After two exhausting weeks of all night stakeouts, and triple shifts following double shifts, after two blissfully Spencer-free and thus incredibly productive weeks, Carlton should be sleeping like a baby. He knows he should be sleeping like baby. The knowledge of how he should be sleeping like a baby is like sandpaper on fingernails on a chalkboard in his brain, because instead of sleeping, he’s gritting his teeth and staring hard at the second hand on the clock in his living room, watching the night tick by.
His house is too quiet, dead even compared to the relative hush of the station around 4 am. In the car, night after night, watching the apartment window of a low-level, son of a bitch mafia rat, even O’Hara had shut up after a while, gone still, both of them keeping their gazes steady on the small square of light. But the sounds of the city were clear, distant tires and car alarms, music and playful screams all sneaking through the cracked driver’s side window.
Other people out having fun. The images were familiar despite what others apparently thought of him; the painfully vivid memory of Goochberg always present, rising up in his throat like the acid reflux that had been one of the many, many health problems she had felt the need to talk about in exhaustive detail until all a person could think about was the very, very large rolls of duct tape needed to keep her quiet.
Carlton wasn’t entirely devoid of experience; he had seen MTV. He’d even attended a party or two in his wild college days. Possibly even three. What they never realized was that he had also been called to the aftermath of too many parties gone out of control. So he had listened without turning his head, his breathing slowing to match O’Hara’s, quickening again at the far away sound of male laughter.
Spencer had been gone from the station for about two weeks. Two weeks of creeping silence and undisturbed files that had been the first thing that made Carlton truly notice the psychic’s absence, glancing up around noon one morning only to realize that the was frowning at O’Hara sitting alone and unmolested at her desk. Her face had looked strange and it had taken him two nights to realize that O’Hara had looked serious. Serious like a cop was supposed to look, frowning with concentration and frustration until the lines of hard work were permanently etched into his face—her face. Not all smiles and sunshine no matter how it made the days more bearable.
He’d shot her an approving nod the next morning and dove back into work.
Too much coffee had kept him up that night, and the next, until he’d volunteered himself for the overnight stakeout since there was no point in letting his sleepless nights go to waste when there were felons waiting to be apprehended. This had led to O’Hara scowling at him—or what she called a scowl, which really meant that little wrinkle forming between her eyebrows and her lower lip puffing out slightly. More like a pout really, if Carlton had to describe it, and not remotely intimidating, even if he had been forced to realize that he had also just volunteered her for an all-night stakeout.
One night into that and he’d realized that O’Hara might have had plans and for some reason might not have wanted to spend her nights in the pursuit of justice. But her face had remained the same; calm, thoughtful, almost pensive. Two nights in the quiet of that damn car and two days of Carlton snapping at rookies in the station and staring suspiciously at the unoccupied edge of O’Hara’s desk and he’d realized that this was his partner without Spencer around. This was the station without Spencer around, running smoothly, functioning just fine without him, even if O’Hara and a few others seemed a little cranky and sometimes Carlton found himself following the sounds of strangers laughing.
The laughter should have been comforting. It shouldn’t have been more than the smallest blip on his radar. It certainly shouldn’t have drawn his attention from the window. It had just been a laugh. Laughter meant the happiness of innocent civilians that they were working hard to protect. Sounds like that made it all worth it, Carlton had always known that, even when the Feds or Spencer got all the credit. It was always worth it. Law enforcement was a noble profession, possibly the noblest, and certain stupid-haired lying, posturing, fake psychics had absolutely no right to mock it with their crazy antics.
When it came to it, Carlton had no problem in giving up a little sleep for the sake of justice. If there was something he could have been doing, he would have been doing it. But no. He snaps on one tiny, little librarian taking far too long to give her statement, crying on his new tie about a skateboarder vandalizing the library carpet with—stop the presses—mud, and Chief Vick sentences him to a few days off.
“Consider it a reward for all your hard work, Detective.” She’d given him that strangely knowing little smile when she’d said it, so he’d had to swallow his sneer, but he hadn’t been fooled, and his glare before he’d nodded must have made that clear, because she’d added something. “If you don’t want peace and quiet, at least give the rest of us some.”
Before he’d left, she’d even called him back to add that if she saw him around the station before his next scheduled shift, she’d have him put on mental health leave.
Mental health leave. He snorted. He wasn’t the crazy one. Now if he could just get everyone to admit that he was right and that they all were wrong.
Not that they were arguing with him, not openly. Their stares seemed to be enough, even O’Hara had stopped bugging him. He was starting to hate the silence, the way his thoughts were staring to run together, faster and faster like watering circling down the drain, or a hurricane, with one big hole in the center drawing everything toward it, toward certain destruction. It was almost as though he’d grown used to distraction, to chaos, and that was ridiculous. That was like saying he was missing, had missed Spencer. He wasn’t and he hadn’t; he was just bored.
So what if he was sitting up on his couch in the dark, listening for sounds that weren’t there? He lived in the kind of cheap, month by month housing that only almost-divorced cops and the elderly lived in. The blue-hairs on either side of him had long since watched Matlock and gone to bed. His wife was gone, completely gone, just like all the traces of his married life that had been packed away in storage after the disaster that was his birthday.
He would have tried a more traditional method to relax, blaming his insomnia on stress. But the shooting range was off limits like the rest of the station. After that he’d cleaned his house, reorganized the cans in his kitchen shelves, ironed his ties and skimmed his old law books before digging out his college textbooks on the criminal psyche and skimming those too. It had been years, his mind could use a quick refresher course, he told himself, and of course they might have new studies, discovered links between the inability to sleep and obsessive thoughts.
He could buy some new books, wander around the University maybe, see what the youth were up to. Careless of him not to think that before, but the science of criminology must have advanced in the years since he’d been in school. But researching and buying new books was something to do during the day, and at night there was nothing to do but listen to the city through an opened window or watch old movies and infomercials.
So Carlton paces his living room exactly eleven times before dropping onto the couch and surrendering to the lure of mop and skin care advertisements. The first wash of sound makes him close his eyes and push out a long breath.
Pointless babble. Pure nonsense designed to distract him from a simple truth. But there’s something about the seller’s manic energy that captures his attention no matter how he tries to think about the cases waiting on his desk or what books he might find at the campus bookstore. He can’t help it, sitting back as the sound of a high, excited voice fills his apartment. He doesn’t know what the man is selling, doesn’t care, frowning at the contorting, flailing body, shaking his head when he realizes all that is for floor wax.
Doesn’t the guy have any dignity? Doesn’t he have any respect for himself? For floor wax? It’s pathetic. It’s more than pathetic, it’s ridiculous to watch a grown man have to make a fool of himself just to make a point, to keep everyone from noticing that underneath the flash it’s just wax, after all. Shiny, useful to have around, maybe better than some other floor waxes, but still just a wax.
Carlton’s apartment has carpeting so thick it swallows even the sound of footsteps.
He reaches for the remote without hesitating, making a face at a musical and finally settling on something black and white. The British accents nearly make him change his mind but Carlton just closes his eyes and tries to force himself to sleep to the low hum of crisp, dry voices.
Of course, at the first mention of murder his eyes open right back up and his heart rate kicks up to levels it hadn’t been since that morning.
The coat and hat give it away, even if the “Elementary, Watson” didn’t; the pipe just confirms it. Sherlock Holmes bends down over some speck of crap in the street on a studio soundstage and sneers at something and already Watson is nervous and goggling like an idiot.
“But how did you do it, Holmes? How did you know?”
“Because he looked at the facts, you pudgy moron,” Carlton answers him with a frown, right as Sherlock does the same, only because he’s Sherlock Holmes and the hero he does it using four times as many words.
"It is one of those instances where the reasoner can produce an effect which seems remarkable to his neighbor, because the latter has missed the one little point which is the basis of the deduction.” Holmes stands as he says this, gesturing at the evidence Watson still hasn’t noticed, not caring or seeing how Carlton sits straight up.
“The same may be said, my dear fellow, for the effect of some of these little sketches of yours, which is entirely meretricious, depending as it does upon your retaining in your own hands some factors in the problem which are never imparted to the reader.”
Carlton doesn’t remember the exact meaning of “meretricious” but he knows the truth when he hears it. He shuts off the TV and the sudden silence is startling. He scowls into the darkness as random images and memories shoot out at him like the rapid-fire words that always burst out of Spencer’s mouth, swirling and spinning only he can see what’s in the center now and it’s Spencer. Of course it’s Spencer. And around Spencer are strange things like lost memos, orchids, and bodies in dumbwaiters. Facts he had seen, facts right in front of him, and he’d let himself get distracted. Distracted by a…by a damn floor wax.
In the silence, with nothing else to do, Carlton can lean back and think about things like that. For a good, long time if he wants to. And then he can think about other things, like shards of glass from a broken taillight—just how long had Spencer been waiting out there?—and pictures—O’Hara had let him into the crime scene for barely a few seconds and he must have had the scene memorized, and then, finally, weirdly, a cat, the damn cat—when Spencer must have just read the newspaper. Just happened to have read the paper and then pranced around pretending to channel a cat and forced himself into Carlton’s lap.
For the love of… Carlton’s not even sure whether solving the cases and pulling off a psychic act that everyone in Santa Barbara—except Carlton—had believed was damn lucky or damn talented. He’s not sure if the fact that Shawn Spencer could have been the finest detective the force had ever seen and had chosen to be a fake, no doubt on account of his father, was the dumbest thing he’s ever heard or possibly just the saddest. He’s not sure he wants to think about it at all. But he’s sure of one thing at least.
“Spirits, my ass,” Carlton says out loud, not knowing if he’s frowning or smiling, but there’s less pressure at his forehead and a strange burning in his cheeks.
His heart rate slows the moment he speaks and he leans back into the couch, tossing away the remote and listening to the noises from outside. He thinks, as he closes his eyes, that he might be smiling. He’s almost ready for Spencer to come back—but just to wipe the smile off that arrogant punk’s face. The threat of fraud charges alone ought shut Spencer up for a while.
From outside he catches another hint of distant laughter and oh yes, he is definitely smiling.
“Spencer,” he practices saying those sweet, sweet words, “Spencer your ass is mine.”
Turns out he just needed one pleasant thought and he’s ready for bed, silence or not.
The restaurant was one of the many Italian places in an area of San Francisco called North Beach, on the nicer side, but still affordable. It was crowded, noisy, and dark and filled with a combination of tourists and men in nice suits. Carlton would have assumed, given the atmosphere of red-checked tablecloths and Chianti bottles-as-candlesticks, that they were in some sort of Mafia den, except that the shirts that went with the suits were generally in colors that even Guster wouldn’t have worn, and their waiter’s name was Steve, and Steve liked small dogs, loved cops, and had just broken up with a dishwasher named Patrick.
Why he thought Carlton would give half a crap about his love-life was a mystery Carlton was happy not to solve. He settled for another glare at the kid’s back before turning to face Alan, hesitating slightly at Alan’s grin.
Alan’s smile was one of a hundred things that always made Carlton feel incredibly awkward, like walking into a room where everyone was laughing and never being told the joke, something that seemed to happen all too often these days.
Well he didn’t want to know the joke. He didn’t need to know joke, and they could take their joke and…
“Relax.” One word from Alan makes Carlton stop. He frowns for a second longer anyway, not surprised when this makes Alan smile again. He looks down while he takes another sip of his water.
“So, the play?” Alan is direct, sometimes, when he needs to be. Thinking about that is something that can make Carlton blush to this day, so he clears his throat and meets Alan’s gaze like a man.
“Good.” It’s like the Sahara in his mouth. Carlton tries some more water and nods. “Really. It was good.”
“It was crap,” Alan’s smile gets wider, warmer, and Carlton feels his mouth twitch up. It’s just for a moment, but Alan could always read the minutest expressions on his face. Had loved to study them, or so he claimed, Carlton had never really understood why. Alan’s only explanation had been something about acting and Carlton’s “marvelously expressive” face. Actors were a strange group.
“It was terrible,” Carlton agrees instantly, cracking a real smile. Alan laughs and settles back into the booth. The candlelight looks good in his blonde hair, even with the way he’s gelled it back, and his skin is surprisingly tan. Maybe it’s the white of his dress shirt, casual and rumpled as though he just got out of bed and still somehow obviously more expensive than Carlton’s plain blue.
But Alan’s eyes dip down to the open vee at Carlton’s throat, and though he looks surprised, Carlton feels himself flushing from the neck up. Stupid, listening to bad advice about unbuttoning his shirt and taking his tie off. This wasn’t a date, exactly, this was two old friends, meeting up for an intimate dinner in a strange city.
“The pay is good and audiences seem to love it.” Alan shrugs, stretching the shirt over his shoulders. If it’s slightly too tight and emphasizes his muscles, that’s deliberate. Unlike other men who dress with an obnoxious lack of decorum, Alan only wants to look like he just got up; he didn’t actually sleep until noon and then stumble into the station with stubble on his face and a smirk about the night before.
“It was better than that one you were in our last year of school, what was that about, with the fish and princess…?” Carlton hasn’t sat back, but he does lay one arm across the table, taking up more room than he really needs.
“Do not bring that up.” Alan’s eyes narrow. “Don’t,” he warns again softly and Carlton nods to himself. This was how he remembered Alan, open and sure of himself, but quiet, controlled. Alan always knew what he wanted and never pretended otherwise—unless he was onstage. He was the one non-crazy actor Carlton had ever met, but he didn’t like thinking about Vanessa, it was painful enough and then thinking of her usually just led back to thinking about Alan and in the past, Carlton had found it best to try to avoid those thoughts.
Alan, at least, had never gotten a nose ring.
“I’m glad you could come up to visit.” With a shudder about his first—and worst—play. Alan changes the subject and Carlton lets him.
“I got more than a few strange looks for requesting the time off.” Some had even stared after him with their mouths open. Others had immediately followed that with nonstop pestering about his plans—somehow suddenly, amazingly less than psychic. But his continued silence on the subject had apparently only encouraged the bizarre guesses designed to piss him off—cat fanciers convention being the mildest—and even after hours on the road to get here and stopping in his hotel, Carlton hadn’t quite been able to shake the idea that he’d been followed. Maybe it was the way Spencer had seemed to give up only to toss out slyly, suggestively, as Carlton had been walking away, that he must be off for a sex weekend with an old girlfriend.
Carlton twitches at the thought and looks around from reflex, but there’s no sign of anyone he knows, not even one blonde resembling his nosy, well-meaning partner, or anyone at all who looks like her two goofball associates.
“You never could learn to let things go.” Alan’s voice is soft again but he just shrugs and gestures with one hand.
A gesture like that would have had Carlton wincing back in Santa Barbara. He can feel himself going still, and he swallows, but he doesn’t look around again no matter how much he wants to.
“But you’ve…changed. Mellowed somehow, I guess.” Alan isn’t prying. He had never pried, never pestered, it had seemed so refreshing with Vanessa constantly after him to open up and share his feelings. He didn’t have feelings for God’s sake, he was a man. If he did have feelings, when he did have feelings, he always felt it should be obvious. There he was, putting in the time, putting in the effort, ready to protect and serve her and there she was, whining that he didn’t give her flowers. He’d given her everything else, he still didn’t see what flowers had to do with it.
What Alan is doing is more subtle, enough like an interrogation that Carlton can appreciate it. The lighting is dim, but something in Alan’s demeanor tells him that Alan is curious and wants to ask anyway. Maybe Carlton is too used to interrogations. Or maybe he’s remembered more than he thought. Maybe he just still enjoys doing what Alan tells him to do.
The other man had always held back. That’s another reason Carlton had liked him, liked being around him at first even after he’d first realized what Alan was into. It was comfortable, after Vanessa pushing. She’d been smart and demanding and hot, so hot, pierced nose and all. She’d made these noises against his mouth whenever he’d kissed her, these needy, soft sounds, soft when the rest of her had always been so pushy.
She’d dumped him after four months, crying and then calling him a jerk when he hadn’t said anything. Alan had taken one look at him when he’d come back to their dorm room and known.
She finally dumped you and broke your heart. He’d seen everything in one glance that Vanessa had never seemed to see, recognizing he’d hadn’t been in the mood to talk. He hadn’t even been able to ask about that “finally”.
“You saying I’ve gotten soft?” Carlton jerks his chin up, then shakes his head. He might have narrowed his eyes and reached for a gun that isn’t there. It’s a force of habit, he’s just not quite sure when he got into it. He was ninety percent certain Alan wasn’t just messing with him. He grunts a little. “Sorry.”
“Right there!” Alan sits up, gesturing wildly again, and Carlton’s gaze follows his hands. “Carlton Lassiter saying sorry that easily. You’ve changed and I’d like to know the cause.”
Carlton’s pretty sure his mouth is open. He’s also pretty sure he’s frowning; he can feel the ache between his eyes. But then, he’s never had a problem apologizing, has he? He’s always thought, considering the amount of stupidity and crap he puts up with on a daily basis, that he’s been remarkably tolerant. Even pleasant, on occasion. So he doesn’t see how he could have changed.
The only differences in his life are the steady lack of communication from his not-quite-ex-wife and the presence of Spencer in his life—in his work. And, if anything, having Spencer around just made his life more stressful.
“Oh, Carlton,” Alan closes his mouth and forms another, different smile. “You don’t see it, do you?”
“So have you guys decided on drinks?” Steve has returned and Carlton fixes him with a glare that should have sent him away whimpering. Perhaps he has mellowed, because if anything Steve just sucks in a breath and blinks a few times. “Did you look at our wine list?” His finger trails across the laminated list to the tablecloth and then almost reaching Carlton’s hand.
“I’ll have a scotch.” Not for his ex or for Alan is he drinking white wine again. Alan shoots him a look so amused it sparkles and then asks for a martini. The waiter—Steve—who looks too young to be serving drinks and ought to be carded—pauses, sighs, and then finally gets his ass in motion. Carlton grunts the second he’s actually gone.
“I still hate wine,” he insists, scowling deeper now. “And why does our waiter think I should care that he loves cops?” It’s honestly mystifying. It wasn’t like he’d flashed his badge. Alan laughs silently, about as frightened of him as Spencer ever was. It was unfair; his glare always worked on the criminals.
“I’d say he tagged you as one. Some men like them. The suit, the posture, the weight of authority.” The heavy, dramatically longing sigh catches Carlton’s attention and holds it. Alan gives him a look Carlton hasn’t seen since before his marriage. He swallows. “He’s flirting with you, Carlton, and if you can’t see that, you really need to get back in the game.”
“I was never in the game.” His response is as immediate as lightening, but he’s staring right at Alan and thinking about his shirt, his skin, wondering how the gel in his hair would feel. He used to let it fall naturally around his face, clean and silky between Carlton’s fingers.
“But you wanted to be.” Alan puts his hands out, flat on the table, and leans his head to one side.
It’s very hot in this restaurant. Carlton’s mouth is very, very dry.
His knees jerk under the table and he spreads his legs suddenly, helplessly, remembering that first time, crushed and angry and falling onto his bed and catching Alan’s look, staring as Alan simply dropped to his knees in front of him, learning quickly that he could ask Carlton anything and he would have it, so long as he kept on touching him there, sucking him off. Learning that Alan was the same just with the way Carlton had tried touching him in return, anything Carlton said as long as Alan could see his face while they…during…after.
Not so different from Vanessa, sleeping with Alan, laughing with him, just without all the confusing flower talk. And of course, the fact that it could never leave their dorm room.
He swallows, aware that it’s the second or third time. “I made my choice. The law…” Is his life. His calling in so many ways.
“Well,” Alan leans back abruptly. “You are changing, the times they are a changin’ too. You just might get both now. Or at least part of it, if you want it. Someday, or just for the weekend.” And then he presses his leg along Carlton’s underneath the table.
The tablecloth is not that long. Anyone can see them. Carlton’s heart is going to burst from his chest but he’s not moving away.
“You haven’t, have you? Not in a long time.” He ought to bring Alan in to question difficult suspects. His voice hasn’t even risen and Carlton’s flushed and sweating bullets.
“Not since you.” Carlton, at least, lowers his voice. He’s whispering, and he ought to wish it wasn’t so that Alan would lean back over the table toward him. Except it is. His eyes widen the closer Alan gets and then he licks his mouth, wanting that damn scotch right about now. He glances down only to look right back up, letting out a breath. It was the only time he had dared and Alan can probably guess that without Carlton dragging the words out.
The one admission is embarrassing enough, making him twitch. He’s not even sure why he bothered; he wouldn’t have, all those years ago. He wouldn’t even have been able to. Even now he almost expects Alan to laugh at him, but Alan is serious, as serious as some others could never manage to be.
“But you’ve been thinking about it more and more lately,” Alan guesses, or knows, sounding so sure it’s both eerie and familiar.
“And just how do you know that? What have people been saying?” Carlton growls and pushes forward, realizing a second too late that he should have denied it and then not giving a damn. Alan suddenly switches gears, grinning slyly in a way that shouldn’t make Carlton hard and furious all at once.
“What people? You just have to have a brain and to know you, Carlton. Once you do, you’re easy to read… Ridiculously easy. The clues to Carlton Lassiter’s thoughts and feelings are all over his face, if you know what you’re looking for.”
And something…something about that has Carlton frowning, alarmed and more than a little horrified at being on display, even just for Alan, who obviously has never tried to hurt him. But before he can even try to come to terms with his complete failure to avoid this exact situation, he sees someone else laughing, someone else guessing, knowing, and he’s hard and furious before he can shake the thoughts away.
As though it was all just that simple after all, Alan shrugs and lowers his hand beneath the table.
Even in the gayest city this side of the rainbow, Carlton jumps. Whatever he was thinking—something about knowing, or guessing and reading Carlton’s face for the right answer—is totally lost the moment Alan slides his way across the booth to whisper in his ear. “For this weekend at least, Carlton, your ass is mine.”
And for whatever reason, Carlton remembers Spencer’s last words to him at the station and blushes bright red. He’s gaping, just the tiniest bit, because Spencer had known.
In the Nick of Time
He’s gone beyond ticked off to pissed off by the time he makes his way down one creepy, dark hallway only to end up in another creepy, dark hallway. But the panic in Guster’s voice had been unmistakable, and there’s a roaring sound somewhere up ahead, like heavy machinery or…something…that shouldn’t be coming from a supposedly abandoned aquarium.
Of course, Guster’s babbling on the phone had been all about Shawn being stupid and something else about a quota and Carlton wasn’t even going to try to figure that out. But he picks up his pace, keeping his hand on his piece as he moves silently through corridors painted with fish and whales. He peers in a few glass windows, looking at small, empty tanks that had used to hold tropical fish. There’s no sign of anything out of place, or of Spencer for that matter, and yet as alarmed as Guster had been, he’d been adamant about not coming back inside the aquarium.
If this was a trick, Spencer was a dead man, because he would have been the one behind it. They were both just fortunate that Carlton had already been headed in this direction; he’d had Guster call O’Hara for back up, just in case, but he had been the closest.
A muffled booming noise startles him enough to lift his head, beating out in an uneven rhythm that means it’s not a machine. It echoes down to him from another hall, and Carlton’s running before he has time to think about it. He stops dead at where the hallways meet, not quite believing his eyes.
Years and years ago he had come here with a date who had been into dolphins and he’d been forced to stand here in this exact spot for over an hour while she’d stared through the glass inside the tank where a dolphin had used to play.
It’s dark inside the tank now, the top closed over long ago, but still light enough for him to see Shawn Spencer, handcuffed and kicking against the glass, pushing himself up with his feet to the inches of air still remaining at the top of the tank.
Carlton’s eyes move over to the churning mess of white water, the roaring sound of gallons and gallons of water currently filling the tank at an incredible rate.
He blinks just as Spencer swims his way awkwardly back down to kick at the glass, except Spencer catches sight of Carlton at that exact moment, freezing in surprise.
And he is surprised, his eyes widen, his head snapping up to track Carlton and somehow it isn’t just the water that makes him seem suspended in air, in time.
A second later and he’s kicking back up to the surface and Carlton pushes himself forward, stumbling, searching the hall for a door, any door. He finds one and charges through it to another, getting further below ground, working his way around the tank.
There’s a large sealed door that obviously leads inside and he hesitates, but his spinning mind can recall enough about pressure to know that it’s not a good idea, even if it works. Another room is obviously some sort of control room and he’s scanning a lot of switches and blinking lights and finally giving up with a growl when not a single one turns out to be labeled.
His gun’s in his hand before he can think better of it and he’s blasting two holes in the control panel. It honks at him and the roaring continues, loud enough to deafen him he’s so close to all that water and he swears to God, if Spencer dies because of this someone is going to pay.
It’s a scramble back out into the hallway, to the window, and when he gets there his heart jumps. There’s too much water, he didn’t do anything, Spencer’s dead, only he blinks and sees the water is leaving the tank now, leaving by the ton it seems and even though this leaves Spencer plastered against the wall and trying to hold on while the tank drains, he’s also still alive.
Carlton slows himself, a little, as he heads back to the door into the tank, twisting the locks until it opens. The water hits him immediately, more than he’d expected, colder than he’d expected, strong enough to almost knock him off his feet. But he stands his ground until it floods away.
Spencer is shivering at the other side of the tank, staring at Carlton with wide eyes, not seeming to notice when water drips from his hair down into his face. His t-shirt and jeans are dark with water, sticking to every slim inch of him, his nipples hard points against the wet cotton. His chest moves as he breathes hard and Carlton’s chest feels tight. He frowns and makes himself look away, shaking slightly at the cold.
“Lassi, I can honestly say I’ve never been happier to see your smiling face,” Spencer greets him, suddenly all motion as he steps forward, waving his cuffed hands in front of him. He’s splashing quite a bit; water from his hands hits Carlton in the face but Carlton doesn’t say anything, just watching silently as Spencer comes over to him. He still can’t quite catch his breath.
“Dude, this is totally that moment in that Shadow movie where Alec Baldwin gets locked in that big water tank…” words seem to momentarily fail Spencer, so he waves his hands some more, “…thing and he psychically summons his girlfriend to come save him just in time—only instead of using mental powers I was kicking out Bonnie Tyler songs against the glass. But it’s hardly your fault that you’re not as psychically well-endowed as I am, Lassi.”
Spencer reaches him in time to punctuate that statement with a pitying pat on the shoulder and as he takes his hand away, Carlton sees that it’s shaking. Spencer however seems to determined to act as though he is unfazed.
“Psychically…” Carlton looks up and snorts deliberately. “You seemed pretty surprised to see me here, Psychic.” His sneer makes Spencer gasp in that way he has of pretending to be insulted. It’s entirely different from the way he acts when his father is around, which is the only reason that Carlton can spot the difference now. But this one is half-hearted at best; Spencer’s still shaken up.
“I knew Gus had my back the whole time,” he insists and Carlton moves aside to let Shawn out of the tank and then grabs his hands before Spencer can protest. Strangely, he doesn’t say a word when Carlton’s fingers curls over his wrists. His pulse is fast and strong.
“Yeah, from the parking lot.” His handcuff key works in this pair and Carlton sticks them next to his pair of cuffs, just in case, after letting go of Shawn’s hands.
“Gus didn’t know about the water tank, he left before all of…this…” Spencer’s eyebrows dip, then he brightens. “He still called you though, and you came rushing to my rescue, I’m so touched, man.” If a man could be said to fluttering his eyelashes, that’s exactly what Spencer is doing. Carlton backs up and holds his hands out.
“I was already on my way out here.” But he’d only floored it and fired up the roof after Guster’s call, because, as he’d told himself then, however he did it, Spencer was usually right, and there was no sense in not being prepared. There’s another flick of surprise on Spencer’s face and Carlton narrows his eyes but doesn’t call him on yet, out of consideration for the psychic’s near-death experience. “The lab found an unusual saltwater formulation in the last victim’s lungs, the kind used in places like this. I was following a hunch.”
Spencer just stares at him at that and Carlton bristles. “What? It was a legitimate lead. And I remembered this place and drove out here. It’s called real police work, Spencer. And you should be…” grateful he’d had the hunch at all, but he can’t say that out loud.
Neither of them looks at the tank for a long moment and then Spencer grins. It’s so cocky for an almost-dead man that Carlton almost hauls back and hits him.
“I guess you’re more psychic than I thought, Lassi-face. Want to go into the private detective business?”
He’s exactly as psychic as Spencer is. But he doesn’t say that either—yet—and pulls his gun once more, checking to make sure it’s dry. “So what happened and give it fast before the backup arrives.”
“I was given a vision.” Spencer replies, immediately, and his eyes dare Carlton to argue. “Of a sandwich, no…a tuna sandwich…of tuna…of dolphin-safe tuna…Yes! Dolphin-safe. Safe-Dolphins! And I remembered that protestor at the first murder scene. The, sadly chubby guy in the dolphin hat… Eating sushi at a crime scene is a little odd don’t you think?”
Spencer had eaten Chinese at a crime scene. But Spencer wasn’t exactly a civilian; there are red marks around his wrists from the cuffs to prove it. Carlton lifts an eyebrow. “Spirits tell you that?”
“No. Common sense tells me that,” Spencer snaps back and they both go still at echoing sounds from far away. “Anyway, the spi…” One look at his face and Spencer wisely cuts that one short. “Gus and I come out here…”
“Following a hunch,” Carlton inserts and flabbergasted isn’t a word he gets to use often, but that stunned expression is back in Shawn’s expression, for only a moment, but it’s there.
“And Gus and I catch a glimpse of…well…that guy… More than a glimpse really, even if he didn’t see us. And Gus is apparently really strict about adhering to his Naked Man Quota.” Spencer seems briefly contemplative. “He took off. I didn’t.” He shrugs to hide a shudder and apparently is done talking.
“A naked man?” Carlton snorts and steps forward. Another step and Spencer has to back up. He leans into the cement wall behind him and looks up, out of breath and frowning and not at all as smooth as he usually is even though he’s trying to laugh it up. He had been about to die. Had thought he was about to die and still it was all some joke to him. Carlton’s moving too close and he knows it, only managing to stop himself when his head is bent and his mouth is against Spencer’s ear. “You can’t be honest even for a second can you?” he growls, firming his lips to stop anything else from spilling out.
“Dude, I think that guy is really into dolphins, if you know what I’m saying and pretty please don’t make me spell that out in any more detail.” Spencer squirms as he argues, but never actually twists away, not even when one of Carlton’s hands ends up on the wall by his head. Carlton isn’t holding him; Spencer could move, but all he does is somehow rub their legs together and ease his head to the side until Carlton’s mouth is in his hair. Then his mouth falls open, his breath heavy between them. Spencer’s skin is cold-hot, the water making him shiver. “And this is…this is hardly the moment for earth-shattering revelations.”
Carlton would disagree, but there’s a sudden sound from a distance that makes him look up, music maybe, or a man singing. Singing about dolphins. Goddamn it all.
Spencer raises his eyebrows expectantly, smiling a little. “The spirits tell me he’s still close by.”
“Yeah, I can hear him too, Spencer.” Carlton rolls his eyes and pushes away from Spencer too quickly to enjoy Spencer’s reaction to his easy dismissal of his “abilities”. But he hears the hitch in the other man’s breath that means he knows. Carlton’s grin at that is just for himself. “Stay here and wait for back up.”
He’s back out into the hallway when he hears Spencer’s soaked sneakers squelching behind him. He sighs, somehow not surprised at all.
“Dude, I’m not just going to leave you,” Spencer stage-whispers at his back and Carlton sighs again without turning around. His grin is ridiculously wide now.
“Just stay back and out of my way, Spencer,” he growls through his smile before he can finally push it away for later. “This guy’s ass is mine.”
Of course, one glimpse at the large, pale figure several yards ahead of them makes him regret his choice of words. Spencer just coughs. It’s not quite a laugh, but it’s clearly an “I told you so.”
“Oh and he has a gun,” Spencer offers, almost off-handedly, before ducking behind Carlton’s back and wrapping his arms around him.
“We’d like to congratulate you once again on how well the SBPD has handled this case…”
Carlton looks up from straightening the completed forms spread across his desk—Interim Chief Vick’s desk, but his for the moment—as he tries to determine which of the two men in suits made the statement.
It is impossible to tell, but he spends a moment staring between them anyway, feeling his gaze get drawn back to the other person in the room, the dark-haired woman who had yet to speak. She catches him looking, smiling faintly as she does, so Carlton blinks away his frown of discomfort and aims a completely different frown back at the two agents.
Impassive, bland faces, purposefully impassive to throw him off guard. It probably worked on most people, civilians or rookies too fresh to know better. That look only had an effect if a person gave a crap what the Feds might be thinking about him. And Carlton honestly didn’t. And he didn’t care if they got that any more than he cared if they saw how irritated he was with this visit.
The case had been solved, most of the paperwork checked off, just as it would have been without the presence of the FBI. They might have expedited a few things, but they’d also cost his investigation a day with their interference and he wasn’t about to let them forget it.
“Well this wasn’t exactly our first rodeo,” he informs them, keeping his tone level only by staring at that ugly paperweight that the Chief always keeps on her desk. He has to remind himself of what she might say if she finds out that he deliberately antagonized the FBI. It helps that the paperweight is so ugly and thus so memorable, he can think about it when he’s trying not to lose his temper, wondering where the Chief had got it, and why for the love of all things tasteful did she keep it around?
He looks up again to find the woman agent smiling. She’s beautiful, dressing seriously in the manner that all female cops did except possibly his ex-partner Goochberg, her jewelry a simple gold chain against her tan skin. There’s nothing provocative about her; she’s entirely professional, and if it weren’t for the fact that she’s a glorified head-shrinker, Carlton would have thought she was attractive.
“Did you guys have some unanswered questions about the case?” he asks, pointedly, because just as he thought before, there was really no reason for this little visit. The Chief had gone on vacation and left him in charge right about the same time that some sick bastard had decided to start killing in Santa Barbara. The Feds had already been tracking him for something in Ventura and once they’d realized he was here, they’d pushed their way into the case, citing the prior investigation. It had taken a lot of wheedling and ass-kissing to keep the PD in the loop at all, and someone, someday at the Bureau was going to pay for that.
It was especially galling when it had been the SBPD who had finally caught the freak before he’d killed his last victims even if the Feds had taken all the credit on the news. Between the paperwork and the cases that had been put on hold that now had to be reassigned and the nightmares he knew were coming, his entire department would be exhausted for weeks. So a little condescending chat from the Fibbies, as Spencer called them, was exactly the last thing he needed, next to of course, Spencer himself having a ridiculous episode in this office right now.
Special Agent Johnson—one of them—narrows his eyes but the other one seemed to be doing the speaking. The other Special Agent Johnson—because of course they were both named Johnson, which Spencer and Guster and even McNab had seemed to find hysterically funny—nods his head, which Carlton supposes is some sort of apology or acknowledgment of…something.
He goes still and arches one eyebrow, waiting. When that doesn’t work on its own he tries that smirking, patient grin the Chief uses. He’s not sure who is more surprised when it actually works and Johnson decides to keep talking.
“We were pleasantly surprised at the level of professionalism displayed here, despite an outburst or two.” The blinds are closed, but there are no blinds over the glass doors to the Chief’s office—an overlooked design flaw Carlton has never figured out. It means they can all see out into the bullpen the same way everyone out there is pretending not to look in here. Even with all that, Carlton doesn’t look out and neither do the agents. If Spencer is out there, he can just use his fancy magic powers to figure out what’s going on in here.
“Pleasantly surprised,” Johnson echoes Johnson. Carlton scowls at him, at both of them.
“That we can solve cases without the Feds holding our hands?” He hasn’t snapped, yet, but he catches the woman agent smirking before she turns her head to glance outside.
“Actually it was with your display of leadership,” she remarks dryly, not bothering to look at him.
Greenway, Greenaway. Carlton can’t quite remember her name. She’s hung back for most of the investigation, ignoring even her fellow agents most of time, observing them all in a way that had reminded Carlton of one of his Criminology professors. He’d wondered where she’d learned to do that until she had handed in her report and he’d realized why she was here.
She was the FBI Profiler. And if Spencer hadn’t had a “vision” not ten minutes before, claiming the killer was “a skinny guy almost as old as Lassi here who played with his Green Army Men one too many times, and really pissed off that he even got rejected from the Chess Club,” earning himself a smack from Guster at the same time, Carlton might have been more impressed to read in her report that she thought the offender was “young but approaching middle-age, socially awkward and undeveloped, of average intelligence but believing himself to be mentally superior to others. Fascinated or possibly obsessed with military and pseudo-military organizations. Shows a strong antipathy toward those who act against these groups, outsiders like himself.” As it was he’d just grunted at her. He’d already wasted an “adequate” on Spencer and there was no need to get all lovey-dovey.
Johnson and Johnson had decided to waste their time looking for men recently discharged when it should have been obvious from reading between the lines of Spencer’s nonsense that the guy wouldn’t have made it into the Army in the first place. But their reaction to Spencer was to ignore him completely. That ability to tune him out in the face of screaming fits, flailing arms and constant groping was the one thing about them that Carlton almost respected.
Carlton had sent O’Hara to question local recruiters about any suspicious characters and acted surprised when the FBI discovered that Spencer and Company had taken it upon themselves to hang out at various veteran’s groups, looking for a “veteran’s groupie”. They’d found him too, along with a protestor bound and gagged in the back of his car, and a bizarre-looking instrument in his garage intended for an interrogation.
Carlton didn’t like hippies either, with their long hair and their incense, but somehow, torture before murder still seemed a little excessive.
“He thought this would bring him acceptance from the larger, dominant group,” Greenway had murmured at Carlton’s side, the offender in the back of a car in handcuffs, the protestor freed and in an ambulance. A few feet away Spencer had squinted up at the sun.
“All the cool kids are doing it,” he’d explained, quietly, for once tossing his obnoxiously fake smile at the confused, pissed off faces of Johnson and Johnson. Carlton didn’t grin, the mood was all wrong for that, but his small approving nod had made Spencer blink.
“You handled your team well. We looked over your arrest record. It’s quite impressive.”
“Youngest Head Detective in the history of the Santa Barbara PD.” Carlton sticks out his chin, but when she doesn’t add anything right away he decides maybe—maybe—she doesn’t mean anything by it, so he inches it back down, looking between the three of them.
They’ve gone quiet and it’s as though they’re waiting for something. It’s like marriage counseling all over again and Carlton can feel himself getting riled up. Paperweight, he reminds himself. Ugly glass fish. Breaking ugly glass fish over the head of Johnson. Using glass shards of ugly fish paperweight as knife and fighting his way out of here.
Carlton smiles. Johnson—the really bland one—actually flinches.
“Have you ever considered the Bureau?” Greenway asks coolly and her look says she knows exactly what he’s thinking. It’s disturbing, but Carlton isn’t about to be scared off by some almost-shrink, so he stares back at her.
“Amid the general chaos and lax attitude of this police station, you managed to follow the pertinent leads and resolve the case quickly.” The other Johnson chimes back in and Carlton spends a second trying to remember if he was the Supervisory Agent or if it was the other one. Then he remembers he doesn’t give a crap and shuts down his computer. “In fact you’ve shown remarkable tolerance for both the presence of civilians and the unorthodox work habits of several of your fellow officers.”
O’Hara had shown up to work in pink suit and brought the FBI agents a box of sugar cookies when they had first arrived. Something about their two departments needing to mend rifts to better serve the community. Spencer and Guster had been…Spencer and Guster. McNab had been using the break room for impromptu tuxedo fittings for his wedding. A few of the other detectives had started making smoothie runs once the case had been solved, sneering at the agents’ when they had chosen to go for coffee. None of this even compared to the current number of baby books, rattles, and soft, squishy, squeaky baby toys that were still strewn about Interim Chief Vick’s office.
Johnson had stepped on one when he’d first arrived. O’Hara’s mouth had curved up at the sound.
It was chaos, and the attitude toward police regulations in this station was lax. In the days of Fenich this would never have happened. The station would have been crackling with tension, and the only jokes being made would have been in the break room or the bar down the street when off-duty. There would have no sugar cookies unless one of the beat officer’s wives had made them and McNab would have worn his dress blues to his wedding. And the quiet… Carlton could only vaguely, dreamily recall the time of silence that had existed before the arrival of their pain-in-the-ass pet psychic.
“Oh yeah?” Carlton works his jaw and nods his head before putting his hands on the desk and getting to his feet. He smiles a little, looking away just for a second and imagines an FBI badge with his name on it. He also imagines this all being some sort of twisted joke, except then he remembers that the FBI doesn’t have a sense of humor, though that makes it strange that they thought he could be one of them. Carlton likes jokes just fine—when he hears good ones. “What makes you think I’m FBI material?”
Unsurprisingly, both men turn to Greenway and it’s Carlton’s turn to flinch. He hadn’t realized he’d been profiled.
“You’re highly intelligent, judging from both your degree and your arrest record. You specialize in interrogation, but don’t shy away from monotonous drudge work. You’re experienced as an officer on the street and in an executive capacity and obviously at least somewhat open to new ideas. You show some signs of frustration, typical in someone who has been active on the force for at least five years, but also a single-minded devotion to duty.” Greenway pauses, and Carlton remembers from counseling that this is never the fun part, if there even is a fun part. “However, you see the world in black and white—or least you did—and this can be a source of conflict with those around you. It does mean that you are unlikely to be compromised, but it also means you have issues when relating to others. Your personal life suffers for your job but you seem to have accepted that.”
“You know all that from watching me work?” He really wants to sit back down but doesn’t, transferring his glare to the pair of Johnsons in front of him. His jaw aches and it takes him a second to realize he’s clenching his teeth.
“Your partner looks up to you, but you snap at her before she can confide in you. You are still wearing a wedding ring, but not once have you made mention of, or tried to contact a wife, or a child, or even a lover. The police officers in this station listen to you, but they don’t linger in your presence. This tells me that cultivating personal relationships is not a priority for you.” That he had ever found Greenway attractive was some kind of nightmarish mistake. “You leave the station late and arrive early. The only hint of affection you allow others to show is the nickname that your official police psychic has given you.”
“He’s not my psychic,” Carlton argues. And he doesn’t allow anything. But Greenway’s not done.
“You snap at them, but they seem to take no offense in the act, meaning that they know it’s just that; an act. You have their interests at heart and they respect you for that. And,” suddenly Greenway smiles widely and tosses her hair back. “The way you dress, it’s respectable, cost-efficient and professional. You tie your own tie and don’t wear a clip-on. It’s an old-fashioned gesture, as is your choice of a shoulder holster. Your values are sacred to you, yet you allow your partner to keep hers.”
“Overall, you are fine detective who could only benefit from further relationships outside of work. Of course, even should you choose not to, you work has gone unrecognized here and we believe you could do better.” Johnson steps in which means he was the senior agent after all.
“Well, well, well,” Carlton murmurs, mostly to himself. He’s still standing, which seems strange. He feels like he should be on his ass on the floor, and his jaw still hurts. He unclenches it, works it a few times, then smiles.
He had obviously underestimated the FBI. They weren’t total idiots, since, for some reason, they want to recruit him. Okay. Carlton can deal with that. In fact it’s…nice…to finally be shown the proper respect for his skills. His obvious intelligence. His years of service. It’s very nice actually. Other people should learn from their example.
“But you could have gotten all that from your “psychic” out there.” Even Carlton can hear the italics in Greenway’s tone. His hands leave the desk and he lifts his head to glare at her. “Cold-readings are easy enough if you’ve been trained to look for the signs, and he obviously has been. All he needs to do is to pay close attention to others and make an informed guess, just like the best con artists.” For a moment she sounds almost apologetic. “Offenders often make the best profilers.”
Carlton suddenly isn’t sure which statement to focus on first. He’d look through the glass doors but Johnson’s blocking his view.
“He’s probably read everyone here. It’s how he gets away with so much, but at least he never fooled you.” The other Johnson looks out the doors; Carlton wonders vaguely what he sees.
“No he never did,” he agrees, quietly.
“Not to mention his clear cop fixation and familiarity with police procedure. His father was a cop, wasn’t he?” Greenway talks like a lawyer, asking questions she knows the answers to. If Carlton hadn’t been slightly afraid of the Chief, he’d tell Greenway to shut the hell up. “I will say his abilities are remarkable even if he lacks discipline...”
“Excuse me…” Carlton angles his head to the side and interrupts her. He wonders if they’re blocking his view of the bullpen on purpose, trying to separate him, isolate him, if he’s being interrogated and this is all some kind of FBI test. He keeps the frown on his face and focuses on Greenway, the real supervisory agent here.
“What did you mean I did see the world in black and white?” He wonders that too then shakes his head and cuts himself off. “You know what? Never mind.” He gets out from behind the desk and doesn’t stop moving even when Johnson and Johnson don’t step aside for him. He gets to the doors and touches the handle before spinning back around. “Let me tell you something, Greenway, and Johnson and Johnson over there can listen in…”
“I didn’t settle for being a cop. I chose to be a cop and I’m damn proud of it. The only reason I’m even half as good as I am, good enough to get you guys sniffing around me, is because of those people out there.” He stops to wave a hand behind him in the general direction of all the desks and people outside the Chief’s office.
“Sure they’re a little flaky, and I’m not sure all of them aren’t missing a taco or two from the combination platter. O’Hara needs to toughen up, and I’m not sure Guster even knows why he’s here… Spencer’s just a whole separate pile of crock.” For a second he loses track of where he’s going with that one and then he blinks and looks up to stare hard at all of them. “But the fact is everyone out there works hard—in their completely insane and often idiotic ways—to make sure our cases get solved. Every last one of them, from the uniforms on the street, who deserve personal lives even if it means a tailor in the break room, to our detectives who work to make the world a better place. And yes,” he acknowledges slowly, “sometimes that means cookie hearts with red sprinkles, but that’s beside the point.”
“Even Spencer.” His teeth seem to lock together on their own, but he forces his hand to relax on the door knob and smoothes his palms against his legs. “Whatever else he is—and God knows that sometimes I think Spencer was put on this earth just to test me—his record clearly shows he’s an asset to this station.”
Greenway’s face is oddly unsurprised though the other two seemed irritated with him. He doesn’t know who they take him for, like a little glare is going to stop him. Carlton puts a hand in his pocket and pulls out his sunglasses. Greenway has cracked another tiny smile.
“So, that’s a no on the offer then?” she asks, a confidence in her smirk that reminds him of everything she just said about con artists.
“Lady, there’s no place I’d rather be than Head Detective right here at this station. So thanks for the offer, but I’m done for the day.” He slips on his sunglasses and nods his head once in dismissal as he turns around.
Only to have in one moment two terrifying realizations—that every eye in the station is on him and that either the Feds left the door open or he must have opened the door a crack during his little speech, and every man, woman, and insane private detective out there heard every single word he said. He can only be grateful that he has his shades on so that no one can see the full extent of the horror on his face.
O’Hara is beaming—of course she’s beaming—and despite everything Carlton feels his cheeks growing warm at her happy smile. He turns away, sweeping his gaze over uniforms and witnesses and booking clerks, flinching when he sees Spencer, dead still for once and totally, unbelievably quiet though his mouth is hanging open. Confusion doesn’t even begin to describe the expression on his face when he meets Carlton’s gaze. Hurt might work, or pride. Need, though that must be wrong.
Carlton decides, faintly, his face hot and his thoughts crammed together, that Greenway would probably have a name for it.
Then Spencer blinks and everything the profiler said comes back to Carlton, shifting him back into motion. He shuts his jaw with an audible snap and swings the door out of his way.
“What are you all looking at?” he yells, already striding away. “Get back to work.”
“I think that means, you mention anything he just said ever again and he’ll have your ass.” And he does not hear Greenway explaining to everyone as he tries not to hurry out the front entrance. But if he does hear that, there’s a small satisfaction in knowing that she at least got something right.
The best way to get information was always to go right to the source. Always. The direct approach might offend some, maybe leave a few bodies in its wake, but Carlton had never been one for anything less than total honesty. This was also why when he needed information but found the source to be less than reliable he had decided to go right to the source’s best friend.
Shawn Spencer was an obvious liar, but still a liar. His lies were practiced, quick, and just ridiculous enough to have the more gullible people in this station believing them. Spencer believed them too, for the moments it took to tell them, selling them like the world’s best con.
Burton Guster’s lies, on the other hand, were about as solid as a marshmallow. A little heat and they melted right into soft, mushy goo.
With that in mind, Carlton had waited, and considered, and then sent O’Hara to a forensics conference on the other side of town. Then he may have left a fabricated memo on O’Hara’s desk about her participation in a charity car wash right as Spencer had made his usual visit to the station to sniff around for cases and then made a carefully-phrased call to Guster’s cell phone the moment Spencer had dashed out the doors.
In this case, the direct approach meant more not so much a straight path as it meant his determination to get some direct answers. After so much time in Spencer’s presence, it was inevitable that he’d end up using Spencer’s methods. But the knowledge sat in his gut like cold coffee on an empty stomach, making him sick and even more disgusted with Spencer than usual.
Guster ran in exactly twenty minutes later, out of breath and frowning slightly as he peered around corners and found no Shawn.
From his office, Carlton can see the irritation suddenly appear on his face when he realized that Spencer wasn’t there. Now’s the time to make his move. He stands up, fixes a smile on his face and steps out.
“Guster!” He’s not sure if it’s the arm he slings over the other man’s shoulders or his tone of voice that makes Guster flinch, but he tightens his muscles and holds Guster at his side, dragging Guster along with him as he heads down the hall. “Just the man I wanted to see.”
Guster’s head swivels around before he narrows his eyes and stares sideways at him.
“Lassiter.” The greeting is wary and confused and annoyed all at the same time. Guster is very easy to read. “Actually, I was looking for Shawn, you said he…”
“Spencer took off, something about O’Hara in a bikini…a charity car wash…” As horrifyingly uncomfortable as that is to say, it’s worth it for the sudden shock of stillness as Guster simply stops moving. Carlton stops moving too, bending his head in an expression of sympathy.
“I don’t believe this!” Guster’s exclamation brings the Chief’s head up in her office. Carlton pats the man’s shoulder once and lets go, nodding slightly when Guster takes another quick, frustrated look around and waves his arms. The Chief frowns and goes back to her work just as Guster makes a rough noise and starts striding in the direction that Carlton had just been leading him, believing it, no matter what he said.
It took him less than a minute to believe that Spencer had screwed him over. That’s interesting, and useful, even if it makes Carlton’s stomach rumble some more. But if it weren’t for his lingering doubts, the hunch that had got him through more than one investigation, he wouldn’t be doing this.
“You seem upset,” he remarks, sounding calm at least, following after Guster only to stop a moment later when Guster does.
“This is typical! I had three meetings scheduled with clients and two new drug pitches to memorize!” Guster holds out the numbers three and two on his fingers to emphasize his point, waving his hands nearly as much as Spencer does in one of his fits.
“Must be hard.” Carlton nods his head, not missing Guster’s quick frown, or the fact that after a moment the other man nods back anyway.
“You’re damn right it is. Shawn doesn’t appreciate just how hard it is, working a real job. Keeping a real job!”
“I can imagine.” That at least is true; he can’t imagine Spencer settling down by any definition of the term. But it’s…difficult…to meet Guster’s eyes. They’re so…sweet. It’s disgusting really. He makes a show of looking from side to side.
There are actually a few people looking in their direction, mostly people seeing Guster and then looking for Spencer to make some sort of entertaining scene, because Spencer loved his attention and there probably wasn’t anything he wouldn’t do to get it. “You know, people are starting to stare…” He tosses it out and lets it drift and Guster swallows it whole, glancing around and plucking at the collar of his bright pink shirt self-consciously.
One sympathetic frown later and Guster is walking along side him, going on about Spencer, if a touch quieter.
“Look,” Carlton offers suddenly, interrupting the stream of complaints about Spencer’s thoughtlessness with a hidden sigh; if Spencer is that bad it’s amazing that Guster has stuck by him this long. If Guster doesn’t like it than he ought to leave, tell him off, anything but keep whining.
Not that that excuses Spencer’s behavior or anything, it just… Guster had been whining for five solid minutes. Carlton would almost rather have been dealing with one of Spencer’s fits, at least that got him an arrest at the end.
“…Why don’t we just step in here for a moment?” He puts a hand at Guster’s back but Guster is already walking in as he opens the door and switches on the light.
“Not all of us are ‘gifted’ you know, ” Guster is arguing, apparently with Spencer, but he stops abruptly when he gets a good look around and realizes that he’s standing in the center of Interrogation Room Two. He actually jumps as Carlton closes the door. Carlton pretends he doesn’t see it and heads over to the table, where, conveniently, there are two chairs.
He pulls one out, sits down, and rocks back on two legs to lean against the wall. He rests his feet on the table before facing Guster.
“Don’t worry, it will probably be empty for a while.” He’s damn sure of that in fact, since he’d arranged it. A sound-proofed, private room, for whatever Guster might reveal. The fact that being in the room with Lassiter also clearly freaked out Guster out—that was just a bonus. His pose eases a little more and he stretches to put his arms behind his head. “You were saying, about Spencer….”
Guster turns away to take a long look at the mirror. He frowns in Carlton’s direction after a moment and then apparently the lure of complaining about Spencer is too great. He kicks out the other chair and plops down. Carlton politely averts his eyes from the sight of a grown man in a huff but listens to the metal clang of the chair as Guster adjusts it.
“Man.” Guster clasps his hands on the table and shoots Carlton an indignant look. “I can’t believe this.” He is still obviously angry. The scrape of the chair legs on the floor as he continues to fidget echoes off the tiled walls and Carlton rubs the headache from his forehead and fights to keep his smile in place.
“Today was a busy day for me…” God, was Guster still talking about his pharmaceutical job? Does he think anybody gives a crap about the job he clearly doesn’t care for? If he does care, he wouldn’t leave it all the time to go jaunting off with Spencer. But his mouth is still moving, he must still be talking, and for a while all Carlton can think is that Spencer must usually cut him off, because Guster has a lot of built up anger that he needs to vent. It isn’t often that Carlton Lassiter thinks about recommending that someone else seek out therapy, but Guster might just find it useful.
He waits until every sentence about tablets versus gel caps has him gritting his teeth and then he finally bursts in.
“You must know a lot about those things. Medicines, dosages, all that. Sometimes it takes our lab boys weeks to find answers like that.” The lab boys were actually three men and two women, plus the Sacramento lab for things like DNA. They all worked in the basement, in the building next to the morgue. It smelled like old cheese and nail polish down there and Carlton avoided it whenever he could, something he didn’t mind sharing with Guster either.
Guster sits up and a smug smile splits his face. “I like to keep my hand in. I could have been a doctor.” It’s on the tip of Carlton’s tongue to ask why Guster didn’t just become a doctor, but he holds back with an underappreciated amount of effort.
Sleepless nights, he reminds himself. Those doubts that won’t go away. Guster has the answers.
“I feel like I ought to just ask you about toxins and poisons.” He widens his smile and Guster ducks his head in a show of modesty. “You probably know more about things like arsenic…or digitalis….”
“Well, you should probably trust the lab for that one…” Guster preens for all of a second and then he’s frowning, glancing furiously in Carlton’s direction. His hands twitch. Carlton keeps his smile in place. Spencer might have everyone fooled out there. In here, it was all about Lassiter. “Don’t you have police work to do?”
“Slow day for crime.” As if there is such a thing. But Carlton has his answer ready. He takes his arms from behind his head and reaches under his jacket. Guster tenses, but Carlton plucks two lollipops out of his coat pocket and tosses one in Guster direction. He keeps the red one for himself of course and peels away the plastic before sticking it in his mouth.
Kojak. Great show.
“Must be hard, to balance a career like that with…Spencer… I mean your career with Spencer.” It’s like giving candy to a baby just to take it away again. Spencer really ought to teach Guster how to be more careful. Then again, maybe a friend so obviously trustworthy was the attraction.
“Yeah. Yeah.” Guster keeps giving him looks, but his fingers close around the lollipop and he pulls it toward his chest. He stares down at it, then in one move unwraps it and takes a lick of grape-flavored sugar. His eyebrows are up, but after a second he nods again. “You know he never listens to me, or takes the cases I want. Okay, sometimes he does, sometimes, but mostly he just does what he wants, whatever the sweetness tells him to do.”
Guster finishes with a flourish of his lollipop. Then he shoves it back in his mouth, clenches his jaw, and leans back in his chair with his arms crossed.
“The sweetness?” Carlton’s head jerks up despite himself and Guster instantly pulls the candy from his mouth. He twists to stare at his watch without looking long enough to tell the time.
“You know, Lassiter, it’s been weird, but I should really....”
“You’d think he would have called you before he left…” He’s got to wonder just how little sugar Guster’s gotten in life to be this susceptible to a little carrot-dangling. Remembering Guster’s hands curled protectively around a cheap lollipop that Carlton had grabbed while in line at the bank, his stomach twists again.
“Yeah.” Guster says again, to the mirror, to the wall, even to Lassiter. “Yeah.” He thunks back down into his seat, checks his cell, then puts it away. “Or send me a picture. Something.”
He’s not thinking about O’Hara in a bikini washing a car. He’s not thinking about O’Hara in a bikini at all. Or he shouldn’t be, and neither should Guster or Spencer. Even if she never found out, Carlton was still going to owe her and owe her big. A week of listening to her trying to draw him out at least, and then putting the fear of God into the Wonder Twins here even if O’Hara wouldn’t like him trying to avenge her honor.
In the meantime the image isn’t going away. It’s as strong as the image of Spencer paying to get his stupid motorcycle washed over and over again. Leering at her. Doing everything short of running his hands over her legs or smacking her ass. By all things sacred, Spencer had better not lay a hand on her.
Carlton coughs abruptly to bring himself back to the moment, and tugs at his collar, his face more than a little warm. Guster, thankfully, must just think he is also thinking about Jul—about O’Hara, because he doesn’t comment on that, just gives him a look of manly commiseration.
He swears to God, Spencer is going to pay for the fact that he had to go through this.
“But Shawn can’t help it sometimes. I don’t think his brain is wired like a normal person’s, or it was something his dad did. Psh, I used to think my parents were strict, then I met Shawn’s dad. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a good guy, but he never lets up.”
“Yeah,” Carlton surprises himself by speaking. “Henry Spencer is…” A pain in the ass perfectionist. “…He was a great cop…” he instantly asserts that, since that is an undeniable truth. “But…” Tact has never really been Carlton’s strong suit, but Guster seems to get what he means without him actually saying it. He gestures in Carlton’s direction, something almost like a silent ‘thank you’. It makes him blink. He has to take a moment to recall what it was they were talking about.
“I imagine he wanted his son to be a cop too.” Henry had actually said as much, in between criticizing Carlton’s methods of tying bait and casting out his reel. Henry Spencer had managed to out-critique his mother, and Carlton’s mother was an old-school Irish Catholic with an almost-divorced son. “…Instead he got…Spencer.”
“He loves Shawn,” Guster argues insistently, pulling out his lollipop to point with it. A moment later it’s back in his mouth and he’s shrugging. “He just expects a lot.”
And Spencer being Spencer, bright, hyperactive, rebellious, had fought him at every turn. Going along just enough and then abandoning what he’d learned, like even taking the detective’s exam in the first place. That clearly hadn’t been his idea, even if he had gotten a perfect score.
“He made him take the detective’s exam?” He makes it a question, but he’s not guessing.
“That’s the least of it.” With his chin up, Guster starts reciting a list that makes Carlton’s eyebrows go up despite himself. “That was after all the training on procedure, the lessons in how to walk like a cop. He wouldn’t let us join the other scouts in a troop, they weren’t good enough. Then he’d pit us against each other in games aimed at making Shawn into Robocop or Sherlock Holmes or something.” The lollipop is getting waved all over the place. “And he was always asking Shawn questions, all the time, like what were the names on the plates in an office building we passed, or the number of girls in brown shoes on the bus that day, and no kid wants to deal with that. Shawn would do it just to get him to leave him alone.”
Carlton pulls his lollipop from his mouth and swallows the cold taste of cherry. His mouth may have been open; he licks the red from his lips and then closes them.
What Guster is saying… It sounds a little unbelievable. Actually it sounds a lot unbelievable, but having met Henry Spencer it suddenly seems a lot more believable than psychic powers.
Could it really be that simple? Lifelong training to be some kind of super detective. What the hell had Spencer said to him when they’d first met, tried to explain. He hadn’t lied right away. That had come later.
The candy is sitting on top of the coffee in his stomach, churning and rising and Carlton meets Guster’s eyes and then looks away. This wasn’t what he intended to learn today.
Guster pauses in the middle of his rant and Carlton wonders if Guster realizes what he just gave away. He must, because he tries to lessen the damage, peeking over at Carlton to see if he noticed the slip. “Shawn’s dad always like that, even now, with me.”
Carlton very much doubts that. But he leans up a little, keeping his face sympathetic and nothing else. His mind is a rushing mess of images and oddly, the thought pops up that he may have forced Spencer into his psychic lie, but he didn’t force him to open a detective agency and keep it going.
“Yes,” He has to clear his throat to speak normally. “You should try fishing with the man. Nothing is ever good enough.” And another thought emerges from the mess of revelation in his mind. It’s impossible to be perfect, the only way to defeat that attitude was to stop trying.
He sits up just a bit more. “He wanted Spencer to be a cop, trained him since childhood. And in a family of cops there’s bound to be talk at the table, he’d pick up a lot.”
“Sure,” Guster agrees and then straightens up with a scowl. It’s not intimidating, but it’s deliberate. Carlton has to fight not to glare back, especially when Guster’s posturing is interrupting his train of thought.
“What’s up with you, Lassiter? Why are we having this little chat?”
“What?” Keeping his tone level is hard. Spencer got a perfect score on his exam at fifteen, trained all his life for it, to be the best of the best, escaped all of that only to come right back to the Santa Barbra PD to make an ass of himself. Or an ass of them. Did he even know what he was doing?
Guster’s staring at him expectantly. Carlton sticks his stupid lollipop back in his mouth.
“Oh, this…” The friendly role is harder to slip into this time. He wants to throw up. “I never really thanked you and Spencer for being so…helpful…during the case with that murdered astronomer.”
Guster pulls back, his chair scraping on the floor. Guilt is all over his face but he musters a quick smile or two. His shoulders hunch a little despite his normally perfect posture, and oh yes, he’s uncomfortable even thinking about that case. Unfortunately for him, the trial was just beginning and all of Carlton’s old questions about how he’d solved that one were returning to keep him up at night.
“Oh yeah,” the other man gives a shrug, waves a hand dismissively. “You’re welcome. We figured supporting you was least we could do.”
The very least. Carlton smiles and shoves thoughts of super-genius-cop Spencer out of his head for now.
“Honestly, I was surprised to find you guys were so worried about me. But then you showed up to watch me make the arrest, with almost miraculous timing.” There’s that twitch again. For someone like Spencer, Guster must be as easy to read as Dr. Seuss. “I was too distracted at the time to thank you, to tell you how touched I was…am.”
O’Hara would have been eating out of his hand at a confession of emotion like that. If it’s possible, Guster looks even more twitchy and nervous. Carlton smiles wider.
“The least we could do, really,” he says again. “I should go.”
“I mean,” He goes on and Guster’s too polite to leave. “…I was at a low point, and I knew, I knew it was murder…I just couldn’t prove it for all my record. And it was my anniversary, did Spencer tell you that?” Guster’s sharp, amazed look tells him Spencer didn’t pass that one on. Carlton lets out a breath, his face warm again. “…and you guys were really, you were really there for me.”
This pathetic act stings. It’s like razorburn and a hangover with no coffee. It’s like waking up the morning after a pointless bender with a bruise on his forehead and the vaguest memory of doing something that he should remember. He’s burning, sick and clammy under his clothes, and as horrible as he feels, Guster looks just as uncomfortable, and that’s what Carlton did all of this for. This is the moment.
He holds his stare through all of it, not especially caring what Guster will see in his eyes. Whatever it is, it causes a flash of alarm in Guster’s gaze and he twitches upward, ready to leave whether it’s rude or not.
The second his chair shrieks across the stone floor, Carlton snaps forward, the front two legs of his chair hitting the ground hard. Carlton’s grabs Guster’s wrist and holds it loosely, tossing his lollipop carelessly to one side.
All the proof he needs that that feeling in his gut, that something was off about the case, about how he solved it, that’s been keeping him awake for months now, it’s all true. It’s all right there in Guster’s eyes.
Spencer had solved the case, again, and helped, and Guster, O’Hara—his partner—both knew.
“Something wrong, Guster?” he wonders mildly without letting go.
“No…no I uh…just need to go call Shawn.” Guster looks down at Carlton’s hand on him and licks his lips. They’re slightly purple. For some reason, Carlton’s mouth wants to curve up into a grin.
“You can call him here, don’t mind me. You can tell him you’re discussing that case with me.” It hardly qualifies as a threat, but Guster reacts as though it is. He flinches back and looks around for one moment as though there’s some way out of here that isn’t through Lassiter. When he realizes that the point of an interrogation room is the lack of exits he settles back, regarding Carlton with a look that’s thoughtful and pissed off at the same time.
“Spencer was working there, undercover…” The employees in pre-trial interviews had mentioned something about a Shawn working there, a strange, manic guy. The description really shouldn’t have been so familiar.
Guster licks his lips again. His tongue is purple too. For half a minute Carlton thinks he’s going to start stamping his feet and crying. But apparently Guster is the mature one after all—when’s he not around Spencer. Carlton hadn’t been wrong to think Guster would be the one interested in a deal. He collapses like a soufflé.
“Look, it wasn’t my idea. Shawn just wanted to help you, I just helped him.” What had Guster said earlier, about Shawn picking their cases… What had they both said in the planetarium, in between shouts about coffee and foxglove?
Carlton lets go of Guster’s arm and points a finger at him.
“But you solved the case!”
“Yes I did!” Guster almost jumps out of his seat, months of built up excitement in his voice. He punches the air a few times and he then could be dancing just like he had then, as he should be, considering he had connected the dots before the rest of them had.
Carlton blinks and looks down at the table. From the corner of his eye he can see his red lollipop, stuck on the dirty floor. Guster freezes.
“You solved it,” Carlton raises his head. “But Spencer did all the footwork. You both…” He shakes his head, but nothing is going to make that go away. Like Spencer, it’s here to stay. “How much?”
“What?” Guster falls back into his seat then seems to realize he still has the used up lollipop stick in his mouth. He takes it out and glances around for a trash can that isn’t there.
“How much do I owe you for your services, or was it just to beat me? You and Spencer have a good laugh behind my back?” It was too early in the day to head to a bar, not that he knew a good one where he could be alone. Tom Blair’s had also been taken over by Spencer.
“Man…” Guster whines under his breath and then sighs loudly. “Look, first of all, Lassiter, Shawn would laugh in front of your back if he wanted.” That extremely ridiculous attempt at comfort makes both of them frown and then Guster tosses his head. He points the empty white stick at Carlton. “And second of all…” His breath slips out in a huff. “Second of all, Shawn wanted to help you. Don’t ask me why. He made me take the case.”
Carlton actually smiles to hear that last part. Guster really was honest. He didn’t even want to litter.
He grabs the empty lollipop stick out of Guster’s hand and throws it to the floor for him. His smiles fades in the next second and he lifts his chin.
“So Spencer felt sorry for me, and, incidentally, is so good he can solve a case and hide it at the same time.” Solve an unsolvable case, if Carlton’s keeping score, and he is. He flattens his hands on the table and stares at them for a moment.
“Yes. No. I don’t know.” Guster pushes out another impatient, uncomfortable sigh. You said something to him, in the bar. He never said what.” It’s Carlton’s turn to flinch. “But Shawn’s like that. He hides things sometimes. Look, can I go now?”
“You’re not under arrest, Guster.” Carlton slowly leans back to rest his chair against the wall. He rubs the ache between his eyes and takes a deep breath, not sure he has a handle on any of this.
He’d gotten what he’d wanted, and then some, and if there was one thing Carlton Lassiter didn’t like—aside from liars, obviously—it was surprises.
He’d assumed Guster would run the moment he could, but Guster stands up and walks around the table to the mirror, straightening his coat and pulling at his collar. Then he goes for the door.
Carlton clears his throat. “Guster.”
The other man stops in the doorway, looking at him warily. Carlton clears his throat again and gives a nod. “You solved that case. With the digitalis. That was… Good job.”
His head hurts and he’s going to be sick. Guster frowns at him but nods slowly, his eyebrows up to say that he already knew that he’d done a good job. Carlton grunts, but nods again, because that was also true.
“Thanks, Lassiter,” Guster adds, almost reluctantly then pauses again, because he’s a good friend and a good man and that’s why Spencer likes him. “What are you going to do to Shawn?”
The last question Carlton wants to hear right now. He had all these plans. Lots of shoving. Handcuffs. Fear of God. Now…
He forms a scowl that makes gangbangers squirm.
“Tell him…” He can’t think of what to say so he tries again. “Tell Spencer…the next time I lay eyes on him…”
He can’t finish it.
In Flagrante Delicto
The moment Spencer came out of the bathroom Carlton’s up and crossing to the door. It wasn’t a long walk, his apartment was small, but he’s making a statement. He’s not actually dumb enough to open the door and demand Spencer get out; experience has taught him that when given a direct order, Spencer will go out of his way to do the opposite, even when it means more work for someone supposedly so lazy.
“Your bathroom is nice, Lassi,” Shawn informs him, pausing in the bathroom’s doorway to blink at him. It’s not that bright in the room, in fact only the kitchen light is on, but the apartment is small, and Spencer is drunk.
“I’m not wasted,” he had assured Carlton the second Carlton had been foolish enough to open his front door. He’d had his arms full of a stumbling Spencer in the next moment, going on about fountains and oceans and streams and then finally confessing that he needed to pee. “Just a little buzzed.”
What Spencer was doing here, a little buzzed or not, when he should have been out with O’Hara and Guster as Carlton had overheard them planning earlier, was a question that Carlton was resolutely not going to ask. The same way he wasn’t planning on asking why or how Spencer even knew where he lived. It had a been a long day, a long day mostly on account of Spencer’s dramatics, and Carlton had barely had time to roll up his sleeves, loosen his tie and open a bottle of beer. He hadn’t even had a sip yet.
“It’s been a long day, Spencer,” he says when Spencer doesn’t move and then lets out a long sigh at just how close to pleading that was. A frown comes and goes at that, but Spencer beams a smile over to him and then moves his legs to follow it.
“I know. You even loosened the tie, I’m so proud of you.”
The “for what?” is on his tongue, but Carlton swallows it in time, definitely knowing better than to invite more of Spencer’s insanity. It’s past ten, he’s tired, and he still hasn’t gotten a sip of his beer.
“Go ahead, I’ll wait,” Spencer offers, pausing halfway across the room to lean against the back of the couch. Carlton frowns, snapping his gaze up. Spencer’s face is flushed and he looks drunk-happy, complete with a dopey smile. It only gets dopier when Carlton glares at him and then reaches over to the stand by the door and grabs his beer. It’s still dripping with condensation and ice cold in his hand.
“Sleeves up, no gun, enjoying a beer. Next thing you know, you’ll be running away to be a cliff diver in Mexico,” Spencer jokes, has to be joking, though his smile slips away somewhere between Carlton’s first long pull off the bottle and his second. Carlton sets the bottle down while he swallows and catches Spencer scratching his head and staring around at what there is of Carlton’s apartment.
Not as roomy as his house of course, but that was long gone, thanks to O’Hara. He’d almost been afraid to unpack, but so far O’Hara had wisely steered clear of offering to visit.
Yet here was Spencer, and Carlton was not going to think about that.
“I’m not in the mood, Spencer, so if you don’t mind…” He waves a hand at the door and Spencer hops off the couch—when had he perched on the edge?—and resumes his slow course toward the door.
“Is that why you didn’t come out? Jules was wondering.” Spencer blurts out that last bit as though Carlton was imagining that Spencer had also been wondering. He snorts at the thought, knowing better. “’Cause you were invited, Lassi. I mean, we wouldn’t have mentioned it in front of you if you weren’t. That’d be rude and Gus abhors rudeness.”
Carlton’s eyebrows go up and he has to look away from Spencer’s eyes, only to look back when Spencer starts repeating the word “abhor”. He’s frowning, scratching his head again, and Carlton feels some of the ache between his shoulder blades ease away.
“Is that even a word?” Spencer muses softly then shakes it off. Literally. The shake starts at his head and works its way down to his feet. Somewhere around his waist it turns into more of a shimmy, completely and utterly ridiculous from a man wearing loose jeans and an old polo shirt. But Carlton only realizes he’s staring when Shawn abandons his vocabulary question and stares right back at him. It’s direct for a man who has been drinking. It’s very direct for Spencer, and Carlton nearly falls back a step.
“Because you’re a fun drunk, Lassi, let me tell you. We could have used you, it was dead in there.”
“Is that why you’re…” A lesser man would have bitten his tongue in his haste to shut himself up. Carlton just avoids that and glares at Spencer…at the reason he’d even had to. “I had work to do.”
Spencer’s expression doesn’t change and his psychic babble is nothing but a crock but somehow, Spencer knows things, knows too much, always has.
“Why are you here, Spencer?” He chokes the moment the words are out, coughing while Spencer presses his beer into his hand and urges him to drink it. Spencer might be frowning, Carlton’s eyes tear up so he can’t tell for sure. “Son of a bitch,” he whispers when he can finally speak again.
“If I’d peed in the street, some seriously uptight and overly dedicated cop might have arrested me.” Spencer shrugs. It is not an answer about why Spencer isn’t still at the bar sniffing around O’Hara and they both know it. He wonders if they all had honestly expecting him to show up and somehow doubts it, even if the invitation had been genuine. The same way he doubts that anyone had been especially looking forward to him joining them. The entire department had made their opinion of him clear when they’d even considered partnering him up with that woman.
The beer is making his skin hot and Spencer is still looking at him. They’re both just standing in front of the door, staring at each other. Spencer is frowning now and Carlton wonders what, exactly, is written on his face to make Spencer stop smiling.
“You’re okay to get home?” Carlton has to swallow before he asks. The beer’s still in his hand, the bottle almost empty, but he puts its down before he can drink anymore. He puts that hand on the doorknob then stops again. “Just don’t drive, all right, Spencer?”
He flicks a look at the door and then sucks in a breath, his hands and arms up defensively just a second too late to keep Spencer’s arms from wrapping tight around him. He’s surrounded by heat—Spencer’s body he thinks—and then there’s more heat, wet and sticky at his neck. It’s Spencer’s mouth, he realizes, as unmoving as a marble statue as Spencer starts talking, words close against his skin.
“Thanks, Lassi,” Spencer breathes, stirring Carlton’s hair. He smells like fruit juice with a tang of something sharp. Strands of Spencer’s hair are tickling his nose, and one of Spencer’s hands, the one at his waist, curls into his skin.
“What do you think you’re doing?” His throat is so tight he can barely breathe and he looks down, seeing his hands sticking out awkwardly around Spencer’s body. The last time Spencer had tried to get a rise out of him had been with a smack on the ass. Carlton had thought that would be the worst of it.
Spencer’s body is hot. It’s hot between them. Sweaty. Bordering on uncomfortable. One of them ought to move.
“I’m thanking you?” Spencer answers, his voice rising as though even he’s not sure, but then Spencer isn’t one to think things through. “Hugging you?” he tries again, and angles his head. His quick intake of breath shivers across Carlton’s throat. “Thanking you,” he tries again, not a question this time.
“For what?” It almost escapes, again, and Carlton tosses his head, praying he’s just imagining how Spencer’s lips cling to him, stubble scratching against skin normally hidden by his collar. Carlton shudders, twisting away, and Spencer’s head jerks up.
His skin is flushed like before, his eyes bright, as bright as his sudden, blinding smile.
“For letting me use your bathroom,” he responds like Carlton is being silly, as though their bodies aren’t pressed together and it hadn’t all been his idea. He cocks one eyebrow and shakes his head, even pursing his lips as he sweeps a look up and down to Carlton’s chest. His hands are wrapped in Carlton’s shirt and he finally releases it, stepping back with a short laugh.
Carlton’s hand scrabbles for the doorknob until he grabs it at last, shivering at the cooler air that hits him now that Spencer is off him. Spencer is shrugging with his usual attitude of unconcern, grinning crookedly in a way that says that once again he knows something Carlton doesn’t, that this was all some sort of joke.
He turns, easily, easy for him because he has others places to be, but Carlton’s had a long day and tonight promises to be just as long. And goddamn Spencer anyway for showing up when he wasn’t wanted and leaving when he was. This wasn’t some game they were playing and if it was then Spencer should know by now that Carlton doesn’t play games.
His hand twists in the back of Spencer’s shirt, yanking Spencer back as his other hand shoves the door closed. He’s got Spencer around with his back pressed to the door before Spencer can do more than get his hands up and Carlton captures those just as quickly, pushing them back against the wood by Spencer’s head. He’s breathing too fast, they’re both hot and breathless and Spencer squirms, testing Carlton’s hold without fighting it.
Spencer’s eyes are wide but his mouth opens under his, his head falling back as Carlton kisses him, hard. Kisses him without breathing, without stopping, pressing their lips together, wet and buzzing, tangy and bitter.
He pushes, sliding their chests together, their hips, keeping Spencer’s spine to the door, answering the questions that hum against his lips, making his head swim. He grunts because it’s good, so good, better than he’d ever let himself think it would be and Spencer moans, once, the sound surprisingly soft.
Carlton pulls back in that second, steps back, steps away. He can’t look at Spencer, but hears him sucking in air, licking his lips, reaching up to scratch his head.
“Lassi,” he starts, sounding more than a little shell-shocked, and that gives Carlton the ability to look at him, at his red lips and his blinking eyes.
“Get out, Spencer,” he orders, ferociously quiet. “It’s been a long day and I just want to watch the news and go to bed.”
He’d have to reach around Spencer to get his beer so he heads in the other direction, turning his back on Spencer to walk around the couch. He falls down onto old, soft cushions and turns on the TV using the remote, staring fiercely at the images of local news anchors and not hearing a single word they’re saying.
The door doesn’t open and somehow that’s not as surprising as it should be. But he doesn’t turn his head at the odd little noise Spencer makes in his throat or for the way Spencer pushes out a breath. Spencer moves as silently as a cop, but his jeans rub together as he steps to the couch and falls down at the other end.
Carlton glances over and sees Spencer staring at the TV. His face stings, burned from Spencer’s stubble, and if his mouth is pink and raw it’s nothing to the red flush working its way across his cheeks.
He had just kissed Spencer. He had made a fool of himself after swearing not to and kissed Shawn Spencer and about the only silver lining on this big, dark cloud of crap was the fact that Spencer was sitting on his couch right now, silent for once, and apparently freaking out just as much as Carlton was.
He puts his eyes firmly back on the TV and tries to focus on the news report, something about a string of robberies at local delis and pet shops. Places where the take could have been a few hundred at most, hardly worth the felony armed robbery conviction it was going to get the scum bag committing them when Carlton finally caught him.
“There’s beer in the fridge,” he offers grudgingly after the reporters move onto another story.
“Practice runs,” Spencer says, and call him crazy, but Carlton turns to look at the other man with a frown, not following at all. Spencer glances over in his direction, his gaze lingering a little obviously on Carlton’s mouth before he catches himself and turns back to the TV. “Practice runs,” he says again, just a touch out of breath. “They’re practicing on small, easy targets, preparing for something bigger.”
Carlton swings back to look at the TV too. His eyebrows go up. Then down. “What the hell makes you so sure of that?”
Spencer clasps his hands in his lap and hunches his shoulders. A second later he’s easing back and trying to look unconcerned, which is as big of a crock as his whole psychic act. “A vibe.” He grins, and Carlton narrows his eyes. Why that makes Spencer swallow and turn away he has no idea.
There was a small house fire in another part of town. They sit through the puff piece after that about squirrels in the park
“Bullshit it’s a vibe, Spencer,” Carlton says at last. “It’s a lot of effort for someone to go through for so little money. Too much effort and organization for some random druggie or petty thief. But you already know that.” He stops, glancing over again and catches Spencer studying him. It’s his turn to swallow and look away.
His hand comes up, popping free another button as though his collar was somehow choking him. Spencer shifts.
“You kissed me,” Spencer says, and the little line between his eyes disappears. He sits up and raises his head, and that cannot be a smile playing at his mouth.
“You already know that too,” Carlton adds in a rough voice, clenching his jaw. “So let’s not talk about it.” Ever, if he can help it. Spencer nods and Carlton sighs in relief.
“Okay,” Spencer agrees out loud anyway and scoots across the couch to sling one leg over both of Carlton’s and straddle his lap. One of his hands hits the cushion behind Carlton and the other uncurls at the back of Carlton’s head. Carlton gasps for air as Spencer settles into his lap for the second time in his life and makes himself comfortable. Spencer’s fingers thread through his hair, holding him still as Spencer bends his head and rests his lips over his mouth.
Carlton’s eyes flick up and Spencer is staring right at him, uncomfortably close. “This is me not talking about it,” Spencer insists as though their lips aren’t touching with every word, and darts out his tongue.
There’s a small, needy noise pushing against the back of his throat and Carlton frowns to hold it back, but his hands are moving, petting curiously over a rumpled polo shirt, smoothing out over slim hips.
“What do you think you’re doing, Spencer?” he manages and the whimper escapes anyway when Spencer uses the opportunity to push forward. His blood is pounding, heavy in his lap when he feels Spencer’s do the same, both of them unmistakably aroused.
He tilts his head, to the side, up a little, guided by Spencer’s hand, and slides his tongue into Spencer’s mouth, between his lips, past his teeth, flushing at how easy it is. To kiss Spencer. He’s kissing Spencer again. He moves his hands, settling them harder at Spencer’s hips when Spencer shifts, but he’s only pushing down, rocking once gently, in encouragement, or just pleasure.
It’s hot between them, but comfortable, and Carlton curls his fingers under the hem of Spencer’s shirt, grazing warm skin. Spencer shivers, pulling his mouth away to push out a quiet laugh before bringing it back. He sucks on Carlton’s lower lip for a moment then presses their mouths together. His body shifts again, squirms like before.
“Oh I am definitely kissing you,” Spencer says after a few minutes, somehow remembering Carlton’s earlier question and also somehow pointing out that whatever Shawn had been doing earlier, it might have been intended for a reaction like this all along.
“Really, Spencer? I hadn’t noticed.” Carlton frowns—habit, pride, whatever—and urges Spencer to rock against him again, smirking at Spencer’s indrawn breath. His fingers curve around to Spencer’s stomach and Spencer’s mouth falls open, his eyes widening in disbelief even as he arches into the touch.
“Come on, you’re not the smallest bit surprised here, Lassi?” he pants, dropping his head to run his mouth just under Carlton’s ear, just where he had before, and sometimes he suspected nothing with Spencer was accidental. Firm lips find his ear, tugging on his ear lobe, and Carlton growls, turning his head to find Spencer’s mouth again.
It shuts Spencer up better than anything else he’s ever tried. It also leaves him burning, twisting up to rock into the heat of Spencer’s lap. Spencer’s hard. His hand is cupping Spencer’s crotch before he can process that revelation, cupping and squeezing, just a little.
Spencer moans against his mouth and jerks forward. “Lassi!” he murmurs into Carlton’s cheek, startled and hot.
“Surprised?” Carlton takes a moment before he can answer, dragging in air, stroking Spencer through his jeans. He can barely feel anything, but Spencer is shaking, shuddering weakly against him in a way that’s almost painful. His underwear will be soaked through, and Carlton stops petting his dick to toy with the button at his fly. “Are you saying you didn’t see this coming, Spencer?” He sure as hell hadn’t, but he didn’t pretend to be psychic.
The sarcasm takes more concentration than it should, but it’s worth it for the shocked gasp that Spencer makes, the reproachful look that Spencer gives him before closing his eyes and moaning again when Carlton pinches the zipper on his jeans and slides it down.
“For both our sakes, I’m going to ignore that obvious pun,” Spencer remarks, his voice rising sharply once or twice. Spencer’s not wearing underwear; that really shouldn’t be surprising. Carlton frowns and drops his gaze as he slides his hand through the trail of short hair. “And I meant…this… You… You know…gay and holy handjob, Batman, that feels good!”
“Didn’t guess that either, Psychic?” Carlton taunts him, sliding his thumb over slick, velvety skin. Labels aren’t really important at the moment, since he could have said the same for Spencer despite all the groping he’d endured for the past year. Spencer’s dick jerks at the name, and Shawn runs his tongue across his bottom lip when Carlton smiles.
Having Spencer’s dick in his hand isn’t as weird as it ought to be, and Spencer doesn’t seem to be having much of a problem with it either. He bucks up once, then settles down, pulling his lip between his teeth when Carlton starts to stroke him.
Carlton looks back up, hot all over at the hungry sounds Spencer doesn’t bother hiding. He’s exactly as loud as Carlton had imagined he would be, shameless with or without witnesses. His hands flail outward to the couch, to Carlton’s shoulders. He holds on as he rocks again, moving his ass against Carlton’s cock, trapped underneath him. Carlton hitches up, his hand sliding out of Spencer’s jeans to grab at his hips, holding him steady.
Behind them is the sports report; he can even hear it faintly over the roaring in his ears and their heavy breathing.
Spencer is watching him, focused intently in that strange way he has of suddenly turning serious when he thinks no one is looking.
“How drunk are you?” Carlton wonders and when Spencer just shakes his head, he scowls. “Prove it.” Something flashes across the screen behind Spencer and Carlton pushes up as Shawn slides down. The friction is painful, building an ache just where it ought to, and he meets Spencer’s gaze with a raised eyebrow.
“Why did you say ‘they’? ‘They’re practicing…’”
Spencer doesn’t hesitate, barely even seeming to notice that he’s speaking. “Two of those stores were robbed half an hour apart in the evening on different sides of town. During rush hour there’s no way one man could have gotten to both places in time.”
“So there’s at least two.” He ought to be furious at how easy it is for Spencer, how quickly he’d reasoned that out. But then Shawn jumps as if he just realized what he said and his mouth tightens. He stops moving completely, and Carlton just barely keeps himself from growling.
“That’s some party trick, Spencer.” It’s Carlton’s turn to read minds. Spencer eases back, staring warily at him and Carlton realizes that he’s slouched down against the back of the couch, his mouth red and his dick very, very hard, yet Spencer’s the one suddenly wary of him. It’s funnier than it should be. It’s also about damn time. “More impressive than your psychic shtick.” He practically grunts it, but it’s the truth. And it wasn’t like he’d ever believed the whole channeling spirits act and they both knew it. This was just…proof.
“Though not nearly as fun.” Spencer flashes him a grin that a blind man could have seen through, so Carlton’s reaching up, yanking Spencer down flush against him. He should arrest him for lying. He should ask why. Instead he’s sucking a bruise onto Spencer’s throat and working a hand down Spencer’s pants to his ass.
Spencer’s grin is probably gone and that’s what he wants, Spencer grinding against him, his fingers tearing through his shirt, grabbing his arms, just babbling one thing clearly now, that stupid nickname.
“Lassi!” Spencer yelps as he tightens his grip. “…Been holding out on us,” he mumbles a moment later, shuddering weakly when Carlton finger slips down the cleft of his ass. Spencer doesn’t object, doesn’t do anything but push back into his hand, twisting his head back and forth and muttering for a moment about dreams and clicking his heels together. His head tilts up again and he slides a long, wet kiss across Carlton’s mouth, apologizing, something even more startling. “I didn’t…I didn’t bring anything…I wasn’t expecting…”
More proof of his failure as a psychic, just when it would have been useful.
“I might have…” Something. Maybe. Anything, if there truly was a God.
“Second drawer down, by the sink, behind the box of extra razor blades and the lotion with the little ship on it. Old Spice, really, Lassi?” Spencer recites breathlessly, working his mouth over Carlton’s jaw as though he really doesn’t mind Old Spice at all.
Carlton has a quick internal debate on whether or not he minds that Spencer memorized his bathroom in less than a minute, or that he pried through his drawers. The argument comes out in Spencer’s favor, but then, he does have his fingers pressed to Spencer’s ass and Spencer begging for it in his lap.
“Anything else you want to volunteer, Spencer?” His voice is gravelly, rough, and Spencer hums his approval and slips a hand down between them. His hand is hot and dry and quick; Carlton hisses when his shirt leaves his pants and Spencer drags a finger underneath the elastic of his boxers.
“Um…” Carlton can actually feel the frown of concentration against his neck, even with Spencer’s hand working at his fly. “Only that the robbers are probably planning on robbing that jewelry store in La Cumbre.”
“What?” For a moment he’s just blinded by the things Spencer’s tongue is doing to his ear and then he’s sitting up, ignoring Spencer’s complaints and only wincing slightly when Spencer has to grab his sides hard to stay on his lap.
He yanks his head back and Shawn sighs, dropping his head to one side and staring at him sideways.
“It’s at a central location to all those other places.” He clears his throat and gives a tiny shrug. “It’s probably someone who works in the Plaza who’s seen Beverly Hills Cop II too many times.”
Carlton blinks once or twice, reflecting back on as much as he can remember of the two minute-long news report.
“Yeah, freaky isn’t it?” Shawn asks him quietly, his chest moving as he tries to catch his breath.
“Astounding,” Carlton replies easily, honestly, staring hard when Spencer’s eyebrows twitch upward. A second later his mouth twitches upward too, forming a shy smile. A shy smile on that wet, glossy mouth is not something Carlton ever thought he would see. He hadn’t even known it existed.
He slides a hand back to Spencer’s neck and pulls him back down until Spencer is spread out all over him and he’s got Spencer’s tongue in his mouth.
He can ask questions later. Much later. As soon as he can get up the strength to leave Spencer and go ransack his bathroom.
“Well when you get back,” Shawn whispers into his chest once they pull apart, startling Carlton once more with the mind-reading that was anything but, and Good Lord, was he undoing his shirt buttons with his teeth? “…My ass is yours.”