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Halo Braid

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It’s a beautiful day outside, the kind of day that serves to remind a person why they live in California in the first place. It’s February, which means in Idaho it’s probably snowing, or at least cold enough that the breath would fog up in front of your face, but in Northern California, it’s sixty-five and sunny and Grace can’t think of a more compelling example of why she moved than this one. The only unfortunate thing about today is that she currently finds herself unable to enjoy the beauty of it. This is due to a combination of factors, including the absolute mile-high pile of paperwork monopolizing most of the surface area of her desk, the hair that keeps falling over into her face, and the splint around her left wrist making accomplishing anything requiring a moderate amount of two-handed dexterity impossible. 

None of these things, Grace has long since irritatedly pieced out, would be quite so disruptive on their own. However, in concert, they together form an assortment of circumstances capable of completely ruining a person’s afternoon. It doesn’t help that just about everyone else is out doing something actually useful right now. The office had received a call, not too long ago, requesting assistance with a take-down related to a case with joint jurisdiction between the CBI and the local PD, right there in Sacramento. Lisbon, Cho, and Rigsby all left immediately, grabbing jackets and shooting her varying levels of sympathetic looks as they walked past her desk. Of course, she couldn’t go with them. The accident when the suspect they were chasing ran her car off the road a few days ago, and the paramedics had said she was lucky to escape with nothing more than a sprained wrist and a bruise on her side. 

Right now, Grace does not feel very lucky. Because while her team are out if not on a fun assignment then at least an interesting one, she is stuck in the same building she sees every day of her career with the CBI. Doing paperwork. She’s not particularly happy with the arrangement, and to literally add insult to injury, her hair won’t stay out of her face. 

Despite the relative cool of the day outside, their office building heats easily. Rigsby had attempted to explain the thermodynamics of why once, but Grace had only been nominally paying attention, and judging by the look on Lisbon’s face, he’d only been at most partially right about it. Whatever the science of it is, the practical reality is that whenever the sun is out, the temperature in the CBI building goes up, no matter how hot it actually is. To combat this, the air conditioning kicks on easily, and is currently chugging merrily along, blowing wisps of Grace’s hair into her face every time she manages to successfully shake it behind her head again. It tickles her nose, gets in her eyes, and keeps sticking to her chapstick, and on top of the rest of her day, the pain in her wrist and the indignity of being left behind in the office, it’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

“Oh for the love of…” she snaps, dropping her pen to the surface of her desk with an irritated thunk, and shoving at her errant hair with her good hand. Normally, she would just put it up, snag an elastic from her desk drawer and throw it into a bun or at least a ponytail, but with the cumbersome brace in the way, she only has effective use of one of her hands. 

“Having trouble?”

The question, mild toned and just a shade amused, reminds her that, while Rigsby, Cho, and Lisbon have abandoned her to be tormented by the air vent over her desk and a mountain of backlogged paperwork, Grace isn’t actually alone in the office. Jane is still there. He’s reclining on his ratty couch with his hands tucked behind his head, the magazine previously over his face, blocking the light from his eyes, now fallen down to splay carelessly over his chest. Being wholly unnecessary to the task of assisting local PD in an arrest for a case already at its conclusion, Jane’s bid to be brought along had been swiftly shot down, leaving him to languish back in the office with Grace and her bum wrist. 

“It’s the vent,” she explains, pointing at it with the pen she’s rescued from the precipice of the desk’s edge just as it was about to roll onto the floor. “It’s right over me and cause of my stupid wrist I can’t keep my hair from blowing into my face and it’s driving me crazy.” 

Jane studies her for a long moment with one of those odd looks he gets sometimes, the ones she can never sort through, and always leave her feeling like he knows something he isn’t supposed to and wasn’t told. He sits up eventually, shifting from being laid flat out on his back to perching on the edge of a cushion with more dignity than should reasonably be possible. 

“I can braid it for you, if you want.” At the confusion on her face, he indicates with a hand, elaborating, “Your hair. Get it out of your way.” His eyes are bright and honest and crinkled at the edges with a slight smile, and the look on his face stops her in her tracks for a moment. For someone who is so prone to lying and obfuscating and spinning straw into fool’s gold, Patrick Jane can sometimes be so painstakingly genuine that it makes Grace’s chest hurt. 

It seems that it’s caught her off guard and thrown her for a loop for long enough that Jane’s taken her silence to mean something it doesn’t, and he lowers his hand, saying, “I’m sorry, if it makes you uncomfortable-”

“No,” she says quickly. There is nothing more she wants in the world right now than to have her freaking hair out of her freaking face, and the idea of Jane braiding it for her isn’t anywhere near as odd as it probably should be. “No, that’s… I would like that, thank you.”

Smiling wider, seeming actually pleased by the acceptance of his offer, Jane scoots back on the couch, indicating the floor in front of it. Feeling kind of silly, and glad for the first time that basically nobody else is in the office, especially their section of it, Grace walks over and sits on the section of floor he’d indicated. She shifts around a bit, getting comfortable on the carpet, feeling Jane shift in turn behind her, scooting forward to be able to reach her with some ease.

Jane starts by combing his fingers through her hair, laying it out behind her and making sure there are no snags or tangles likely to make his goal unexpectedly harder later down the road. When he encounters one, he’s cautious to a degree exceeding what Grace amusedly thinks is necessary, pulling them gently out until he can comb through it without any resistance. The longer it goes on, the less odd the whole thing feels, sitting here on the floor with Jane sitting behind her on the couch, separating her hair out into sections. 

It isn’t entirely clear what, exactly, Jane is doing with her hair, given he’s seemed to decide to start on one side of her head, isolating sections that don’t make sense for a standard, straight down the back of one’s neck braid. She lets him without question, though, because there’s something unexplainably comforting in laying your head against someone’s knee and letting them carefully weave your hair into something beautiful. Grace’s mother used to do her hair, twist and pull it into elaborate updos for school dances and relative’s weddings. She’d lean close and whisper that they had the same hair her mother had, and her mother before her, generations of women with bright red hair, like the opposite of a family curse. 

“Do you have a hair tie?” Jane asks, voice quiet like he’s trying to avoid breaking some unspokenly agreed upon atmosphere, the pleasant calm that’s settled between them.

Grace hums in response, holding it up to him with one listless hand, and letting her eyes close. Jane’s hands continue to work, carefully and competently, and she wonders in a drifting, heart-squeezing thought if maybe he used to braid his daughter’s hair, when the girl was still alive. He had to have learned this somewhere, and he clearly knows what he’s doing. At the thought, Grace feels suddenly like she’s being allowed to see something personal and private, the kind of quiet ritual of care reserved for family. Logically, she knows how he sees them - it’s not hard to figure out. But knowing this logically is different than gradually leaning more and more of her weight against his leg, his fingers expertly twisting her hair into a braid around her head.

After a while, Jane taps her shoulder, holding the half-completed braid at the back of her head. Getting the message without having it spelled out for her, she sits up and leans to the other side, allowing him access to work on the other half of her head. The two of them have barely spoken the entire time, and Grace doesn’t mind at all. She’s enjoying this easy, calm quiet, and can feel her frustration at the day melting out of her by the minute. 

By the time Jane decides he’s done, securing the final result with the hair tie, Grace is half asleep. She sits up slowly, shoulder feeling suddenly cold where she’d been leaning against his leg. Reaching up, she feels around her head, trying to get a picture of what it looks like and can’t quite seem to manage it. 

There’s a compact in her bag, sitting beside her desk, and Grace pushes herself up off the ground. It takes her feet a moment to feel steady under her, and she crosses the distance separating the couch and her desk feeling like she’s just gotten off a ship or up from a nap. The compact, once opened, shows her the band of careful braiding, weaving around and disappearing behind her head. It’s beautiful, really, nothing she would’ve been able to do by herself, sprained wrist or no. 

“Thank you,” she says, the words a little surprised, a little more emotional than she’d really expected them to be. Jane smiles back at her, crows feet showing again beside shining eyes.

“You’re welcome, Grace,” he says simply, without grandstanding or embellishment.

Grace sits back down at her desk and Jane lays back down on his couch, and things nominally return to the way they’d been before. But something feels different. Grace looks over at the window, the sun shining warm and optimistic outside, and though her wrist aches and the brace is itchy, it’s easier to ignore now that it’s not actively preventing her from dealing with a persistent problem. She turns back to her paperwork, pulling the next form off the stack and beginning to fill it out, and feeling relieved once again that the wrist that got busted up in the crash was the left rather than the right. Out of the corner of her eye, she sees Jane pull his magazine back up over his face, snorting a little when she notes the title. 

When the rest of the team returns from the arrest, Grace is almost done with her stack of paperwork - and pretty sure her pen is running out of ink - and she can’t quite tell, but thinks Jane might be asleep under his four-month-old copy of Better Homes and Gardens. The chatter between Rigsby and Lisbon stops when they enter the crowd of desks and set eyes on Grace, turning to face them.

“You braided your hair,” Lisbon says, sounding surprised, which is reasonable, given it’s rather intricately done and Grace has use of maybe one and a half hands at the moment. “It’s a halo braid, how did you do that?”

“I didn’t,” Grace answers, while Rigsby mouths ‘halo braid’, eyebrows scrunched together in the way that means he’s trying to understand a different language. Cho has walked around her desk and is studying the back of the hairdo, making her feel a little self conscious. “Jane did, actually.” 

“It’s nice work,” Lisbon directs at him, and one hand lifts from the couch, flashing a thumbs up disproving Grace’s theory that he was no longer conscious. She returns her attention to Grace and asks, “Have you seen the back?” 

“No, I’ve just got the one mirror.”

Another mirror is retrieved from Rigsby’s desk, who unnecessarily defends its presence by explaining that his tie gets crooked way too often not to have one on hand, and Lisbon and Rigsby use the two to show her what the rest of the hairstyle looks like. It’s like Jane’s made a crown out of her hair, a simple braid wound around to the back of her head where the excess has been braided as well and twisted into a bun. She has the thought that she’s absolutely not going to even dream of hiring someone to do her hair for her wedding if she can just ask Jane to do it like this again, twisting this way and that to see all of it. 

Through the admiration of his handiwork, Jane doesn’t move from the couch or lift the magazine from his face. If she didn’t know any better, Grace would think he was a little flustered at the praise. 

Things calm down pretty quickly, Grace abandoning the last of her paperwork to hear the story of the jointly executed arrest the other three had left to assist with earlier. It seems to have gone well, the risk and difficulty rather over-assessed, Cho commenting that they hadn’t even all needed to be there. Rigsby got lost on the way to the location and the arrest was finished by the time he found the right address. It’s a funny thought, the look that must have been on his face, and the way Cho can’t avoid smirking over the memory now, and though she’d have loved to be there, she finds she’s rather okay with how things turned out here, regardless.

The air conditioning continues to hum away above her, and for the rest of the day, Grace’s hair doesn’t get in her face again.