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Palm, Switch, Steal

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Two men are having a conversation in a room down the hall: quiet enough to give them a secretive air, loud enough for their voices to carry.

"Pay up," one of them says. "I told you he wasn't a real psychic."

"Yeah, yeah," the other one says. There's the sound of something being removed from a pocket, and the unmistakable rustle of new, crisp bills. "There ought to be a statute of limitations on sucker bets, McNally."

"Hey, you were the one who took me up on it," the first one says, and laughs.

Which is how Patrick gets a black eye, a bruised rib, and a new CBI liaison, in the form of Teresa Lisbon.

 


 

 

He isn't there when the trail on Red John goes cold; he isn't there when the case becomes inactive. When they take the pictures down and clear the boards and file it all away, Patrick is in a room with Sophie Miller.

The room is small, and bright, and Patrick can't sign himself out of it. He's been stripped of personal responsibility. He's been locked away. Somewhere out there, the person who killed Patrick's family isn't locked away. He isn't presently capable of appreciating irony, but he recognizes the existence of it, just the same.

Elsewhere, a data clerk is carrying a box of Patrick's belongings to long-term evidence storage. In here, Sophie has just ended their session, which is a polite, structured way of saying that she's given up for the day. She rises to leave, her smile cool and remote, a very thin cover for what he's coming to recognize as disappointment. She's disappointed in him. She expects more, somehow, and he keeps defying those expectations.

He doesn't want to care about her expectations, but he's starting to care. He's starting to feel a twinge of something like guilt every time she says, "that's all for today, Patrick, thank you," her smile false, her distance faked. He thinks that might mean he's beginning to recover, and the thought of recovery terrifies him; terror suppresses the guilt four times out of five.

Three times out of five. Two. One. He gets better, whether he wants to or not.

"Maybe your basic operating premise is flawed," he says, at the end of one long, painfully self-aware week. "Maybe instead of trying to convince someone with no legal self-determination or will to carry on that their life is somehow worth living, you should be helping that life to end with a modicum of dignity."

She leans forward to rest her elbows on her knees, her long, dark hair swinging forward over her shoulders. "Are you asking me to end your life, Patrick?"

"No." He doesn't smile at her, but he does meet her eyes, and she sits back, surprised. "I'm merely questioning the validity your hypothesis."

"My hypothesis that life is worth living," she says, voice just barely raising in question.

"That's the one." He watches her watch him, noting the speculative twist of her mouth, the argumentative set of her shoulders, the way her eyes narrow in thought as he speaks. "Haven't you ever wondered?"

He expects her to say, that's all for today, Patrick, thank you. Instead, she smiles at him, small but genuine, and that's both their expectations thrown aside for the day.

"I'm glad to see you feeling so much better," she says.

If she didn't know him so well, if he didn't know she knew him so well, that would seem like a strange cap on a conversation that involved his hypothetical suicide. As it is, he only nods, not arguing the point.

He won't be here much longer. He'll be out soon, and odds are good he won't even try to kill himself when he's back out there with options, with means.

The odds are better than good. The odds are, in fact, damned near even.

"Thank you, Patrick," Sophie says, and for the first time, she sounds like she means it. "That's all for today."

 


 

 

He pegs Lisbon as a control freak before he officially meets her; he pegs her the moment he sees her step through the door, confident and smiling and short, her badge prominently on display.

"You made assumptions about my personality based on my height," she says when he shares this tidbit with her six months later, over beer. "Jane, has anyone ever told you--"

"Yes. And it's not as unreasonable as you think -- diminutive women often compensate by seeking to control situations in ways unrelated to physicality." He takes a swig of beer, forcing himself not to grimace. The beer has long since gone warm; he's been drinking it slowly, nursing a single bottle.

"Diminutive women," she echoes, something challenging and dangerous in her smile.

"Women at a perpetual height disadvantage," he adds, just for the fun of playing with fire.

She narrows her eyes at him, still smiling. "I think you're just trying to push my buttons, Jane."

Maybe he is. He enjoys seeing her flustered and off-balance, in a way he enjoys very few things: Cho's sense of humor, Rigsby's rock-solid decency. The things he enjoys are all in once place, these days. If Sophie could see him now, she wouldn't be at all surprised that he sleeps in snatches of stolen time on the CBI couches, that he takes his meals there.

He thinks she might be disappointed with him, even now, but he's past guilt. His life is worth living; he'll live it wherever he wants.

Lisbon finishes her beer and makes a show of checking her watch. She won't leave, just yet; she'll fuss over the late hour and tomorrow's early start, and then she'll order another. There's a routine to their interaction on far-flung cases like this, the kind that come with long nights and hotel bars. That routine is a bit off-center tonight for not including Cho and Rigsby, but he and Lisbon rarely get to spend time alone, so he's not complaining.

She signals for another round and rests a hand on the table, palm up, fingers pressed flat.

"Tell my future," she says, scooting her hand an inch closer to him.

He nudges her hand away with his lukewarm bottle of beer. "I'm not a palm reader."

"Sure you are." She makes a slight, impatient gesture, curling her fingers inward and flattening them again. "Come on. Which one is my life line?"

Patrick stares at her for a moment, rationale and intuition both drawing a blank, until he realizes: she's pushing his buttons. She's taking him down a peg, because he made fun of her height.

He isn't going to let her win -- he categorically refuses to let her win -- so he cups a hand beneath hers and turns it toward the light, tracing the lines of her hand with a finger.

"This one." He taps a long, curving line, not bothering to give her a pseudo-accurate reading. She doesn't know the difference, and reading her palm isn't the point, anyway. "Palmistry would have it you'll live long and prosper."

It's entirely possible Lisbon has never seen a movie in her life, because she only grins at him, disbelieving and fascinated at the same time. "'Palmistry would have it'?"

He shrugs. "Palm reading is just another form of con. There's no such thing as a true psychic."

She pulls her hand back, but she glances at her palm again before picking up her beer, and her mouth quirks up on one side.

Something shifts in the back of his mind, some stray piece sliding into place, and he thinks: tomorrow, he's going to pull a coin out of her ear; tomorrow, he's going to read her mind.

It doesn't occur to him at the time that he hadn't so much as uttered the word psychic since he was committed. He's still healing, even if he doesn't know it.

 


 

 

"You're back," his pre-Lisbon partner says, twenty minutes prior to a broken nose and a split lip.

"Yes," Patrick says.

"Minelli said you'd be back, but I didn't believe it." He squints sideways at Patrick, giving him one of the least subtle evaluations he's been subject to in recent months -- no small accomplishment, that. "You know Red John is cold?"

"Yes, I know," Patrick says.

"Huh." Pre-Lisbon taps a file against his desk. Two months ago, his nervous habit was clicking pens. The man's props change, but his tells don't, and Patrick has never liked him enough to tell him so. "I know you're not really psychic -- you know that, right?"

"Yes, I do," Patrick says.

"Huh."

They stand there for a moment as the file goes tap tap tap, Pre-Lisbon staring at Patrick, Patrick staring calmly back.

"Here." Pre-Lisbon offers him the file. "Don't suppose you'll get any psychic vibes off the evidence, but you're cleared, so take a look, whatever, I don't care. Tell me if anything goes woo-woo."

Patrick takes the file. It's that or hit the man, and he isn't going to be kicked out of here so soon, not after he just got let back in.

"Thank you," he says.

Pre-Lisbon rolls his eyes on the way out, and again, Patrick doesn't hit him.

At least, not for another eighteen minutes.

 


 

 

His first time behind the wheel with Lisbon is on the way back from an interview with the husband of a victim, and he steps on the gas, trying to put a good long stretch of road behind them. The widower was blond and hollow-eyed and an obvious suicide risk, and Patrick's hands curled in tight against his knees as the man spoke, knuckles turning white.

"Slow down," Lisbon says, clutching at her seatbelt. "You're fifteen miles over the speed limit."

He darts a glance at her. "Do you have the authority to write traffic tickets?"

"I'm more worried about you getting us killed -- and keep your eyes on the road!" She hits him with the side of her hand, actually hits him, and he laughs, easing up on the gas just enough to let her breathe. "I'm never letting you drive again."

In this as in everything else, she's as good as her word.

 


 

 

A redhead at the bar has been throwing looks his way all night, and he's beginning to wish she'd stop, if just to silence the ribbing he's getting from Cho and Rigsby.

"Picking up women in bars is a lot like being a fake psychic," Rigsby says, and Patrick lets him, because these are his friends and they like him and their teasing is genuinely good-natured. "That woman wants you to read her mind something awful, Jane."

"Use your powers for good, man," Cho says, clinking his bottle against Patrick's. "If you don't, I will."

"If you don't, I will." Rigsby elbows Cho. "I love redheads."

"Fine." Patrick grabs his beer and stands, shaking his head. "Watch and learn, boys."

He makes his way to the bar, draining his beer en route so he'll have an excuse to order a round for them both. The redhead has been drinking something golden over ice -- whiskey, maybe -- and her glass is empty when he slides up to the bar to her left, hitching an elbow up on the counter.

"Hi," he says. "I'm Patrick."

Her smile isn't just flirtatious, it's an invitation, and he hasn't even bought her a drink yet; he can only imagine how this looks from the cheap seats.

"I'm Denise," she says, and puts a hand on his arm. "It's nice to meet you, Patrick."

There's something about the way she says his name -- he can't quite put his finger on it, but there's something unexpected about it, something unfamiliar.

She swivels toward him and slides off her barstool, so close she's sliding down his body as she goes; by the time her feet hit the floor, he's hard and wide-eyed and no longer has any clue what he should say or do. It wasn't his intention to actually pick up a strange woman in a bar, and he sure as hell didn't know it could be done with introductions alone. Then again, his experience in this area is well over a decade out of date, so maybe it's done this way all the time these days.

That seems unlikely.

She smiles at him. They're nearly the same height, and she isn't blonde like his wife or brunette like Lisbon. When he looks at her, he just sees her: red hair and gloss-slick mouth and clinging black top, all of it.

"Patrick," she says, and he shivers, actually shivers -- something about his name in her voice, he still isn't sure what it is. "Do you want to get out of here?"

Does he? Yes. Wait, no -- he's here with Cho and Rigsby, he'd only come over to flirt a little to shut them up, he's not -- but she's--

"Patrick?"

It hits him, suddenly, what's so intoxicating about that word.

This woman -- Denise -- she doesn't recognize him. She's never seen him on television or read about him on the internet; she doesn't know who he is. When he introduced himself, she learned his name for the first time. They really and truly are two strangers in a bar, and that makes him want to leave with her -- because she doesn't know about his failures and tragedies, and thus maybe those things wouldn't be in the room with them. Maybe they'd be alone.

She touches his hand, questioning -- and goes still, fingers curling around the slim band on his ring finger.

That one touch is as effective as ten cold showers.

"I'm sorry," he says, backing away, nearly stumbling as he goes. "I'm sorry -- you're lovely, really -- I'm sorry."

The boys have a beer waiting for him when he gets back. He takes a long, needy drink, swallowing so quickly he doesn't taste whatever swill they've paid for, and the world's edges soften and blur in one long pull of cheap alcohol.

After that, he nurses it. Cho and Rigsby don't say anything for a while, projecting the thinnest possible illusions of ignorance.

Predictably, Rigsby breaks first.

"Have you ever thought about taking it off?" Rigsby gestures to Patrick's left hand, currently curled around his slowly warming bottle of Pabst.

"No." Patrick doesn't have to stop to consider his answer; he knows it for sure, instinctively. "Not once."

"Shit, man," Rigsby says, and waves for the waiter. "That deserves some fucking tequila."

"Get lemons," Cho says, and claps Patrick on the back.

Patrick smiles and finds that he means it, that a knot of tension is unraveling between his shoulders.

These are his friends, and he's grateful for both of them, whether they realize it or not.

 


 

 

Pre-Lisbon holds a hand to his nose, trying to stem the flow of blood.

"You psychotic son of a bitch," he says, wincing each time his words pull at his split lip. "What good are you, anyway? At least when you were faking it, I could play along -- fuck if I know what to do with you now."

"I'm here to help," Patrick says, one arm pressed tight to an ache in his side. "I helped before."

"You were psychic before," Pre-Lisbon says, not seeming to realize the inherent contradictions in every other word that comes out of his mouth.

"No, I wasn't." Patrick presses his arm in a bit tighter. "I was just intuitive."

Pre-Lisbon meets his eyes again, at that. "What, and I'm not intuitive?"

"No, actually," Patrick says. "Not like me. I'm better at it than you. You need me."

That's what gets him the black eye.

 


 

 

"Watch closely," Patrick says. "Van Pelt? Are you watching?"

"Yes," Grace says, staring at him with the same intensity she gives chocolate and crime scenes. She stares as he shows her his empty hands, stares as he reaches toward one side of her face -- and laughs, eyes wide, smile wider, as he pulls her wristwatch out of her ear.

The real trick happened half an hour ago, when he got her watch off her wrist -- but if he told her that, she'd be looking for it next time, and then he'd lose out on an opportunity to make her smile like this again. Lisbon still reacts to his tricks with the same mixture of disbelief and surprise, but Grace is sweeter; Grace is, truth be told, an easier mark. He likes that about her.

He likes that about Rigsby, too, which is why he palmed Rigsby's cell phone earlier.

"Come on, Rigsby," he says, dropping Grace's watch onto her outstretched hand. "You next."

Rigsby hops to his feet, all too eager to be fooled.

 


 

 

Kimball Cho's handshake is brief, but firm. "Hey. Heard you kicked the crap out of McNally."

"Crap was kicked on both sides, I think," Patrick says, well aware of how absurd his face looks.

Cho and Lisbon exchange a look, one that tells Patrick they've been working together for a while.

"Well, I hope you got one good shot in, anyway." Cho says, and then that look of secret, shared amusement is turned toward him, drawing him in, their body language shifting to include him. Lisbon's smile flickers on and off, quick and guilty; Cho's is matter-of-fact, little more than a thin, slanting line. "Come on -- Minelli wants us to brief you on our current case."

They turn as one, walking away, clearly expecting Patrick to follow.

He does.

It's too soon to tell yet if he likes these people or not, but already, he wants to. He thinks he will.