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"I have no idea."

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She can still remember the day when life as she had known it had shattered into so many shards. The day when they had been beaten, after everything they had been through, even as the hunt for Red John was nearly finally over.

When CBI was shut down, she lost the reason she fought so hard to get up every morning, but worst of all, oddly enough, was the moment when she saw the look of utter devastation on Jane’s face when Abbott bumped into him sending his blue tea cup crashing to the floor. That was the moment when her new reality sank in. She recalls searching frantically for a box, any box, then falling carefully to her knees and making sure she found every single piece of the cup. Fortunately, the remains hadn’t been stepped on, as everyone else had frozen where they stood, including Jane, who barely seemed to be breathing. She remembers asking herself later why it was so important that she had saved the pieces, perhaps it was her way of saving a tiny bit of him, the way he had been before his world, the safe bubble they had created together, had vanished.

She had spent days trying to think of what to give him on his birthday, the first they would celebrate since they finally figured things out, at least for the time being. It had to be something unique, special - only something she could give him, when she remembered the box sitting on her bookcase, and hoped he would understand.

 

She held her breath as he slowly lifted the top off the box, as if he expected something to jump out at him, and was stunned by his reaction. She knew that she was one of the few people that he would completely let his guard down for, but she bit her lip as she watched the astonishment wash over his face, and the smile, gentle and sincere, told her more than words ever could how honestly moved he was by the gift he held so carefully in his strong, beautiful hands.

“Teresa.”

“From CBI.”

“You kept the pieces, all this time -” The simple awe in his voice made her blush, and she swore she could see tears in his eyes, even as she wondered at the unadulterated pleasure in his face. He had seen so little happiness in his life, and to see him this shaken by a gift that had cost her nothing, caught her by surprise. "You never cease to amaze me, Lisbon."

“You really didn’t know?”

“Check and see.” He nodded at her pocket where he had slipped his guess as they had left the house that morning.

Without looking away from the bemused glint in his eyes, she reached into her pocket, then finally glanced down to read the small slip of paper in his haphazard scrawl, “I have no idea.”

"I finally surprised you."

She couldn't help but grin triumphantly as he rolled his eyes at her, and after a long moment, he smiled softly at her and finally found his voice again. "Teresa Lisbon, don't you know, you surprise me on a daily basis?"

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She was all but vibrating next to him, and he realized this is what she looked like when she was truly happy, and he tried to run through the possible reasons for her happiness, hoping he might be at least partly responsible for the smile that rattled the foundations of his memory palace.

She took a deep breath and began uncertainly, which was rare for her. “I don’t think I’ve said this, well, I mean, I know I haven’t told you, because, I didn’t know if I needed to, because, well, I mean, you always know what I’m thinking...?” He could see her blush lightly from the corner of his eye, and he wasn’t sure if he was ready to hear the words she was about to say to him, finally.

“Well, not everything,” he volleyed back gently.

“Would you be surprised if I said I love you?”

He felt his heart pound a bit faster in his chest, and tried to catch his breath before he answered her. “I’d be… I’d be lying if I didn’t say I would be moved by it... ”

“I love you. There, I said it.”

Knowing her as he did, he guessed that she had rarely said those words out loud and he found that being on the receiving end pleased and surprised him in ways he couldn’t quite deal with. All he could do was turn away from her again before he grinned madly and whispered, “I’m surprised.”

“You are?” She teased lightly, as she reached out to touch his face.

“Hmm..” He turned back to look at her and nodded. “Pleasantly surprised.” It occurred to him then that it mattered now, more than it ever had, that he chose his words carefully with her, not just sling them like arrows to see what chaos he could create with a single well placed, or ill-used phrase as he had in the past.

Ever since he had confessed his feelings for her on the plane, speaking words he never thought he ever would say again, he had considered what it might feel like should she ever offer those words to him. He was surprised not by the idea that she loved him, he had known for some time now that she had strong feelings for him, but he was struck by how he could see it so easily in her eyes and in the smile that was meant just for him, and he wondered that he didn’t spontaneously combust on the spot.

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In his teens, there were days when he was tempted to pack up his few belongings and leave his father and the carny life behind, and finagle his way into a normal life. Visions of homework, food fights in a noisy cafeteria and even awkward dances found a way into his dreams when he actually slept. But as he took in the scene in front of him, the ex-jocks who never managed to mature past the age of sixteen, were dancing with the women they never would have wasted a single glance on in the halls fifteen years earlier, and the former cheerleaders no longer cared if they were caught dancing with the computer geeks, he realized he had been better off; his carny family was still his family even now.

He turned as he sensed Lisbon behind him, and he caught a glimpse of the girl she had been - never invited to dances, and she hadn’t been as brave as she was now to simply ask a guy herself, the rejection would have been too much, and she couldn’t have afforded the dress in the first place -

“I loved this song.”

“You still love this song,” he corrected her lightly, and found himself a bit surprised to watch as a wistful grin overtook her usually neutral features, and even more surprised by his own next words, “Dance? You know you want to.”

“With you?” Her usual snark had returned, but with less of the normal bite, and even as she laughed at him, she took the hand he offered her and followed him onto the dance floor without another word.

He was surprised one last time that weekend, but not overly so, when he felt her relax ever so slightly against him but was completely unsurprised when he realized how well they fit together and as the song went on:

...Now I've tried to talk to you and make you understand
All you have to do is close your eyes
And just reach out your hands and touch me
Hold me close don't ever let me go…*

he closed his eyes and allowed himself to daydream for just a moment, a moment where he and Lisbon had met at another time, in a different place, and a real life was possible. The images of what might have been went on in his head until the song played out its final notes, and as the other couple clapped politely, Lisbon cleared her throat and he blinked at her in confusion as she looked up at him, and mumbled quietly, “thanks, Jane. Ready to blow this popsicle stand?”

He nodded and let go of her hand, then followed her out of the gymnasium without a backward glance.

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Ever since the deaths of his wife and daughter, he had essentially lived as a nomad, his life had revolved around discovering the identity of Red John and finally exacting his revenge against him. Now, that part of his life was over, and he was trying to rediscover his center while trapped in the grayest, blandest room he’d ever seen, and Lisbon had gone back to Washington State, back to her life, the life she had built for herself after he had abandoned her when he made his escape to Mexico. He didn’t blame her one bit, but that didn’t stop him from missing her, wanting her back in his life again. He knew it was selfish, but he didn’t care.

“Hey. You did it.”

He struggled to sit up, then rubbed the sleep from his eyes, and blinked at her. She was standing there, beaming at him.

“Somehow you got them to agree to all of your demands, every single one.”

“Really?” He grinned up at her and could read the relief and amazement in her eyes. He wondered at the idea that he could amaze her still after all these years.

“Uhmhmm…” She dropped onto the edge of his tiny bed, and he realized how long it had been since they had been this close. He could smell her shampoo, the one that she had always used, the decent coffee she had bought before she boarded the plane, and the sweet unidentifiable scent of her that even the rental car odor couldn’t mask, she was still the same Lisbon. He was close enough to touch her, and nearly did, just to make sure he wasn’t hallucinating her, but he wasn’t sure she had forgiven him yet, he seriously doubted she ever would. She was talking, and he was responding, but he had now lost track of the conversation, when she thrust a brown paper bag into his hands.

“I got you something.”

He peered into the bag and whispered, “for me?”

She nodded and smiled at him again, in a way that he could feel down in his toes, as he pulled out a pair of the fluffiest, sweetest smelling socks he’d ever held in his hand. “You got me socks.” As he held them over his heart, he was only slightly surprised to realize, as she continued to smile gently at him, that his search for Red John hadn’t been the center of his world all this time, she had.

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He was certain he had done it this time, finally overreached just a bit too far, and he couldn't talk his way out of the disaster he had created because of his arrogance, again. He had believed he was untouchable, simply because he had a mission - how ridiculous.

It occurred to him at that moment that he had never told her, never thanked her for patiently putting up with him, all these years. They were yelling at each other now, if he were a different man, he might have disarmed them both, but he was by nature a con man, admittedly a coward, not a cop, as she had reminded him time after time, and he froze where he stood as Lisbon broke through the door, gun raised, and before he could take another breath, she had taken them both down, while defending not only the life of the kidnap victim, but his own.

Over the years, he had usually been able to stay behind the scenes, out of the direct line of fire, until today. Today, she took two lives in front of him because he had been careless. If she had been a moment later, he wasn't sure - he stared at her for a long moment, then shook his head, and wished the words that usually came so easily would save him now, but nothing came, and he turned away at the look of dismay on her face, ashamed of himself.

She would feel it later, maybe dream about them tonight, if she slept at all, he realized, as she dropped down to kneel next to the woman she had saved, and gently reassured her as she removed the tape from her mouth and bound wrists and ankles. He was surprised at how quickly she refocused, how she could shift gears to do what she needed to do, but he knew he shouldn't be, for all his chatter about his memory palace, he understood at that moment that she would always be stronger than him, in all the ways that mattered. He should have thanked her, but the moment for that was gone, if there had even been one. She was already moving away from that split second decision, as he was still dwelling in it, replaying it over and over again, while she was on the phone to the coroner as she carefully helped the woman to her feet, leaving him alone with his thoughts.

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"I'm not married."

As he turned away from her, she studied his strong, beautiful profile and listened carefully while he explained away the apparent 'slantyness' of the shack. He had spent years surprising her, with his brilliant and sometimes frustrating shenanigans during cases, the odd gift now and then, and the uncanny way he had when she was sure he could read her mind, but she had never seen him as still and quiet as he was at this moment, and as well as she knew him, she couldn't sense what was going on in his head. Then she looked down, and drew in a sharp breath as he was holding his ring between his fingers, the ring that had never left his hand in all the years she had known him.

"This ring has been with me a very long time, it has obvious significance because of my past, but it also has a connection to you, for us, because if I had never worn this ring, odds are that I never would have met you." He cleared his throat, and she knew it wasn't from the events over the last couple of days, but because he was uncertain about something. A rare occurrence, as he was usually certain about most everything. "I am not expecting you to ever wear this, but I want to share this with you, as a symbol of my future, the future I want with you, our future..."

She found herself watching his face, the face she had known and loved for so long now, and she wondered when it had happened, when was it exactly that she lost her heart to him, had it been from that very first moment? The moment he walked into her life or had it been a gradual thing that had evolved over the years, even during those two long years when he had been gone and all she had were the beautiful letters he would write to her? She wasn't sure she would ever know completely.

"I want you to be my wife. Will you marry me?"

She felt herself smiling in a way that she knew she never had before, and a spark of joy ran through her as she could tell he was holding his breath. "Okay. Yeah. I mean yes, of course, yes."

"Yes. She said yes. Oh, thank god that's finally over."

She blinked at him as he slipped the ring into her hand and realized with a jolt of surprise that he hadn't been certain of her answer before he asked, he honestly hadn't known. "You had to know that I'd say yes, didn't you?"

He shook his head and answered quietly, "no, I didn't know, not for certain. You see, Lisbon, even after all these years, you are still a mystery to me."

"Oh, yeah?"

He grinned at her and nodded before he leaned in closer and kissed her slowly, gently, as if he were kissing her for the first time all over again.