to his misery. “Jane—”

Jane tossed the jacket on the pile of other discards that decorated two chairs and a footstool and turned to the racks again. “Hmm?” The woman clerk snuck up behind Cho and edged around Jane. She began plucking the suits up as if she were rescuing her babies from a perverted kidnapper.

“I can’t stand much more of this,” Cho said, mostly to himself.

Jane stopped and looked over his shoulder and grinned. He held up his watch and tapped the crystal. “None too soon,” he chided. “I thought we’d be here all night. We only have two hours before we have to be in position.”

The clerk paused, jerked her head up towards Cho then over to Jane. She scuttled away with her arms full of black silk and wool.

“You mean—” Cho’s jaw dropped and he gestured wildly to the clothing still left, then to the sales clerk, now standing by the register, clasping the jackets to her breasts. “You mean you— We—” He stuttered to a stop.

Jane reached up and unerringly pulled down a black jacket with silk lapels that looked like it cost a fortune. “We can’t get there too early. It’s all about the entrance. There, what do you think?” He held the jacket up to Cho and smiled. “Perfect. I’ll get the shirt and belt. The dressing rooms are over there. Do you want me to help you try it on?”

Cho yanked the jacket from Jane’s grasp and growled. Jane just blinked.

***

After that it was easy.

Well, except when Jane insisted on taking a look while Cho was changing and wouldn’t take no for an answer.

He turned Cho in front of the mirror, tugging on this, smoothing out that, humming under his breath all the while. Finally happy with what he saw, he stepped flush behind Cho and looked at them both in the mirror. This close, the slight difference in their heights was clear and Cho straightened up. Jane grinned knowingly and patted him once on the shoulders. Then he announced that he was going to look for matching black briefs.

And again he was gone before Cho could think to stop him.

***

By the time they got to the resort it was after eight. Cho swung the SUV into a parking spot and got out. Jane had insisted that he wear the new clothes out of the store, saying it was the only way to obtain the proper verisimilitude. The clothes felt good. Odd, but good. The silk shirt slipped pleasantly against his skin and he shrugged his shoulders, letting his undercover persona slip over as well—dangerous, direct, sexy.

He pocketed the keys and was winding his way through the crowded parking lot when Jane called out.

“Hold on!” He hurried after Cho, digging something out of his pocket. “I got these earlier.” He held up a pair of black sunglasses.

Cho didn’t take them. “I won’t be able to see.”

“Yes, but that doesn’t matter. You’ll look dangerous—”

“Direct and sexy. So you said. Okay.” He took them and put them on. “Well?”

As he’d been doing most of the day, Jane stepped too close and studied him. Cho froze, stopping himself from moving back. Or moving forward; he wasn’t sure which.

“Well,” he said again, his throat strangely dry.

Jane reached up and unfastened his top button. “There.” He grinned. “Go get ’em, tiger.”

Cho told his heart to shut the fuck up and turned towards the entrance.

***

“The problem is I really love Paul. I know how he seems and I know how he’s been, but,” Katie shrugged, “at the end of the day, when I think of who I really want to be with, it’s him.”

Cho stared at the far wall. Her words were a little slurred. Probably from the tears, not the drink.

Katie looked at him. “That’s crazy, huh?” She smiled sadly and looked away, not waiting for his response. “Love is crazy, I guess.”

He spoke before he even thought about it. “No, it isn’t.” And because that wasn’t like him even though Katie wouldn’t know it, he added on the same breath, “You should seek psychiatric help.”

Katie burst out laughing and leaned her head on his shoulder. He couldn’t help his own small grin. It was a goofy thing to say, but the day had been goofy. Hell, the whole week had been goofy. All those women throwing themselves at an arrogant asshole who treated them like crap. And there was that other arrogant asshole, so concerned with his own status that he couldn’t see what he’d lost.

He didn’t understand either of them, but he especially didn’t understand the women. How they could let themselves be manipulated by a loser like Frick? He didn’t get it and he doubted he ever would.

He frowned and must have made some movement because Katie straightened and leaned over to gather up her shoes. She got to her feet and looked down. From this angle the lamp made a halo of her blond hair; she looked sad and beautiful. And if he were Jane, he’d probably tell her that.

She smiled. “I better make sure the staff is okay. Are you all right?”

“Yes.”

“Thanks for staying with me. That was sweet.”

Sweetness had nothing to do with it but he kept that to himself. He watched her walk out the door and nodded when she waved goodbye.

The door closed. He rocked his head back against the foot of the bed, trying to release the tension caught at the top of his spine. He should get up, but the carpet was thick and he was comfortable. Almost comfortable enough to sleep right here.

He was wondering if anyone would care if he just climbed into the bed behind him and crashed when his cell rang again. He glanced at the number. Not Rigsby this time. Jane. He picked it up. “Yeah?”

“Lisbon’s worried.” Jane’s voice was low and gravely. He must be tired as well.

“I’m fine.”

“How’s Katie?”

“She’s on her way to see the staff.”

“Are you gonna be long?”

“No, where are you?”

“At the bar. The one on the patio.”

“I’ll be there in a minute.”

Jane hung up and Cho slowly closed the phone. He didn’t move.

‘At the end of the day, when I think of who I really want to be with, it’s him.’

The words were simple and sincere and they hurt when he thought of another, more personal, meaning.

He pushed to his feet, retrieved his wallet and slung his jacket over his shoulder, then went to find Jane.

***

The night was still warm by the time he’d finished with Lisbon and then the Calistoga P.D. The patio was almost empty; a few women were sitting here and there, like they were part of the decor. Jane was by himself at the bar, staring moodily into his drink.

As always, he seemed to know where Cho was without looking. When he got halfway across the patio, Jane turned and nodded. It was creepy, that sixth sense thing he had going. Cho reminded himself that he didn’t believe in magic. And that the jar of ashes that Tamsin the witch had given him was locked up tight in his linen closet, safe and sound.

Jane signaled to the bartender before Cho could stop him. “Don’t worry,” he said when Cho sat down, “it’s Perrier.”

“I hate Perrier.”

“I know.”

But when he got the drink, he swallowed it in one gulp. He did hate it, but it was refreshing and it cleared his head. He leaned back in the chair. Lisbon had told him to go home an hour ago. It was almost midnight and he had a long drive ahead of him.

“Look at that,” Jane murmured happily, peering over Cho’s shoulder.

He turned. Katie and Frick were in the corner behind a date palm, staring at each other with stupid smiles on their faces. They were holding hands. He shook his head in irritation and turned back around.

“What?”

He jerked his head backwards. “Why would she do that?”

Jane propped his elbow on the bar and cradled his cheek in his hand. “Because she loves him.”

“He treated her like dirt.”

Jane smiled softly. “He tried to treat her like dirt.”

He frowned. He picked up his glass, then put it down. The bartender seemed to think that was his cue and he re-filled the glass. Cho waited until he was gone to ask, “You think that makes a difference?”

“It does to her.”

“And it does to him,” he countered.

Jane opened his mouth, then frowned. “What does that mean?”

Cho surprised himself with a laugh. “I have no idea.”

“You’re tired.”

“So are you.”

“Well then,” Jane pushed away from the bar and drank the last of his Perrier. He threw some bills on the counter. “Let’s go. Can I drive?”

Cho picked up his jacket and shrugged into it. It was wrinkled and covered with lint from laying on the carpet. “What do you think?”

“I think one of these days you’re going to let me drive.” And once more, Jane stepped too close again and straightened Cho’s expensive silk lapels. He patted them and then said ruefully, “But not tonight.”

He muttered in agreement, “Not tonight.” He followed Jane out, wondering why the women sitting on the sofa by the steps were glaring at them as they passed by.

***

They were halfway to the SUV when he remembered. “Hey, do you want me to drop you off at headquarters or take you home?” Most of the parking lot lights were out and Jane was a dark grey ghost.

“Oh,” Jane murmured. “I forgot.”

Cho shrugged. Jane’s car was in the shop again. Lisbon had picked him up at his house three days ago and, like so many nights before, he’d spent the last two at the office.

Cho looked around furtively. The lot was empty of everything but cars. “If you want, you can sleep with me. I mean,” he backtracked in embarrassment, “you can stay at my place. I have a guest room.” By the time he’d finished, Jane had turned and was staring at him with the strangest look. Maybe it was just the dark. Maybe his expression was totally normal and Cho couldn’t see it so it seemed strange. Or maybe it was because Cho was so fucking tired he couldn’t keep his thoughts straight. It wasn’t like him to forget himself like that. Like he’d done with Katie, earlier on.

Jane stuffed his hands in his pockets. “Is it the room with your crayon bank?”

“No.”

“Ah, well.” Jane shrugged. “Sure.”

***

The ride to the loft was quick and quiet. Jane slumped in the seat, head turned towards the window. Cho thought he’d fallen asleep until they got to the river and he sat up and murmured, “Is it noisy here?”

“Noisy?”

“Yeah, with the water and the—” Jane pulled his hands out of his pockets and made a vague gesture between the river and the street.

“Sometimes. Sometimes not.”

“Oh.”

Cho turned into the lot, found his spot, thankfully not taken like it had been the day before, and parked.

Jane got out and look around. “Nice place.”

He wasn’t sure if Jane was being sarcastic or if he was just tired—the underground parking lot was exceedingly average. “Thanks.”

But they were on the ancient elevator, each closer to the car’s corners than they were to each other, when he realized what Jane had meant. “Do you— I mean, do you need noise or light to sleep?”

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Jane smile. “Sometimes, sometimes not.”

He pressed his lips together and didn’t say anything until they were at his apartment door. “I need to go through my mail.”

Jane just nodded.

The mail was in a pile next to the door and he picked it up, absently thinking that except for Lisbon, he’d never invited anyone from the office to his place. He’d made unspoken excuses of time and propriety, but really it was because he preferred to be alone when he wasn’t on the job. Most of the agents he knew were like that. He’d never been to Lisbon’s house, didn’t know where Van Pelt lived, and didn’t want to set foot in any place that Rigsby called home.

“Nice,” Jane muttered as he wandered around the huge space, openly investigating.

Cho tried to remember if he’d left anything lying around, like underwear or dirty dishes. He didn’t think so.

Jane stopped in front of what Cho privately called his wailing wall. “Is this your family?”

He’d started with one photo, that of his parents, gradually adding more until the uneven circle of frames was almost five feet wide. “Yes.”

Jane peered up at the small picture near the center. He tapped the glass.

Cho tossed the mail he hadn’t really seen on the side table and walked over. The picture Jane was looking at was a family portrait. His parents were in the back, his sisters made up the middle. He was in the very front, stiff, arms crossed tight around his chest. It had been taken years ago when he was twelve. Luce was in her third year at Stanford, Missy her second at UCLA, had Connie had just been accepted to the Art Institute.

Jane leaned closer. He wasn’t smiling but had that look of intense concentration that always seemed as if he was just about to smile. “Your parents are first-generation American?”

“Yes.”

“They’re handsome.”

“Yes.”

“What are your sisters’ names?”

“Lucy, Melinda, Constance.”

“All American names.”

“Yes.”

“They’re all much older than you.”

“Yes.”

“They’re beautiful.”

“Yes.”

Jane turned. His expression had changed, had became the one of discovery, the one that said he’d just had an epiphany, as if he’d finally had a question answered.

Cho put his hands in his pockets.

Jane smiled and brushed by, close enough that their shoulders met. He walked across the floor, the wood squeaking faintly under his feet. “Are these the bedrooms?”

Cho, still facing the wall, said, “Yes.”

Jane’s voice came a little fainter, “Yours is on the right.”

Cho clenched his fists. “Yes.” There was no point getting irritated. This was classic Jane—detailing and categorizing in order to know. Suddenly, and for no specific reason, Cho was exhausted. And a little sad. “Do you need a toothbrush?” He turned.

Jane was standing in front of the second bedroom. He was in the shadows, but the light from the river touched the side of his face and hair, making him look mysterious and somehow not Jane. “Do you have an extra one?”

“I keep them on hand in case my family or friends visit.” He wasn’t sure why it was so important for Jane to know he had visitors, that he wasn’t always alone—it just was.

The bathroom was to the left of the bedrooms and he had to edge by Jane to get to it. He got out the things Jane might need, then muttered, “Good night,” without looking at Jane. He went to his own room, not waiting for an answer.

Finally behind his own closed door, he stripped to his new briefs, hung up the new clothes, then slid into bed. He let the day come back to him—the interviews, the shopping, Katie and that idiot, Frick.

Just another day in the life of a CBI agent, he thought gloomily. Just another peek into someone else’s life. Another peek into the mystery that was Patrick Jane.

He wondered what it all looked like from the outside—what the suspects, the other agents thought of Jane. Cho had overheard more than a few conversations, some envious, most derisive. They always shut up when they realized Cho was listening, when he’d made sure they knew he was listening.

None of the other agents had to work with Jane. Got to, he told himself firmly, got to, because it was true—it was a pleasure working with Jane. He saw what others didn’t see, he walked deductive routes that no one else managed, he closed cases quickly.

Of course, the flip side was, as pleasurable as the successes were, there were the days when he felt as if he and Jane were speaking two different languages.

He sighed and rolled onto his back then rubbed his arm briefly across his eyes before letting it drop behind his head. He lay there, staring at the ceiling, thinking about Jane and his need to control.

He’d seen Jane do his thing more than a few times and he’d always watched—sometimes with hidden glee, sometimes with forced calm—as the perp hemmed and hawed as Jane crept closer to the truth.

It didn’t feel so good, being on the other side.

All those questions he’d asked, all those statements he’d made. Like a fucking computer filling itself up with data so that it could spit out conclusions, one by one.

Cho shook the black thought away because that wasn’t right, wasn’t fair. Jane wasn’t a computer. He was a human being that’d had, from what he could glean, a screwed-up childhood that had led to a fucked-up adulthood. A life dedicated— first by his father and then his own will—to taking advantage of people’s weaknesses.

And then, to cap it all off, his wife and daughter were murdered to pay for his supposed sins.

Cho stirred restlessly against the binding sheets and finally kicked them off. His room was always a little too hot and it was going to be a warm night.

He watched the ceiling a while more, then turned to his side again, facing away from the big window. He told himself to stop thinking, that worrying never solved anything. His mantra finally worked and his last thought as he let sleep take him was that it would be interesting to see Jane without all that control he so happily hid behind.

 

 

Crimson.

 

Jane smiled at the conversation behind him without opening his eyes. He stretched his legs and shifted again—if he had his way, he’d send a team of movers in to steal the couch and deliver it to his house. It didn’t match his decor, but it was so damn comfortable. And he’d do it, if he had his way.

And while he was at it—if he had his way—Lisbon and Cho wouldn’t be in her office, arguing. For twenty minutes now; they should have been done fifteen minutes ago.

Jane knew what they were discussing but the rest were clueless. And nervous. Van Pelt stopped typing every few minutes to sneak a look; Rigsby was less subtle and had twisted about in his seat so he could stare openly.

Because Lisbon and Cho never argued. Sometimes she reprimanded, sometimes he disobeyed. But it was always over relatively minor issues and their rapport was always restored, emerging from the small fire just as strong. They worked so well together that Jane, when he first saw them together in action, thought they were lovers.

Rigsby cleared his throat and Van Pelt stopped typing. Finally. Jane smoothed his grin to something conciliatory and waited for Lisbon to call him over and say Cho had seen the light and given in.

She didn’t.

There was a rustling behind him and the squeak of a chair as someone got up. He craned his head to look around. Rigsby was pulling on his jacket and Van Pelt was inspecting her gun. Cho stood to the side, carefully holstering his weapon, just as carefully not looking back. Lisbon was the only one watching him, arms crossed, chin raised.

He raised an eyebrow in disbelief. “Oh, c’mon.”

Lisbon shook her head. “No.”

He jumped to his feet. “Lisbon—”

“No.”

“Is it—?” He gestured angrily at Cho.

Cho was still turned away but Jane knew he was listening with his entire body.

“No.” Lisbon shook her head again. All the other agents had stopped working and were listening, not bothering to be discreet about it. “This is my call,” she said quietly, “like always. You’re not going on this one. You’re not needed on this one.”

Jane tried to move past her, but she was suddenly right there, using her small body and unwavering gaze to block his way. He tried again and she grabbed him, her grip like steel. He watched as Cho calmly walked out the door with Van Pelt and Rigsby hurrying behind.

“Keep in touch!” Lisbon ordered without looking away. Only Van Pelt answered by nodding in reply.

Lisbon waited until they were out of sight, then pushed him until he was back on the sofa. She sat beside him. “Jane, it’s early. Why don’t you go do something fun. You’ve been practically living here these last few weeks.” She used her reasonable voice, the one that drove him nuts.

“Is Virgil complaining again?”

“No, Director Minelli knows you’re here, but I’ve convinced him you leave each night.”

“Then he also knows you’re lying.”

“Of course he does. And he’ll be all right with it unless you do something stupid.”

Jane looked up. “Are you blackmailing me, Lisbon?”

She rolled her eyes. “Of course not. I’m just telling you how it is.”

“So if I leave…”

“And follow my agents, yes, I’ll suspend you again and this time it will be six months, not two.”

“Almost two months,” Jane corrected before he could stop himself.

“Jane—”

He threw up his hands. “All right, all right.” He sank back into the couch and looked at the ceiling. Cho and the others were walking into a bad situation and he was going to go crazy, waiting… “What are you gonna to do?”

“While I wait?” Lisbon finished his unspoken thought. “I…” She smiled and stood up. “Am going shopping.”

He couldn’t help himself. He smiled in return. She was looking down at him with that elfish grin she got when she managed to catch him off guard. “Shopping?”

“Hm-mm. I’ve got to buy a present for my niece.”

“The one that’s getting married?”

Lisbon opened her mouth, then closed it again. He could see her thoughts as if her skull was made of glass—she was so transparent. He waited for accusations and demands for privacy, but she surprised him again. She just said mildly, “Yes, that one. You coming?”

Jane raised an eyebrow and stood up. He buttoned his jacket and patted his pockets. “Of course.”

***

Jane hated malls. Not because of the crowds or the noise, but because of the inane music. Today they were playing ‘Tie a Yellow Ribbon,’ and the jauntiness of the tune turned his usual snarkyness up to a ten. He’d have to watch himself.

Lisbon was a couple feet ahead, threading her way through the crowds with purpose. Jane loved her like this—determined and focused. Even though she was tiny, people parted for her like she was Moses and they were the Red Sea.

He laughed silently and filed the analogy away to use later when she was upset or sad. It would make her smile.

She finally stopped in front of a department store, and with a glance back, she raised her eyebrows as if saying, stay close, who knows what we’ll run up against, and continued on.

Inside, the awful mall music faded and they were left with something more soothing—Cole Porter, if he wasn’t mistaken. Perfect for a relaxed shopping excursion.

Lisbon also slowed down, pausing now and then to look at the clothing that lined the main aisle. She didn’t touch, but Jane knew she wanted to. And she was aware of Jane. She looked back every so often and smiled and Jane wondered once again if she knew that everyone in the office thought they were lovers.

Probably.

She hadn’t his skills of perception, but like most women, she was perceptive nonetheless. He’d thought once or twice that they’d talk about the rumors, just for a laugh, but she never mentioned them.

He knew why. For the same reason she kept personal life personal and didn’t allow gossip among their tight-knit group. He didn’t need her to tell him that her sex and size had been a detriment to her career and that she walked a constant, sky-high tightrope.

Especially with him, he thought moodily. He made her life harder than it needed to be. He could be a better friend.

“Are you okay?”

Jane jerked his head up from his sightless contemplation of a women’s plaid suit jacket. It was hideous and he dropped the sleeve he was holding. “Fine.”

“You’re not worried about them?”

His smile was easy. Even though he was still pissed that he was on the outside, his initial anger had died. It wasn’t that dangerous a situation and Cho would keep the kids safe. “No.”

Lisbon patted him on the arm. “The registry’s upstairs.”

***

Jane stuck his hands in his pockets when Lisbon looked over for the third time. The urge to touch, to juggle, to break, was almost too much. He was surrounded by crystal and china and bored out of his mind.

The clerk, Hi, I’m Marcie, had been eyeing him the whole time and not like Lisbon, unfortunately. Marcie was twenty-five or six, newly married—she’d touched her wedding ring five times by the time Lisbon had told her what she was looking for—and blushed every time Jane looked in her direction. Even now, when he was turned away, he knew she was peeking at him.

He was used to it, of course. With his face and body, he’d gotten used to stares at a very young age. He hadn’t handled it well, back then, and had gotten himself into several jams before he learned the value of discretion. And disinterested camouflage.

He turned. Marcie was staring again. Lisbon, her hands full of china, gave him an exasperated glare. She jerked her head and Jane held up his hands in surrender. He mouthed, ‘over there,’ and left to sit on the sofa by the escalators, in plain view of the Fine China and Crystaldepartment, but out of view of Marcie.

He crossed his legs, folded his hands, and waited.

***

He was half asleep by the time Lisbon found him. She kicked his shoe, waking him fully, and smiled down at him. “C’mon. I’ll buy you lunch.”

He rose, then straightened his jacket and took the bag from her. They were on the escalator, going down, when he hefted the bag without looking inside. “Did you pick the Lalique vase or the Royal Doulton china?”

“What do you think?”

“The stoneware casual dinner set for eight, forty pieces, aqua trimmed.”

Lisbon snorted and turned to look up at him. “How did you know? The weight?” She glanced down at the bag.

“No, because you’re so practical. Even though the other pieces were beautiful, you know your niece will get better use of these.” He hefted the bag again.

Lisbon nodded wryly and turned back around.

“There’s nothing wrong with being practical, Lisbon. Practical is good.”

She shrugged, then looked over her shoulder. “What would you have bought?”

“Dinner for two at the French Laundry.”

“That’s not practical.”

“No.”

“Hedonist.”

Jane laughed out loud and agreed, “Yes.”

Lisbon turned back around, but she was smiling again, her chagrin gone.

When the got outside, the mall crowd had thinned out and they were able to walk abreast. “Where do you want to eat?”

He looked around. “Chinese.”

“Chinese?”

“Hm-mm.”

“You don’t like Chinese.”

Jane shook his head, nonplussed. “Of course I do, Lisbon.”

“You told me you got tired of it, back when…”

Lisbon trailed off and Jane finished for her, “Back when I was on five cable networks, working long hours and the only reliable food was the Chinese take-out around the corner from the studio?”

Lisbon nodded.

Jane made a face. “Okay, yes, but I’ve had a resurgence of interest since then.”

“Hmm.”

Jane frowned. “What does that mean?”

“Nothing. C’mon.” She took off before Jane could stop her.

It wasn’t until they were seated in the crimson, faux-leather booth before he got a chance to repeat his question, “What did you mean, ‘Hmm’?”

Lisbon just shook her head and examined her menu.

Jane picked his up in frustration, opened it, found what he wanted, and closed it again. “Lisbon?”

“I’m deciding,” she said in a sing-song voice.

“No, you’re teasing.”

She raised the menu so it obscured her face and agreed, “Hm-mm.”

Jane swallowed a curse. Lisbon could be as coy, as manipulative, as he. He tended to forget that.

She stayed hidden until the waiter came up to take their order.

Finally, when they’d rattled off what they wanted and were alone again, Jane repeated his question for the third time, “What did you mean?”

Lisbon shook her head and said, “It’s nothing.”

“Did Cho say something?”

Lisbon’s bland look somehow sharpened. “No.”

He stuck his hands in his pockets and leaned back. They stared at each other, at a standoff, until the moment was broken again by the waiter. He sat Lisbon’s water down, then Jane’s Perrier.

Lisbon took a sip and sat back. The table was lit by a single spotlight. It was meant to impart an intimate atmosphere, but Jane knew it was mostly there to hide the pealing wallpaper, the scratches on the tabletop. He ran his finger over one long gouge and waited Lisbon out.

Finally, she sighed and gave in. “Cho told me he let you sleep at his place, after the Wolcott case.”

Jane’s face hardened. “So?”

“He said you had a nightmare. A pretty bad one.”

He shook his head. He didn’t remember dreaming. In fact, it had been the best night’s sleep he’d had in a long time. So either Cho was lying or— “And?”

Lisbon leaned forward and rested her arms on the table. She said gently, “He’s worried about you. I’m worried about you.”

“Is that why you wouldn’t let me ride along today?”

“Yes.”

“Even though it had nothing to do with Red John?”

“Yes. It was a simple case of domestic homicide, Jane, if anything like that can be called ‘simple’.

“You were in there for a half an hour. Arguing. What else did he tell you?”

“We weren’t arguing. We were… discussing. And since I know you’re not going to leave this alone, yes, we were talking about you.” Lisbon picked up her service, unfolded the napkin, and laid the silverware down in a careless bundle. “He says you’ve slept over at his place four times in the last five weeks.”

Jane didn’t move a muscle.

Lisbon drew a deep breath. She let it out slowly and looked him straight in the eye. “Jane, do you know what you’re doing?”

“No.”

The word startled him, but she nodded as if confirming her own guess. “I know you know this, but Cho isn’t the rock everyone thinks he is. He can be hurt.”

Jane didn’t have to ask what that meant. “Who?”

“Who do you think?”

“A woman.”

“Two as a matter of fact. Within a year of each other.”

He tried a devil-may-care grin, the kind he’d perfected by age fifteen. From Lisbon’s reaction, he could see he hadn’t done a good job of it, so he shrugged and said, “You’re saying that, what, Cho’s struck out with a few women and now he’s switching teams so I better watch out?”

Lisbon leaned forward into the light and said, slowly, carefully, “No, I’m saying that I’ve worked with Kimball Cho a long time. I depend on him. I like him. Don’t hurt him.”

“Lisbon, you’re scaring me.” It was only after the words were out that he realized how true they were.

She nodded and twisted her lips into a smile that didn’t reach her eyes. “Good.”

He didn’t get the chance to refute or reassure. Like his own personal deus ex machina, the waiter returned with a tray full of food and broke the spell created by Lisbon’s words.

He nodded politely when his Kung Pao chicken was placed before him, then calmly picked up his chopsticks and dug in. It was wonderfully spicy and the burn loosened the knot that had developed in his chest.

How to tell Lisbon how it had felt, almost six weeks ago now, to listen as Paul Frick rationalized hurting another human being, one that loved him deeply. How it had felt to know that Claire Wolcott’s husband would fall asleep that night, content in the knowledge that he no longer had to worry about being a cuckold and had no real remorse over her death. And how it felt to be the target of the women at the bar, seemingly asking for one thing, but really asking for another—all of it false and temporary.

When he’d looked up and saw Cho striding towards him, tired and drawn but still exuding that quiet energy he always seemed to carry, he’d felt centered again, at peace. There might be people all around him ready and willing to screw each other over, literally and figuratively, but there were also people like Kimball Cho. Honest, dependable, and kind.

And if he’d found himself at Cho’s loft a couple times after that, well, that was nobody’s business but his own. Cho hadn’t seemed to mind it. The last time, six days ago now, Jane had showed up at one in the morning, exhausted because he hadn’t slept in almost forty hours, almost blind with the need for sleep. Cho had opened the door without a word, locked up behind him, and stumbled back to his own room.

Jane had slept hard and long and when he woke up, he’d wandered into the living room. Cho had already left, but there were fresh bagels and coffee waiting on the kitchen countertop. He’d eaten breakfast by the big windows and watched the river traffic for a while. It had been more than nice.

He smiled at the memory, at the way his chest ached because of it. He finished the last of his Kung Pao and stole a look up. Lisbon was done with her meal and was watching him thoughtfully. He nodded, grateful that she hadn’t prodded for more. This time her face lightened and she smiled back. She looked for their waiter and held up her hand for the check.

***

They were just leaving the mall when Lisbon’s cell rang. “How’d it go?” She listened, then said, “Well, you tell him that this is our investigation. If they want to help, that’s fine, but we’re calling the….” She listened again, giving Jane a sideways glare, then said, “No, you’ve done what you can do. Sometimes they just don’t listen. I can be there in,” she looked at her watch, “about forty-five minutes. I need to drop Jane off first.”

Jane touched her arm and she said, “Wait, a minute.” She covered up the cell’s speaker. “It’s Van Pelt. Cho’s in a shouting match with the Modesto P.D. Rigsby is trying to break them apart.”

“It’s fine. I’ll take a cab.”

Lisbon nodded and said to Van Pelt, “I’ll be there in twenty minutes.”

She hung up and stuffed the cell in her pocket. Her movements were quick and exact and he knew her well enough to know that she wasn’t angry, but it wouldn’t take much for her to get there. He smiled gently. “Into the fray again?”

Lisbon shook her head. “These guys—always so bent on controlling every little thing.”

He smiled again. He wasn’t sure if she was talking about Cho or the Modesto police department, but it was such a Lisbon thing to say. “Here.” He gave her the shopping bag and she took it with a small smile. They stood there a moment and he wondered if he should hug her or something. It had been quite an afternoon, emotionally speaking.

But she hitched her shoulders awkwardly and backed away with a small wave. Jane watched her get into her SUV, then he turned to the street.

He looked up at the sun, then at his watch. It was only one-thirty. The team would be at least another couple hours and he didn’t fancy sitting around, waiting for them to return. It was a pretty day—he’d walk back.

***

By the time he got back to the office, it was a little before seven. The place was almost empty. Only Cho and Lisbon were at their desks, bent over their respective computers.

He stuffed his hands in his pockets and wandered up to Cho. “Hey.”

Cho didn’t look up. “Where’ve you been? Lisbon was worried.”

He turned to find Lisbon watching him. There wasn’t a smidgen of worry on her face. He waved jauntily. She rolled her eyes and went back to work. It was odd—he should be angry at Cho’s sidestepped worry, but he wasn’t—it was cute. “I spent some time looking around.”

“People watching?”

Jane rested his hip on Cho’s desk. “Hm-mm.”

“That’s creepy.”

Jane smiled.

Cho typed a word, then deleted it. “Have you eaten?”

“Nope.”

“I’m just wrapping this up. We can—” Cho broke off and shifted in his seat.

Jane’s smile broadened. Cho was doing everything he could to stop from looking over at Lisbon’s office and that was cute, too. “That would be nice. And no…” He leaned over and spoke to the top of Cho’s head. “She’s not watching.”

Cho finally looked up. “Give me ten minutes.”

Jane thought about telling him that his hair smelled nice, but didn’t. He strolled over to the sofa and managed stay awake for a few seconds before he fell asleep.

***

“Hey.”

A soft voice broke through his dream and he opened his eyes. Cho was crouching by the sofa, one arm resting on the cushion.

He sighed sleepily. “I had a dream.”

“What about?”

“We were shopping. For dishes.”

Cho didn’t smile. Barely. “What kind did we get?”

Jane grinned and sat up. Cho moved out of his space. “That’s what I love about you. None of that boring homosexual panic or Freudian analysis.”

Cho cocked his head. “The Freudian analysis was next. I was saving the homosexual panic for tomorrow.”

Jane laughed through his yawn and ran his hands over his face. “What time is it?”

“Eight-thirty.”

“Really?” Jane looked at his watch, then at the room. The offices were dark. Even Lisbon had gone home. “Wow. Why didn’t you wake me?”

Cho looked to the left, then said, “I had a lot of work to do.”

Jane ignored the lie. “Are you hungry?”

“Yes.”

“Then why don’t we get take out and watch the game at your place.”

Cho raised his eyebrows. “You don’t like baseball.”

“No, but you do.”

Cho paused and Jane’s stomach twisted. Maybe he’d misread the situation? Then Cho nodded once and said, “Okay.”

Jane clapped his hands on his knees and stood up.

***

They ate Thai in front of the TV.

Despite his itinerate background, Jane knew the basics of baseball. He knew that you hit the ball and ran and maybe got caught. Beyond that he was clueless and he listened to Cho’s explanations with growing boredom.

When they got to RBIs and WHIPs, he tried to grab the remote out of Cho’s hand. They fought for a few seconds until Cho pointed out that it was his remote, his TV.

So, he sat back and forgot about the asinine rules and just enjoyed watching the players, enjoyed pointing out what they were going to do before they did it. He tried to get Cho to bet on the calls, but no luck.

After the fifth correct prediction, Cho said, “This is why I don’t bet against you anymore.”

Jane waved his chopsticks at the TV. “C’mon, I’m not always right. I was wrong about that short guy.”

“Shortstop, and yes, more often than not, you’re right.”

“Not with work I’m not.”

Cho turned to him in surprise. He leaned forward, elbows on knees, and said, “Of course you are. Our close rate is due, in part, to you. You know that.”

“Then why didn’t you let me come with you today?” Jane raised an eyebrow, mostly at himself. He hadn’t known he was still upset about that.

“Lisbon told you why, right?”

When he didn’t answer, Cho shook his head. “In any case, it was bad and there was nothing left to do but the mop up.”

The image made Jane’s stomach turn and he stuffed the chopsticks in the take-out box and tossed it on the coffee table.

The players had exchanged places again and Cho crossed his arms and sat back. Without turning from the TV he said, “You can’t always fix things, Jane, and you don’t always need to see the gory results of other people’s mistakes. Not when it’s too late to do anything about it. Not when it isn’t your responsibility.”

Jane opened his mouth to shoot back, ‘And you do?‘ but he stopped when he realized what Cho was trying to tell him. It wasn’t about power or being the one with the answers—it was about making peace with the fact that he couldn’t save everyone, all the time.

It was something Lisbon had tried to tell him that morning, something she’d been trying to tell him for a while now. Maybe he was finally getting it. He swallowed past the fist in his throat and said, “Lisbon told me what you two talked about.”

Cho stilled. Then picked up the remote. “She did?”

“Yes.”

Cho gripped the remote and accidentally changed the channel. He fumbled for the return button and switched it back. “About you. And me?”

“Hm-mm.”

“Huh.”

“Yeah.”

“Does that mean you’re staying here? Tonight?”

Cho’s unusual diffidence made Jane answer just as tentative, “If it’s okay?”

Cho nodded. “It’s okay.”

They were silent for a long moment. A commercial for Budweiser came on and Jane let the artificial music and bland images wash over him. He thought he’d gotten away pretty clean but then Cho asked, “That’s it? We’re not going to talk about it?”

“Will talking help?”

Cho paused, and then shrugged. “Probably not.”

Jane rubbed his palms on his pants, then made himself stand. “It’s late. I’m going to bed.”

“Jane?”

Jane turned back. Cho was staring at the screen and gripping the remote again. “Yes?”

“Will you—” Cho didn’t finish, but Jane didn’t need him to. They were done with pretending that the wall between the two bedrooms was there for anything but engineering.

“Yes.” He didn’t wait for an answer. He hurried to the bathroom and shut the door. He took a leak and washed his hands and face carefully, then brushed his teeth, just as carefully.

The TV was off when he came out and the loft was dark and silent. Feeling as if his legs had turned to stone, he walked to the bedroom on the right and opened the door.

The window blind was up, but the moon was nowhere to be seen and the small bedside lamp was like a yellow sanctuary in the blue-black night. Cho was in bed, reading a book. He was naked, at least to the waist, and Jane couldn’t look away.

Cho tossed the book down and jerked a thumb to the bathroom. “I better—” He wasn’t naked after all, just wearing the briefs from the Wolcott case.

He was gone in a flash of gold and black and Jane was left alone in the room. He waited until the pipes rattled and the water began to run, then took a look around.

Like the main room, this one was decorated with minimal fuss. Cho had an eclectic mix of furniture; Jane still couldn’t decide if it was on purpose or a happy accident.

There was another family portrait on the broad dresser. He picked it up and turned it to the light, examining it closely. This one had been taken when Cho was seventeen or eighteen. He looked much the same only softer and a bit thinner. He stared out at Jane, serene and lovely.

Feeling like a pervert, he said a silent, ‘Sorry,’ to both the younger and the older Cho and put the picture back on the dresser and got down to business.

He was unbuttoning his shirt when the water stopped. His heart jumped and he stripped quickly, throwing his clothes on a chair in the corner. By the time Cho opened the door, he was in bed with the lights out.

Cho didn’t say anything. He walked around to the other side of the bed and crawled under the sheets.

They lay there for a moment, then Jane rolled over and carefully arranged himself over Cho, fitting gently until he was comfortable. Cho was hot and smooth and Jane rubbed his chin against the curve of his chest, enjoying the sensation, enjoying the hitch in Cho’s breathing when he did it.

Cho hesitated, then put his hand on Jane’s hair, just as tentative, just as careful. “Patrick?”

He could feel the vibration in Cho’s chest as he spoke. “Yes?”

“Is this—” Cho took a deep breath. “I mean, is this only because you’re lonely?”

“Does it matter?”

“Yes,” Cho said, a little bleakly.

“Then no, Kimball, it’s not only because I’m lonely. I—” He shrugged and admitted even though it was awkward and trite, “I sleep good, here. And I like you.”

Cho smiled. Even though he couldn’t see it, Jane knew he smiled.

Cho stroked his hair again, this time with more confidence. Jane let him for a minute, then pushed up to lean on one elbow. “It’s my turn.”

Cho frowned up at him. “What?”

He looked steadily at Cho. For once he wasn’t sure what his own expression was revealing: anger, resolve or entreaty. Or maybe an awful mix of all three? “When I track Red John down and kill him, will you try to stop me?”

Cho’s eyes widened and his mouth dropped open. So Lisbon hadn’t told him after all. Jane had wondered, had even thought Cho was seducing him just to get the inside scoop.

Cho closed his mouth and swallowed. “No. When you catch him, I won’t watch, but I won’t stop you.”

“Do you promise?”

“Yes.”

Jane’s heart skipped a beat and his mouth turned up in a smile he hadn’t used in a long time. He lay back down.

 

 

Red.

 

“Lisbon!” Cho hissed and jerked his head to the right. “Damnit,” he added under his breath because, fuck, this was the last thing they needed.

She crept around to the other side of the early model piece of crap Ford and whispered, “Shit.”

He peeked around the bumper and no, the scene hadn’t changed.

Fifteen feet away now, Jane and the women who was wrapped around him like a starfish were staggering across the street. Jane wore that same look of frozen surprise he had in the O’Keefe case—blank and at a complete loss as to what to do next. His hands were up in the classic surrender position, his head at an angle because of the gun pressed to his temple.

He’d gotten his hair cut, Cho noted with an odd dispassion, probably a couple days ago because he and Van Pelt had only been gone a few weeks and the last time they’d talked, three days ago now, Jane had mentioned that his hair was getting long and he needed to do something about it. Cho hadn’t tried to talk him out of it—it wasn’t his place to tell Jane what to do with his hair, even if his first reaction was a resounding, ‘No.’

The woman nudged Jane again, hard, and the look on his face knocked Cho out of his momentary shock. He ducked back behind the car and waited as Lisbon scuttled back.

She didn’t bother asking how or why—this was Jane after all. “Rigsby’s got the husband,” she whispered. “He’s bringing him through the back yard to hand him over to the P.D. Van Pelt got the kids out and is working her way through those bushes in the front, there. Can you see her?”

He peered around again.

The front yard was a mess of half-dead foliage and car parts. Earlier, when they were examining their options, Rigsby had cursed the heavy cover. Now it was a blessing—there was no way the woman would notice anyone sneaking up on her.

He couldn’t see Van Pelt at first, and then he saw a flash of rust. “Got her. She’s almost to the gate. She’ll have a clear shot if she… Oh, shit—”

“What?” Lisbon crowded behind, grabbing his vest for leverage, almost laying on top of him in her effort to see. “Wha—? Damn him. I told him not to do this. I’m going to kill him.”

Because Jane was talking now, gesturing fluidly as best he could with the woman’s arm around his throat and her gun to his head. He was doing what he always did—using his voice and hands to charm and soothe and distract. He was also turning around, an inch at a time. “He’s trying to get her back to us.”

Lisbon sighed and he shivered at her warm breath on his cold neck. He was chilled even though it was a hot day and he was sweating under his thick vest.

There was a ragged shout and they jerked forward again.

Jane had managed to talk his way around so that he was in profile, his back still turned away from Van Pelt. He was doing everything right, really, but the woman was panting now, gritting her teeth viciously. Cho had seen that look many times before, on many different faces. She was preparing herself and as soon as she reached the tipping point, she’d act.

Lisbon shook her head, her hair brushing his cheek. “This won’t end well,” she said quietly, then dropped back and sat on her heels. She took a deep breath and shouted, “Mrs. Reynolds?”

Reynolds. Cho hadn’t known the perp’s name. All he knew was that she was from Nevada, had murdered a state trooper inside the border on her way to steal her kids back from her ex.

Mrs. Reynolds?” Lisbon called again.

He peered around the bumper. The woman was twisted towards them. She moved her arm and Jane made a soft sound. “What now?” she screamed back.

“I know you don’t want to do this, Mrs. Reynolds. I know you just want your children. Is there some way we can end this so that no one else gets hurt?”

“You can give me back my kids!”

“Mrs. Reynolds, I’m going to put away my gun and stand up, all right?”

“What about the other one, the Japanese guy?”

He looked at Lisbon. She rolled her eyes but all she said was, “He’s coming out as well, also unarmed.”

They waited, and when they didn’t get a response, she nodded, ‘Go.’ They rose, slowly holstering their guns.

Reynolds had turned Jane back around, still holding him tight. He was all right. Scared out of his mind, but all right. He looked straight at Cho and smiled into his eyes. Cho didn’t smile back.

Lisbon touched Cho’s elbow and they moved away from Reynolds’ car, towards the middle of the street.

Reynolds was about forty, forty-five, but maybe younger—life hadn’t treated her well. She was tall and drawn—not thin, but dried out, like something you’d find on the side of the road.

Lisbon nudged him again and they moved sideways and forward a few inches. When they were close enough, she said in a calm, understanding voice, “So, here we are. Now it’s your turn—what can we do for you?”

Reynolds swallowed and tightened her grip on Jane’s neck. “Are my kids okay?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Where are they?”

“They’re with the Placerville police. They’re on their way to the hospital so the little one can get his wound taken care of.”

“Richie. That’s Richie. He’s okay?”

Lisbon smiled. Her eyes even crinkled. “Yes, ma’am, he’s fine. He’s scared and I know he’s missing you, but he’s fine.”

Reynolds took another breath, and then another, and on the second breath, she crumbled, her mouth working as she tried to hold back the tears. But she didn’t relax her grip on Jane and something in Cho’s stomach jerked. “You don’t know what he did to them. You don’t know what they’ve been through.”

Lisbon nodded. “I know, Mrs. Reynolds, I know you’ve had a hard time.” Her voice held a thin blade of anxiety that Cho recognized.

“Do you know what he was going to do with them?”

“Yes, ma’am, I do.”

“It was those damn courts,” Reynolds muttered, as if to herself, and on the word ‘courts,’ she dug the gun barrel into Jane’s temple. A red ring formed at the spot followed by a narrow trickle of blood. Cho swallowed, but stayed still when Lisbon placed her fingers, briefly, on his wrist.

Lisbon held her hands up, still slow and smooth. “I know, ma’am, you didn’t get a break.”

Reynolds wiped her eyes on Jane’s jacket and he grimaced in disgust.

Cho felt an hysterical bubble of laughter build in his chest—Reynolds was nearing the edge. In a moment she’d look down and he couldn’t think of a thing to stop her.

Reynolds cleared her throat and asked Lisbon, “Do you have children?”

Lisbon shook her head and said, sorrowfully, “No, ma’am, I don’t. I hope to, some day.”

Reynolds nodded and kept nodding as she smiled. “They’re God’s gift, I can see that now.”

Jane’s eyes widened and Cho jerked his head, ‘No.’ Jane glared but stopped moving.

Lisbon shuffled an inch to the right. “Yes, ma’am, they are.”

“I’m sorry about the cop. Will you tell his family I didn’t mean to kill him?”

“I will.”

“Will you do me another favor?”

“Yes, ma’am?” Reynolds began crying again and Lisbon flashed a glance at Cho, one that said an unnecessary, ‘Get ready’.

“Will you watch out for my kids? Keep them away from him?”

Lisbon leaned forward, her hands out. “Mrs. Reynolds, please—”

Reynolds shook her head sadly and murmured to herself, “I wasn’t any good for them, either.”

Cho moved the same time as Lisbon, but they weren’t quick enough. Reynolds shoved Jane away and calmly shot herself in the head. And as the report echoed in his ears, Cho lunged for Jane and they fell to the ground, together.

***

Cho re-crossed his legs and picked up his coffee. It had grown cold and now tasted like cold sludge as opposed to hot sludge. He sat it down again and looked over at Lisbon.

She was by the nurse’s station, arguing with social services and he cracked a smile. They might as well give in. She wasn’t going to let this one go—she’d come out on top, as always. Like Jane.

He cleared his throat and picked up a magazine. Good Housekeeping. He opened it, ignoring Rigsby’s snort and Van Pelt’s smile. He let the waiting room conversations wash over him and away as he pretended to be interested in Chocolate for All Occasions: A Celebration!

He’d been in more emergency waiting rooms than he could count, under more dire circumstances. He’d been on the other side of those particular double doors three times, never for anything serious.

It wasn’t serious now, he reminded himself. Jane was in there for observation only.

He flipped the page. If Jane hadn’t twisted as they fell and landed on his back, he wouldn’t be in there with a possible concussion. But that was Jane for you—always getting in the way, always causing problems.

He turned another page.

“He’s going to be fine.”

Cho looked up. Van Pelt was leaning over the arm of her chair, looking soulfully at him. She hadn’t patted his arm, but she was getting ready to, he could see it in her eyes. Cho put on his, ‘What the hell are you talking about face’ and said, “I know that.”

She rolled her eyes, sat back, and returned to her Reader’s Digest.

Rigsby leaned into Cho’s space and muttered, “Leave her alone.”

He leaned right back and whispered, “Oh, please—like you’re one to talk. You gonna spend your life stalking her or be a man and do something about it?”

He wasn’t sure what would have happened because he was tired and angry and he could take Rigsby in a heartbeat, but the doors swung open and the doctor they’d been waiting for came out. He looked around for Lisbon and met her halfway.

They had a short conversation. Cho didn’t have to ask to know what the verdict was. He tossed the magazine on the table and didn’t sigh.

Lisbon shook the doctor’s hand and came over to sit down on the coffee table and the Good Housekeeping magazine. She was tired, but pleased. “He’s fine.”

Van Pelt said, “And the boy, Richie?”

“He’s fine as well. The baby, Samantha, sustained a couple bad bruises when Mr. Reynolds threw her on the couch, but she’s fine.”

“What’s going to happen to them?”

“I talked social services into a compromise. Marcia Reynolds has a sister and the agency has agreed to let her take the kids until the courts decide what to do.” Lisbon exchanged a glance with Cho. He wondered if she had the same image in her head—Jane, flinching in pain as Reynolds muttered the word ‘courts’ like it was a curse.

He crossed his arms. “Why didn’t Mrs. Reynolds tell us about her sister?”

Lisbon shrugged. “I don’t know. There might be bad blood between them. I guess we’ll find that out. I’m going to go see Jane, and then I’m going to go back to the office and write up my report. We’ll let Mr. Reynolds spend the night in jail. That might shake him up enough so that he’ll tell us who his buyer for the baby was. If he doesn’t break with you, Cho, we’ll let Jane loose on him.”

“You don’t want me to handle it tonight?”

“No. He let slip that the exchange wasn’t going to go down until the end of the week. Twelve hours won’t make a difference and you’re too hot right now.”

He nodded because it was true. If he saw Reynolds any time soon, he’d be on him faster than he could blink.

Lisbon pushed to her feet. “I’m going in to see Jane. Why don’t you two,” she nodded to Van Pelt and Rigsby, “go pick up a couple pizzas and meet us back there.” She smiled at them and said, “Good work, all of you.”

Rigsby nodded and muttered, “Thanks, boss.”

Lisbon left them with a weary wave. Van Pelt and Rigsby got up and as they were walking away, Van Pelt stopped and turned. “Well?”

He frowned. “Well, what?”

“Aren’t you going to say, ‘No pineapple’?”

Oh, yeah. “No pineapple.”

Van Pelt shook her head and left. Rigsby gave Cho an exasperated frown and followed.

He uncrossed his legs and sat back. The family that had taken up all the seats to the right were in the hall, talking to a surgeon. It didn’t look like good news. The father was nodding, over and over like an automaton, then he suddenly turned to his daughter as his face screwed up. He grabbed her and began crying in her hair.

Cho re-crossed his legs. He reminded himself that it didn’t have to be a father and daughter. Maybe it was one of those May-December things and the person they were crying over was the man’s sister or mother. Or brother or father. Whoever it was, whatever the situation, the man was heartbroken.

Cho swallowed and gripped the arms of his chair. He suddenly wanted to see Jane, to see for himself that he was all right. It hadn’t been a horrible fall, not like some he’d seen, but you never knew with head injuries. Behind its thin casing of bone and blood, the brain was so fragile.

Before he could talk himself out of it, he was up out of the seat and striding over to the nurse’s station.

The nurse didn’t look up. He counted to ten, then said politely, “Excuse me?”

She still didn’t look up. “Yes?”

“I’m waiting for a colleague. In emergency. Can I—” He jerked his thumb to the double doors.

She finally looked up. “You’re with the CBI?”

“Yes, ma’am.” He thought he remembered her from the year before when he’d miscalculated a perp’s reaction and gotten a bad cut during the resulting chase.

“Isn’t someone already in there?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

She looked at the doors, then back at Cho. “All right, but just a few minutes. We’re full up tonight.”

He nodded and was gone before she could change her mind.

He’d been in the long, brightly lit room before and he walked purposefully down the wide aisle. He found them easily enough, five beds down on the left.

Jane saw him before Lisbon did. His face lightened and he smiled. Lisbon stopped talking and turned, then shook her head. When Cho got closer, she whispered, “How’d you get by the admitting nurse? She’s a dragon.”

“I asked.”

“Oh.” Lisbon made a face and he wondered if she’d asked the same question and had got a different answer. She shrugged and turned back to Jane. “I’ll let Cho fill you in on the rest. I’ll need you on your game in a couple days, so get some sleep. And don’t try to sneak out because I’ll send you right back where you came from.” She touched his hand and then said to Cho, “I’ll be outside. Don’t be long.”

He nodded and didn’t watch her go.

They’d put Jane into a blue gown and the color caught his eyes and made them bluer than usual. Or maybe that was the bright fluorescent lighting. He’d just been reading about these new lighting fixtures that supposedly balanced out the warm and cool tones of traditional fluorescents, but maybe the hospital couldn’t afford those new bulbs. They were expensive and hospitals were notoriously cheap when it came to non-essentials. Especially city hospitals like—

“Are you going to say something or just stand there and stare?”

Jane grinned as he spoke, but Cho could see the worry behind the smile. Which was odd because he was the one supposed to be worried, not the other way around. “Yes, sorry. I was just thinking.”

“About?”

“Nothing.”

Jane sighed and patted the bed. “Sit. Mind the tube.”

Cho pushed it out of the way and sat. Jane’s temple was bandaged and the surrounding flesh was already a dark mottled blue. He wanted to kiss the arc of Jane’s eyebrow where the bruise began, but he cleared his throat instead. “Does that hurt?”

Jane shook his head. “Not yet. Her gun was a mess, though, so that’s why—” He held up his hand and shook the tube.

“Antibiotics?”

“Yeah.”

“Huh.”

“Yeah.”

Cho crossed his arms and looked down at the bed. The line of Jane’s knee and thigh was a shallow curve under the thin sheet.

Jane knocked his leg against Cho’s hip and he looked up, startled. “Lisbon said you’re going after Reynolds tomorrow.”

“Yes.”

“I’d like to get a crack at him. I didn’t get a chance to talk to him at the house, but he’s got a low threshold.”

“Lisbon won’t let you hypnotize him, you know that, right?”

Jane smiled. “Yeah, but you will.”

“You’re assuming they’ll let you out in time.”

“I’m assuming that all this…” He waved his hand at the equipment and the other beds. “Could be used for someone who really needs it.”

“Don’t even try it,” Cho warned.

Jane waved his hand again, but his heart wasn’t in it. He was truly tired and Cho thought he might actually stay where he was put, for a while.

Then Jane grinned and kicked Cho’s thigh again. “So when do we get to the life-affirming relief sex?”

Cho flushed. He looked quickly around to see if they were being watched and Jane’s grin widened.

He tightened his arms around his chest. “We haven’t had any sex, yet.” It was true. That night, the night Jane shared his bed for the first and only time, Cho had held him loosely while he slept, thinking about Red John and the career-ending promise he’d just made. When he woke up, Jane was gone and Lisbon had left a message about San Diego. He’d packed his overnight bag and had been kicking himself over the missed opportunity for the last two weeks.

Jane nudged him again. “And whose fault is that? You were gone for thirteen days.”

“You could have come to San Diego with us. Lisbon said so.”

Jane made a face. “Nah, San Diego and I…” He shook his head, then winced. “We don’t mix.”

“I—” He started to ask what that meant, but remembered Lisbon’s—and the nurse’s—warning. He looked at his watch. “I don’t have time for this.”

Jane cocked his head. “Then say what you came here to say.”

It was a challenge, but he could only say, “I’m glad she didn’t shoot you.”

“And?”

“I’m glad you’re not dead.”

“And?”

He gripped his elbows. No, he couldn’t say what he truly wanted to say; not here. “Day after tomorrow. Friday. When you’ve been released and I know you’re not concussed.”

Jane’s smile turned a little too happy and he stroked Cho’s thigh. “Friday it is. I suppose if I asked you to kiss me, you wouldn’t.”

“No, I wouldn’t.”

Jane shrugged. “Ah, well.

He got up.

“Kim?”

He hesitated. ‘Kim.’ Only his family called him that. “Yes?”

“Thanks for—”

Jane’s expression turned somber and inward. He touched his head and Cho nodded briskly. He hurried out before he could do something stupid.

***

He had it all planned. Tomorrow morning at the earliest, Jane would be cleared by the hospital. They’d pick up something special for dinner, be home by six, and then…

And then.

He cleared his throat and didn’t look at the clock. He’d spent the whole day not looking at the clock and it was driving him nuts.

“Cho?”

He craned his head. Lisbon was at her office door, leaning out. “Yes?”

“Can you sit in with Agent Michaels in Interview One?”

“Why?”

Lisbon snorted gently. “Because I asked you to?”

“Oh. Sure.” He stood and put on his jacket. “Sorry. I was—” He shrugged and didn’t bother finishing his lame excuse. If she dug deeper, he’d say the Reynolds interrogation had pissed him off and he wasn’t over it yet.

Which was true, even though it had been quick and painless. Reynolds had started crying the minute Cho sat down. He’d given up the name of the black marketer, the black marketer’s husband, and the buyers. They’d all been brought in hours ago and were in various stages of arrest. Davis had the felons, Michaels had the buyers.

Lisbon gave him a measuring glance and said, “That’s okay.”

He nodded contritely and left.

Interview One was quiet when he knocked and entered. Across the table from Michaels sat a middle-aged white couple. They were dressed in pale tans and blues and very frightened. The man held the wife’s hand in his two, as if someone was going to come in and snatch her away at any moment.

Cho took the seat on Michaels’ right and picked up the folder. He glanced at it briefly. Last name, Chester, first names, Roger and Martha. Middle-income, living in a moderately-priced neighborhood. If they were involved with the black marketers, they hadn’t been for very long. Their bank account didn’t top over five thousand total. They had no credit to speak of, no other debt, a thirteen-year old car, and no priors.

He was just about to ask the usually preliminary questions when the door opened. They all turned to look as Jane strolled in. As he pulled up a chair and sat down on the other side of Michaels.

He beamed happily, first at the Chesters and then at Cho—he had to lean around Michaels to do it. He still had a bandage on his temple, but his hair covered part of it. He ignored Michaels completely and Cho remembered with a sinking feeling that Michaels disliked Jane and Jane returned the feeling tenfold.

“Jane, what the—” Michaels began to stand up, but Jane reached around him for the folder, pushing him back in his seat. Michaels growled. Jane smiled at Cho again and opened the folder. He ran his finger down the sheet, then closed it and threw it down.

Then, completely ignoring Michaels, he placed his hands on the table, and said, “Mr. Chester, Mrs. Chester. I’m Patrick Jane, a consultant with the CBI. I’m sorry you had to be brought here under such circumstances, but I’m sure you’ll understand why—”

“We weren’t told anything,” Roger Chester interrupted. “Just that there was something wrong with the adoption papers.”

Jane nodded kindly, but his eyes had sharpened. “Martha, did you get that necklace in Mexico when you were there for fertility treatments?”

Martha Chester’s eyes widened and she touched the necklace delicately. It was a simple design of turquoise and shell—it didn’t look special to Cho. She nodded. “We went a few years ago. I can’t conceive and—” She broke off and her husband took her hand again.

“I’m sorry. When did you move from Yorba Linda?”

“Two years ago, right after we got back from Mexico.”

Jane nodded and he smiled again, this time sincerely. He reached over and touched the couple’s joined hands briefly, and said, “I truly hope you find what you’re looking for. The baby you wanted, unfortunately, was stolen by her father a few days ago. He’d made a deal with a couple black marketers. They were the ones that you’ve been dealing with, not the state.”

The Chesters gasped; Michaels turned to Cho and glared. Cho shrugged and waited for Jane to finish.

“In the fracas yesterday the mother was killed and the children are now parentless. If you want, I’ll get you in touch with the baby’s aunt. Maybe the adoption can still go through. There’s a boy as well.”

Martha Chester reached over and took Jane’s hand. “Yes, please, anything. The boy would be most welcome. We have plenty of room.” She smiled and began crying.

Jane got out his card and scribbled a number on the back. He gave it to Mrs. Chester and stood up. “Mr. Chester, Mrs. Chester, you’re free to go.”

Michaels jumped up and began shouting at Jane, then at Cho when Jane ducked out with a wink at Cho behind Michaels’ back as the door swung closed.

Michaels hurried after. Cho leaned over the table and asked the Chesters not to leave, then followed. By the time he got to the squad room, Jane was laying on the couch, hands over his chest. Lisbon and Michaels were standing over him, glaring at each other. To round out the picture, Van Pelt and Rigsby were off to the sides, poised to jump in if Michaels did anything.

Lisbon looked first at Cho, then at Michaels. “Can someone tell me what the hell is going on here?”

“I’ll tell you what’s going on. Your pet nutcase just fucked up my interview, that’s what’s going on!”

Michaels was beet red and Cho thought he might do something seriously stupid like take a swing at Lisbon, but she held her hands up and said, “John, calm down. What happened?”

Michaels snarled and jabbed his finger at Jane. “Why don’t you ask him?”

They all turned to Jane. He said, without opening his eyes, “The Chesters are innocent and I told them to go home.”

Lisbon sighed, “Jane—”

Jane sat up and turned to look at Lisbon. “The Chesters would no more buy a black-market baby than I would.”

“Why?” Cho asked quietly.

“Because they’re Quakers, and Quakers very rarely commit crimes, especially against the helpless.”

That shut them all up, even Michaels. He grabbed a chair and sat down with a huff. “What makes you think they’re Quakers?”

Jane held up his hand and began counting off his fingers. “They have very little debt. He works with his hands—did you see how scratched up they were. They were dressed as plain as possible and they wore no religious symbols of any kind. They’re from Yorba Linda and they moved right after they went down to Mexico for fertility treatments.”

“So?” Michaels asked before Cho could.

Jane spread out his hands. “Yorba Linda has one of the largest Friends’ churches in the country, and the Chesters lived within walking distance of said church. Friends believe in a minimal amount of medical intervention, so—”

Cho interrupted, “When Mrs. Chester got fertility treatments, they went against their church’s teachings and had to move?”

Jane smiled up at Cho. “Kimball Cho goes to the head of the class.”

He rolled his eyes and dropped down next to Jane. “That doesn’t make them Quakers.”

Jane rested his arm along the back of the sofa; his fingers just an inch away from Cho’s shoulder. Cho told himself that if he moved away it would be more telling than if he didn’t move away. “Do you want to bet on it?”

He was already shaking his head. “No bets.”

Lisbon broke in, “Michaels?”

“Yeah?”

“Why don’t you go find out if the Chesters are Quakers. If they are, let them go.”

Michaels looked up and she nodded. He left, but not before he shot Jane a truly hateful look. Cho exchanged glances with Lisbon and Rigsby. They’d all have to watch out for him for a while. Michaels was a bastard and it would take him a while to get over this one.

Lisbon turned back and put her hands on her hips. “Jane?”

“Yes?”

“Did the hospital release you?”

Jane smiled sunnily. “Nope.”

“I thought so. Go home.”

“But—”

Lisbon held up her hand and turned to her office. She slammed the door and closed the blinds.

“Well, it’s good to be back.” Jane looked around. “Hey, Van Pelt, feel like giving me a ride home?”

***

It was after eight when he got home.

He’d waited until Lisbon kicked him out, and would have stayed longer, but finally admitted to himself that Jane wasn’t going to call after all. He’d left sooner after, telling himself he wasn’t disappointed.

He was fumbling at his door, trying to get the key in while not dropping the bags of takeout when the apartment door next to his opened. Jane came out followed by Lisa, his new neighbor.

“Thanks so much for the tea, Lisa.” Jane took her hand and kissed her cheek.

“No problem, Patrick,” Lisa answered, then added with a wave, “Hi, Kimball.”

Cho managed to nod in return and then she was gone, door closed.

Jane stuck his hands in his pockets and strolled down where he was waiting. “It’s about time.”

“How—” He shook his head. “You know what, never mind. Here—” He shoved the bags at Jane and unlocked his door. He let Jane in, then locked it again.

Jane carried the food to the kitchen, talking all the while. “Your neighbor is lovely. I didn’t get a chance to meet her husband. He was supposed to be home by seven, but he got a flat tire. Who gets a flat tire these days? I suspect he’s having an affair. So does she, only she doesn’t know it yet. What did you get? It smells good.” Jane sat the bags on the countertop and began rifling through them. “I’m starving. I was going to eat, but—”

“What are you doing here?”

Jane looked up, one eyebrow raised in surprise. “I thought we had a date.”

“No. I mean, yes, okay, it was a date. Sort of.” Cho bent to pick up his mail, and tossed it on the side table without looking at it. “I thought you’d call.”

“If you weren’t expecting me, why’d you get so much food?” Jane picked up a container and shook it.

Cho opened his mouth, then switched tactics. “How’s your head, really?”

“Fine.”

“Because I can easily call the hospital and find out. My sister had her residency at St. Mary’s and I still know people.”

Jane smiled and opened the box of rice. “Relax, I’m fine. They were going to release me anyway. I just got tired of waiting.”

“Let me feel your head.”

“What?”

Cho just stared and after a moment and a put-upon sigh, Jane dropped the food and turned around. Feeling like he was sticking his hand into a fire, Cho ran his fingers gently over the back of Jane’s head and sure enough, he found a lump about an inch wide. It wasn’t too bad—he’d thought it’d be bigger. “What did they say?”

“That I might still have a concussion. Nothing new.”

“And?”

“And that I need to be careful for the next few days. No running around, no heavy lifting.”

“What about sleeping?”

“I’m supposed to be woken up every few hours.”

“I thought that was a myth.”

“Apparently not.”

“I suppose no strenuous activity?”

Jane twisted and looked sideways. “Is that Cho-speak for, ‘no sex,’ because, yeah, they nixed that as well. But what do doctors know? Just a bunch of quacks.”

Cho ignored that and ran his finger around the bandage on Jane’s temple. “Does this hurt?”

“No. They said I should take the bandage off today, but I forgot.”

Cho doubted that. He’d bet a hundred bucks that Jane left it on for the Reynolds interview because he knew it made him look harmless and pitiable. And he probably kept it on for the same reason. “Well, take it off after dinner.”

“Will do. Hmm,” Jane leaned back and almost purred, “that feels so good.”

Cho pushed Jane back and dropped his hands. Without thinking, he’d begun to knead Jane’s neck and shoulders. And not in a clinical, investigative way. He turned to the food. “You said you were hungry?”

***

Jane managed three bites of his mu shu before falling asleep in his favorite position—curled up on the sofa, arms tight across his chest.

Cho turned down the volume on the TV and stared at him for a long time. He didn’t look concussed, although he had limited experience with concussions. The last was a year ago when Lisbon had taken a blow to the head from a suspect who wouldn’t stay down. She’d been all right, but that afternoon she’d had a dizzy spell and Minelli had sent her to the hospital.

Jane hadn’t said he was dizzy and he seemed to be sleeping normally now, so he must be fine. Right? Cho stood up and got out his phone.

It rang twice before it was picked up. “Hello?”

“Hey, Missy.”

“Kim?” He could hear a chair scrape across the floor. She was probably going over her patient’s charts—she worked too much, just like his other sisters. “When did you get back?”

“Yesterday.”

“Did you talk to Mom?”

“No.”

“She and dad missed their flight.”

He glanced down. There was a commercial for cheap scuba diving vacations on the TV and the oversaturated colors cast a sickly blue film over Jane’s face, making him look dead. He turned the TV off. “Did they come back home?”

“No, they waited and got a later flight. They should be getting into O’Hare right about now.”

“I bet dad was pissed.”

Missy laughed. “Actually, no he wasn’t. I think that scare last year did do him some good after all”

He shrugged, uncomfortable. The ‘scare’ had taken a few years off his own life. His father had always been a fixture in their lives—distant and authoritative, but a fixture. To see him so fragile and weak had been an experience, both good and bad.

“So, I know you didn’t call just to say hi. What’s up?”

He didn’t argue her point—it was true. He called his parents on a regular basis, but his sisters were always busy and hard to get hold of. He turned to the windows and ran his finger across a pane. He hadn’t thought this through and several big land mines were just steps ahead. But it was too late, so he just said evenly, “I’ve got a friend, a colleague, who’s got a concussion. Maybe.”

“’Maybe’?’” Missy repeated in her doctor voice. He could hear water running now—probably for her evening tea. “Was he checked out by a doctor?”

“Yes and no. He was admitted to St. Mary’s and they diagnosed a possible concussion, but he left before he was released.”

“Are you with him now?”

Landmine number one. “Yes.”

“How does he look?”

“Like normal. He’s asleep. Should he be sleeping?”

Some of his anxiety must have bled through because Missy changed from doctor to sister. “Sure, Kim, if he’s tired. Just make sure he’s not disoriented or confused. You can wake him in a few hours, just to make sure.” She paused and Cho closed his eyes because here came landmine number two. “Is he staying the night?”

“Yes.”

This time the pause was longer and Cho could almost hear the avalanche of complaints and accusations and pleas, but all she said was, “Just keep an eye on him. If St. Mary’s were really worried, they would have contacted Theresa and told her to get his butt back.”

Cho wanted to laugh at the idea of Lisbon forcing Jane to do anything. “Thanks.”

“No problem. I’m calling mom pretty soon. Do you want me to say hi for you?”

“Sure. Tell her I’ll call tomorrow.”

“When are you coming by for a visit?”

“Soon.”

She sighed because she’d heard that one before. “Bring your friend, if you want.”

Cho rubbed his eyes. “He’s not that kind of friend, Missy.”

“Well, even so…”

“Thanks, I appreciate it. ‘Night.”

He didn’t wait for her goodbye. He pressed ‘end,’ and pocketed the phone, then went back to the couch and looked down at Jane.

He was still sleeping soundly.

Cho sat on the armrest and thought of the conversation with Missy and the things they didn’t say. He’d call her up in a few days and apologize for being so abrupt and maybe by then he’d be able to tell her a little of what was going on.

His relationship with his sisters was good, but it hadn’t always been that way. Growing up, they’d always accused him of being spoiled and he’d always laughed at them. It wasn’t until he was in college that he realized they were right. He’d been spoiled as a child and had used his parents over-abundant affection more than a few times against his sisters.

He’d made amends as best he could, and was lucky when they forgave him.

His sisters would love Jane. Once they got over the fact that his pretty face hid a brain that was equal to theirs or better. It would be fun, letting him loose on them. He’d try his tricks on them, they’d rebuff him. Luce and Missy would roll their eyes, but enjoy the show. Connie would be taken in, but only for a while.

But his parents, now that was another matter…

Cho pushed away the ugly image what his mother would do and say if she knew about Jane and stood up. He went to the linen closet and got the blanket down and gently covered Jane up.

He checked the deadbolt and the window latches, even though he wasn’t worried about a break-in, not this high up. He thought about leaving the food out, but ended up clearing off the coffee table and stuffing the leftovers into the refrigerator.

Then, he went back to the couch and stood over Jane for a moment. Finally, he picked up his holstered gun and went to bed.

***

He’d expected it, he realized when he jumped out of bed. He’d expected a nightmare and he was across the loft and kneeling in front of Jane before the second soft moan came.

Jane had thrown off the blanket and was sprawled out on the couch, one leg on the floor, arms opened wide. His eyes were half open but Cho didn’t make the mistake of getting too close—that had happened once before and he’d gotten a fist to the side of his head before he’d managed to wake Jane up. “Hey.”

Jane moaned again and his eyes tightened briefly. He touched his temple, his movements unusually thick and clumsy.

Cho tried again. “Hey. It’s me.”

Jane dropped his hand and turned his head. In the low light his eyes gleamed silver. Cho shivered. “I had a dream.”

They were the same words from weeks ago, but those had been childlike and joyous. These were sick with pain and despair and a kind of horror Cho hoped he’d never know. “Yes.”

“Did I wake you?”

“Yes.”

“I’m—”

But Cho didn’t let him finish. He leaned over and kissed the words off Jane’s mouth, then again because he had no other answer to Jane’s past, to the nightmares. He sat back and waited.

There was a heavy pause, like that fractional second between the moment a gun is aimed and when the trigger is pulled—breathtaking, and not in a good way. Then Jane took a deep breath and grabbed Cho’s arms and pulled him down.

In Cho’s awkward fantasies it had always been Jane that had been the passive one, Jane that lay there while he did all the work. ‘I am such an idiot’ was his last thought as Jane bit his lip and stuck his tongue down his throat. He fell back on his heels and Jane followed, still kissing as they got to their feet, his hands and mouth everywhere.

They ended up in the second bedroom, not by design, but because it was closest and Cho needed to lie down before his legs stopped working and he made a fool of himself.

They fell on the cold bed and got Jane’s clothes off, then got Cho’s shorts. He let Jane roll them over until Jane was on top and he lay there, gasping for breath like he was a ninety-year old asthmatic with a heart condition. He wrapped his arms around Jane’s chest, his legs around Jane’s hips, and thrust up. His mouth was watering for more and even the pressure on his cock wasn’t enough, so he arched up and bit the wing of Jane’s collarbone, and then again when Jane cried out.

Jane shoved him onto the bed and ground down, again and again. He muttered a string of words under his breath, a litany that Cho didn’t even bother to trying to decipher because his pulse was hammering a path through his body and all he wanted was to follow wherever it led, wherever Jane led.

He ran his fingers through Jane’s hair as they moved, trying to remember not to grab too hard because of the concussion, but it had been one of those secret fantasies, that hair, and he should have known he wouldn’t be able to resist—it all felt so fucking good, Jane felt so fucking good, and he was pretty sure he pulled too hard, at the very end.

***

“Am I crushing you?” Jane mumbled into Cho’s neck. He’d fallen some minutes ago and was hot and sweaty and heavy.

He shook his head. “No.”

“Good.”

“Did I hurt you?”

“Hurt what?”

He ran a finger around the knot on the back of Jane’s head. “Your head. Did I hurt your head?”

“Nah.”

“We weren’t supposed to do this.”

“When I fall over dead, I’m blaming you.”

“Don’t.”

Jane pushed up. His hair was matted with sweat and the bandage on his temple was mostly off but his eyes were clear and so was his smile. “I can take care of myself.”

Cho tugged him back down. “Tell that to Lisbon next time she saves you from a suspect that you’ve pissed off.”

Jane smiled against Cho’s chest. It tickled, but he didn’t move. He ran his hands over Jane’s back, idly. “We should go to my room. You’ll get cold.”

“We can stay here.”

“My bed is bigger.”

“That’s okay.”

“My room has a TV.”

“Can we eat in bed?”

“What do you think?”

“I think, no.” Jane kissed him, hard. “I think I’m going to go get the food.” And he was up and out of bed before Cho could stop him.

He leaned over to watch Jane pad across the floor. Jane, the ass, knew he was being watched—he waved his hand as he disappeared around the corner of the kitchen.

Cho shook his head, but he laughed as well. It felt good, the laughter. Almost as good as the pleasant languor that dragged his body down and made him want to stay in this bed that was too cold and too small. He gathered up their clothes and went to his room.

His bed was just as cold and he crawled under the covers to warm up the sheets. Jane didn’t retain body heat like he did. That might be a problem in the future since Cho constantly woke to find that he’d kicked off the covers during the night. Something that they’d deal with, he supposed.

He reached for the remote and was watching the news when Jane came back, his arms full of white boxes. “Look at this.” He nodded to the screen where Channel 9 was announcing a double homicide near Carmel. The screen switched to a live shot of the local P.D. on location in front of a small enclave of homes.

Jane sat the boxes on the nightstand and knelt on the bed. He snatched the remote and changed the channel. Same thing, only with a different news crew. “I give her ten minutes.”

“I give her—” But he was off by nine. He opened his cell on the second ring. “Hi.”

“Did you see?” Lisbon sounded tired. He hoped she’d gotten at least a couple hours of sleep.

“Yeah, just now.”

“They want us on the scene. How soon can you get to the office? We’ll drive down together.”

“I can be out the door in thirty minutes.”

“Make it ten, this looks like a bad one.” Her voice faded away, then came back, louder. She was probably getting dressed. “It’s not Red John, but maybe a copycat. Don’t call Jane.”

He got out of bed and turned towards the windows. He bent his head and muttered, “I’m not sure if that’s a possibility.”

There was a long pause and then Lisbon sighed, “Cho.” He knew that tone—she was probably running her hand through her hair in frustration. “Oh, well. Just tell him he’s staying in the car. If I find him in the house, I’ll drag him outside and handcuff him to the steering wheel.”

He didn’t bother reminding her that Jane could get out of handcuffs as quickly as she could put them on him. “I’ll see you soon.”

“Thanks, ‘bye.”

He switched off the phone and turned around. Jane was on his side, watching him with an appreciative smile. He resisted the urge to cover up. “We’ve got ten minutes.”

“I suppose she threatened me with expulsion.”

He walked around the bed and held out his hand. “Yes.” He pulled Jane up and took off the bandage. The skin underneath was red and angry, but already healing. He touched the outer edge, gently.

“I suppose I’m not to go inside the house.”

“Yes.” Cho turned to the dresser and got out clean shorts and a undershirt.

“Are you going to take a shower?”

“Yes.”

“Can I come with you?”

“No.”

“That’s wasteful.”

“Yes.” It was also necessary. He needed to be clean and dry in four minutes and he couldn’t do that standing next to a wet Jane. He wasn’t that strong. “I’ll be out in a few minutes.”

Jane crossed his arms and cocked his head. “And maybe I’ll be here, and maybe I won’t.”

He spun around. “Jane, don’t you even think of leaving without me. If you—”

Jane raised his eyebrow.

Cho sighed in defeat. “Jesus. Okay, but keep your hands to yourself.”

Jane just smiled.

 

 

fin