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The Kissing Booth

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Teresa joined the line and looked back at her friends with a nervous smile. They were huddled together, giggling. Teresa wasn't the giggling type. She felt a pang of disconnection. She didn't see these friends very often. She shouldn't have to work so hard to enjoy herself.

But as she watched Jessica throw back her head and laugh, wearing her cheap plastic tiara, she let go of her denial. Apparently, Jess was getting married next week. Even though she didn't know until today and she wasn't invited to the event, Teresa was somehow roped into this sham of a bachelorette party. It was supposed to be a casual reunion with college friends, but now it was a make-Jess-happy excursion. She kind of wanted to scream.

She turned back around, realized her hands were balled into fists. She stretched each finger out as she breathed. They were at a carnival, the press of people and the sounds of the midway helped her relax. At least for a few minutes she didn't have to put on a fake smile. She told herself that she wasn't joining this line for Jess, or anyone else. Her curiosity had won out. Cheap thrills were good for something, at best the story would give her something to talk about at work tomorrow.

It was a group of older ladies in front of her, waiting for their turn. They were giggling too, but their amusement made Teresa smile. It was all a bit ridiculous. It had been quite a surprise to find a kissing booth in the middle of everything. She thought these things were outdated, practically asking for a lawsuit. It was a small booth tucked in between mini donuts and cotton candy. It was only big enough for one person to stand behind, a small counter top for his ticket box, and a sign to advertise his wares. It simply read "KISSES" in old-timey carnival font, with a pair of cartoon lips on each side.

The line in front of her suddenly cleared as the last person in their party moved up to the front. She got her first clear look at the booth attendant, a patient smile on his face as the lady gripped his hand and started chattering about how good looking and wholesome he was.

Teresa turned slightly to hide her smirk. He was a good looking guy, no doubt. Even as a rookie cop she knew that such appearances were deceiving, especially in a carnival worker. He had one of those faces that made him look younger than he was, smooth cheekbones and slight dimples at the corners of his mouth. He was probably a couple years older than she was, in his mid twenties. His blond curls were carefully tamed to project the perfect air of innocence. He wore a white button up shirt and a steel blue vest. No tie, and he had a couple of buttons undone in deference to the heat.

The lady pulled him down for a sloppy, yet brief, kiss in the middle of her tirade. He continued smiling and nodding as she held his face and wiped the moisture away with her thumbs. Her friends tittered and poked at her, encouraging her to move along. He waved after them until their attention shifted. He spritzed some mouthwash, applied some lip balm, and stretched his neck in a slow circle. Then he turned his full attention to Teresa. His eyes actually sparkled and she felt like they were somehow sharing an inside joke.

A stray sunbeam suddenly highlighted his hair from behind, making it look like he had a halo. A slow grin spread across his face. She knew then that she was doomed. The full weight of his charm made her suddenly nervous. She didn't know what to say, what to do. Her mouth went dry. She stepped forward, an uneasy smile in place. No one had joined the line behind her, and this small bubble in the middle of the crowd felt too intimate. She offered up her ticket meekly, tried not to shy away as his fingers brushed against hers. His smile widened.

"Good afternoon," he said breezily. He placed the ticket on the booth between them. "I'm Patrick."

"Hi. So... how do we do this?"

"First timer?" he winked.

"Yes. I mean, no, but..." she caught the amusement in his expression and blushed. "You know what I mean."

"Of course. A beautiful, confident woman such as yourself. I bet you have them lining up to ask you out."

She raised her eyebrows at the obvious line and he continued.

"But that's why your friends put you up to this, isn't it? They're all in serious relationships, but you don't have time for that. Married to the job?" He gestured past her towards her friends and gave them a little wave of acknowledgment. She heard them laughing.

She wasn't sure anymore if he was hitting on her or making fun of her, but was too caught off guard by his accurate observations to be upset. "How do you-?"

"Let me guess. Former classmates. You hit the books, they liked to party."

"Yeah, actually. Well, I wasn't the only studier, but the other ones didn't come."

"Hmm, makes sense, really."

She leaned in. "How did you know that?"

"This isn't my usual gig." He grinned again, showing off perfect white teeth. She forgot to breathe for a second. "I run a psychic show."

Teresa snorted out a laugh. "Yeah right. I suppose you're reading my mind right now?"

He held her gaze and winced slightly. "Yes. And you don't need to scream so loudly. Your friends want a show, but I'm not so heartless. If you don't want to kiss me, we can do it another way."

She blinked at him, flummoxed. "This is a kissing booth. I gave you my ticket."

Without looking away he placed one finger on the ticket between them and slid it an inch closer to her. "It's just paper, you can have it back. Or." Her drifting eyes snapped back to him. "I am freed from this slice of heaven in one hour. One ticket gets you a behind the scenes tour."

Was he really hitting on her? This was too much. "Are you seriously asking me out right now?"

"Carnivals are supposed to be fun places. What's the best thing you've done today?"

"I—" she struggled to come up with something, anything.

"I can offer free funnel cakes, and as many rounds at the shooting gallery as you want. Among other things."

She tilted her head at him, taken aback by his accurate assessment of her. "How — "

"Kiss him already, Tee!" one of her friends called out. The rest started chanting. "Kiss him, kiss him, kiss him."

Teresa rolled her eyes at them.

"Our time draws to a close, they want their show."

"You said I didn't have to — ?"

He beckoned her closer and leaned in to whisper in her ear. She held back a shiver as his hot, minty breath tickled her cheek. "The bride-to-be over there with the tiara… she's totally into me. You could let her have your ticket. It would be just like that time she slept with your boyfriend and stole him from under your nose."

His words evoked a particular sense of anger that she had locked away and forcefully reburied multiple times, most recently this morning. Three years, and the pain still ran deep. Her vision flashed red and she lashed out without thinking. She punched him, square in the nose. His head shot back and he brought his hands up to tent the injury. Her friends burst into laughter across the way, bringing her back to herself. Lisbon looked at him with horror at what she'd done.

Patrick produced a handkerchief and tended to his nose calmly while she battled with her emotions. What kind of man was this that could charm her one minute and provoke her the next? It was like he could see right through her. Most embarrassing, it went against her training to let her emotions control her that way. Why did she let him get under her skin? She stared at her fingers as she flexed them slowly. Her knuckles were red and inflamed, like his face. "I'm so sorry," she choked out.

"Don't be," he joked, his voice muffled. "That was way more entertaining for your friends." He winced as he prodded a sore spot. "Remind me not to make you mad at me ever again. How do you still hang out with her?"

His easy going reply could have caused whiplash as her thoughts reordered themselves and veered towards realization. "You... wanted me to hit you?" she asked in disbelief.

"Every good show benefits from a beautiful assistant." He winked at her. "Don't worry, I'll be fine." He sniffed and removed his handkerchief, then produced a water bottle and promptly fumbled it, launching it over the counter towards her feet. "So sorry," he smiled weakly. "Can you get that for me?"

As she put it back on the counter, her friends came up to collect her, pulling her away while they laughed.

"What did he say to you?"

"Worst kissing booth evar!"

Teresa looked back. Patrick was watching her like a hawk. "One hour," he mouthed, pointing up at the sign enthusiastically. He was still interested in her, after all that? She flexed her hand and turned away to hide her smile.

Chapter Text

Forty-five minutes later, Teresa was getting antsy. She had decided first thing that she wasn't going to meet with Patrick. Why would she? She had a very brief casual encounter with a good looking man. It was entertaining, surprising, and definitely the good story she was hoping for. But she was with her friends, and she really did want to have a good time with them. Patrick was a stranger, the unknown, all the more dangerous because he was charming. He could probably talk his way into anything. She wasn't going to fall for it.

But as the minutes ticked closer to the hour, she was struggling. The memory that Patrick had managed to dredge up wasn't helping. She couldn't look at Jess with her perfect hair and her shrill laugh, without the anger threatening to rise again. Jess really had made this day about herself, dragging the group to the most boring booths and making them hang on her every whim.

Teresa was withdrawing, trailing at the back of the pack, and no one seemed to notice. When she realized that she had just looked at her watch for the fifth time in two minutes, she stuffed her hand in her pockets and forced herself to smile at the most recent joke. A slip of paper poked at her hand. She pulled it out.

It was her ticket from the kissing booth. Something was written on it, in very small neat letters. She peered at it. "In the end you only regret the things you didn't do." She suddenly felt very warm. It must be from Patrick, but when did he have the opportunity to put it in her pocket? Charming, handsome, intelligent, nimble fingers. And that smile. She checked her watch again. It had been just over an hour since she met him. She felt a tingle of anticipation and knew that she had to go.

"Teresa, you okay?" Britt was always the sweet one. She had noticed Teresa lagging behind and came to check on her.

She flashed her first genuine smile in an hour. "Yeah, I just noticed the time. I need to get going."

"Really? Are you sure?"

"Yeah. It was good to see you."

Britt leaned in for a weak hug. "We'll have to keep in touch this year."

"I'll text you," Teresa responded with an equally false platitude. "Maybe we can do coffee."

"Oh, Teresa, leaving so soon?" Jess chimed in. The others had turned back and were clustered around them.

Her smile turned into a grimace. "Yeah. Uh, good luck with the wedding and all. Good to see everyone."

"Next year?" a few of them asked.

Teresa stayed non-committal and made her excuses, more and more aware of the ticking clock. Would he wait for her? Did she want him to? She couldn't turn back now.

She had to fight through a growing crowd to get back to the booth. She was frantic for a moment, unable to find it. The mini donuts and the cotton candy were in their correct places, which means the kissing booth should be... there was a booth there, she could just see the sign post sticking out, but it wasn't decorated anymore, nearly invisible in the middle of the red and white awnings. She weaved her way over to it.

A family with two young boys was clustered there, along with a couple others standing apart, watching raptly as Patrick fanned a deck of cards in front of them. He smiled as soon as she approached without taking his eyes from the cards. "Last one," he breathed, and brought the cards down so he was eye level with one of the children. "Pick a card, any card."

The boy carefully pulled out one of the cards and looked at it. His mother leaned over to help him. They conferred together while Patrick gave them some instruction. Within a couple of minutes he had shuffled the card back into the deck, lacing them together with a well practiced hand. He kept up a constant stream of banter, replying easily to the kids ideas. By the time he had produced the correct card from the dad's shirt pocket, Teresa was completely drawn in.

"That's all I've got, folks. Thanks for visiting the carnival on this lovely day!"

One of the boys turned to his mother and whispered in her ear. She nodded and gave him a couple dollars from her pocket. The child promptly dropped it in a tip jar on the booth. Patrick looked at him with exaggerated wide eyes. "For me? You are so generous. Hold on, don't go just yet." He dug into his pockets, looking increasingly perplexed. "Where did I put that," he muttered loudly. Then he snapped his fingers and reached out to the boy's ear. He produced a shiny quarter and turned it in front of his face, catching the light. "I forgot I put it there, would you like to have it?" The boy nodded eagerly and took it.

His younger brother tugged on his mother next, and the whole scene was soon repeated. The family walked away with two beaming children clutching their new quarters.

With his audience dispersed, Patrick fluidly emptied the tip jar and stashed the money away while he came around the booth to Teresa. He smiled at her warmly. "Hey, you. I was hoping you wouldn't get cold feet."

"What happened to the Kissing Booth?"

"It's not exactly a formal attraction. It's, uh, closed up for now."

"It's your own personal pick up booth, huh?"

Patrick studied her carefully, but she didn't have any heat behind her words. She was teasing him, and it did strange things to his stomach. "Actually, it was my penance for a prank gone wrong." He shrugged. "I was left holding the stick, so I got to sit in the hot seat."

"Doesn't seem like much of a punishment."

He sighed dramatically. "There is a double standard in kissing booths. Put a beautiful woman up there, sky is the limit. Pretty much anyone can line up and no one thinks anything odd about it. But a handsome man like myself," he paused to accent his words, "must be a creeper or have ulterior motives - like you just alluded to. There was a smattering of eligible young women, but mostly I had to chase off the teenagers and indulge a lot of old ladies. Plus I don't get any of the money from ticket sales."

"Where does the money go? Aren't these things usually for charity?"

His lips quirked. "Only if your definition of Charity is a particular sad clown with a water squirting flower."

She blinked. "Wait. Do you mean an actual clown?"

"Yes," he grinned. "We're having a bit of a prank war with the clowns. With this defeat, I'm afraid the tides have turned against us."

She ducked her head in amusement. "Sounds extravagant. What were you trying to do?"

"Nothing to brag about. I mean, it would have been." He shrugged and gestured towards the funnel cakes, effectively changing the subject. "Shall we?" They walked together, his hand on the small of her back seared into her awareness. The line was long, but he steered her around to the back. There was a small patch of green space where the crowds didn't go. He knocked on the door, had a brief conversation and they soon each had their own piping hot confection.

Teresa dug into the first messy bite, powdered sugar all over her face. She moaned her approval and gave a thumbs up. "This is so good."

Patrick watched her with amusement, his own funnel cake untouched. "You never told me your name."

Teresa swallowed and licked her fingers. "Nuh-uh. If you're really psychic, you can figure that out on your own."

"Easy enough." He grinned. "Is that why you came back? To investigate my psychic powers?"

"Why did you make me hit you?" His nose was still a little red and swollen.

"Ah, your most pressing mystery." He shrugged. "You were nervous, coming to the booth wasn't your idea. Seemed like the chivalrous thing to do."

"You could have had me kiss your cheek instead. It would have hurt less."

"Not as good of a show though." He tilted his head at her. "Did things get better with your friends?"

She shook her head as she finished chewing another bite. "It's always like this at reunions though, isn't it? The people you really want to see are the ones that live too far away or don't make time to come. I don't know why I bothered."

"I'm glad you did." He said softly, and was rewarded with a slight blush. "This was a sorority meeting?"

"Seriously, did you look me up?"

"How would I? I don't know your name." Her funnel cake was almost gone, she started to pick at the remains. He took a large bite of his own, making quick work of it. He wiped his face and hands on a napkin and squared himself with her. He rolled his shoulders. "Okay, mind calibration. Are you ready? Feeling awake, mentally alert?"

She laughed. "What is this?"

"If I'm going to read your mind, I just need to do this quick thing."

"I thought you were already inside my head?"

"That was an emotional reading. I have to go deeper to get your name. You worried? Too many secrets?"

She shook her head, then straightened herself. "Okay, what do you got?"

"Fantastic. Okay. I want you to imagine a screen between you and I." He drew a rectangle between them with the pointer finger of each hand. "On that screen I want you to project a basic shape like a square, but not a square." As he spoke his hands framed a loose triangle with his thumbs and forefingers. "Got it?"

"Okay."

"Lock it in. Now I want you to project another shape and put that shape around the shape you already have." His hands flashed into a circle as he spoke, demonstrating.

She considered briefly. "Okay."

"Excellent. Here's the fun part. Now concentrate and project that onto the back of my mind. Look right here." He held one finger out towards her, then moved it closer to himself, his other hand at the back of his head. "Open up your mind and send it to me." He wiggled his fingers for effect as she gazed at him. "Okay, now I'm starting to feel it." More pausing for dramatic effect. "It's a triangle inside a circle."

"No."

"It's not?" His face twisted in disbelief.

"No," she deadpanned. "I was thinking of an octagon inside a rectangle."

He peered into her face, then called her out. "Liar."

"All right. All right, you got me," she conceded. "How did you do that?"

"Oh, that's nothing. That's just the calibration. Now I have access to all your innermost thoughts."

"Yeah, right."

"I'm serious." He held his pinched fingers by his forehead and closed his eyes. "I'm getting... a 'T'" He watched her eyes widen and smiled with satisfaction. "The rest is still a little fuzzy."

"Fuzzy? That's what you're going with?"

"Settle down, now. It's like getting the right prescription for glasses, I'll get there."

"You mean you need to get to know me better. Nothing psychic in that. My friends call me "Tee" sometimes, you probably overheard that much. Is that the best you can do?"

"Wow. You are definitely the oldest child. Two bro —," he narrowed his eyes, "Nope, that's three brothers." He spread his arms wide in apology. "I don't have siblings, give me a chance here. I'm just getting started, Tee." She closed her mouth as he pulled a scrap of paper from one of his pockets. "Do you have a pen?" As she dug into her purse he added, "Or pencil, not picky." She held up a pen and he gave her the paper then stepped back. "Great. You stay right there, don't want you to accuse me of cheating or anything," he gestured towards her, "Write your name on the paper."

She looked around for a good writing surface, then held the paper up against the food booth. "Why can't I just think about it, like before?"

"Names are trickier than shapes. I could go through the alphabet if you want, but this way has pyrotechnics."

"Fire helps you read my mind?"

"Oh yes. Fire always helps."

"Okay," she conceded again. She blocked her paper with her other hand while she wrote. "No peeking."

"Don't need to," he said easily.

She looked up when she was done. "Now what?"

"Fold it twice and put it in my hand," he instructed, holding his hand out towards her. She placed it gingerly in his palm and stepped back warily, but didn't take her eyes off him. He smiled again. "Concentrate with me, think about the letters on that paper." He shivered through his whole body, then clapped his other hand on top of it, startling her. "Nearly there, you have excellent penmanship. Just need to burn it into focus."

His hands slid gracefully in opposite directions and a flash of fire flared from the pinched fingers of his right hand. Even with the warning, she yelped and stepped back. He flourished and let the ashes fall, then met her eyes warmly. "Nice to meet you, Teresa."

"Impressive,' she said genuinely. "Is that part of your act?"

"Nah," he brushed off her praise. "Used to be, that's kid stuff now. I've moved on to bigger and better things."

"Kid stuff? How long have you been with the carnival?"

"All my life. I was born to it."

Her mouth dropped. "You're kidding me. That's really a thing?"

"Oh yes. I was assisted into this world by a juggler and a trapeze artist. Off the clock, thankfully. At least I had good timing."

"You're serious?" He suddenly seemed bashful under her appraisal. She changed her expression, made it more reassuring. "It's like a big family for you, isn't it?"

"In some ways."

"Well then, you probably know all the best acts and can get in anywhere. I bet you could run this place."

He shook his head. "No way, wouldn't want to. The easy money is in big metal — the rides draw the crowds and set the tone. It's too much work coordinating all that. Still, I can definitely show you a good time. You still interested in the shooting gallery?"

"Why do you think I am?" Again she wasn't judging, just curious.

He shrugged. "You know your way around guns. It's something familiar, but with a carnival spin. A challenge."

"Wait. How do you know I know how to shoot?"

"Oh, that's not a psychic thing. Every carny knows how to identify a cop. There's something about your stance."

She crossed her arms defensively. "I'm confused. Are you messing with me?"

"Why would I mess with you, knowing that you're a cop?"

"Most people who know how to detect a cop on sight don't do it because they want to hang out with them."

"Point taken." He held a knuckle to his lip, thinking.

"You were blowing hot and cold at the booth. Hitting on me one minute, making me hit you the next. I'm not even sure why I'm here."

"I assume you're not speaking in the philosophical sense." She cocked her head and glared at him. "Is there a question somewhere in there?"

"You manipulated me, made me hit you."

"I wanted to help you. I set myself up for it, got the laughs, why are you fixating on it? I'm fine."

"I don't need your help."

"Okay."

"This is never going to work," she huffed. "I should go."

"Wait." He came closer to her, reached out to her. She stopped, but shied away from his touch, wouldn't look at him. "Sometimes I have to shake things up to get a better read on a situation. It backfires sometimes — you think I'm hot and cold, or just mean-spirited — but it's low risk. Usually. I'm not invested. But you keep surprising me. You have a certain intensity that is rattling my psychic abilities. I'm intrigued, I want to know more. That's why I'm here. I don't care that you're a cop."

"You've already figured out so much about me. How have I surprised you?"

He shrugged. "Most women are slappers. I can roll with a slap, I have that all figured out. I did not see that punch coming." He smiled. "And I know you're a skeptic. I wasn't sure I'd done enough to convince you to come back. But here you are. I was hoping I intrigued you too."

"You're a good liar. Have to be. Why should I trust you, that you're not setting me up somehow?"

His gaze turned cold. "You came to my playground. Maybe I should be concerned about your intentions."

Her eyes cut away from him. "No, you're right, that was unfair of me. I'm sorry. Recently every guy who shows interest in me changes their mind when they find out about my job." She leaned into him then, searched his face. "I just... I could really use a fun afternoon. You still offering? Want to start over?"

He didn't hesitate. "Hi, I'm Patrick." He closed his eyes and pursed his lips for a kiss.

She pushed his face away with a laugh. "You like to push it, don't you?"

"Usually." He grinned at her. "But don't worry, I never kiss on the first date."

"We're really calling it a date? All right. Anyway, that's clearly a lie."

"You can't possibly know that."

"I have my ways." She looked so smug, back in better spirits. It looked good on her.

"Tell you what. No tricks, no games. You're in control, I won't make the first move."

"No manipulations? No mind games? No making me think it's my idea?"

He shook his head with a smile. "Trust me, Teresa."

He accented the second syllable of her name, caressing it with his tongue. Her eyes were drawn to his mouth, curved into that smile that made him look both innocent and mischievous in the best way possible. She was so in trouble. She shook herself out of it. "How did you figure out my name?"

"I. Am. A. Psychic." He enunciated, leaning closer to her than was necessary. "Are you going to ask me these questions every time I do something amazing? I'll be nice and answer this one. Just once." He bent down and picked up some dirt and ash with one hand. He closed his fist over it, held it up to his forehead, muttered a bit, then brought it down to his mouth and opened just enough to blow a stream of dust back out. It sparkled like glitter. He peered into his fist, then poked at it with his other hand. A familiar piece of paper emerged, with her handwriting on it. "There, you see? You wrote it down for me."

She snatched it and studied the folds of the paper, one corner looked a little singed. "Clever. How did you-?"

"Kid. Stuff." He extended his elbow towards her. "May I accompany you to the shooting gallery?"

She smiled up at him and curled her fingers around his arm. "Sure. Why not?"

Chapter Text

They turned a corner and the noise increased, bells and buzzers mixed in with the hum of the crowd. There were rows of booths with matching red and white awning, prizes hanging down from the ceilings or strapped to wire grids. Once again Patrick led her from behind, his hand warm on her back. It was a subtle weight, but somehow intimate while still giving her space.

All the classics were here — ring toss, skeeball, darts and balloons, strongman games. Eventually, they arrived in front of a shooting gallery. There were three stations, each one with it's own set of metal targets, some stationary and some that moved from side to side on tracks. A long, sturdy counter ran the full length of the gallery with a post and chain attached to each air rifle. It was older equipment, shooting actual pellets that made the targets flip down when struck. An adjoining booth held the prizes, supplies, and the attendant.

Some teenagers finished their turn, without much success. They grumbled and moved on. The attendant reset the targets and unchained the guns. He put them behind the booth, then turned to find himself at the mercy of Patrick's smile. He looked between the two of them uneasily.

Patrick held out a ticket. "Your best rifle, please, Frank."

Frank had a couple days' worth of stubble, a long handlebar mustache, and a blue bowler hat that was just a little too small. "Patrick, long time!" he said genially, then frowned and stabbed a finger at him. "I'm not changing our deal," his tone left no room for discussion.

"Of course not. It's for the lady." He waved the ticket at him. "Got some honest money for you."

Frank snatched the ticket and held it up to the light. He snapped it and dropped it into the slot of a locked box. He selected a rifle from a rack and latched it into place in front of one of the gallery stations with a greasy smile. "Here you go. Thirty pellets, twenty targets. Seven gets you a prize."

Teresa lifted it towards her shoulder to test the weight, but Patrick pulled it towards him and studied the stock. It had the number "five" on it. Patrick shook his head and held it out to Frank. "I said your best. And the good pellets too." When Frank scowled, Patrick sighed and peeled off a bill from a small wad of cash. This went into Frank's pocket, then he turned back to the rifles and chose one that was set apart from the rest. He checked it was loaded, then set it up at a different station before removing the other one.

Patrick glanced it over then nodded for Teresa to take it.

"What was that about?" Teresa asked after Frank shuffled back to the other booth to maintain and reload the used weapons.

"All the rifles are a little off their aim, the sights aren't right. And sometimes he mixes in different pellet weights so they fly differently. This one is the demonstration rifle, so it's set the truest. You'll still need to figure out some adjustments. That's why he keeps swapping out rifles instead of keeping the same ones out all the time or upgrading to newer technologies."

"Complicated. Why doesn't he let you shoot?"

"I've figured out how to adjust for all of them. I never miss."

"Never, huh?"

"Well, he hasn't let me try it in about a decade."

"I bet you've got every game here mastered."

"All the skill based ones. There's always a trick to it, but you can get around it if you know what you're doing."

"Does anyone still let you play?"

"One or two. My priorities have changed a little in the last few years."

She hefted the rifle again and sighted along it. She hummed as she made her observations, then took her first shot. A metal duck went down.

"That's not the one you were aiming for."

"Still counts," she murmured, then took out the whole row without stopping.

"Yeah, okay. Definitely don't want you to get mad at me again."

"I was one of the best shots in my class," she bragged, then shot the rest, every target went down.

Patrick grinned, enjoying her lightness as she relaxed into her environment. "Frank, give me number three," he held out another ticket.

Frank installed a new gun for them, then glared at Patrick.

He rolled his eyes. Teresa bent over the new rifle like it was something to solve. Patrick smiled to see it and leaned closer to her, letting her work it out but wanting to see what she was seeing, to be part of the discovery. He smelled the sweet residue from the funnel cake and his eyes lifted towards her profile. He was distracted by the curve of her neck, the concentration on her features, the-

"Teresa?" a voice came between them. She dropped the gun on the counter and jumped away from Patrick, turning towards the intruder.

"Bosco," she acknowledged, slightly on edge. She put her fingers in her pockets, acting like she'd just been caught doing something wrong. "What are you doing here? Your family with you?"

Patrick noticed the disparity between their greetings, his personal and hers professional.

Bosco had very little hair, sunglasses propped on his head, and a distinct swagger. Someone from work then. He was older than Teresa and by the way she was fidgeting, he had a much higher rank. He turned and ushered a ten year old boy towards them. "I'm doing a mentorship program. This is Josiah. Josiah, this is Teresa. We work together."

"You're a cop too?" he asked enthusiastically.

"Yes I am," she confirmed. "Nice to meet you."

"Hey there, I'm Patrick," he stepped in and offered his hand, first to Josiah, then to Bosco.

Bosco looked at him warily, then shook it. "Hello."

He pointed between himself and Teresa. "I work here at the carnival. I'm just showing Teresa around."

Bosco turned to her. "I thought you had a... reunion thing."

Teresa nodded slowly, but Patrick answered before she could. "It was a bust."

He narrowed his eyes at him. "Is that right? Where did you two meet then? You have a show or something?"

Teresa blushed and Patrick grinned. "Something."

Bosco looked between them and leaned closer to Teresa. "You okay with him?"

"I'm fine," she assured him.

"What's this game?" Josiah stepped in, oblivious to their nuanced discussion.

Teresa was glad for the interruption. "These rifles shoot little pellets, like bullets. You try to hit the targets and knock them all down. Do you want to try it?"

"Can we?" Josiah asked hopefully, craning his neck to look up at Bosco.

"I suppose we could make it a friendly competition." Bosco answered, slyly issuing a challenge.

Teresa waited while they got their stations set up. She noticed Patrick exchange more cash with Frank and suspected he was helping set the kid up for success. it warmed her heart in unexpected ways.

Without discussion, Patrick set himself up as the host of the big event. He stood off to the side with an arm raised, waiting for them to get into position. Bosco paused to set Josiah's rifle properly against his shoulder and indicated to him how to look along the length of it to aim. When they were truly ready, Patrick counted them down and snapped his arm down through the air.

The pellets popped rapidly, accompanied by the pang of the metal targets. Josiah was at the middle station and Patrick hovered between him and Teresa, occasionally stooping to adjust the boy's aim and whisper an encouragement in his ear. When the sounds cleared away, Bosco was bulging with the effort to reign in his language. He had managed to knock down a third of the targets, scattered throughout the lines. "This game is rigged," he finally spluttered.

"Look how well I did, Mr. Bosco!" Josiah had faired better, only missing the ones around the edges.

Teresa stood reserved in front of her gallery. Only two targets remained standing. Patrick gave out a large whoop on her behalf and gave her a high five. "That's amazing!" he congratulated her.

Bolstered by his praise, she challenged her boss. "You need another round to catch up, Bosco?"

The older man eyed Patrick warily. "Did he teach you all his tricks?"

Teresa tilted her head in annoyance. "The sights aren't true."

"No kidding. Figured that one out already."

"Now you know what I know."

"Rifles down, I'll reset the targets," Frank directed.

Teresa and Bosco set aside their guns without looking away from each other. They were caught up in some silent battle of wills. Patrick stood with the boy, watching them intently. When Bosco's expression softened just a little, he spoke up. "One more round like that, we can pool together to get one of those huge stuffed animals."

Josiah looked at the booth's offerings excitedly. "Can we? Can we please, Mr. Bosco?"

"I don't think it would fit in the car," he protested. "Or in your house. What would your mother say, anyway?"

"She loves teddy bears! It's her birthday soon, and they have one in her favorite color."

"You can't say no to that!" Patrick exclaimed.

"Hey, if you're the expert, how come you're not shooting?"

Patrick saluted towards Frank. "Because I'm the expert."

Frank glared at him while he reloaded the rifles. "Same again is extra."

"This rifle is defective. I'm not using it again."

Teresa rolled her eyes. "Each change has a new learning curve."

"You didn't have any trouble."

"What are you implying?"

She glared at her boss and he caved. He rubbed the back of his neck. "I know you're a good shot, Teresa. I'm not so bad myself," he indicated towards the targets. "This just isn't right. It's not fun when it's rigged."

"Okay, hold up," Patrick put himself between them, one hand raised. "Mr. Bosco," he started.

"Sergeant."

"Sergeant Bosco. It's really very easy." His tone was soothing, a coin appeared between his fingers, immediately catching Bosco's attention. It flickered back and forth, catching the light. "Just a minor adjustment and you'll hit all twenty targets. Nothing to it. Nineteen, eighteen. Just need to concentrate, focus on the coin. Seventeen, sixteen. Breathe in, breathe out. Fifteen. Relax." Bosco's expression was blank, his eyes staring past them, all the fight was gone. Patrick waved a hand in front of his face, then reached out and double tapped the man's shoulder. There was no reaction. "That's right," he smiled and stepped back.

The trio looked at Bosco together as he stood motionless.

"What did you do to him?" Teresa asked, slightly alarmed.

"You hypnotized him!" Josiah cheered. "Cool, can you make him cluck like a chicken?"

"What, no!" Teresa was mortified.

But Patrick leaned forward, tapped Bosco's shoulder again and said something softly into his ear. To Teresa's horror, Bosco crouched and bent his arms into wings. His feet scratched at the ground and his head bobbed. His eyes were open wide and he clucked as he pecked at the air. Teresa covered her smile, not quite able to maintain her professionalism.

"Pretty good, huh?" Patrick said into her ear. Josiah was obviously delighted, jumping and laughing. Bosco turned towards him and the boy did his own chicken impersonation, pecking with him.

"Is he going to remember this?"

"Would you want to remember?"

Teresa had to think about that. "Yes?"

"Interesting."

"Is this part of your act?"

"Not anymore."

"Kid stuff?"

"Yep."

"Can we... get back to shooting? I assume there was a point to this that's not embarrassing my boss?"

"Of course." Patrick stepped up to tap Bosco's shoulder again. "Sergeant Bosco. You are not a chicken, stop that." Patrick looked sideways at Josiah while the boy covered his mouth and giggled. Bosco immediately straightened into a blank slate. Patrick checked the stock of Bosco's rifle and made some mental calculations. "When you shoot at the targets, set your sights down and to the left two inches. When you either shoot your last bullet or hit the last target, you will become aware of your surroundings and come out of this trance. You will be happy and calm and remember everything that just happened. Do you understand?"

"Yes."

"Good. Everyone ready?"

Teresa looked wary, but she stepped up to her rifle along with the others.

"Hey, hey, hey," Frank called out in protest. "It's extra for the same set up. And I see what you're doing, Patrick. It's not good for business."

Patrick peeled another couple of bills off his wad and stuffed them into Frank's shirt pocket. "Last one, we'll get out of your hair," he said smoothly, running the show. He turned back around, lifted an arm. "Ready. Aim. Fire."

He snapped his arm down and the pops of the pellets filled the air again. He watched the kid for a little while, but he was doing just fine with the demonstration rifle, concentrating hard. Teresa was aiming carefully, making every shot. Bosco was firing with a strange precision to his movements, doing much better than before.

The boy finished first, not hitting all of them, but proud of his accomplishments. Patrick went to celebrate with him while they waited for the professionals to finish. Teresa knocked down the last target and they cheered with her, making her smile. Bosco was well on his way to a perfect score also.

Patrick caught Frank's gaze. He wasn't exactly smiling, but he nodded to the implied question. "Go pick out your bear," Patrick prodded Josiah. The boy skipped towards the booth.

Bosco fired his last shot and stood still for a moment, blinking. He stared at the downed targets, at the rifle in his hands. He blew out a breath and set the gun down and smiled at them. It didn't reach his eyes, his teeth locked in a grimace. "What the hell was that?"

Patrick pointed past him towards the targets. "You got 'em all, good job!"

"Don't." He stepped forward, threatening.

Patrick stepped back. "Happy and calm," he reminded.

"Did that really happen? You let this clown hypnotize me?"

"Not a clown."

"I didn't know what he was doing."

"Josiah loved it."

Bosco turned his head thoughtfully, his jaw tense and one hand clenched into a fist.

Across the way, they heard the boy laughing. "It's bigger than me! Guys, look at this!"

Teresa looked between them. "Be nice," she admonished, then turned on a smile and walked away. "Wow!" she directed to Josiah.

"It was harmless fun-" Patrick started.

"It's never harmless with you carnival types."

"You don't know me."

"I know enough. Did you, what's-it-called, program me? Am I going to cluck like a chicken every time Teresa salutes or something?"

"Does she salute a lot? That seems weird."

"Whatever, it's a fair question."

"No. You have all your memories. The chicken thing was for the kid. No harm meant."

Bosco stepped closer, deliberate. "I don't know what the deal is with you and Teresa -"

Patrick shrugged, "No deal."

"She's a good officer, a good woman. She's too good for you," Bosco growled under his breath, poking Patrick in the chest. He turned and strode to the booth, joining the others. His animated conversation carried back. "Wow, the blue one, huh? We'd better put this in the car for now." He ruffled Josiah's hair, hefting the huge teddy bear. "See you tomorrow, Teresa."

Patrick watched them go, wiping at the point of impact on his vest. "Noted."

"What was that about?" Teresa asked. She was standing just a little too far from him, arms crossed, but her expression was open.

"Your boss holds you in high regards," he stated. "Maybe too high. He's sweet on-"

"Stop. I don't want to know."

"Teresa, he's-"

"No. He's married. I've been to his house, met his family. He has taught me a lot about the job and he's never been inappropriate. I value that relationship. It's hard enough to be taken seriously as a woman in this profession without rumors like that floating around. So, no. Don't go there."

Patrick clenched his jaw, fought back the urge to push it. "I get it. Just... be careful. Please?"

"I don't need you to protect me."

"I wasn't..." She was riled up, the fire in her eyes was drawing him in. He leaned closer. "You seem really comfortable with him - not in a bad way. It surprised me when you pushed back. You haven't been on the job more than... five months?"

"Six. And I don't intend to stay an officer for long. I can't let anyone walk all over me. Not even my boss."

"Or a boyfriend," he said under his breath.

"Excuse me?"

"What? Nothing, just learning your priorities. This isn't going to cause trouble for you, is it? At work, I mean."

"It would be less trouble if you hadn't done it." She considered it seriously. "If Bosco tries to get me in trouble for something that happened on our day off, I'll take it over his head."

"I should hope so." He trailed one finger along her cheek and tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. It was curling slightly in the heat. He leaned towards her. The fire in her eyes shifted into a different kind of heat, but she didn't make a move and he turned aside to collect himself. He took a few deep breaths, surprised that she could affect him so easily. He stared at the shooting gallery, it felt far away. "Another round?"

"Nah, I'm good."

They were side by side, facing different directions, but so close. He wanted to touch her. He traced down her arm with his fingertips. "What department do you want to be in?"

"Hmm.. sorry?" She turned her head, but didn't pull away, she was either lost in her thoughts or...

Patrick smiled, guessing the effect he was having on her. Whisper light, his fingers traced her wrist, over her pulse. "You said you didn't want to be an officer for long. What's the goal?"

"Something in homicide, maybe a specialized agency."

His eyes widened. "Homicide? Blood and guts? You want to catch murderers?"

"I want to help people find justice."

She was looking away from him, her other hand lifted to her throat, fingering a cross necklace that must have been tucked into her shirt.

"Someone close to you was murdered?"

She tensed. "Not exactly."

"Your... mother? An accident of some kind. Hit and run."

She pulled away from his touch. "Don't do that."

"Sorry. Habits."

Her eyes looked wounded as she withdrew into her thoughts. She turned to him abruptly. "Is that your act? You talk to dead people?"

"Yeah." he watched her carefully, she kept her face neutral.

"Oh."

"Does that disappoint you?"

She took another moment to think. "Do you... give people closure?"

"I'd like to think so. It's not the whole act, mind. But that seems to be the main draw. It's a unique connection. When people are grieving, they just want to know they are remembered, loved. It was a long time ago for you, but grief doesn't care about the passage of time, not really."

"I think... I'd like to see your show sometime."

"That can be arranged. What time is it?"

"Five-thirty."

His smile dropped. "Sh-ugar monkeys."

"What's wrong?"

He was tense, ready to move. "I should be backstage right now. My crew is going to be freaking out."

"You're working tonight?"

"Yeah. I mean, I could cancel, but-"

"No, it's your job. You should keep your schedule."

He stared at her intently. "I'm not ready for this to end."

She stared back, wide eyed. It was too abrupt, she wasn't ready for this to be good bye. "Will you have time after?"

"It's two shows back to back. About three hours total, then maybe some private consults."

"That's getting late."

He held her hand loosely, spoke softly. "I run the show, I do have some flexibility. At least come to the first one, and I'll have a little bit of down time in between."

"Well, I don't have anything better to do," she said with apparent nonchalance. "I can always bug out to get something to eat and wander around if I get bored."

"'Bug out?' Who talks like that?" he was amused by her display, amazed that she was sticking around.

"I do, apparently. You promised me a behind the scenes tour, remember?"

"Then let's go." He tugged on her hand, walking backwards as he pulled her along. "You hungry? I can get you something on the way."

"Sure. Hey, you're not going to pull me up on stage or anything, are you?"

"Of course not, you hate that kind of attention."

"Got it in one." Patrick suddenly grinned at her and she couldn't help but smile back, a little self conscious. "What?"

"You didn't ask me how I knew that."

Teresa rolled her eyes. "That was an easy one. Kid stuff."

He ran a thumb over her hand and tucked it into his elbow as he turned to walk next to her. "Right this way, milady."

Chapter Text

There was a line gathering outside of the Psychic's tent in an area set aside with velvet ropes. The show was due to start in twenty minutes. The ticket attendant raised his eyebrows as Patrick brushed past. "Cutting it close, eh Paddy?"

"Show can't start without me," he winked.

Teresa brought him to a stop beside a large sign with his picture on it. Picture Patrick was smoldering for the camera, his hair slicked back. He had the fingers of his right hand pinched near his forehead, like she had seen him do earlier when he was figuring out her name. The text on the poster read "Patrick Jane: The Great Dimagi. Psychic Medium and Adviser" An interchangeable sign listed the show times. A note at the bottom said "Personal Readings Available. Inquire Within" and posted a phone number.

"The Great Dimagi?" she teased.

"Come on," he tugged her further, through the door into the tent.

Teresa stopped again to take it all in. It wasn't huge, but the rows of benches could seat at least a hundred people, if not more. The stage was small and there were clearly defined aisles. Strings of lights cast a soft, atmospheric glow. Some curtains defined a private backstage area.

"I used to be the Boy Wonder," Patrick whispered in her ear.

"Yep, that's worse," she confirmed. "But what's a Dimagi? Sounds like a baseball player."

"Day-mah-ghee," he enunciated. "It's Hindi, for mental acuity and spirituality." He wiggled his fingers for effect. "Listen, I have to get ready." He gestured to the empty room. "Make yourself at home, eat your burger. They'll be opening the doors soon."

"No backstage tour?"

"You trying to get all my secrets, woman?"

"Are you hiding your magic psychic-energy generator back there?"

"It takes up a lot of room, but I'll squeeze you in after the show. Promise." He blew her a kiss as he walked backwards towards the stage, and smiled as she just shook her head at him.

He scurried backstage to the small dressing room. There was a small rack of suit coats and a lit mirror with various hair and skin products.

His crewman José jumped up from where he'd been nervously tapping his foot. "Where have you been? I thought for sure you'd gotten yourself in trouble." He recoiled a bit as Patrick breezed past him. "What happened to your nose?"

"You can cover that up, can't you?"

"Sure, if I had time."

"It's not that bad," Patrick couldn't stop smiling and his friend sighed.

"It's a girl, isn't it?"

"It has been a very unprecedented afternoon."

"She been keeping you on your toes? It's been awhile for you. There hasn't been anyone serious since-"

"I've known her for four hours. It's not serious." He allowed himself a quick breathing exercise to control his energy. He didn't have time to vent it, and he didn't want to give José anymore fuel. He had to put aside his feelings and concentrate on the show, especially since she would be watching. It had to be good.

"Whatever. Is she out there right now?" Patrick nodded and José went to peek through the curtains. He turned back almost immediately. "She's a cop?" he hissed. "You brought a cop to your show?"

Patrick pulled out a jacket from the rack, then put it back and selected a different one. A burnished silver against the blue of his vest. He shrugged it into place, then did up his buttons and grabbed a matching tie. "Never you mind."

"You're crazy. But we don't have time to talk about it. Sit down, let's get you looking good, Boy Wonder."

X

Teresa chose a spot at the end of a bench off to the side, next to a support pole. She could see the stage from here, but also most of the seating area. Even off-duty she felt more comfortable being aware of everything around her.

The whirlwind of the afternoon caught up with her. She finished her wild rice cheeseburger and leaned against the pole. She really didn't know what to expect for the rest of the night. Things had been a little bit rocky with Patrick, but she was enjoying herself. He was so much different from her norm. Her hand strayed to her necklace again. How had he read that from her so easily? That was twice this afternoon he had stripped her emotions bare, revealing things she never talked about. And what did she know about him?

It was warmer inside the tent without the breeze. She put her hair up in a ponytail and let her eyes slip closed. She didn't believe the psychic bit for a moment, which meant he was incredibly smart, intuitive, and confident as hell. Also, way too sexy for his own good. She remembered his light touch and smiled. It hadn't felt compelling, or manipulative, just nice. Nice to be wanted, maybe even desired. Whatever this was was destined to be short-lived, but it was heady to have the full attention of a man like Patrick Jane.

Having this opportunity to take a break and observe him at the same time was just what she needed to keep her wits about her.

"Teresa?"

"We thought you left!"

Her eyes popped open and she stood as she saw her friends hovering. So much for being alert. People were streaming into the tent, choosing their seats. Did she doze off? "Oh hi. I, um, I ran into Patrick — the guy from the kissing booth."

"You punched him good!"

"Of course you had to apologize," Jess said, sarcastically.

"No, he earned that. He bought me a funnel cake, we lost track of time." She blushed slightly at the omission that he had asked her out.

"We saw his picture on the sign outside, and had to check it out! Did you know he was a psychic?"

"Actually, that's why I punched him."

"Seriously?"

"What did he say to you?"

Teresa's gaze flitted to Jess. "He made me remember something unpleasant."

Most of them sat then, settling in and making small talk.

"He's good then?" Jess asked, a slightly hard edge to her voice.

Teresa nodded. "Really good."

She sat down heavily in the spot next to her. "Good. This place was starting to get boring."

X

Not much later, The Great Dimagi appeared onstage to much fanfare and applause. The bright lights illuminated his silver jacket, his hair was perfectly styled, slicked back like in the poster. He had a microphone headset on, barely visible.

"Good evening. I'm Patrick Jane, the Great Dimagi. I'll be your guide through the psychic realm." He closed his eyes, breathed deeply through his nose and smiled. "This is a good crowd tonight." There was a smattering of applause and he bowed his head slightly, frowning. "I sense that some of you need guidance, some of you need closure, healing from loss. Some of you just want to see what I can do, that's cool too." He produced a white taper candle. "Before we get started, I need you all to do something for me. Concentrate, right here," he tapped the unlit wick. "Get those psychic energies flowing, send them right here to this candle." He paused and the silence stretched thin. "It's coming, I can feel it swirling. Send it right here."

He closed his eyes and hopped back a little, his face contorting in concentration. A shudder went through his whole body.

The candle flared into flame.

Patrick opened his eyes and nodded at the sounds of appreciation from the audience. "Very good. That's a strong flame. The psychic energies in this room are primed." He walked a short distance to a tall candlestick slightly off center on the stage. He wiggled the candle into place, then grabbed a handheld mic from a nearby stand.

He brought his fingers to his forehead, cuing the new round of applause to fade. "I'm getting something." He grimaced slightly. "It's a beam of light, dancing into color." His eyes snapped open. "Does the phrase 'sunshine and rainbows' mean something to anyone here?" He squinted against the spotlights, scanning the crowd. 'Sunshine and rainbows.'"

"Here," someone raised their hand. The house lights came up so everyone could see each other, and before he went on script, he quickly scanned the room to find Teresa. She had her back to a support beam and had her arms crossed grumpily. He didn't have to look far to see the reason, the lights reflected off the tiara on the woman sitting next to her. His mind went into overdrive, looking for solutions while he went through the motions of warming up the crowd.

He moved towards the waving hand and held out the microphone as his first mark stood up. The opening part of the act was designed to dazzle and set up expectations. These first two prompts were pre-arranged with plants that he hired. As he read their minds, he used sleight of hand to get notes from them about the audience. He read them in glimpses and quickly sorted the information to structure the rest of his show.

He started with small life changes, advising about jobs and obvious relationships. He sprinkled in a few connections with dearly departed pets. A couple of really emotional messages from grandparents who had crossed over. He was relaxed, in his element. His gaze frequently strayed towards Teresa, glancing over her. She had thankfully warmed up and joined the majority of the audience in looking awed and impressed. It was time to bring it all home.

The audience stilled as he held up his hand to find his next prompt. He let the silence build the tension of anticipation. "I'm getting... I see a veil." He reached for it, his eyes distant. "White, pure." He smiled gently. "A celebration."

Next to Teresa, Jess squealed and raised her hand. "It's me! I'm getting married!"

Patrick strode over to her, holding out the audience mic.

"Your name is?"

"I'm Jess."

"Hello, I'm Patrick." She beamed at him, soaking up the attention. "The big day is coming up fast, isn't it?"

"Mm-hmm," she affirmed.

"Two weeks, oh... next weekend. You're here celebrating with your friends?"

"That's right. Got my sisters with me!"

"Good, good. Thanks for choosing our humble carnival." He turned serious then, closing his eyes briefly, his brow furrowed. "I'm getting something, Jess. It's-" he sucked in some air through his teeth. "It's not looking good. You, uh, has your groom cheated on you before? Been a little stressed?"

Teresa froze. It was bad enough Patrick had brought the spotlight so close to her, but now he was actually bringing this up? She sank back in her chair as her sorority sisters started to whisper.

Jess' face fell, her eyes flitted away. Patrick pressed on. "Oh, I'm sorry. You suspect it may be the case, but it's worse than that. You cheated on him!"

The whispers rose to a quiet buzz.

Her eyes were big with unshed tears. "What should I do? I love him, I really do. Will we make it?"

Patrick stepped back and shrugged flamboyantly. "Only you can know your own heart. But I sense the struggle within you. Once a cheater, always a cheater. It's not the first time for you. Can you be strong, make that change? I see the ripples of possibility, for the sake of your marriage, and for every important relationship in your life."

A battle of emotions chased themselves across Jess' face, from surprise, to thoughtfulness, to anger. Scowling, she turned to Teresa, towering over her in the bright lights. "What did you tell him?"

Teresa was unprepared to be the focus of her attention. Her mouth worked soundlessly.

Patrick stepped closer again, trying to bring her back, to keep control. "You're an open book to me, Jessica Hudley. Scorpio. Jealous and possessive. You look around and see others that have what you want. You don't know how to achieve it for yourself, so you just take it. But you can't take their happiness. Instead you feel more and more hollow. If you keep going down this path, you won't just lose your friends, your husband, you will lose yourself."

She puffed her self up. "Lies. Teresa told us she spent the afternoon with you. You are just spouting her lies. This show is a scam."

"Enough," Teresa cut through the wild chatter that had erupted. "We didn't talk about you, Jess. But he's not wrong. When you stole my boyfriend, I got over him pretty quickly. It wasn't going to last. What hurt was your betrayal. You wouldn't talk to me. I came here today to have a fun time with old friends, but you made it about you. You never ask, you always take. Figure yourself out."

The audience was buzzing, uncertain what to make of this turn of events. Some of her sorority sisters clapped at her declaration, and a few others picked it up around the room. She made herself stand strong, hating this attention.

Jess was livid, bright red and breathing heavily.

Teresa didn't wait for her to gather herself. "This is not the place for this discussion. I hope you have a good life, but I'm done." She looked pointedly at Patrick and walked away. Jess lunged after her, and grabbed at her pony tail, jerking her back. Teresa stepped back and leaned into Jess, using her training to force her to release her hold. She turned and dodged her next swipe, then caught her wrist on her next attempt. Patrick had stepped back during the altercation, wincing in sympathy, but definitely not helping. "I'm leaving now," she stated.

Jess struggled, but some of her sorority sisters stood up, lending support to Teresa.

Patrick's smooth voice filled the tent. "Sometimes the path to self discovery is long and winding. Let's applaud Jess for starting her journey tonight."

Teresa glared at Jane. His expression was hard to read, his psychic persona firmly in place. She detected the slightest hint of apology around his eyes. She pursed her lips and shook her head. The fight went out of Jess and Teresa dropped her hand and left the tent.

The shadows were getting longer, the tops of the tents golden as the sun started to lower. She paused, uncertain what to do next. She was soon circled by some of her friends, accepting their hugs as her emotions finally let go.

"You were great in there," Britt encouraged her.

"You think so?" she wiped at her eyes.

"You said what most of us have been thinking for a long time."

A lean Latino man made his way over to them. "Excuse me?"

She looked him up and down, trying to figure him out. "Hello."

"My name is José. I work for Patrick Jane."

Teresa stiffened and crossed her arms. "I'm listening."

"That's not… usual, what happened in there. He's smoothing things over, he's good at that." He chuckled. "I haven't seen him mess up like this in a long time."

"So what?"

"Point is, I haven't seen him pursue a woman in a long time either. He was trying to impress you."

"He didn't."

"Ah, but he was having a good show until he picked on your friend. You ask him what he thought his odds were that would go well." Teresa turned her head away. She wasn't sure she would be asking him anything. José leaned a little closer. "Of course, you have every right to run out on him, but can I tell him if there's any hope?"

She relaxed her arms. "Wow. I don't know what he told you. We just met this afternoon, it's not anything serious. I don't owe him anything."

"I know. I helped him get ready for the show. He tried to hide it, but I could tell in five minutes that he's got it bad. It was good to see. Still, you know, it's none of my business. I'll leave you alone."

He made to move, but she stopped him. "No, wait." She pinched the bridge of her nose in exasperation. "I'll be around. I know he's busy. I just need a little time."

"It'll be dark before long, do you know where you'll be?"

Her eyes flashed. "He'll find me. The Great Dimagi knows all."

José smirked and went back inside.

Britt linked arms with Teresa. "I bet you had a much more interesting afternoon than the rest of us. Let's get a drink, you can tell us all about it."

Chapter Text

One hour later, Patrick walked briskly through the game area, back in his vest and shirtsleeves, his slicked hair slightly mussed. It was a different atmosphere at night, the sounds crisper and the lights glaring.

He stopped when he saw her, his heart pounding in his chest. She was hunched over an air rifle, studying the make of it as she prepared to face the targets. On either side of her, two of her friends were mimicking her motions, not sure what they were looking for. Four more were cheering them on. Frank tapped the counter next to her and she nodded as he said something, then he approached Patrick.

"Looks like I'll have to ban your girlfriend too. She's about to wipe me out of the big prizes."

Patrick didn't correct him, the word settled warmly into his chest. His view of her shifted ever so slightly, the possibility of what they could be. If he hadn't screwed up so badly. "What is she doing with them?" he croaked.

"Winning them for her friends there. She's made it through three of my rifles already, figures them all out without firing a shot. She's too good, Paddy."

Teresa hefted the rifle, looked along it from a couple different angles, then took her first test shot. She shifted her stance slightly, then shot steadily, knocking down each target methodically. Her friends took their cue to start shooting too. They weren't as successful, but they were clearly having fun.

"Yeah," Patrick breathed in agreement. "How much to shoot with her?"

"You don't shoot."

"I'll owe you one."

Frank looked him over thoughtfully. "You restock my prizes. Cash up front."

"Now?"

"And for the bear this afternoon."

Patrick grumbled under his breath, but pulled the cash out of his pocket. He peeled off some bills and handed it over.

"That's half," Frank stated.

"I know how much the bears cost."

"New supplier."

He rolled his eyes and counted out more cash. He wasn't in the mood to negotiate. He had a narrow window here. Frank folded it and put it away, smiling smugly. Patrick held out a hand to make him pause. "The good pellets, Frank."

"Yeah, yeah."

Teresa took her last shot, then lowered the gun and expelled a long breath before turning to look for the attendant. Her friends cheered again. Patrick saw her gaze flick towards him before Frank met her. They spoke briefly, then Frank started the process of switching out her rifle. Patrick approached slowly and she turned to meet him.

"Hey," he said, drinking in the sight of her. Was it possible to miss someone after one hour of separation? Someone he had just met earlier that day?

"Hey," she echoed, holding back slightly. "I have two rounds left."

"Mind if I earn one of those bears for you?"

Frank was reloading one of the other rifles for him. Teresa's eyebrows shot up. "Sure. Let's see what you got."

Patrick felt eyes on him and looked up to see all of Teresa's friends gathered around, staring at him. He raised a hand in greeting. "Ladies."

"We liked your show," one of them said.

"Thank you. Sometimes it's even exciting."

Frank tapped on the counter. "Ready when you are."

Teresa picked up her rifle and started her routine. Patrick watched her for a moment. "You want to make a friendly wager?" he asked softly.

She glanced at him. "You said it's been a decade since you shot?"

"Thereabouts."

"Terms?"

"Last to finish has to eat an order of fire wings. The spiciest thing you will ever eat, they will make your ears fall off."

"That confident?" she didn't look up from her examination to see his cocky smile. "Normally I wouldn't bet against you, but I'm feeling pretty good about this one."

Patrick finally turned away from her and looked at the stock to find the identifying mark. "Whew," he exclaimed. "Were any of you using this one?"

Two of the ladies acknowledged him.

"Frank's really tired of giving away his toys tonight," Patrick laughed.

"Problem?" asked Teresa.

He leaned in to check out her rifle. "Nope." He ran his hands along his rifle, like he was greeting an old friend. "Whenever you're ready."

Teresa took one last look along the barrel and settled it against her shoulder. "Can we get a countdown?"

Her friends looked at each other, then Britt started leading, "Three, two, one, SHOOT!"

Teresa's first shot went wide. She recalibrated and made the second shot count. The targets started to fall. Her friends were cheering loudly, but she was focused on the goal. She didn't know how well Patrick was doing until her last target went down. She looked over. He still had three targets standing.

His gun clicked empty.

She swiveled and shot again. One duck down, then two, then the last.

There was a flurry of activity and noise as Teresa was ambushed. It seemed like such a small thing, but she couldn't help but smile that they were celebrating something she did. Patrick held back, but he was smiling when she finally caught his eye.

He reached out with two fingers and touched her arm lightly. "Well played."

"You're just out of practice. Maybe next time."

Patrick grinned and nodded towards Frank. "I don't think there will be a next time. You ladies better get your bears before Frank bans us all."

There was laughter and chatter and awkward hugs and a small army of huge teddy bears unloaded onto the counter. They had to hold them carefully to keep them off the dusty walkway. And soon there were goodbyes and promises to get together that might actually be kept this time.

And Teresa and Patrick were alone.

He bumped his shoulder into hers. "You want a bear?"

"I didn't earn it."

"You earned it."

Frank was waiting with the last bear, silver and purple fluff. She was surprised to see him smiling, in contrast to the gruffness she had experienced so far. "Can I come back for it?"

He clipped it back to the ceiling. "It'll keep."

The matter settled, Patrick led her away, walking slowly along the walkway. It was late enough that most families had left, the crowd was thinning out. They didn't have a plan, they didn't speak. Their arms nearly brushed with each step. The silence was too much.

"What now?" Teresa asked.

Patrick stopped and pulled her close, ignoring her awkwardness as he wrapped himself around her. "Thank you for staying. I'm sorry things happened the way they did." He let her go as quickly as he'd invaded her space.

"You should have left it alone," she scuffed at the dirt path, avoiding his eyes. "Is Jess okay?"

"She ditched the tiara, but she didn't leave alone."

She nodded. "Good."

"She was stifling you, making you upset. I just wanted to help."

"I don't need your help," her eyes were fire again. He was enthralled with them. "How many times do I need to say it today? I don't like Jess, but I didn't want to burn that bridge. I was fine."

"Life is too short for controlling relationships." She glared at him then, daring him to apply that statement to himself. He ducked his head. "I messed up today. More than once." Teresa just nodded, widening her eyes. "Why did you stick around?"

She hesitated. "Closure? You deserve to explain yourself."

"No, I don't. That's not the reason."

She huffed in annoyance. "You keep reading me, you think you know me. You keep showing off, but you're not telling me anything." She let out a long breath, cracked her neck. "Can we put it out there - the psychic act is crap." Patrick stiffened, but didn't interrupt. "You are amazing at what you do. All of it. I had a fair glimpse of it before the show, but the way you played that audience, there is no doubt that you have a great talent."

"Thank you," he said simply, giving her space to continue.

"But you are so concerned with the image you project, it's like you're hiding behind a mask, a persona. All the time. I just want to know who you are. Who is the real Patrick Jane? Your grand gestures were impressive, but they went too far. And then you turn around and you're helping kids, showing them magic, doing these elaborate tricks to figure out my name. That's why I'm still here, those glimpses of you."

"Quickest way to get a woman to fall for you," he deadpanned.

"Sheep dip." His lips quirked at her exclamation. "'Kid stuff,' you kept saying. Seems like the 'kid stuff' makes you happy. Why did you leave it behind?"

He sighed. "It's not easy, growing up in the carnival. My dad basically taught me to be a liar, how to con people. It's all I knew, there was never anything else. I'd hang out with some of the other acts, learned their ways of doing things. He didn't want me to do the medium bit, but I like the emotional connection. It's messy when you get it wrong, but the payoff is so much more satisfying than cheap magic tricks. I can give people hope."

"Is he still around? Your dad?"

"He's been in and out of jail for the last ten years. They finally made something stick, I haven't seen him in a couple years."

"I'm sorry."

"Don't be. When I was younger, I was excited that he was spending time with me, teaching me. When I got older, I realized he was just making an investment, monetizing his asset." He barked out a short, humorless laugh. "And he was a lousy manager, he never gave me my fair cut."

"Patrick? When was the last time someone saw you? The real you?"

He scrubbed a hand through his hair, his expression raw. They were still standing amidst the bright lights, just off the path, exposed. "Will you come with me?"

X

"The Ferris wheel?" she asked. It was lit up, twinkling against the night sky. Cheesy music played at the loading station where the line was moving quickly.

"You're not scared of heights are you?" He was teasing, but also uncertain, on edge.

She just shook her head and let him guide her towards the line.

"Hey Paddy," the operator greeted them as they approached the front. He was younger than both of them with a shock of brown hair.

"Danny," Patrick responded.

"Thanks for bailing me out today. I owe you one."

"Anytime. You know that."

"Damn clowns," he muttered.

He pulled a lever to stop the ride and let a couple off the bottom carriage. As Patrick escorted her towards it, Danny pressed close and murmured something to Patrick, nudging his side. Patrick shook his head and helped her into the seat. Danny lowered the bar after them, latching it into place. "Keep your hands and legs inside the ride, no rocking the seats," he winked.

"What was that about?" Teresa asked as the ride started moving.

Patrick smiled weakly. "Old friend."

They went around once in silence, the ride stopping a couple more times to let people on. After a full revolution it continued on, then slowed and stopped with them at the top.

The view was breathtaking, the carnival outlined in lights. Teresa soaked it in, then realized they still weren't moving. "What's going on?"

Patrick sighed. "Sorry. It's a carny favor when you're with a date. I told him not to."

"It is beautiful. Massively clichéd, but beautiful."

"Yeah."

The silence stretched between them. Teresa wasn't sure where to look. She fidgeted and stared to the side, enjoying the lights.

"Strawberry?"

She startled and turned back. Patrick was holding a small carton of the red berries.

"Where did those come from?"

He smiled and selected a berry with his long fingers, prompting her to do the same. It was the perfect ripeness, sweet and juicy. She licked the remnants from her fingers, pretending not to notice the way he was fixating on her.

"Were you going to answer my question?" she prompted gently.

He sighed. "The guy who's running the ride? He was almost my brother in law."

"What happened?"

"His sister, Angela… we knew each other since we were kids. We fell in love. At least I thought that's what it was. She wanted to get out of this life, away from the carnival. At first, I thought I wanted that too. But the more I thought about it, the less it made sense. I don't have any other skills. If I left the carnival, my only job prospects would be to do what I'm already doing. And sure, I could expand my clientele and maybe make some big money. But what would I be giving up? It didn't feel right. For all the effort, I'd rather be with the family I grew up with."

"So you're still here."

"Obviously."

"And Angie?"

"She found another way out. Turns out that was what mattered to her."

"I'm sorry."

"Don't be. I made my choice."

She turned so she could look at him squarely. "Was it the right choice though? Seems to me you're an awfully big fish in this small pond."

"I like it here."

"With your skills though…" He tilted his head, intrigued. "You read body language so well. I bet you would be amazing in an interrogation room."

"Rules have never been more than a suggestion to me. You think I could be a cop?"

Her gaze bored into his. "Hmm, maybe cop adjacent. A consultant. Or a profiler. There are lots of options."

"It's an interesting notion," he admitted. "But now who's trying to do the unnecessary saving? Unless… you want to join the circus? You could be our Annie Oakley."

She didn't hesitate. "Pfft, no way."

"Who sees you?" he asked quietly.

Her eyes narrowed. "Deflecting again?"

"Just a little. If I'm wearing a cloak, you're wearing armor."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"You have your life all figured out, focused on the big goals. Very admirable goals, and you will crush it. But it makes it harder for you to make time for people, for relationships. I'm not trying to crack your armor, I'm hoping you'll choose to let me in. Because those little bits that I've seen…" He watched her, his expression softening in wonder. "You're amazing."

She blushed, shrinking slightly at the compliment. "What?"

"You have an intensity that I never see," he turned and caught her hand. "It can't have been easy, taking a chance on me. You're still here because you want to meet the man behind the skills. You care about him, his motivations. No one else looks at me that way." He reached out to her, moved aside the hair she was hiding behind and tucked it behind her ear. "You see me, Teresa. I want to be the one to see you."

He was leaning into her space, his eyes roaming her face, taking in every nuance of her. She was startled, then nervous. Her eyes drifted to his mouth, then took a turn around his own expression. "You know all sorts of things about me. You promise you are not setting me up?"

"I figured out some of your experiences, but that's not all that you are. Still don't trust me?" He moved a little closer, his own heart speeding up as she reacted to his proximity. He slid one finger down his nose. "I already learned my lesson, remember? No games, no tricks."

He hovered there, sideways in their seat, hands braced against the framework of the carriage. Her thoughts visibly churned, betrayed by her flicking eyes. After a long moment, she turned away, looking out over the carnival. "We're still not moving. That's some favor."

"I didn't-"

She turned back. "It was him, wasn't it?"

"Him who?" he asked, uncertain where she was going with this.

"Danny. He was the one who botched the prank last night. You took his place today, at the kissing booth."

He struggled to catch up with her, he wasn't expecting this line of conversation. "Yeah." She just looked at him, waiting. He started rambling to fill the silence, he wanted her to know things, to know him. "The kid has been rattled since his sister left, he's been hanging out with me more often. I don't know why, he's more of an escape artist than a conman — and really good at it. But I can't leave him hanging, he's — "

Then she kissed him. One hand went behind his neck, the other rested on his chest. It was over too soon, before he could properly react, but it shut him up. She pulled back and looked up at him, the lights reflected in her eyes. His head emptied, he tightened his hold on the cold metal of the ride to prevent himself from moving closer. She still held all the control. He dipped his head to be at her level, needed to see her, study her, notice everything she wasn't saying. He felt a tickle at his neck.

He reached back and found a small slip of paper tucked into his collar. He smiled as he looked at it, the ticket he'd given back to her at the kissing booth.

"'You only regret the things you didn't do,'" she quoted to him, her voice soft. "You have a good heart, that's what I see. That's why you kept stepping in to help me, even though I didn't need you to. It was very thoughtful, even though you took it too far. It's the showman in you. I think I'm beginning to understand."

He nodded and sighed, his breath shaky. "You are strong, and beautiful, you don't need anyone… and I would always save you, whether you needed it or not." He closed his eyes and offered himself to her. She kissed him again, and he let her take the lead, slow and teasing. She yelped as the ride started moving again and he pulled away, straightening in their seat to put an arm around her.

They ate strawberries together. She laughed as they breezed through the bottom turn, one more full revolution, then Danny started to let people off, the ride stopping and starting at regular intervals. Patrick kissed her hair during their brief stop at the top again, but otherwise they were silent, enjoying each other's proximity.

As they left their seat, Teresa pretended not to see Danny's wink as Patrick gave him a friendly slug on the shoulder. They walked away from the ride with Patrick's arm around her shoulders.

"Now what?" she asked quietly as they stopped by the side of the main pathway.

Patrick pulled her into his embrace and kissed her head. They stayed that way for a long moment, just enjoying each other.

Teresa chuckled, making him pull back. He ran a finger along her cheek, marveling when she tilted her face towards him, full of joy. "Your friend José said you haven't 'pursued' a woman in awhile. It seemed a funny way to say it."

"I haven't. Not really." He ran his fingers through her hair and sighed. "But he painted me as a saint, it's not quite so pretty."

"Let me guess. They pursue you?"

"Yeah," he breathed out. "It's lost the appeal recently though. No challenge, no independent thinking, nothing meaningful."

"There's gotta be a compliment in there somewhere," she teased.

He chuckled. "I'm very glad I met you, Teresa. You keep me on my toes."

"Patrick," his name rolled from her lips. She paused, uncertain. "I can't stay long. What comes next?"

"I don't have a plan, I don't think we need one. I think… we know what feels right. That should be our guide. Teresa..." The moment was charged between them as he ran his fingers through her hair again, his eyes roamed her face. "Will you-" She stiffened and he moved his hands to her shoulders. He smiled gently. "You're saying no before you know the question."

"It's so much so fast. I want to slow down, but we just got here. If I leave now, will I even see you again? I don't know what to do."

"I won't rush you. But whatever this will be, we have a week."

"Only a week?" she squeaked. "That's not rushing?"

"The carnival runs on it's own schedule. It's only staying through next weekend. And I definitely want to see you again, as much as you let me."

The fingers of panic were clutching into her stomach. "It's just — our schedules are so different. My days start early and often go long, it's not predictable."

He smiled, kept his voice calm. "My days are flexible. I could meet you for lunch. Or bring you breakfast, or join you for a morning run... well, walking is more my speed. Point being, name it, I'll be there."

She searched his face, desperation coloring her words. "If there's a deadline to this, is it still worth it?"

"We only met today. I'm not going to presume that this relationship is destined for forever, or a few months, or a year. Right now? In this moment? I'm not ready to let this go."

She closed her eyes and leaned closer. "Heaven help me, I'm not either."

Their kiss grew heated, she pressed into him and his hands roamed down her back. When she broke away, her cheeks were flushed. She tucked her head under his chin.

"It's really late," she said with regret. "I should get going."

"It's only nine."

"It's a long drive to get home from here." She snuggled into him.

"You're not gonna let me off the hook with those wings so easily?"

She pulled back, bit her lips in thought. "I forgot about that."

"I have so much to show you."

"I have a really early meeting."

"One hour." He shifted closer, laced their fingers together, whispered in her ear. "One more hour."

She pushed him away, her eyes dark. "Stop that. No tricks." He grinned as she took a moment to regain her control. "One hour," she consented.

X

He brought her straight to the food booths. He placed one order for their hottest fire wings, and one regular order for her. Two wings in, he was bright red, sweating, and desperate for the water she brought him. She took one bite of his wings in sympathy, then called it done and offered to share her own.

Teresa stopped to admire the ponies and goats at a petting zoo. Patrick tugged her away to meet Daisy the Elephant, watching her light up as they fed the gentle giant apple after apple.

They ambled through the tents of the side shows, pausing to appreciate the skills of some wandering performers, swallowing swords or juggling cattle prods. At one point Patrick pushed her sideways into a small tent, only to retrieve her two minutes later as the fortune teller inside started to make noise about the po-lice in her sacred spaces. They ran away, Patrick giggling, as a regal black woman shouted after them. "I see you, Patrick Jane! That's not funny!"

One hour turned into two. They walked through the fun house, laughing and clutching at each other as the floors moved and dropped beneath them. Patrick convinced the guy at the cotton candy booth to take a break while they pressed tightly into the small space to make their own, laughing at the results. They ate their lumpy concoctions as they walked among the rides of the midway. On the tilt-a-whirl, Patrick spun them so fast they were pressed against each other, shoulder to shoulder, hip to hip.

Two hours turned into three. They came upon a clown making balloon animals. Patrick gave him the stink-eye and steered well clear, then sent her back to acquire two swords. Between the tents and walkways, they fought an epic battle until Patrick lay slain and they passed along their balloons to some teenagers.

Fireworks erupted overhead as the long day drew to a close. He watched the wonder on her face, felt it reflected on his own. As the show ended and people streamed towards the exits, he pulled her between some tents and kissed her. She wrapped her arms around his neck and met his passion, tasting the lingering sugar on his lips.

After a couple of minutes he pulled back, ragged, and put his forehead on hers. "You need to go."

"I do?" He just gazed at her, already missing her. She blinked, realized the time. "I do." Her grip tightened on his arm. "My bear."

They sprinted back to the games area, but it was all closed up, booths locked tight for the night.

"I could pick the lock," Patrick offered.

"No."

"My friend is an escape artist," he reminded her. "It's no trouble."

"Still no."

"Then I'll bring it to you sometime this week. Or you can come back to collect it." He held her loosely, his front to her side, voice in her ear.

"I was thinking," she said shyly. "Maybe I can take a day off this week. Friday?"

"Fridays are busy. Would Thursday work?"

"Thursday," she sounded, thinking about her calendar. "I'll look into it."

"I'll call you."

"Then you'll need my number."

"Go ahead."

"You need a pen?"

"I'll remember."

"You sure?"

He grinned and squeezed her gently. "I'm sure."

"Of course you are." She rattled off her number.

He moved to kiss her again, but she let it land on her cheek. He stepped behind her and moved her hair aside to kiss her neck. A small giggle escaped her lips. Patrick chuckled in response as she pulled away again. "What was that?"

She cleared her throat. "Hmm.. not sure what that was."

"You are full of surprises."

"I can't believe I stayed so late. Thanks for this."

"I'll walk you to your car," he whispered.

On their way out, they happened to stroll past the booth where they had met. It was bare and almost lost in the shadows, and Patrick knew he would never look at it the same way again. He put one arm around her shoulders and ran the other down his nose. "You know, now that I've had the opportunity to compare, I must say I prefer the kisses to the punch in the face."

She wrinkled her nose at him. "Me too."

A few minutes later after they shared one last lingering goodbye, she walked the last few steps to her car alone. She pulled out her keys and a tattered paper fell to the ground. Her ticket. Good for one kiss, or a day of adventure. It was folded into a crane. As far as first dates went, this one was definitely the most memorable. Not without bumps in the road, but it had been a really great day.

She looked back at Patrick and felt a tingle of anticipation. She couldn't wait to see what this week would bring. She was going to make the most of every moment with this man.