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Forever Is Hollow When Dreams Lie

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As a trained cop, countless scenarios had been studied, discussed, even acted out. There were so many ways a person could get injured on the job, get killed on the job. She knew this, and had been reminded of it by her mother more than once. Her dad understood though. No, he wasn’t a cop, but two of her uncles were. Still, he always cautioned her even when he told her he was proud.

 

Would he still be proud now? Would her mother comfort her, but still look at her with eyes that said ‘I told you so’?

 

And her brothers. How could she bear to look at them now?

 

Hard breath felt moist against her throat. Her own breath was somewhat constricted by the weight that covered her. Either he was just resting again or he was finally done. She didn’t know that she could handle any more if he wasn’t.

 

Turning her face to press against the pillow beneath her, Juliet felt him shift as he first raised himself to his elbows, then eased down with a moan. She bit her lip but didn’t make a sound. Another pause, and then he rolled away; the mattress dipping as he swung his legs off of the side.

 

After a second he stood and tugged his jeans back up to his hips. She kept her eyes closed, refusing to look as he pulled up his zipper, still breathing heavily. Then he returned to the side of the bed to curl his fingers into her hair, bending to inhale against the strands.

 

She flinched, wanting to strike back. As it was, with her hands neatly pulled into the small of her back with her own handcuffs, it would be a poor attempt. Her legs were equally useless with her pajama bottoms bunched around her ankles.

 

He didn’t speak to her, though the grunted words from minutes before still slid against her brain, worse as they’d been murmured in the form of endearments- encouragement.

 

A scrape whisper of metal dragged her eyes open in dull panic, the flash of reflection the only view of the weapon before in lowered towards her throat. She hated that she whimpered.

 

“Please…”

 

A yank against her scalp, and the hair wrapped in his fingers was slashed from the rest of her tresses, leaving behind six inches of butchered strands.

 

Then, straightening once more, he casually walked from the room.

 

She didn’t allow breath to pass her lips for several moments, but when it did it was with a rough gasp. Wait for him to come back or get the hell out- it really wasn’t complicated. Wriggling her cuffed hands from behind her back to the front of her body, however, was. Still, she made it work, though she managed to scrape the back of her thigh in the process.

 

It ached to move at all, the bruises and lacerations on her inner thighs throbbing as her feet slid to the floor. Her hair swung forward as she reached into her nightstand for her gun. She’d been aware of its proximity for the last nine hours. Had focused on how close it was… just a few feet away. It had been a gateway to escape after a while- imagining herself at the firing range- shooting targets with her partner…

 

Knowing she had to preserve evidence she peeled her pajamas the rest of the way off, her top somewhere on the other side of the bed. Grabbing the afghan from the floor, she was forced to set down her weapon in order to wrap it around her shoulders.

 

She was stuck then on what to do next. Call the cops or go for her handcuff keys in the other room? Should she take her gun with her? But then she’d have to let go of the small blanket. She wanted a shower. What about clothes?

 

Finally, choosing protection over modesty, she clutched the stock of her gun and shuffled towards the hall. She grimaced as her thighs brushed against one another- tacky with blood and other substances. She couldn’t think about that.

 

She hadn’t seen her cat since she’d arrived home. She suddenly felt a crushing hurt in her chest at what might have happened to her pet. Was she dead? Had she run out the door that the man had left open?

 

Edging into the kitchen, her weapon still raised and ready, Juliet laughed harshly when she saw the small gray feline staring reproachfully at her over her empty bowl. The irritated mew only added to the frantic burst of mirth, and she had to bite her cheek to stamp it down.

 

Her purse was still slung over the arm of her chair. He hadn’t come here to rob her.

 

Keeping her body facing the living room, moving the gun to one hand, she grabbed the leather strap and deposited the purse on her table before dumping out the contents. The keys fell out next to a tube of Chapstick and her badge. Once more setting down her gun, angry that her hands weren’t cooperating very well, she managed to clumsily grip two fingers around the small key and wedge the tip into the lock of her left cuff.

 

Circulation rushed back into her fingers, and she nearly groaned from the new ache. Letting her cuffs drop to the table, she shook out tingles before grabbing her gun yet again and fishing out the cell phone still trapped in her purse.

 

Hands stiff and uncooperative, she could barely dial- finally laying the cell on the table and punching at the numbers with one jutting finger. Picking it up before it started to connect, she felt some of the shakes subside as she made for the door at an angled path. Peering into the dark long enough to determine the street was empty, she pushed the solid wood shut and threw both locks in place.

 

The operator answered on the other end of the line while she was still leaning against the frame.

 

Nine one, one- what is your emergency?”

 

“My name is Juliet O’Hara, I’m a detective with the SBPD. I’ve been attacked in my home.”

 

Standard questions, standard answers. No, the perp was no longer on the scene. No, she didn’t have any major injuries. She was fine. She didn’t need an ambulance.

 

She hung up and checked her clip for the third time, peering out through her curtains before finally edging away from the door.

 

With adrenaline starting to escape, she found herself shaking again. Everything aching, embarrassed at her exposure even though she was alone, she limped back to her bedroom and quickly dug through the bottom drawer of her dresser. Bypassing underthings, she found a pair of ancient sweats and pulled them over her body. It took everything she had not to race for the bathroom and begin scrubbing.

 

She didn’t want to sit, certainly not in this room. She didn’t look at the bed. So instead she returned to the living room, gun trapped in her fingers, and prepared to wait.

 

It took another five minutes before she thought to call her partner.

 

 

 

 

~~~

 

 

 

She’d been behind the closed door for nearly an hour, being examined, letting them photograph and collect evidence. There was no question what had happened, but procedure was still required as far as the courts were concerned. So was her statement. Carlton wasn’t certain if he’d ever be ready for that next crucial step.

 

So far he’d only called the Chief. She’d be arriving soon enough to check on her detective and offer a presence that wouldn’t make the younger woman flinch. Even though he’d been the one to drive O’Hara to the hospital, she’d remained leaning against the passenger side door the entire time, staring out the front windshield without a word.

 

He’d been unprepared for what he’d discovered at her home. When she’d called him, it had been to say she’d had a break in. A break in. Expecting a shattered window, or a busted in door, maybe some overturned furniture, he’d arrived with his hand hovering near his weapon- eyes scanning across his partner while looking for the expected signs of burglary.

 

Something had jarred though, and he’d quickly looked back, taking in the dark circles below her eyes, the bruises on her jaw and temple, the way her body was slightly hunched. He’d felt cold brought on by nothing more than instinct, and had shivered while his mind immediately sought a different reason for this reaction. She’d fallen in the shower, she’d walked into a door, she’d tripped over her cat- the maniacal fleabag, she’d… anything… anything else- a thousand scenarios could explain the injury. A thousand ways she could have…

 

He’d taken two steps towards her; she’d backed herself against the wall.

 

And he’d known.

 

She hadn’t wanted to talk about it then, her only words being to ask if he could drive her to the hospital. Another cruiser was pulling up while she made her quiet request, and he’d briefed the new officers before escorting O’Hara to his car.

 

There’d been a smell on her body that had made his stomach slowly rotate- squeezing acid towards his throat.

 

At the hospital, she’d stepped towards the admitting desk by herself, calmly accepting the clipboard before sitting down to fill out the information. Thankfully the wait hadn’t been long and they’d cleared a room for her half an hour after they’d arrived.

 

He’d been staring towards the hallway ever since.

 

The phone at the nurse’s station trilled, a doctor strode by with a cup of coffee and a briefcase, an old man shuffled towards the prescription counter with his wallet already in hand. Somewhere behind him, Lassiter heard quickly approaching footsteps- rubber soles that squeaked and slapped on the tile.

 

He turned his head, and quickly stood, a flush of heat washing across his throat.

 

“Spencer, what the hell do you think you’re doing here!?”

 

“Clearly I’m here for the free lollipops. Also I heard Bozo the clown’s younger brother Bennie was performing for the coma patients and I promised Gus a balloon animal shaped like a llama.”

 

On cue, Gus lifted his hand with an easy smile.

 

Carlton wasn’t anywhere close in a condition to deal with this. “I don’t know what idiot blabbed, but you need to turn your little train around and go. Now!”

 

Obviously not taking the threat for what it was, Spencer went for placating.

 

“Woah, let’s not get all Jack Webb here. Gus and I are merely stopping by to avail you of our services and let you know we will stop at nothing to catch the vile vagabond that dared desecrate the home of a Santa Barbara police detective.”

 

Gus nodded. “That’s right.”

 

“We’re even offering it free of charge.”

 

“Shawn!”

 

While Spencer turned to semi-privately consult with his partner, Lassiter scrubbed his hand over his face. His anger had changed into dread at the light-hearted yet concerned tone of the two men. They were worried of course, but only as much as one would worry about a friend whom they thought had been mildly roughed up in a burglary attempt.

 

God, how was he supposed to…

 

“…don’t mind, Gus and I have a Hug Me Tender Get Well lion to deliver.” Spencer waggled the lavender stuffed animal that he’d been clutching at his side. His attempt to side-step the detective, however, was quickly blocked.

 

“I said no!”

 

“Really Lassy? I thought the whole bodyguard schtick was Kevin Spacey’s thing.”

 

“Kevin Costner.” Corrected Gus.

 

Spencer grinned. “Right. Spacey was the alien from K-Mart.”

 

“K-Pax.”

 

“Enough!” Grabbing the other man by the arm, Lassiter began dragging the nuisance towards the exit, glad for the excuse to shed some of his built up fury and grief in a constructive manner.

 

Maybe a bit too constructive as Spencer whimpered at the fingers crushing into his bicep.

 

“AH! Dude!”

 

Lassiter didn’t let go until he’d forced them both back out onto the sidewalk- releasing the other man in a hard shove. His finger rose in a point while he allowed his voice to also elevate now that he wasn’t in the waiting room any longer.

 

“I guarantee O’Hara isn’t going to want either a visit or that stupid toy! The thing she needs is some rest and quiet, and you can’t give her that if you bring your sideshow into her room!” God now his voice was cracking.

 

Covering his face with both hands, Carlton inhaled wetly before dropping them again and shaking the tension from his wrists.

 

“Look just… just please… go home.”

 

Spencer wasn’t moving, nor was Guster. There wasn’t laughter on their faces any longer, and Carlton saw that the grip the consultant had on the stuffed animal was so tight his knuckles had grown pale. When he spoke, the words dragged out in a hoarse whisper.

 

“What happened to Jules?”

 

It was the kind of question that was voiced when suspicion had painted possibilities that the brain desperately wanted to deny. Whatever scenario Spencer was imagining, Carlton had no idea if the final answer would be better or worse than the fears winding through his brain.

 

“Someone broke into her home last night. A man.”

 

Spencer swallowed hard, and his eyes abruptly glossing over. His fist tightened even more around the pathetic gift- shaking from the hold.

 

Lassiter closed his mouth, the final truth locked behind his teeth.  He wouldn't betray procedure or his partner's trust further though he'd flirted dangerously close to that edge already.  And going off the looks of both men, he'd clearly said enough to paint the picture.

 

Gus finally looked away, crossing his arms tightly. Spencer didn’t move. His complexion, though, was rapidly shifting towards pasty. Lips pressed tightly together, shell shocked; he hadn’t looked this bad since the night his mother had been kidnapped by a serial killer.

 

Lassiter didn’t have it in him to soften the blow.

 

“From the look of things he must have entered the house sometime after O’Hara arrived home from the precinct. She must have been in bed at the time- probably even asleep as she hadn’t been able to get to her weapon. I don’t know much more than that, and I’d rather not conjecture before I have clearer facts. I do know that O’Har… Juliet, isn’t going to want a lot of company right now. Particularly the kind that involves fart jokes and stupid pet tricks.” He was seething again, his control over his anger practically absent. The fact that Spencer had lost the ability to speak made no difference. He didn’t have any pity to spare for the man.

 

“Go home.” He said firmly, and then spun back towards the glass door- slapping it open with the palm of his hand.

 

 

 

~~~

 

 

The nurse finally left after drawing blood and administering the standard injections. Juliet was grateful for the break, exhausted from both the exam and the night in general. According to the clock the sun would be up about now. She just wanted to go home. And yet, she didn’t want to at the same time. And it was so hard. That was her home. Her first real home that wasn’t an apartment or a place shared with a roommate. She’d earned every penny that went into the down payment, and every dime after that to pay her mortgage.

 

And now the thought of going back there made her intestines twist into knots.

 

The door made no sound as it opened again, but as she was facing it, the movement was enough to catch her attention. Expecting a returning nurse, she instead saw Carlton’s face peering hesitantly inside- his eyes not even trying to meet hers. She couldn’t decide if it was amusing or depressing. She settled for not caring and cleared her throat.

 

“It the Chief here yet?”

 

Head shake. He still wasn’t moving beyond the barrier of the half open door. “She’s going to stop by your house first and pick up a change of clothes.”

 

Juliet hadn’t even thought of that. Obviously her previous garments weren’t going to cut it as she was fairly certain they were hanging out in an evidence bag somewhere. She suddenly pictured the Chief picking through her underwear drawer with forensic techs all around and had to fight down a hard giggle. If she let that one loose there’d be no going back, and she was too tired to add a psych eval to her plate. At least today.

 

“Is there anything I can get for you? Are you hungry or…”

 

Now Juliet was the one shaking her head. “I don’t need anything.” No need to mention that the idea of food was nauseating.

 

“Are you thirsty…?”

 

“I said I don’t need anything Carlton!” Her hand flattened over her eyes. That had been uncalled for, he was just trying to help. “I’m sorry.”

 

“Don’t.”

 

She dropped her fingers and saw that her partner had finally built up the guts to look her in the eye. His expression, though, was the last thing she needed to see.

 

“Look, O’Har… Juliet…”

 

Oh God… God please not now. “Carlton…”

 

Neither one completed their fumbling starts. The moment Juliet tried to stop his mournful apologetic attempt at comfort the door pushed suddenly wider, and Carlton took a long step back.

 

Juliet wasn’t certain that this was an improvement however when she saw the next guest appear. Chief Vick stepped past her head detective, a gym bag over her shoulder undoubtedly holding a change of clothes and whatever else she thought necessary. Though Juliet had been allowed a shower, she wouldn’t pass on further cleansing. She could still smell him with every breath.

 

“Tell me what I can do.”

 

Juliet shook her head, noticing her partner making his exit now that backup had arrived.

 

“Nothing. I just want to go…” home… She swallowed, shaking her head again before looking towards the wall. One hard darted up quickly to drag beneath her eyes.

 

The Chief moved closer to the bed, thankfully settling into a nearby chair rather than offer anything so unbearable as a hug.

 

“I know it’s hard, but if you’re up for it, I’d like to take your statement while your memory is still fresh.”

 

Juliet frowned. “I thought Carlton…”

 

Vick crossed her legs. “I thought you might be more comfortable talking to me.”

 

Yeah, because we’re such great friends. The bitterness of the thought brought another burn to her eyes, but she kept it back with a deep inhale.

 

“Fine.” Just get it over with. Get it over with and then find a hotel close to the station and book a room. She could afford a few nights – long enough for... what? Long enough for it to not feel revolting sleeping in her own bed? Long enough for the bruises to fade adequately to be hidden beneath foundation? Long enough for the whole station to know her story so they wouldn't ask awkward questions about the bruises she couldn't hide?

 

“Tell me what happened after you left the station last night.”

 

She was sure the question had been asked softly, but it sounded loud enough to have awoken coma patients on the third floor. At least there hadn't been any preamble with apology or pity. There'd be plenty of that to come she was sure.

 

The sudden weight of a body dropping on top of her jolted her awake, though before she could shout, before she could fight, something was shoved over her nose and mouth. Chloroform? Her brain was muzzy on that detail. She'd felt heavy – yet floating – as he began tearing at her top.

 

She felt the vibration of her words in her throat and realized she'd begun answering. Apparently distancing oneself from an unbearable situation worked here too. She allowed her brain to disengage. It was easier than really thinking about what she was saying. It must be the right things, though, because so far the Chief wasn't staring at her like she'd sprouted scales. Now that would be an interesting side effect. She giggled.

 

And now she was getting an odd look. Actually, it was almost a frightened look.

 

“I'm okay.” She said, the inappropriate tremor of laughter dead within seconds of being born. Stillborn, she thought, but it didn't make her giggle this time. She swallowed hard, and instead fought back the strangle of sudden heat in her eyes.

 

“Do you think you can continue?”

 

The words really did sound as soft as they were this time. She saw the out for what it was – saw the open door being offered and wanted to race for it with a desperation she wasn't prepared to deal with. She'd never had to interrogate an assault victim before. Never had to look in their eyes while trying to reassemble all the scattered shards. Would she have let someone off the hook partway through? She knew she wouldn't have.

 

After the first time, he'd apparently gone exploring. She had still been in and out of it during the attack. It had been over quick. She remembered thinking she'd been grateful for that one mercy. Then she heard the odd shuffle of his steps. He returned, smiling. Her handcuffs dangled from his fingers.

 

Vick didn't interrupt her again. Even though the words caught at times, she managed to get them out. She'd wondered for a long time why he hadn't killed her. Sometime in the night, he'd lain beside her, just looking at her. He'd seemed fascinated by her hair.

 

She actually didn't know how many times he forced her. She remembered being slapped. He'd spoken quite a bit while she'd stared towards her wall. She'd thought of the ocean. She'd thought of whales calling back and forth between the waves, diving deep – deep into the blackest parts of their world. She thought of underwater steam vents, where, even in the boiling heat, there was life – transparent shrimps and other creatures existing on the edge of oblivion. So close to death. He'd eased himself over her body again and she'd cried.

 

She spoke until her voice cracked. She swallowed cool water and spoke some more. She realized she was done when the Chief stood and told her to get some rest. She reached down to pat her shoulder, and Juliet shrank from the touch. Vick apologized.

 

And then she was alone again.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

O'Hara checked out of the hospital later that same day. Carlton offered, delicately, his bed – hurrying to add that he'd take the couch. She'd declined, smiling in that pale way that was more of an autonomic twitch than actual amusement.

 

The Chief had also offered room and board, though with a husband and child thrown into the mix that likely had the same appeal as bunking with the latest drunk on arrival down in holding.

 

Instead, she'd wanted to go home.

 

Carlton had nearly put his foot in it with an almost blurted 'are you nuts?' Almost, but self-preservation was a mistress with a sharp learning curve and between his mother, former wife, and the Chief, he knew which way to butter his bread with women. Agree. Whenever possible, agree. Keeping your genitalia intact was a happy bonus.

 

So he'd driven her home.

 

He did not, however, return to his own. Whether her place or his, he was still claiming the couch for the foreseeable future. This was not a compromise she'd remembered making, and she'd told him as much – hell, yelled it so that even Spencer, it whatever locale he was likely moping, could hear her. But this was an issue he would not budge on and so, with a rough retort that she wasn't providing meals, O'Hara had stalked into her bedroom and slammed the door. The sound of a lock shooting home followed shortly afterward.

 

It was two hours later and she'd yet to reappear.

 

Currently left to his own devices, itching to get back to the station to make up for a shot workday, Carlton had instead located himself at the kitchen table and popped his laptop that had been thoughtfully provided by the Chief on her second visit to the hospital – knowing her head detective didn't do watch duty well with idle hands.

 

Logging into the station mainframe, he'd immediately begun searching perps matching both description and MO. It was all he could do until the lab came back with a DNA hit. If...

 

He growled and punched up another mugshot. Possible match... except for the niggling annoyance that the guy was dead. That didn't stop him from cross-referencing the data with O'Hara's arrest record, both here and in Miami. Revenge was the first motive that came to mind, and far easier to track than a random predator choosing a random target who just happened to be a cop.

 

No...”

 

His body became a statue, not even his eyes moving at the quiet moan. He listened for a few seconds, starting to pick up the buzz of the room. Appliances were suddenly cacophonous, his computer humming like a jet engine, even the abrupt flyby of the surviving fleabag drilling like a jackhammer against his ears. But above the riot of abnormal sounds, the whisper behind the door drowned it all.

 

Noooo....”

 

His fingers never resettled on his keyboard. Dammit he should have insisted she stay in the hospital! At least for the first night. Not that any nights soon to follow were bound to be a great deal better.

 

By the third quiet plea he was on his feet and moving to the door. Leaning himself against the surface, he listened for a moment, tension across his entire frame as though waiting for the hammer to fall on a killing shot. There was movement, then a sound like scraping.

 

Please... please don't...”

 

His forehead pushed against the wood as his eyes closed. What he wouldn't give for anybody else to be handling this but her family was on the other side of the country.

 

And with that acknowledgment he was suddenly struck. There wasn't a single other person in Santa Barbara, hell the whole west coast, that she was as close to as himself. For all her friendly nature, O'Hara didn't really have friends outside the station. Yeah she'd dated some, though not much beyond preliminary evaluations. And there were Spencer and Guster... but two less qualified individuals didn't exist outside of a daycare center. When it came down to it, he was all she had.

 

He raised his hand, hesitating just once more, hoping this was at least one privacy he wouldn't be forced to breach.

 

...help...”

 

The sensation of being kicked in the throat was ignored as he bypassed knocking for attempting, idiotically, to gain entry with a simple knob turn. Dammit, yeah, not as if he hadn't been right there when she'd forced privacy by clicking home her lock.

 

Fairly certain that smashing in the door would achieve the opposite of his objective, he borrowed a leaf from the Lockpicker's Handbook and made combined use of a pair of tweezers and a paperclip. Granted he actually did have a personal lock-picking kit. However, unlike his regular weapon, backup weapon, handcuffs, and a six inch folding knife, he didn't always have it on him.

 

The ease of entry was no relief – his mind instantly creating the manner with which his partner had been ambushed. No forced entry on either door – this guy must have cased the house for some time, getting down her schedule – such as it was... enough to plan an attack while comfortable in the knowledge that her visitors were practically nonexistent.

 

Carlton did his best to see through the red haze in order to spot O'Hara.

 

She was backed into the corner of her bedroom farthest from both her bed and window. Her weapon rested nearby within easy reach – one hand inches from the hilt. Yeah that was safe. 'What, this blood? Well you see, it all started when I was attempting to wake my partner...'

 

Even more piercing when he could see her face scrunching in fear, he still kept his footfalls light – his approach slow while she continued her soft pleas.

 

A step away, he extended the toe of his loafer and caught her weapon with the tip, sliding it away with a delicate scrape. The second her fingers dropped away she lurched, gasped, and snapped her eyes open.

 

The terrified shout was more or less expected. The legs suddenly sweeping out and catching him in the knees was not, his ass impacting the floor hard enough he was sure he'd lost a few inches in height via compressed vertebrae.

 

“NO!” Far more fury that fear in the encore, his partner's form was suddenly straddling him, the weapon he'd attempted to secure magically back in her hands and swinging towards his head.

 

“O'HARA!” Her finger jumped on the trigger, her instinct, thank God, overriding the need for bloodshed as she instantly pointed the barrel towards the ceiling.

 

Both of them panted in their own versions of hell, one very real while the other was still in the realm of imagined possibility. Never-the-less, whether imagined or real, Carlton was pretty sure he'd need to change his briefs.

 

Still shaking but at least in control of herself again, his partner quickly scrambled from his body – the near miss of her heel to his crotch making for a frantic cupping until he could safely roll away with all parts intact.

 

By the time he'd made it to his knees, O'Hara was already to her feet and charging from the room. Grabbing the wall to get his trembling limbs beneath him, Carlton let his waist collapse until his hands were braced on his thighs. Wow, he hadn't had a dizzy flash like that since a better when it was forgotten still hazy in recollection drunken floor-plummet while confessing his failings to, of all people... of all people, Charlatan Spencer himself.

 

Not straightening until the hot flush across his scalp had faded once more, Carlton kept one hand against the wall as he made his way along the same path as his fleeing partner. She wasn't in the living room, but he didn't have to guess at where she'd ended up. Even from the bedroom door he could hear the faint sound of retching coming from the bathroom.

 

Feeling as though he'd gone a long way towards making a bad situation unbearable he headed towards the kitchen. Though not the coffee connoisseur that he himself was, O'Hara still had a descent selection of beans, unground, as well as the necessary sweeteners. Her coffee machine was a simple model and within a few minutes he had a pot percolating to life and wafting the bittersweet scent of hazelnut blend through the air.

 

No sign of O'Hara reappearing yet though he'd heard the toilet flush. At least she didn't seem to be puking any longer. Carlton continued listening while grabbing two mugs, sugar, and creamer. Deciding not to wait, he poured his own cup. It was at that time that he noticed the teeny tiny tremor in his fingers. Of course, he'd been seconds from having his partner's service weapon crammed down his throat so could he really begrudge himself a case of the shakes?

 

The bathroom door opened and he quickly wrapped his hands around the ceramic mug and headed for the couch. He attempted subtle while watching O'Hara's slow walk across the floor. For a moment he worried she would lock herself back in her bedroom. Aside from a glance at her former sanctuary, however, she made no move in that direction. Instead, she headed for the kitchen.

 

“You made coffee?”

 

Carlton had just taken an overlarge gulp and ended up horking fluid in an attempt to answer her very normal sounding query. She didn't even glance his way. Using the opportunity to wipe the icky combination of coffee, cream, and spit from his slacks, Carlton figured the excuse of a refill would bring him closer to the oh so necessary roll of paper towels next to the sink. He could already hear his mother's chastisement along with the ghost of a sting on the back of his hand about eating and drinking anywhere other than at the table like a proper gentleman.

 

His partner was still standing in the same place where she'd come to a stop moments before. Though she'd inquired about the coffee, she'd made no move towards filling her cup. Instead, she hung over the sink, her elbows locked stiff while her hair... Carlton ground to a halt as the very obvious change struck him. Tory was right, he really didn't notice hair styles, but this one was impossible to miss. A butter knife would have provided a cleaner cut. At least eight inches had been butchered from her length, a few missed clumps struggling to survive amidst the follicide that had taken place.

 

Never let it be said Carlton was a master of sensitivity. “What the hell happened to your hair?” He practically choked again the moment he let fly with that raspy uttering, knowing damn well that anything she did was a result of trauma. But it was just so shocking. Unaware of her various coifs he may have been, he'd never been oblivious to the stubborn tenacity she held to its length. Notable because it defiantly went against the typical style sported by most female cops he'd known, bordering on regulation flaunting, it had become an integral part of her personality. The girlish allowance to the tough cop aura she wore more from necessity than habit. He felt something in his chest sting at the loss.

 

Instead of a direct answer, O'Hara's hand wrapped around the back of her head – almost as though to check for herself what he was talking about. Making a fist at the nape of her neck, the next words she spoke were nearly a whisper, and painfully stricken.

 

“He kept touching it...”

 

Her hand smoothed over the remains, the longest pieces barely past shoulder-length, the shortest just below her earlobes.

 

Carlton dug up and discarded countless responses, the result being a great deal of air and lips parting and closing with nothing more produced than a ragged gasp.

 

Back turned on the small drama, Juliet, thankfully, hadn't noticed his imitation of a dying salmon, eagles and bears fighting over his carcass no less. Instead, to his startled dismay, she didn't acknowledge the span of silence at all. But far more disturbing was the expression she wore when she finally turned. Not quite a smile, but the attempt to make it into one was agonizing.

 

“I guess this is why I chose the academy over beauty school. Even Frenchy had better scissor skills.”

 

Still searching for the switch to his vocal chords, Carlton spared a moment to wonder who the hell Frenchy was. He dredged a barely there memory of a movie night torture marathon involving teenage delinquents, misdemeanors, and sexual depravity set to music.

 

Juliet dropped her fingers again. When she turned, Carlton had to swallow hard to keep another blurt in the form of a totally inappropriate 'are you okay' query from stumbling out. Focusing in on the minor damage of her bruised cheekbone while setting aside the far larger issue neither dared broach.

 

Her eyes were dry in spite of the waver he'd heard before. The long stretch of silence following the previous long stretch of silence had him contemplating dropping his coffee cup just to create an activity. Hell, he'd be thrilled to have her berate him for staining the cream and tan berber under his feet – not as though her cats... cat, hadn't done its fair share of territory marking on the fibers.

 

“You want to watch a movie?”

 

On top of the ill remembered flick from minutes ago, the out of the blue question rocked him, not so much for the irony but for the casual and relaxed manner it was asked. This could be any day out of a hundred – both tired yet not ready to call it quits, beer and pizza beckoning while the need to unwind in front of the tube was a balm both considered a luxury. He could see wall building in progress but had no idea what to do about it. Who was he to deny her that? He had no standing on this subject and he knew it.

 

“Yeah... yeah that sounds great.” His coffee had cooled to the point of unpalatable by now. Still, he wasn't prepared to crowd O'Hara's space in an attempt to commandeer her microwave. So instead, he manned up, took a grimace-worthy sip, and dropped back to the couch.

 

“Any new Netflix or were you thinking something from your collec...”

 

Sudden breaking glass nearly sent his cup toppling a second time, a spared moment to rest it on the coffee table and he spun towards the kitchen as his partner took a step back, clutching her hand.

 

“It fell, my hand was...” She breathed in her brief panic, closing her eyes and inhaling through her nose. When she let it out, she looked at him with a slanted smile. “Guess I'll pass on the coffee this time.”

 

Walking towards her slowly, Carlton looked down at the floor. The pot was shattered across the tile, still steaming java spreading out and threatening to do the job on the carpet he'd twice managed to avoid. Reaching quickly for the towel hanging from the fridge handle, Carlton knelt to begin mopping the spill.

 

“It's fine, I got it.” He said when Juliet bent to reach for the shards of curved glass.

 

“Carlton, that's a hand towel, you've already saturated it.”

 

“This corner's still dry.” Not that it was, dry being relative compared to the drippy mess pooled in his hand – more coffee than cotton at this point he wasn't about to abdicate the one aid he could offer his partner regardless of how trite. Or uncomfortable.

 

“Your pants are getting wet.” He'd noticed that too but wasn't about to relinquish his spot.

 

“Did you burn your hand?” Obviously she'd seen that flinch as he'd switched hands – the too warm fluid scalding once it reached the second dermal layer. All body numbness had slowed response time, so a healthy patch of flesh was now lobster red by the time he'd taken note of the damage.

 

“It's fine.” He continued sopping up the spill even though the towel truly was beyond useless by now.

 

Seconds later a roll of paper towels beaned him in the side of the head, his reflex grab saving them from drowning in the pool before him.

 

“Hey!” Protest was torn from him on instinct, his eggshell stepping waylaid before he could pull a neat and tidy response to the sudden violence. Of course, further discourse dried completely when he looked up to see his partner glaring with one eyebrow tipped.

 

“Well you're obviously determined to finish, you may as well do this right. Besides if you keep stirring it around you're just going to stain the floor.” She finished her lecture by turning to the fridge – pulling open the door to stare inside.

 

Carlton tore off several sheets in the meantime, well aware when O'Hara let the door swing shut again without grabbing anything out. Spread out thin, the coffee was cooling enough now that there was no further risk of cooking his flesh, the lukewarm temperature slightly below bathwater comfortable.

 

He used up over half of the towel roll in his unplanned janitor duties, realizing the work was still only half completed with the sticky residue remaining, but dammit his back hurt! Glass still scattered here and there, he gathered the pieces gingerly, managing to avoid any major gashes as he cupped the thin fragments.

 

It wasn't until he finally came up for air, though, that he realized O'Hara was gone. Sock padded feet made very little sound and coupled with her ability to mimic her cat companion's delicate tread it was no wonder he hadn't heard her leave. Nor did it help the immediate gut lurch at her absence. Barely had two fingers grasped the edge of the sink to yank him upright into what would culminate in a rapid room by room when she reappeared, blanket over one arm and two pillows held against her chest.

 

“So how about that movie?” She asked in that bright way that was almost Dawn dish soap commercial chipper. He managed not to wince. He noticed as she passed him, hugging the far side of the room on her journey to the couch, that she'd pulled her hair back in a messy bun that actually hid the Steel Magnolias 'Shelby' coif (another movie he had far too much familiarity with after not one but exactly three consecutive viewings thanks to the Christmas croaking of a certain furball three years ago – why depressing flick was her way of mourning he'd yet to grasp).

 

Not surprisingly the more familiar hair arrangement dropped some of the tension from his shoulders. Allowing O'Hara to find a suitable nesting spot, he returned to the kitchen one more time. Coffee was out for the foreseeable future, the icy cup remaining on the coffee table well past the expiration date, he decided on something both appropriate for the time of night as well as being a call-back to sleepless evenings still under his mother's roof.

 

“Hot chocolate?”

 

He fully expected a 'no thanks' so this time he was surprised when O'Hara half turned, her lips pinching together thoughtfully.

 

“With cream?” Not something he himself would concoct – though he did take a short glance through cupboards on the off chance she was hiding a flask of bourbon somewhere. No luck. Damn.

 

“Sure thing!” He knew he was supposed to berate her for the excess of sugar – much as she still prodded him about his own sweeteners – but his mouth snapped shut before the thought fully formed. He shouldn't have had to think about it though...

 

No snafus this time around he managed to prepare two mugs of cocoa in under ten minutes. Grabbing a box of animal crackers on his way back towards the living room, he tucked it under his arm while holding the steaming cups in his hands.

 

O'Hara was perched at the far end of the couch, one pillow behind her while the other was draped across her legs above the blanket. Setting her creamed cocoa on the table along with the cookies, he grabbed several before taking his own spot on the opposite end leaving a good two feet of space between them.

 

“What are we watching?” He asked while popping a rhino into his mouth.

 

Leaning down for her beverage, O'Hara felt beside herself for the remote, pointing it at the set once she'd settled again. “You've Got Mail.”

 

Not the worst of options, though his choice for a Tom Hanks film leaned more towards Road to Perdition or Saving Private Ryan. As chick flicks went it was one of the more bearable. He knew very well that her personal collection also contained Runaway Bride, Bring It On, and Junior – which he'd watch right around the time his male parts shriveled up and fell off.

 

“I love the fall.”

 

Non sequitur voiced in a tired murmur as Juliet sipped her cocoa, Carlton made the connection as the opening scenes of the movie played out. He shrugged to start off his reply, then came up short on words. Personally he hated the season as it was peak time for illegal leaf burning not to mention the beginning of the holidays, always upping the drunk and disorderly calls. However, the last thing he wanted was to toss his grouchy observations her way. Which sorta crimped a great deal of their normal conversing. Instead he let the shrug finish with a grunt as he settled against the armrest.

 

He watched for about half an hour – long enough to determine he could probably survive the story as long as there was at least one shootout... maybe a hostage situation... when he happened to glance towards his partner.

 

She was sleeping. Her mostly untouched cocoa now cold was still held in her lax grip – only the cocoon of bedding keeping the mug from spilling down her legs. Not yet completely recovered from his earlier brush with death, Carlton made very sure there wasn't a firearm in sight – or any other weapon-like objects – before leaning across as gingerly as possible to pluck the mug from her hands.

 

He breathed out through pursed lips when the action brought no response. Finally passed out for real this time, he was glad he hadn't had to resort to sedation, though he was keeping the pills in his pocket close at hand just in case.

 

Her legs were going to give her hell being bent that way once she woke up, but he wasn't about to attempt adjusting her limbs after risking his own seconds before. Instead, he loosened his shirt, settled in as comfortably as he could, and prepared to do his best to survive the next forty or so minutes of romantic torture.

Chapter Text

Hands groping – touch – whispers - “I love you” - body on hers, pushing her legs apart – pain – screaming – crying - “Help me!”

 

Gasp, shove, legs kicking out and striking a body, the grunt proof of life and not a dream, Juliet jerked her limbs in a confusing tangle of cloth, eyes snapping wide and taking in, not her bedroom, but a briefly unidentifiable locale. Living room... I'm in my living room...

 

Memory coming back in snippets, she squinted at the groaning form a few feet away – her partner, curled over and rubbing his leg in pain.

 

“That's gonna bruise...” He muttered as he continued to massage the damage.

 

Juliet felt apology in her throat but couldn't bring herself to speak, covering her lips with her fingertips. Turning her head sideways instead, she blinked several times until the sharp burning in her eyes faded to a manageable degree once more.

 

Apparently Carlton wasn't feeling any more chatty beyond that small complaint – the extending silence only increasing the discomfort. Juliet could feel the heat from her eyes spreading to her cheeks. Was he angry with her? She hadn't meant to kick him... but after her attack on him yesterday was he thinking he couldn't trust her anymore? How could they still work as partners if he didn't trust her?

 

“How do you like your eggs?”

 

The cushions shifted as he stood, slowly stepping around the arm of the couch with the smallest limp.

 

Juliet found answering him a challenge with the lack of moisture in her mouth. Meanwhile Carlton continued on to the kitchen, his voice lifting again.

 

“Of course the only kind I know how to make are scrambled. I assume you don't want hot sauce on yours though.”

 

“Plain is fine.” She finally managed, though the words came as a croak. The little exchange the extent of their conversation, the following sounds were excessive pan clattering and the sizzling sound of heating butter.

 

While her partner went the Julia Childs route, Juliet began tugging herself free from her bedding. Somehow the blanket had become twisted around both pillows as well as her body – a vice of softness as constricting as leather straps. Or a pair of handcuffs.

 

She panted, kicking wildly until she worked herself free – rubbing her arms and feeling the shiver-rise of goosebumps beneath her hands. It was dark she noticed, her glance towards the wall clock showing it to be barely past three... am.

 

The smell of eggs frying drifted through the room, the innocent meal suddenly revolting.

 

“Look, I'm – I'm just going to take a quick shower okay?” No answer but she hadn't exactly waited for one. Instead, she pulled the previously discarded blanket around her head – cocooning herself in the heavy material.

 

Stomach still wavering between cramping and voiding, she nudged aside a twining feline with slightly excessive force to make for the sanctuary of tile and porcelain, ignoring the betrayed squall as the sensation tripped past nausea to bubbling acid rushing up her throat.

 

No time to lock the door in her wake, she whacked it with her palm hard enough to gain her the tiniest privacy seconds before she dropped to a knee cracking kneel – tears already streaking her cheeks as the first of many convulsive heaves tore open the inner lining of her gut – bringing pain and memory to the front of her brain – instant replay of her greatest nightmare – an unending loop of torture, shame, and terror.

 

 

 

~~~

 

 

 

He heard O'Hara say something but it was mostly lost over the sounds of frying. Turning from the spitting pan, Carlton was about to ask for a repeat when the flying bundle that was his partner darted through the room – kicking aside her yowling furball – to disappear into the bathroom beyond. Leaning away from the stove to both avoid the tiny acidic spatters as well as to shout a query as to her well being, he curtailed the interrogation mid mouth drop. Once more the muffled rasp of purging answered the question left drying to powder on his tongue. A hundred rookies could void their Jimmy Dean mornings at his feet and he'd just hike his slacks higher and wade through it. One petite partner emptying nothing more than stomach acid and his own control tipped dangerously towards failing.

 

Without warning his imagination went to town, Law and Order SVU without the family friendly editing in place, nameless actress replaced by a far more recognizable form, the sixty minute drama slapped with the inappropriate tag of 'entertainment' suddenly transformed into a screaming horror far more real than the quickly charring embryos in the skillet before him. He could see it as clearly as Spencer claimed to see his so called spirit driven revelations. His partner, pinned and bloodied – face twisting away while her attacker tore at her clothes, violated her body...

 

The spatula clattered on the stove top, plastic handle flirting with the heated burner before the heavy end pulled it to the floor. Automatically he bent to retrieve it, but was forced to clutch the door of the oven instead as vertigo played hell with his equilibrium. Fumbling at the knob for the burner, he managed to halt the breakfast incineration before flames could manifest – though not before blackened magma pockmarked a good portion of his skin. Nothing like second degree burns to bring back the present, Carlton managed a shaky return to vertical long enough to slide left towards the sink – icy water the only hope if he planned on keeping his pinky.

 

This was why he did most of his cooking via take-out. Thank God O'Hara didn't have a gas range or this whole place would probably be an inferno by now.

 

Shaking his hand did nothing to ease the scorching pain, the next move was to jam his aching digit in his mouth – rapidly removed with a curse as the heated cavern only exacerbated the burn. Should have seen that one coming.

 

However, now that his skillet adventure was done with he could hear the steady thunder of the shower. He sighed, figuring he could at least distract himself from his discomfort with another variation on this Good Housekeeping thing he had going.

 

Leaving the smell of immolation behind, he returned to the living room and the tousled sleeping area, a large part of him desperately wanting to take advantage of those soft cushions to grab a few more hours before he was required to drag into the station.

 

His hand was on his pillow when something other than pounding water filtered from behind the closed bathroom door. Irregular and harsh, he made three steps in that direction before it clicked what he was hearing.

 

The last time he'd heard this sound had been during the ash scattering ceremony for Mr. Mittens the Impaler. Wrenching sobs competed with the drumming spray – echoey and staggered and rendering him a level of helpless that mourning her beloved pet had not. He couldn't just pat her on the back this time, inwardly cheering the exorcism of one of Satan's own back to hell while also pondering if his detergent could remove snot stains.

 

He wanted to offer her some form of shoulder for crying, though his weren't exactly adequate to the task for multiple reasons. More, though, he wanted to load his .45 with the maximum number of rounds, grab a few extra clips, and go on a little hunting expedition. One of the few times his devotion to the badge clashed with his stance on justice, a drawn out courtroom dance followed by a negotiated sentence was nowhere near as acceptable as five slugs splitting open a skull like a rotten melon.

 

He was useless. As long as he was sitting around wringing his hands while his partner slowly fell apart he was no good to anyone. He needed to do anything other than play hairy chested homemaker.

 

The gun range was out of the question for the moment, but another outlet was still open to him. Twenty minutes was all he needed. Guestroom was just down the hall along with a spare bathroom. May as well grab some salve for his numerous patches of charred skin before he changed.

 

Duffel bag was still on the floor where he'd tossed it – collected rapidly during a drive home while Vick was taking O'Hara's statement. He already knew he'd need more items than this however, his two pairs of socks and change of underwear not even close to cutting it. He didn't like the idea of leaving again but like hell was anyone rooting through his house again if he could help it – the last time that happened being right around the time his badge was stripped. That one still stung like a bag of wasps in spite of nearly a year since the occurrence.

 

The best option would be to have one of the officers at the station drop in while he made the required run home.

 

Carlton peeled off his shirt, tossing the garment on the bed before slipping on the ratty grey T shirt. Dress slacks were exchanged for shorts followed by sneakers that looked as though they'd been on the bad side of a dog attack. Actually, there had been that close encounter with a three legged mini pin several months ago but that didn't bear pondering too closely. He was just thankful he'd been alone. And armed.

 

Well it wasn't like he shot the thing...

 

'Bad boys bad boys, what'cha gonna do – what'cha gonna do when they come for you...' He never thought he'd get tired of that ring tone, but after ten repetitions since yesterday, not to mention texts, he was ready to throw the thing in the microwave and punch incinerate.

 

One shoe was still untied but he risked the embarrassing face-plant to hurry for his cell, left on the coffee table the night before. One look at the screen and he swore through his teeth.

 

“Spencer, did you bother looking at a clock or are you seriously that much of an idiot? No wait, I already know the answer to that. Look, I'm hanging up now – don't call back!”

 

Wait, wait, wait!” He squeezed his hand around his phone, picturing a slender neck attached to the world's most annoying bobblehead.

 

“What? And so help me God if you drop some psychic crap...” He rubbed his eyes, the motion stinging his very abused hand. It didn't help his temper.

 

I saw you were up.”

 

His free hand dropped and he tripped over a sulking gray form, claws adding several furiously batted scratches to his calf, on his rapid stride to the window. Curtain ripped aside in his fist...

 

Spencer sat up on his bike, the hand not occupied holding his phone waving towards him. Glaring, Carlton dropped the light fabric and made for the door. Unlatching and sliding back the chain, he took one step forward before registering the form already standing there. Jerking back hard to avoid collision he bit in a gasp before rolling his eyes.

 

“Do you want to get shot!?” He hissed as he snapped his cell shut. Spencer did the same, not answering the query that had been rhetorical anyhow. He did, however, quirk the side of his mouth while his eyes quickly panned from head to toe.

 

“The SBPD sponsoring a marathon? It's like Chariots of Fire meets Dragnet.”

 

He so didn't have time for this. “You may not have picked up on it yet; given that it's a full moon your little mental vapors may be on the fritz – but I meant it when I told you to go home earlier, and I mean it now. Go home!”

 

Like a child told he couldn't have the candy at the store, instead of listening to the grownups, Spencer tended to whine and cry and throw a fit. Though his tantrums hedged more towards sarcasm than screams, the end result was the same. Feet glued to the welcome mat, the smaller man proceeded to lean, trying to peer around Carlton's form. His attempt was blocked when the detective threw his arm across the threshold.

 

“How is...” Spencer swallowed, tapping the back of one hand into the palm of the other. Then his hands shoved into his pockets, clearly fisting given how the fabric bulged. Not dropping his arm, Carlton gave the street a quick visual before staring down at the anxious face still peering past his body – eyes darting around the bit of room visible from the door. Stepping forward, he forced Spencer to back up quickly as he pulled the door shut behind him.

 

“How long have you been out here?” Spencer's eyes were bloodshot, and the shirt looked like the same one he'd been wearing yesterday – though more rumpled and sporting a dark stain on the hem that appeared to be coffee. We at least one of them had gotten some caffeine.

 

Shrugging one shoulder, Spencer rubbed a hand against his nose. “Uh, since about the time you started going all Ya Ya Sisterhood.”

 

Rather than attempt to decipher the reference Carlton split his time between studying the softly lit street and glaring at the intrusive presence. He really wasn't all that surprised that the man had shown up here, though it did add another layer to his stress. By now he should have been five minutes into his run on O'Hara's treadmill. Though not big into exercise machines, in this case it was the best option.

 

Spencer licked his lips, also taking a glance around the property before lifting his gaze back to Carlton.

 

“He was watching her...”

 

Carlton stiffened, looking around wildly. “You saw him!?”

 

Two hands raised quickly as he stepped from the house. “What? No! No, I mean, before – before... everything. He'd been here – looked in her window.”

 

Carlton examined the window where the other man pointed but saw nothing out of place. He growled, frustrated and tired and really needing something to shoot. As if actually reading his mind, Spencer stepped back several paces. Carlton scrubbed at his eyes. “Sure, he probably did. What's your point?”

 

Spencer shook his head, allowing a rarely seen irritation to show in his voice. “He watched her – for a long time, Lassie... he – he stalked her... watched her eat lunch in the park, followed her to the grocery store...” Spencer's hands rotated around themselves slowly – his eyes not really looking at anything as he started pacing. “He figured out her pattern... knew her schedule...”

 

Carlton glanced back at the door, wondering if O'Hara had finished her shower yet. “This isn't exactly a revelation, again, what's your point?”

 

“I didn't see it!” The shout was startling as the pacing abruptly stopped. Spencer dropped his eyes after just a moment. “I didn't see it – but I should have! I should have seen it!” Whirling away, he dug his fingers into his hair, tugging the strands to the point of nearly ripping them out.

 

“Newsflash, you aren't actually a psychic! See, a real psychic might have actually picked up on a crime before it happened!” The second it was out he surprised himself be the pinch of guilt under his sternum. Not for the words themselves – it was no secret he thought the guy was a fraud – but for the thread of blame he'd let show in the accusation. And it occurred to him then that he actually did blame the man. Spencer reveled in touting his so-called gift, making grand proclamations of his skill while simultaneously making the real detectives look like idiots. And yet somehow, in a way Carlton had yet to figure out, he solved the cases. He found the criminals, uncovered the crimes, and saved the day for countless members of society. And yet, when it came to someone he'd made no secret he was attracted to – cared about – his mystic messengers take a personal day?

 

Back to pacing, Spencer's eyes continued to dart glances towards the street – staring for a longer moment when a car drove past.

 

“Look, we have real detectives with real badges to catch the real bad guys. We don't need you, Spencer, we got this one covered.” He couldn't turn it off. Sure he had about twenty separate things he could point to as motivating the continued puppy kicking but dammit he'd finally found a target for his frustration and he wasn't about to give it up just yet.

 

“I know the bars are closed but I'm sure you know enough people with a beer stash. How about you go look one of them up, get nice and plastered, and let us do the job you are clearly incapable of?” His brain had started screaming 'shut up' about two seconds into that last sentence, but momentum couldn't be stopped when the train was on a downhill charge and picking up speed. When the final word fell from his mouth, he snapped his jaw shut, nearly biting the tip of his tongue.

 

No longer moving, Spencer stiffened his back, fists clenching. Carlton almost hoped he'd take a swing just to have another excuse to lash back. Damn, there wasn't enough guilt in the world to counteract the satisfaction of venting his anger – misplaced or not.

 

“You actually think the Chief is going to put you on this case?” Whispering just as roughly as Carlton had, Spencer slowly turned, his eyes squinted and furious. “Dude, you'll be lucky if she lets you into the station at all! Are you that pig-headed to think you're gonna be the one to catch this guy?” The chuckle was dark and pained. “Maybe you should have been watching out for your partn-GRK!”

 

It was the finger pointing at his chest that did it – that single gesture snapping something inside as Carlton grabbed the projecting forearm and twisted, slamming the younger man against the building with an outrush of both lungs.

 

“And what do you think, huh Spencer?” He ground out, drawing a squeak with his sharp tug to the trapped arm, unnecessary given that the only struggling coming from the guy was his useless gaping for absent breath. “You think the Chief is gonna hand you the file instead? You think you can track this filth? What, your spirits are actually talking to you again now that O'Hara...” He really did bite his tongue then, reminder of his partner and his neglected protective duty culminating in a step back to let Spencer crumple on the stoop.

 

While the other man coughed and groaned at his feet, Carlton rubbed a shaking hand over his lips. God help him he'd nearly put Spencer's head through the wall. Dammit. Dammit! He absolutely had to get control of himself! He couldn't keep indulging his anger – not if he truly planned to help O'Hara. She wasn't in a state that could deal with him nursing a snit – nor could he bear to see her try. A week ago she'd have given him the riot act for his abusive antics. Now... now it could very well initiate a panic attack.

 

Moving a step back towards the door, Carlton peered through the window. The bathroom wasn't visible, nor was his partner. Either she was still in the shower or was in a room out of sight. Regardless the reason, it was time he get back inside before neighbors called 911.

 

By now, the gasping to the side had abated and Spencer was bracing his hand against the wall to help himself up. Rolling his eyes, Carlton reached for him, feeling a tiny sting of remorse when the other man flinched. Not letting it show that the display of fear had affected him, he clutched a handful of jacket and dragged the man to his feet. He let Spencer alone to dust himself off however.

 

Another glance at the window and then he reached for the door. He paused, though, before reentering, his hand resting on the knob while the other waggled back and forth at his side.

 

“Look...” He felt the saliva on his tongue slowly drying while something oily and hot began exploring his smaller intestine. He didn't want to do this, not after coming within inches of popping the guy's shoulder out of joint. At the same time, this wasn't really about him. No, right now, this was about catching the bastard that had violated his partner. Catching him, hurting him, and making damn certain he didn't retain the equipment or mental facilities to ever do this again.

 

Glancing around himself before turning to stare Spencer directly in the eyes, he dropped his voice to barely above a murmur – intensity alone carrying the volume.

 

“I know you'll do what you want, regardless of what you're told. If it wasn't for the fact that you actually do have some use now and then I'd chain you to the next transport headed for Cuba.” Now it was his hand raising to point – the tip of his finger laser pointing between Spencer's eyes.

 

“You find anything... anything, and you call me. And no vibrations or impressions or any of that crap! Names, locations, descriptions. And so help me God, if you make me regret this, I will bury you piecemeal in separate shallow graves! You got it?”

 

He waited for the wordless nod, seeing the impact of his demand registering in the solemn eyes before him. Then, one last look up and down the street, and he reentered O'Hara's home, latching both locks behind him.

 

Entryway followed by living room, walking past the kitchen before he absorbed that the shower was no longer running. His throat jumped as he spun a one eighty, eyes scanning with more determined intent at the continued absence of the woman. “O'Har- O'Hara?” He rasped, clearing his throat to resettle his tone after the long and unwelcome whisper confrontation outside. No answer, and his hand rested immediately on the hilt of his weapon.

 

“O'Hara?”

 

Her bedroom door was open – the room empty.

 

“O'Har...” The muffled sniff was a second of relief before anxiety flooded back into the void. Finding her wasn't difficult after that, repeated small noises leading him back to the living room and the pile of blankets he'd initially thought was just discarded bedding. The pile shifted and he saw a clump of wet hair spill free from a breach in the soft barrier.

 

Making enough sound that she'd know he was there, Carlton slowly sat on the end of the couch farthest from her.

 

He was barely settled when the blankets moved again, unwinding enough to reveal the form of his partner swaddled in clean pjs and a heavy bathrobe. Her eyes and nose were swollen, wetness tracking down her cheeks and off her chin. Once more he cursed his inability to be the sort of person she truly needed. Lacking both the sensitivity as well as the estrogen levels required for easing a broken spirit, he couldn't even prepare sustenance without mishap.

 

O'Hara pulled the blankets around her shoulders once more, breath hitching as she seemed to fight just to breathe. Then, while Carlton was trying to work out the right thing to say among a billion wrong things, she hesitantly dragged herself across the cushion separating them. Her tears had picked up speed along with her gasps – rapidly culminating into body shaking sobs that tore straight through him. Weight coming to rest on his left side, he had just enough time to move his arm before she was clinging to him, words without meaning mixing with her choking cries.

 

He didn't know what to do – felt a boiling rush of sick panic that he was about to forever alienate himself from the woman using him as a very lumpy tissue. And then a snippet of instruction from a long ago class came back to him – one he'd never thought would honestly ever apply to him. One he desperately wished never would have.

 

Hoping this was right, ready to apologize to his dying breath if it wasn't, he cautiously placed his arm across her shoulders.

 

She didn't scream. She didn't retreat, or lash out, or panic. Instead, she held on even tighter, jerking grief and horror pulling from her chest in long and endless waves.

 

His own eyes helplessly stinging, Carlton shuddered a gasp, his attention drifting once more to the window. He nearly shouted, grip certainly tightening around his partner, until recognition stopped the reach for his weapon.

 

Eyes as stricken as his own peered inside, throat jogging in a rough swallow – damn that idiot! If O'Hara had seen him... Glaring, Carlton couldn't do much more than send a mental order and pray one of the man's loudly proclaimed skills included telepathy.

 

Whether they did or not he seemed to get the message. Another hard swallow, the back of his hand brushing across his lips, and Spencer vanished from sight. Unlikely he was actually going home. Still, so long as he stayed invisible...

 

Besides, to be fully honest, Carlton did feel a loosening in his chest knowing there was at least one more person to watch his partner's back.

 

With that in mind, he settled back against the couch, comforted that he still had that sedative should the sobs turn into something more frightening.

 

Come morning, though, he needed to talk to the Chief. Aside from a likely fruitless demand that he be allowed to head this investigation, he had one other matter to discuss. He knew the station employed a psychologist. He also knew the guy was about as effective as toenail clippers in a knife fight. Nor were any of the rape crisis shrinks bound to be much better, whatever their credentials. His partner would no more talk to one of these Freudian wannabes than he would. However, there was someone that might actually be able to help. Someone who had opened doors in his soul he hadn't even known existed. If there was anyone that could get through to O'Hara, it was this person.

 

He just hoped Madeline Spencer was available.

Chapter Text

As a trained cop, countless scenarios had been studied, discussed, even acted out. There were so many ways a person could get injured on the job, get killed on the job. She knew this, and had been reminded of it by her mother more than once. Her dad understood though. No, he wasn’t a cop, but two of her uncles were. Still, he always cautioned her even when he told her he was proud.

 

Would he still be proud now? Would her mother comfort her, but still look at her with eyes that said ‘I told you so’?

 

And her brothers. How could she bear to look at them now?

 

Hard breath felt moist against her throat. Her own breath was somewhat constricted by the weight that covered her. Either he was just resting again or he was finally done. She didn’t know that she could handle any more if he wasn’t.

 

Turning her face to press against the pillow beneath her, Juliet felt him shift as he first raised himself to his elbows, then eased down with a moan. She bit her lip but didn’t make a sound. Another pause, and then he rolled away; the mattress dipping as he swung his legs off of the side.

 

After a second he stood and tugged his jeans back up to his hips. She kept her eyes closed, refusing to look as he pulled up his zipper, still breathing heavily. Then he returned to the side of the bed to curl his fingers into her hair, bending to inhale against the strands.

 

She flinched, wanting to strike back. As it was, with her hands neatly pulled into the small of her back with her own handcuffs, it would be a poor attempt. Her legs were equally useless with her pajama bottoms bunched around her ankles.

 

He didn’t speak to her, though the grunted words from minutes before still slid against her brain, worse as they’d been murmured in the form of endearments- encouragement.

 

A scrape whisper of metal dragged her eyes open in dull panic, the flash of reflection the only view of the weapon before in lowered towards her throat. She hated that she whimpered.

 

“Please…”

 

A yank against her scalp, and the hair wrapped in his fingers was slashed from the rest of her tresses, leaving behind six inches of butchered strands.

 

Then, straightening once more, he casually walked from the room.

 

She didn’t allow breath to pass her lips for several moments, but when it did it was with a rough gasp. Wait for him to come back or get the hell out- it really wasn’t complicated. Wriggling her cuffed hands from behind her back to the front of her body, however, was. Still, she made it work, though she managed to scrape the back of her thigh in the process.

 

It ached to move at all, the bruises and lacerations on her inner thighs throbbing as her feet slid to the floor. Her hair swung forward as she reached into her nightstand for her gun. She’d been aware of its proximity for the last nine hours. Had focused on how close it was… just a few feet away. It had been a gateway to escape after a while- imagining herself at the firing range- shooting targets with her partner…

 

Knowing she had to preserve evidence she peeled her pajamas the rest of the way off, her top somewhere on the other side of the bed. Grabbing the afghan from the floor, she was forced to set down her weapon in order to wrap it around her shoulders.

 

She was stuck then on what to do next. Call the cops or go for her handcuff keys in the other room? Should she take her gun with her? But then she’d have to let go of the small blanket. She wanted a shower. What about clothes?

 

Finally, choosing protection over modesty, she clutched the stock of her gun and shuffled towards the hall. She grimaced as her thighs brushed against one another- tacky with blood and other substances. She couldn’t think about that.

 

She hadn’t seen her cat since she’d arrived home. She suddenly felt a crushing hurt in her chest at what might have happened to her pet. Was she dead? Had she run out the door that the man had left open?

 

Edging into the kitchen, her weapon still raised and ready, Juliet laughed harshly when she saw the small gray feline staring reproachfully at her over her empty bowl. The irritated mew only added to the frantic burst of mirth, and she had to bite her cheek to stamp it down.

 

Her purse was still slung over the arm of her chair. He hadn’t come here to rob her.

 

Keeping her body facing the living room, moving the gun to one hand, she grabbed the leather strap and deposited the purse on her table before dumping out the contents. The keys fell out next to a tube of Chapstick and her badge. Once more setting down her gun, angry that her hands weren’t cooperating very well, she managed to clumsily grip two fingers around the small key and wedge the tip into the lock of her left cuff.

 

Circulation rushed back into her fingers, and she nearly groaned from the new ache. Letting her cuffs drop to the table, she shook out tingles before grabbing her gun yet again and fishing out the cell phone still trapped in her purse.

 

Hands stiff and uncooperative, she could barely dial- finally laying the cell on the table and punching at the numbers with one jutting finger. Picking it up before it started to connect, she felt some of the shakes subside as she made for the door at an angled path. Peering into the dark long enough to determine the street was empty, she pushed the solid wood shut and threw both locks in place.

 

The operator answered on the other end of the line while she was still leaning against the frame.

 

Nine one, one- what is your emergency?”

 

“My name is Juliet O’Hara, I’m a detective with the SBPD. I’ve been attacked in my home.”

 

Standard questions, standard answers. No, the perp was no longer on the scene. No, she didn’t have any major injuries. She was fine. She didn’t need an ambulance.

 

She hung up and checked her clip for the third time, peering out through her curtains before finally edging away from the door.

 

With adrenaline starting to escape, she found herself shaking again. Everything aching, embarrassed at her exposure even though she was alone, she limped back to her bedroom and quickly dug through the bottom drawer of her dresser. Bypassing underthings, she found a pair of ancient sweats and pulled them over her body. It took everything she had not to race for the bathroom and begin scrubbing.

 

She didn’t want to sit, certainly not in this room. She didn’t look at the bed. So instead she returned to the living room, gun trapped in her fingers, and prepared to wait.

 

It took another five minutes before she thought to call her partner.

 

 

 

 

~~~

 

 

 

She’d been behind the closed door for nearly an hour, being examined, letting them photograph and collect evidence. There was no question what had happened, but procedure was still required as far as the courts were concerned. So was her statement. Carlton wasn’t certain if he’d ever be ready for that next crucial step.

 

So far he’d only called the Chief. She’d be arriving soon enough to check on her detective and offer a presence that wouldn’t make the younger woman flinch. Even though he’d been the one to drive O’Hara to the hospital, she’d remained leaning against the passenger side door the entire time, staring out the front windshield without a word.

 

He’d been unprepared for what he’d discovered at her home. When she’d called him, it had been to say she’d had a break in. A break in. Expecting a shattered window, or a busted in door, maybe some overturned furniture, he’d arrived with his hand hovering near his weapon- eyes scanning across his partner while looking for the expected signs of burglary.

 

Something had jarred though, and he’d quickly looked back, taking in the dark circles below her eyes, the bruises on her jaw and temple, the way her body was slightly hunched. He’d felt cold brought on by nothing more than instinct, and had shivered while his mind immediately sought a different reason for this reaction. She’d fallen in the shower, she’d walked into a door, she’d tripped over her cat- the maniacal fleabag, she’d… anything… anything else- a thousand scenarios could explain the injury. A thousand ways she could have…

 

He’d taken two steps towards her; she’d backed herself against the wall.

 

And he’d known.

 

She hadn’t wanted to talk about it then, her only words being to ask if he could drive her to the hospital. Another cruiser was pulling up while she made her quiet request, and he’d briefed the new officers before escorting O’Hara to his car.

 

There’d been a smell on her body that had made his stomach slowly rotate- squeezing acid towards his throat.

 

At the hospital, she’d stepped towards the admitting desk by herself, calmly accepting the clipboard before sitting down to fill out the information. Thankfully the wait hadn’t been long and they’d cleared a room for her half an hour after they’d arrived.

 

He’d been staring towards the hallway ever since.

 

The phone at the nurse’s station trilled, a doctor strode by with a cup of coffee and a briefcase, an old man shuffled towards the prescription counter with his wallet already in hand. Somewhere behind him, Lassiter heard quickly approaching footsteps- rubber soles that squeaked and slapped on the tile.

 

He turned his head, and quickly stood, a flush of heat washing across his throat.

 

“Spencer, what the hell do you think you’re doing here!?”

 

“Clearly I’m here for the free lollipops. Also I heard Bozo the clown’s younger brother Bennie was performing for the coma patients and I promised Gus a balloon animal shaped like a llama.”

 

On cue, Gus lifted his hand with an easy smile.

 

Carlton wasn’t anywhere close in a condition to deal with this. “I don’t know what idiot blabbed, but you need to turn your little train around and go. Now!”

 

Obviously not taking the threat for what it was, Spencer went for placating.

 

“Woah, let’s not get all Jack Webb here. Gus and I are merely stopping by to avail you of our services and let you know we will stop at nothing to catch the vile vagabond that dared desecrate the home of a Santa Barbara police detective.”

 

Gus nodded. “That’s right.”

 

“We’re even offering it free of charge.”

 

“Shawn!”

 

While Spencer turned to semi-privately consult with his partner, Lassiter scrubbed his hand over his face. His anger had changed into dread at the light-hearted yet concerned tone of the two men. They were worried of course, but only as much as one would worry about a friend whom they thought had been mildly roughed up in a burglary attempt.

 

God, how was he supposed to…

 

“…don’t mind, Gus and I have a Hug Me Tender Get Well lion to deliver.” Spencer waggled the lavender stuffed animal that he’d been clutching at his side. His attempt to side-step the detective, however, was quickly blocked.

 

“I said no!”

 

“Really Lassy? I thought the whole bodyguard schtick was Kevin Spacey’s thing.”

 

“Kevin Costner.” Corrected Gus.

 

Spencer grinned. “Right. Spacey was the alien from K-Mart.”

 

“K-Pax.”

 

“Enough!” Grabbing the other man by the arm, Lassiter began dragging the nuisance towards the exit, glad for the excuse to shed some of his built up fury and grief in a constructive manner.

 

Maybe a bit too constructive as Spencer whimpered at the fingers crushing into his bicep.

 

“AH! Dude!”

 

Lassiter didn’t let go until he’d forced them both back out onto the sidewalk- releasing the other man in a hard shove. His finger rose in a point while he allowed his voice to also elevate now that he wasn’t in the waiting room any longer.

 

“I guarantee O’Hara isn’t going to want either a visit or that stupid toy! The thing she needs is some rest and quiet, and you can’t give her that if you bring your sideshow into her room!” God now his voice was cracking.

 

Covering his face with both hands, Carlton inhaled wetly before dropping them again and shaking the tension from his wrists.

 

“Look just… just please… go home.”

 

Spencer wasn’t moving, nor was Guster. There wasn’t laughter on their faces any longer, and Carlton saw that the grip the consultant had on the stuffed animal was so tight his knuckles had grown pale. When he spoke, the words dragged out in a hoarse whisper.

 

“What happened to Jules?”

 

It was the kind of question that was voiced when suspicion had painted possibilities that the brain desperately wanted to deny. Whatever scenario Spencer was imagining, Carlton had no idea if the final answer would be better or worse than the fears winding through his brain.

 

“Someone broke into her home last night. A man.”

 

Spencer swallowed hard, and his eyes abruptly glossing over. His fist tightened even more around the pathetic gift- shaking from the hold.

 

Lassiter closed his mouth, the final truth locked behind his teeth.  He wouldn't betray procedure or his partner's trust further though he'd flirted dangerously close to that edge already.  And going off the looks of both men, he'd clearly said enough to paint the picture.

 

Gus finally looked away, crossing his arms tightly. Spencer didn’t move. His complexion, though, was rapidly shifting towards pasty. Lips pressed tightly together, shell shocked; he hadn’t looked this bad since the night his mother had been kidnapped by a serial killer.

 

Lassiter didn’t have it in him to soften the blow.

 

“From the look of things he must have entered the house sometime after O’Hara arrived home from the precinct. She must have been in bed at the time- probably even asleep as she hadn’t been able to get to her weapon. I don’t know much more than that, and I’d rather not conjecture before I have clearer facts. I do know that O’Har… Juliet, isn’t going to want a lot of company right now. Particularly the kind that involves fart jokes and stupid pet tricks.” He was seething again, his control over his anger practically absent. The fact that Spencer had lost the ability to speak made no difference. He didn’t have any pity to spare for the man.

 

“Go home.” He said firmly, and then spun back towards the glass door- slapping it open with the palm of his hand.

 

 

 

~~~

 

 

The nurse finally left after drawing blood and administering the standard injections. Juliet was grateful for the break, exhausted from both the exam and the night in general. According to the clock the sun would be up about now. She just wanted to go home. And yet, she didn’t want to at the same time. And it was so hard. That was her home. Her first real home that wasn’t an apartment or a place shared with a roommate. She’d earned every penny that went into the down payment, and every dime after that to pay her mortgage.

 

And now the thought of going back there made her intestines twist into knots.

 

The door made no sound as it opened again, but as she was facing it, the movement was enough to catch her attention. Expecting a returning nurse, she instead saw Carlton’s face peering hesitantly inside- his eyes not even trying to meet hers. She couldn’t decide if it was amusing or depressing. She settled for not caring and cleared her throat.

 

“It the Chief here yet?”

 

Head shake. He still wasn’t moving beyond the barrier of the half open door. “She’s going to stop by your house first and pick up a change of clothes.”

 

Juliet hadn’t even thought of that. Obviously her previous garments weren’t going to cut it as she was fairly certain they were hanging out in an evidence bag somewhere. She suddenly pictured the Chief picking through her underwear drawer with forensic techs all around and had to fight down a hard giggle. If she let that one loose there’d be no going back, and she was too tired to add a psych eval to her plate. At least today.

 

“Is there anything I can get for you? Are you hungry or…”

 

Now Juliet was the one shaking her head. “I don’t need anything.” No need to mention that the idea of food was nauseating.

 

“Are you thirsty…?”

 

“I said I don’t need anything Carlton!” Her hand flattened over her eyes. That had been uncalled for, he was just trying to help. “I’m sorry.”

 

“Don’t.”

 

She dropped her fingers and saw that her partner had finally built up the guts to look her in the eye. His expression, though, was the last thing she needed to see.

 

“Look, O’Har… Juliet…”

 

Oh God… God please not now. “Carlton…”

 

Neither one completed their fumbling starts. The moment Juliet tried to stop his mournful apologetic attempt at comfort the door pushed suddenly wider, and Carlton took a long step back.

 

Juliet wasn’t certain that this was an improvement however when she saw the next guest appear. Chief Vick stepped past her head detective, a gym bag over her shoulder undoubtedly holding a change of clothes and whatever else she thought necessary. Though Juliet had been allowed a shower, she wouldn’t pass on further cleansing. She could still smell him with every breath.

 

“Tell me what I can do.”

 

Juliet shook her head, noticing her partner making his exit now that backup had arrived.

 

“Nothing. I just want to go…” home… She swallowed, shaking her head again before looking towards the wall. One hard darted up quickly to drag beneath her eyes.

 

The Chief moved closer to the bed, thankfully settling into a nearby chair rather than offer anything so unbearable as a hug.

 

“I know it’s hard, but if you’re up for it, I’d like to take your statement while your memory is still fresh.”

 

Juliet frowned. “I thought Carlton…”

 

Vick crossed her legs. “I thought you might be more comfortable talking to me.”

 

Yeah, because we’re such great friends. The bitterness of the thought brought another burn to her eyes, but she kept it back with a deep inhale.

 

“Fine.” Just get it over with. Get it over with and then find a hotel close to the station and book a room. She could afford a few nights – long enough for... what? Long enough for it to not feel revolting sleeping in her own bed? Long enough for the bruises to fade adequately to be hidden beneath foundation? Long enough for the whole station to know her story so they wouldn't ask awkward questions about the bruises she couldn't hide?

 

“Tell me what happened after you left the station last night.”

 

She was sure the question had been asked softly, but it sounded loud enough to have awoken coma patients on the third floor. At least there hadn't been any preamble with apology or pity. There'd be plenty of that to come she was sure.

 

The sudden weight of a body dropping on top of her jolted her awake, though before she could shout, before she could fight, something was shoved over her nose and mouth. Chloroform? Her brain was muzzy on that detail. She'd felt heavy – yet floating – as he began tearing at her top.

 

She felt the vibration of her words in her throat and realized she'd begun answering. Apparently distancing oneself from an unbearable situation worked here too. She allowed her brain to disengage. It was easier than really thinking about what she was saying. It must be the right things, though, because so far the Chief wasn't staring at her like she'd sprouted scales. Now that would be an interesting side effect. She giggled.

 

And now she was getting an odd look. Actually, it was almost a frightened look.

 

“I'm okay.” She said, the inappropriate tremor of laughter dead within seconds of being born. Stillborn, she thought, but it didn't make her giggle this time. She swallowed hard, and instead fought back the strangle of sudden heat in her eyes.

 

“Do you think you can continue?”

 

The words really did sound as soft as they were this time. She saw the out for what it was – saw the open door being offered and wanted to race for it with a desperation she wasn't prepared to deal with. She'd never had to interrogate an assault victim before. Never had to look in their eyes while trying to reassemble all the scattered shards. Would she have let someone off the hook partway through? She knew she wouldn't have.

 

After the first time, he'd apparently gone exploring. She had still been in and out of it during the attack. It had been over quick. She remembered thinking she'd been grateful for that one mercy. Then she heard the odd shuffle of his steps. He returned, smiling. Her handcuffs dangled from his fingers.

 

Vick didn't interrupt her again. Even though the words caught at times, she managed to get them out. She'd wondered for a long time why he hadn't killed her. Sometime in the night, he'd lain beside her, just looking at her. He'd seemed fascinated by her hair.

 

She actually didn't know how many times he forced her. She remembered being slapped. He'd spoken quite a bit while she'd stared towards her wall. She'd thought of the ocean. She'd thought of whales calling back and forth between the waves, diving deep – deep into the blackest parts of their world. She thought of underwater steam vents, where, even in the boiling heat, there was life – transparent shrimps and other creatures existing on the edge of oblivion. So close to death. He'd eased himself over her body again and she'd cried.

 

She spoke until her voice cracked. She swallowed cool water and spoke some more. She realized she was done when the Chief stood and told her to get some rest. She reached down to pat her shoulder, and Juliet shrank from the touch. Vick apologized.

 

And then she was alone again.

 

Chapter Text

Four days in. Four days was long enough for a routine. Long enough to develop a good habit and stick to it. Hell, Lassiter had seen teenagers develop a smoking habit after a single puff. However, the only thing routine and predictable about the daily life with his partner were the mornings. Without fail, they would fall asleep side by side on the couch – TV locked on something fluffy and pointless. And without fail, sometime before sunrise, O'Hara would startle awake, freeze as she took in her surroundings, and make for the bathroom. This was, of course, the public report. The far more detailed and ugly private report was literally for his eyes only. She always cried – even when she didn't want to. Knowing his partner, she never wanted to. A few times she'd lashed out, even after opening her eyes and seeming to recognize him. He just got out of her way and let her pass – following her to the bathroom door where she would lock herself from his sight. He always listened until she turned on the shower – knowing it could be anywhere between half an hour to an hour before she turned off the water again.

 

Depending on the time of day, he'd then either prepare coffee or dig out the ingredients for breakfast. One dance with death enough for a lifetime, he now stuck with toast, yogurt, and fruit – leaving heat sources other than the microwave to the professionals. Granted, he wouldn't have minded mixing it up with bagels and cream cheese or even some granola, but the status of the refrigerator was desolate at best – a grocery run imminent if they didn't want to starve to death. Well, not that his partner wasn't already flirting with that one.

 

All this brought him back to what he needed to accomplish today. He'd already spoken to the chief about his recommendations – the thumb screws not even needing to be brought into play as she'd immediately agreed with him. A call had been placed, schedules rearranged, and Madeline Spencer had caught the earliest flight available from her current posting. Her first appointment was set for this afternoon at 1pm. Lassiter scrubbed both hands over his face, finding stubble and realizing he hadn't shaved in days.

 

Now he just had to tell his partner...

 

 

~~~

 

 

Shawn had been reading through Juliet's statement again when the back door of the office swung open. His feet kicked down fast from the desk – making casualties of both his deck of Hart To Hart limited edition Poker cards as well as the untouched and now cold cup of coffee hours old and regretted almost the moment he'd bought it. The file was stashed in his middle drawer seconds before Gus appeared – his brows dropping while Shawn proceeded to jog to the kitchen for paper towels.

 

“You... okay?”

 

Not finding the towels, Shawn grabbed a stack of napkins instead before returning to the caramel colored spill creating a moat around his trash can.

 

“Dandy. You know, why would they create vessels for hot liquid that are top heavy anyhow? Wouldn't it make more sense to invent cups with a wide base for maximum stability?”

 

Gus shrugged as he brushed back his tie and sat at his desk. “There is something to be said for Egyptian engineering.”

 

Smearing more than soaking up, Shawn frowned as he took in the reply. “Dude, what does a Ben Hur reference have to do with coffee?”

 

“I was talking about the pyramids.”

 

Napkins sopping and quickly disintegrating, it was clear the mess would require something a bit more durable. A glance behind him, then to the side, and his fingers snatched out to hook the soft and absorbent lavender fabric crammed under the right side drawer stack on his desk. Perfect. Messily crumpled, he managed to clean every drop before Gus looked up from typing just in time to also do some absorbing.

 

“Is that my Howard the Duck t-shirt?” Nearly bouncing out of his chair, Gus took three strides and snatched the abused garment – shaking out wrinkles and drops as best as he could. “I was looking all over the place for this – and...” he took in the second level of desecration, “you used it for a cleaning rag?”

 

Pulling himself from the floor, Shawn wrinkled his brow. “Really? You were honestly looking for it? What, is there a best of Willard Huyck marathon showing at the local cineplex? Does that include a special showing of Mothers, Daughters and Lovers?”

 

“That was a made for TV movie Shawn, and that doesn't explain why my shirt was under your desk!”

 

Sinking into his chair, Shawn leaned over his blotter, hiding one hand from view that slipped down to push the middle drawer fully shut. “The bigger question is, why would you buy puce instead of black?”

 

“It isn't puce it's elderberry wine and the salesperson told me it...” His lips snapped shut, eyes half-lidding in glare as he stalked to the kitchen to begin furiously scrubbing the stained cotton in the sink.

 

Shawn chuckled. “Let me guess... it brings out your eyes?”

 

Gus grabbed the liquid soap, adding another generous glob before he resumed scrubbing. Obviously he was plotting retribution of some kind – but like his furry scavenger nicknamesake, he preferred to carry out his dirty deeds when the bigger predators were lazing about with overfilled bellies.

 

Which was fine with Shawn anyhow – his mood for taunting falling away now that their 'barely a spat' moment had come and gone. Mind drifting back to previous concerns, he fiddled with the pull on his middle desk drawer. For the first time he genuinely wished Gus had stayed longer at his other office. Of course, this was also the first time Shawn had ever unequivocally made the choice to keep his friend off of a case. For Juliet's privacy yes, but also for Gus. He couldn't subject the other man to this – no matter how badly he wanted someone to talk through it with. And he wasn't about to dial up Lassy or Buzz... the thought of chatting Juliet's assault with the rosy cheeked Cub Scout nearly bringing up last night's meal of pretzels and Yoo-hoo.

 

The metal tinked lightly under his fingertips. The necessity of looking fought with his revulsion at doing so. The photos by far the worst, even the text turned his stomach at every rereading. Even without his memory he was certain the information would forever be trapped in his head – ready to spring without warning, without trigger – a monster not contained by closet or bed, but roaming freely through the file cabinets of his mind.

 

His cell jingled from his back pocket.

 

He grabbed his phone – checking the ID before leaning away from the desk – glad for the interruption to his gloom, at least until he saw the name on the lighted panel. The desire to let it go to voicemail nearly won out, but knowing the man wouldn't be calling without reason, Shawn thumbed the button to accept the call. “Hey, Buzz, could you hold on a sec?” He whispered.

 

Pressing the phone against his chest, he turned towards the kitchen. “Yo, Gus, Saigon In & Out is on the phone, lunch is ready.” Weak distraction that it was, it was the best he could manufacture at the moment with his heart slowly climbing up his throat.

 

Gus stepped into the room, the wrung out shirt dripping across the wood floor. “Yeah, and?”

 

“Aaand...”

 

The other man shook his head. “No, no Shawn. You want to eat? You go pick it up!”

 

“Fine, then I'm driving your car.”

 

Gauntlets thrown, the stare-down ensued. Shawn narrowed his eyes while Gus flared his nostrils. It could go either way, really. Gus was struggling with this one, that much was clear; weighing the unwillingness of being delivery man against the likelihood of his upholstery being stained with nưnc mam pha. However, in seconds, the desire to protect the remainder of his possessions won out.

 

“Fine, but you're paying, Shawn.”

 

“Of course – totally my treat.” Without a beat, he dug a twenty and a ten from his back pocket and forked it over. The generosity was noticed as Gus took the money, but a shooing gesture brought back enough irritation that he closed his mouth against the sanity question that was obviously lurking.

 

Instead, cramming the bills into his coat pocket, he took a second to arrange his shirt over the back of his chair before heading for the door.

 

“I'm getting egg rolls too!” And then he was gone.

 

Shawn listened for a few more moments until the sound of the Echo's engine faded with other traffic. Pulling the phone back to his ear, he breathed out. “Kay, sorry man, what's up?”

 

His delayed greeting was soon overlooked as he listened to the young cop. Restless through the subdued hello and throat clearings on the other end, his free hand tapped a light beat against his thigh. Finally Buzz started to speak. Only a few moments of conversation and his eyes closed, form sinking into the backrest.

 

“Yeah. Okay. Thanks. No, I'll call him. Thanks, Buzz.” He set the phone down on the desk after the call ended. His breath slowly leaked out.

 

Seconds later he kicked the chair away from himself – pivoting to lash out on the wall behind him – pounding his fist repeatedly against the plaster. He stopped just short of splitting his knuckles – jaw clenching and chest working to pull in air.

 

The temptation to throw the phone across the room was strong – the outlet for destruction of personal possessions having grown through the course of the week. Already more than one dish had met it's fate against his kitchen floor, it was only a natural step that he'd move on to electronics.

 

Two things saved the device from emotionally driven iPhoneocide. One – Gus would likely notice the smashed cell when he returned from his food run. And two – Shawn needed to make use of it again.

 

And he so badly did not want to make this call.

 

However, burying the eruption one more time, Shawn flipped open the cell, hit speed dial, and waited for the line to pick up on the other end. A handful of rings and a tired voice answered the call.

 

Yeah?”

 

“Lassy...” Shawn closed his eyes, rubbing one hand on the back of his neck. “I... uh... just talked to Buzz...”

 

 

 

~~~

 

 

 

Juliet continued to flip channels as Carlton dug out his phone – answering it while walking to the kitchen. Good – she hoped he burned himself again.

 

How could he??

 

Her finger stabbed relentlessly at the channel button. He hadn't even asked – went behind her back...

 

From the other room, Carlton's voice briefly rose, allowing her to catch a few muttered words along with a name. “Spencer.”

 

Great, he was talking to Shawn. Yet another thing he'd done without her consultation. Of all the people to have access to her file... her statement... her – photographs... God. Her hands covered her face as the remote dropped between her feet. The sensation of wanting to cry battled against the inability to do so. In fact, her eyes were dry to the point of pain.

 

At least with murder the crime remained a singular event to the recipient. With this... Her chest hitched, but her tears remained in her throat. Bad enough Buzz had lost his innocence digging through shot after shot of her form, bloodied, battered, and au naturale – but now Shawn was privy as well.

 

An ugly and disgusted mocking voice chose to laugh that at least somebody was getting something rewarding from her experience.

 

And then the tears finally appeared – choking and rough and cascading between her fingers. How could she ever look at any of them again? How could she meet Buzz in the eye? And as annoying as she'd pretended it was, she had enjoyed the attention Shawn had given her... before. How could he bear to be in her presence now? How could he feel anything other than pity? Or revulsion?

 

And now, to top it off, Carlton expected her to talk about it – to Shawn's mother no less! Why not just make it a family event and invite Henry too? Maybe they could track down uncle Jack – give him a few new stories to tell.

 

The flood ended more quickly than previous break-downs. Still sniffling, at least her cheeks had been wiped clean by the time Carlton returned from the kitchen, phone still in hand.

 

Juliet faced away from him, bumping up the volume on the TV a few more bars and using the side of her hand to take a final swipe beneath her eyes – satisfied when it came away dry. No way to hide the redness, but in all honesty her eyes had been bloodshot for days.

 

She allowed her partner to hover at the end of the couch – not even glancing at him though he was obviously trying to catch her attention without inviting another round of insult fueled anger that had involved having both his parentage and loyalty questioned in the same breath.

 

Newspaper crinkled beneath his socks. Still laying where she'd left the edition that morning.
Normally he'd have either tossed it in the trash or – were she watching, the recycling. However, up until this moment, he'd been doing his best to maintain a good ten foot distance.

 

“What do you want?” Speaking hadn't been her intention, but silent treatment had never been her style when there were still barbs left to be set free. “Let me guess, that was the Chief calling to say they want me to turn in my gun and badge? Maybe they think of this as an opportunity for me to use some of my vacation days?”

 

“O'Hara...”

 

Tossing the remote to the coffee table, not caring when it skipped off the surface to drop to the floor, she stood and faced her partner – quickly closing that ten foot distance until her finger was poking center of mass.

 

“You had no right to go behind my back!” Her fingertip dug in below his sternum, but ignoring his grunt of discomfort, she pushed forward.

 

“You whined like a baby for days after the Chief made you take mandatory sessions last year! How DARE you think you can do the same to me without my permission?” Her face was burning – tight – and she truly understood the expression “seeing red” because everything had taken on a slightly crimson cast.

 

“Yeah, the last couple of days have been a little rough, but I am still a cop and I can still do my job! And I don't need some random shrink who's never handled a weapon to tell me I'm getting better!”

 

Suddenly stopping in his retreat, her partner went from cowed to looming – his height immediately making itself known in a single forward lean – eyes narrowing down on her return glare – two laser beams spitting and sparking between them.

 

“You're getting better? Really? O'Hara, you have a panic attack every morning! At least twice this week you've punched me in the jaw during a nightmare! So yeah, you're damn right I recommended a psychiatrist!”

 

Her hand whipped out too fast for either of them to stop it – the CRACK loud between them, and final.

 

She was the first to react, gasping and covering her mouth with both hands.

 

Carlton must have been in shock for a moment, because when he finally moved, he blinked and cautiously touched his palm to the rising bloom of red where her hand had struck. As for speaking, it seemed to be out of reach for both of them.

 

Juliet wanted to apologize. It was so strong a desire – so huge – that it grew to fill her whole throat. She couldn't get it out, but instead, felt as though she were choking on the obstruction. She couldn't believe she'd just struck him – purposefully. Worse, she felt sick at the amount of gratification it had given her – if just for one second. No wonder he wanted her to see a shrink. He thought she was losing her mind.

 

Or...

 

Or maybe... maybe he was finally accepting that she was too much to deal with. And she'd just proven him right.

 

The inhale of air burned all the way down – rasping between her fingers – the heat of it stinging her eyes until her vision blurred.

 

“Uh-mm...” Carlton cleared his throat, dropping his hand from his cheek. He looked down at the phone still clutched in one hand while Juliet sniffed wetly and once more wiped her eyes.

 

As badly as she wanted to put space between them, Juliet couldn't move. Even with guilt crowding out all other emotions, she still didn't want to appear as though she were backing down. There were no winners here, but she'd be damned if she came out the loser. Not this time.

 

“I – uhh...” Her partner still wouldn't meet her eyes, his hands fiddling with the phone instead of just sticking it in his pocket.

 

Suddenly they were too close, and kicking pride out through the kitty door, Juliet backed several steps until she could place one hand on the arm of the couch. She didn't sit however.

 

She could push this, and risk what she was afraid might happen anyhow – convince him she didn't want, or need him. Or she could...

 

“I'll go.” She whispered.

 

Apparently this was enough to clear both their heads, and Carlton finally looked up. Juliet stared at the layer of shine across his pupils. Carlton would never tear up about a slap across the face. And as earth-shaking as it was that she'd let him win for once in a fight, it wasn't the glisten of triumph either.

 

He shrugged. “I was out of line. I'm sorry, I shouldn't have forced the issue. You're right, I mean,” he chuckled – eyes sweeping away from her, “who am I to say what anyone else...” Words trailing off, his hand squeezed around his phone. Juliet felt her jaw tremble – her mind finally putting together the tells that would have been screaming at her any other day. Before.

 

“Carlton... what was that phone call about?”

 

The phone vanished into his pocket. Though, now that his hands weren't busy with something, they instead tugged and clutched at the tails of his shirt. And after the small glance her way, his gaze shifted back towards the wall.

 

“Spenc... I told Spencer to call me when – uh – when he had anything new about the case.”

 

No need to say 'which' case. And though her throat was tightening, Juliet rubbed her arm and prodded him. “And?” The strong query somehow transformed into a nervous whisper before making it past her lips.

 

“And they got the DNA back from the lab.”

 

He pulled in a breath. She couldn't bear waiting for him to say it – no more than she could stop the tears that came with the words. “There wasn't a match.”

 

Carlton shook his head.

 

“No.”

 

Chapter Text

The last time Juliet had sat in this room had been right after her transfer from Miami. Then, she'd been a nervous young woman who'd spent her entire career as an officer with her gun strapped to her waist. She'd made detective without ever firing a single bullet at anything other than a paper target. Her first big chance to impress her peers – impress her new superior – and she'd developed a case of the shakes. And it would just figure that her first meeting with Shawn Spencer, station psychic, eventual sometimes coworker, would be under those circumstances. Maybe she'd pushed him away so long out of embarrassment. Maybe every day since then had been an attempt to show him, along with the rest of the station, that she was more that the pretty blonde – more than the touch of sweet and nice only brought on board to diminish the sour projected by her partner.

 

Juliet glanced towards the silent woman across from her only to look down again at her hands. She'd been embarrassed that day in the deli. She still felt her cheeks heat with recollection, sure that every man there was thinking the same thing. 'So this is the Head Dick's new fluff'. It wouldn't have been the first time she'd heard derogatory remarks against her gender. “Maybe you should have applied for Baywatch, ha ha ha”. Nor had it encouraged her to receive nothing but silence from the man she'd been assigned to as junior partner, Head Detective Carlton Lassiter. Rumors of the man had reached her long before she'd met him; youngest detective in the Santa Barbara PD to earn the title as head of the department and on the fast track to being Chief. And then there were the other rumors – that he'd slept with his former partner, that he had a violent temperament, that he'd send his replacement screaming to the hills before accepting her...

 

The psychologist she'd met with, in this same room, had assured that her reactions were natural. She'd been under a great deal of stress, in a new situation, and cut off from the familial support that she was used to receiving. She'd worried she wouldn't have the strength to break the shell built around her partner. In truth, she'd mostly been afraid they'd figure out she wasn't equipped to handle “real” police work. Her new partner had never told her that but surely he'd been thinking it.

 

Juliet lifted a hand to pull at her hair – a familiar gesture that quickly faltered. Her remaining length had been pulled tight in a bun to hide the panic-driven hack job she barely remembered doing. She had a sepia tinted recollection of sitting on her bathroom floor with a pair of scissors in one hand and a clump of hair in the other – but that was it.

 

She repositioned herself on the couch. She'd told Carlton she'd go to these sessions. She'd never said that she'd talk.

 

Madeline Spencer crossed her legs and Juliet pulled her own beneath her. When the older woman breathed in, Juliet sighed.

 

“Thank you for coming to see me.”

 

Juliet looked up. The last time she'd seen this woman had been at a Drive-In movie theater. She'd forgotten...

 

It had rained that night, turning all the cars into shining black beetles under the sodium lights. She remembered how Madeline had been crying after they'd pulled her free of the car. She'd held on to her former husband and hadn't let go – not even when Yang had been dragged away.

 

“Were you scared, that night at the Drive-In?” Juliet sucked in her lips, startled to hear the question whispered in her own voice. She shook her head, once, and pulled her arms around her waist. She didn't want an answer because she didn't want to open that door. She was mortified at where this conversation could end, and bit her lip as Madeline opened her mouth to answer.

 

“Yes, I was scared.”

 

Silence, and Juliet shifted again – sliding her feet away from her slightly to ease the sensation of circulation loss. A mild burn, some tingles, but nothing that would become unbearable. Then Madeline spoke again.

 

“I was wondering if you could do me a favor.”

 

Here it comes. Juliet's throat began to tighten – her scalp feeling as though it were shrinking against her skull – popping out sweat that layered her skin in cold moisture. She wished her whole body could shrink in upon itself.

 

“How has Detective Lassiter been lately? It's been so long since I saw him last and I was told he'd divorced from his wife recently.” Madeline took a sip from the glass of water sitting beside her on the table.

 

Feeling the dryness on her tongue, Juliet did the same, shrugging as she set it down again.

 

“Carlton is Carlton.” She glanced up, seeing a gaze that made her think of her mother, and blinked at the blur that welled across her eyes. “He... he didn't really talk to me about it. I mean, well I did ask him, about a week after I found out, how he was feeling. He said he was okay.” She wiped her eyes and sniffed before taking another sip of water. “He spends more time talking about his guns.” She chuckled. “Boys and their toys.” She wondered why that amused her, and felt the smile slip away again.

 

She held her glass in both hands but didn't drink. She missed her own weapon – missed the weight of it. She'd had to leave both gun and holster at home, and more than feeling stripped, she felt weak. Sitting quietly, now that they'd spoken, was suddenly too quiet. “He can't cook to save his life. Carlton. He tried a few times, but had to stop before he burned down my house...”

 

Talking about her partner helped. The lost feelings were beaten back just a bit as long as she could keep to the home life of Carlton Lassiter. She no longer felt so crushed; it was like that giant, invisible foot was lifting off her skull, allowing her to sit a little straighter. She even managed to smile.

 

 

 

 

~~~

 

 

 

Karen hadn't spoken to Detective O'Hara since the day of the attack. All information gathered from that point on about the young woman's condition had been provided by Detective Lassiter. Phone calls while O'Hara was sleeping or showering – mostly to say that not much had changed. This was the first opportunity she'd had to speak to her Head Detective for more than a few minutes.

 

She ushered Carlton into her office after he'd dropped O'Hara off at the room set aside for Madeline's use. A polite adjective to describe his current appearance was ragged. Granted his shirt was buttoned and his jacket matched his slacks, but he hadn't bothered with either a tie or a shave – the latter growth appearing at least two days old. And unless he'd gotten into O'Hara's cosmetics, the smudges beneath his eyes were a pretty good sign of his sleeping habits.

 

“Officer Niles?” Karen stopped the first person her eyes landed on, an officer who, as luck would have it, was already headed in the right direction with a mug in his hands.

 

“Yes, Chief?”

 

“Would you mind getting a couple of extra cups of coffee for Detective Lassiter and myself?” She glanced back towards Carlton, taking in how he was nearly melting where he stood. “Make them both black.”

 

The officer nodded and headed on his way. Closing the door, Karen headed towards her desk, pointing to one of the chairs in front of it. “Have a seat, Detective.”

 

Like an oak tree collapsing, Carlton dropped into the chair closest to him. Sinking down, he dragged the heels of his palms across his eyes – leaving a flush of pink at the top of his cheekbones. Karen didn't miss the bruising along his jaw when his hands dropped to his lap either. Her mouth was just opening to ask him about it when deductive reasoning answered for her.

 

“How are you doing?” She asked him instead as she also sat – moving several files out of the way to rest her clasped hands on the desktop.

 

Carlton scratched the end of his nose, sniffing as he pushed himself a little higher in the chair. “I'm okay. How's the investigation going?”

 

Karen glanced up at the soft knock at her door. “We're handling it. Come in.” The door pushed open and Niles entered, coffee cups held in one hand. Karen smiled. “Thank you, officer.”

 

Carlton took his cup without a word. Karen thanked Niles again, sipping as he exited, closing the door behind himself. As for her detective, he studied the dark drink in his hands. Karen was fairly certain, however, that he wasn't thinking about the lack of sweetener.

 

Neither one of them were the types to talk around an issue for long. It was one of the things they had in common. And given the way Carlton was blinking, he didn't have the energy for a delicate build up. Karen felt her own exhaustion settle more heavily against her spine. Sleep hadn't been something she'd entertained much lately herself. Yes, as Chief of Police she was obligated to be at her best every day. But that sort of idealism had gone out the window when the first few months on the job had coincided with pregnancy. Having another person depend on you for daily survival, while rewarding, was draining at times as well. And she had her husband to help her.

 

Detective O'Hara was a grown woman, but it was obvious without asking that Carlton was putting every second into caring for his partner. What Karen didn't know, was if that care was having any effect.

 

“Has she spoken to you yet?” No need to clarify about what.

 

Carlton twisted his head sideways, cracking a vertebra. “Not... really. I mean, not unless you want to count... talking in her sleep.”

 

Karen sipped again, wishing she'd asked for creamer as the bitter gulp dragged down her throat. Acid reflux wasn't a regular malady but no reason to encourage it. She found herself looking down at the file she'd pushed aside – a robbery case waiting for her signature. Likely as not, on any given workday, her senior-most detectives would have snapped up the investigation in a heartbeat given that it had involved several days of undercover work. “I know you're under a great deal of stress right now. I want you to know you aren't alone, and that you have the resources of the department at your disposal. I want to urge you to...”

 

Her words stopped at an odd sound – delicate and familiar, it had taken a moment to place. She looked up as Carlton's fingers loosened a little more – tipping the edge of his cup and widening the trickle of spilling coffee. Jumping from her chair, Karen wished she hadn't taken that indulgent moment to slip her tired dogs from their high heeled leashes – her stockinged feet skidding on the slick floor as she made to rescue both cup and detective – the widening flow and tilting hand moving the beverage ever closer towards his lap. A rude awakening she only wished on tight-assed bureaucrats – a far worse agony reserved for society's predators – she managed to ease the handle from lax fingers before scalding heat could do more than dampen the edge of his jacket. Hissing as her own fingers weren't quite so lucky, Karen set the cup on her desk and blew across the warmth still stinging on her thumb.

 

The gentle rise and fall of Carlton's chest hadn't broken one bit during the small caffeine drama, and no longer encumbered with cup holding duty, his hand continued curling inward until it rested on his thigh. She indulged, for just a moment, the mother instincts that swelled in her chest. Sleep had a way of turning grown men into children – but even slumber couldn't totally soften the lines in his forehead – no more than it could erase the shadow cutting into his cheeks. Guilt wasn't new at this point, though it was certainly sharper. She should never have laid everything on his shoulders. The trouble was, she didn't know how to ease it. She hadn't spoken to O'Hara after taking her statement. She should have. She should have reached out to her – done... something. Sure, so women didn't make friends in this job – that didn't mean they became heartless bitches. One of her detectives was suffering. No... not just one.

 

A week of sick leave battling bronchitis – cut off from both precinct and her daughter – Karen had been inundated with well wishes, offers to babysit, and several homemade dinners courtesy of the neighborhood watch. Time off for sexual assault should have earned at least a lasagna, she thought with no trace of humor.

 

The least she could do would be to allow Carlton a brief catnap in her office. Pulling her shades was equivalent to hanging a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the doorknob. She also turned off all but one set of lights, darkening the room considerably. Padding back to her desk, she retrieved a box of tissue. Not the most absorbent material, it worked well enough to sop up the spill next to Carlton's chair. Using the box as a receptacle now that it had been emptied of Kleenex, Karen tossed it in the trash as she finally sat back down. Indulging in a few moments of rubbing at her temples, she lifted her own cooling coffee and sipped as she woke up her computer and began clicking through her email. She'd checked it less than an hour ago, yet already thirty new messages waited her attention. Granted, not all of them were work related – one was from her sister inviting her out to lunch next week. Barb had been quite mellow over the past months, something Karen was very grateful for given the conflicts the two of them were capable of. Though Barb didn't know anything about recent happenings, she'd no doubt picked up on her sister's mood the few times they'd spoken recently. Karen would take what she could get in that regard – but she knew better than to assume it would be a lasting change.

 

Time went by silently. She signed off reports, emptied her cup, and occasionally glanced at the man across from her. Carlton was heavily asleep, his head bent down over his chest and he'd even begun to snore a few minutes ago. If she could get away with it she'd let him use her office for as long as he needed. However, O'Hara's first session was due to wrap up in about in a few minutes, and Carlton would need at least a portion of that time to pull himself together before retrieving her.

 

Knowing he'd be mortified at falling asleep during a meeting with his Chief, Karen took a moment to turn the lights back on – though she left the blinds drawn. Then, stopping by his side, she gently shook his shoulder. “Detective?”

 

“Mmm...” He yawned, joints popping all down his frame as he stretched. “I'zz me O'Hara... you're okay...”

 

Karen winced but continued prodding him to at least a partial state of alertness. “Detective Lassiter?”

 

His eyes finally opened, his hands flailing out to catch the arms of his chair. As Karen stepped away from him, she caught the pinkish flush dusting over his features.

 

“I fell asleep.” Straight, matter-of-fact statement. But underneath was a sense of a kid being caught with his hand elbow deep in a jar of peanut butter.

 

“It's a forgivable offense.” she said as she leaned against her desk. “And I'm guessing you haven't managed a full night since you've been staying with O'Hara.”

 

The flush deepened and she realized how that comment had sounded. Still, back-tracking on it would only make things worse, so she pressed on. “Her session will be over in about five minutes. I thought you might want to grab another cup of coffee before then.”

 

Both hands wiping down his face, Carlton yawned into his palm – a shudder working its way head to toe. Clutching the arms of his chair, he pushed himself to his feet. The motion too fast for blood flow to readjust down his frame, he teetered for a few seconds, one hand darting out to grip the backrest until the vertigo left him again.

 

Once more Karen wanted to suggest he go home, sleep in his own bed for a while. But she knew that outside of a direct order and a police detail she'd never come close to getting him to follow through with it. Even then it was doubtful he'd stay put. And there was certainly no chance he'd sleep.

 

“Do you need anything? Tell me what we can do to help you.”

 

Carlton's hands wrapped around the back of his neck – massaging and squeezing while his head tilted back, rolling side to side. The wake up measures had a cost as he suddenly side-stepped – grasping the chair again as another bout of dizziness struck him.

 

Karen considered ordering him to sit while she collected O'Hara herself, but the moment passed and Carlton straightened. “We're... she's getting low on groceries. Maybe somebody could pick up a few supplies...”

 

“I'll send Officer McNab.”

 

Carlton nodded. “I'll make up a list for him.” His face was still pink and he had yet to meet her eyes. It was obvious he was still embarrassed at what he perceived as weakness.

 

Karen did the only thing she could to ease his discomfort. She ignored it. “Get some coffee, Detective. Then you can see to your partner.”

 

His hand brushed across his lip, he sniffed, and then nodded. “Yes, Chief.”

 

She let him leave then, glad to see that the wobbles were gone. She'd been seconds from ordering a patrolman drive them home in spite of the protest she'd have encountered. Carlton was extremely protective of his car and as far as Karen knew, not even O'Hara had been allowed to drive it.

 

O'Hara. Karen tapped her fingertips against her leg. Walking to the door, she pulled aside the shade, watching as Carlton weaved a slow path to the coffee pot. He'd be at least a few minutes at the break room counter – followed by a few more minutes at his desk. Even on leave he was incapable of keeping his finger off the station's pulse.

 

She had time.

 

It was only a walk across the bullpen and up a short flight of stairs to reach the office where Madeline and Juliet were having their session. They were still inside when Karen arrived, but only a few seconds after reaching the door, it opened. Madeline stood in the doorway, Juliet a few steps behind – her eyes half-lidded. She looked exhausted.

 

“Chief Vick,” the other woman smiled, still holding the door, “was there something I could do for you?”

 

Karen pressed her palms together, and Madeline made a small noise of understanding as she stepped into the hallway. “Please, feel free to use the room. I'll be just outside if you need me.”

 

Juliet's look of weariness quickly began to drop away when Madeline left the room. Karen moved sideways so she wasn't blocking the door and noticed Juliet take a large breath before clasping her hands in front of herself.

 

“I won't keep you long. I just wanted to check in with you.” All the obvious questions such as 'how are you doing', or 'are you okay' were taken out of the equation. And yet, the answers were what Karen had been seeking in approaching her Detective.

 

“I'm fine.”

 

And that was the answer she'd both known was coming, and yet had no way of preventing. She'd heard Juliet's account of the assault – knew exactly what the younger woman had suffered – and knew 'I'm fine' was far from the truth. But she also knew it wasn't her place to challenge that assessment.

 

Juliet was shifting back and forth, her eyes fixed down and to the left of Karen's body. Actually, save for one glace when Karen had first arrived, Juliet hadn't looked at her. So what now? Continue ignoring the elephant noisily stomping around the room or address it? Karen was used to being straight with her officers. However, Juliet had always been a special case. Granted, there were other women in the department, but rarely did any of them report directly to Karen. As second half of the lead detective team at the station, O'Hara had more occasion to spend time in the Chief's presence. Being a trusting and open individual, she had naturally become more relaxed around her superior. And Karen had to admit, she hadn't worked incredibly hard to suppress that attitude. She could blame that on being a mother, but the truth was, she had enjoyed having another woman around the station that she could regularly interact with. The phrase 'lonely at the top' was depressingly true. Only after the now infamous “cupcake incident” had Karen finally admitted that encouraging a casual atmosphere was ultimately detrimental to O'Hara's career. She'd put a stop to it immediately. However, in doing so, she'd also undermined much, if not all, of Juliet's eagerness to confide in her.

 

“I'm sorry I pushed you away.” Probably the wrong thing to say given how Juliet tensed. Not the time or place to quantify the statement with a rehash of reasons 'why', Karen pressed on.

 

“If you need to talk, I'm here for you.”

 

Juliet blinked, her breath hitching once before she appeared to gain control. When her gaze lifted, there was only a haze of shine in her eyes.

 

“Thanks, but I already have someone to talk to.”

 

Karen breathed in and out. Meanwhile, Juliet turned and retreated back towards the chairs, keeping her back to the Chief. Not used to being on the receiving end of a very clear dismissal, Karen went from folding her arms to clasping her elbow with one hand to running her fingers through her hair.

 

Several seconds of trying to come up with conversation finally, thankfully, ended with a door knock. Karen turned as Madeline once more appeared.

 

“Juliet? Detective Lassiter is here to take you home, if you're ready.”

 

Giving one glance towards her superior, Juliet headed for the door. Carlton appeared before Juliet reached it, and Karen noticed how the younger woman's body immediately relaxed, the rigidity going out of her shoulders as she approached her partner.

 

Lassiter allowed O'Hara to pass him and step into the hall. Then, giving a nod to Karen, he followed after her. Still in the doorway, Madeline was clearly watching them leave. Karen stepped closer to her.

 

“At least she trusts someone.” She said quietly.

 

Still looking towards the two detectives, Madeline's brows pushed together, her face becoming contemplative.

 

“Yes... she does.”

Chapter Text

Carlton's fingers tapped absently at the cover on his coffee. He'd only sipped from the paper cup a few times, his attention locked on the house across the street. Stakeout duty wasn't new to him. Staking out his partner's property... well that was a novelty for sure.

 

He could admit that he hadn't been all that surprised to be thrown to the curb. Not that O'Hara had been more relaxed after the first session, she'd still seemed tense. Actually, in truth, she'd been a lot more tense – to the point that Carlton had wondered if Madeline really could get through to her. After all, she'd had him pouring out his heart like a pimply teenager to his first love. Okay, so it had taken a few sessions but he'd been so convinced about Madeline's abilities that he'd been certain his partner would have emerged from her session with a smile and a giggle...

 

Later that afternoon, when McNab had shown up with a patrol car loaded with groceries, she'd actually retreated to the bathroom until the young officer left again. Four bags had been loaded with prepackaged meals, some fresh fruits and vegetables, and variety of treats ranging from cookies to ice cream. A fifth bag had contained both a homemade casserole as well as a very large, still warm, apple pie, courtesy of McNab's wife. Fighting with envy over the young man's incredible good fortune with regards to his spouse, Carlton had thanked him and shown him to the door. It had taken O'Hara an additional ten minutes to reemerge, at which point everything had been put away. Well, everything but the pie. Unwilling to let the treasure of fruit and flaky crust cool to room temperature, Carlton had insisted they retrieve the vanilla ice cream and have a very unhealthy late lunch. He'd been low on hope at that point – to the extent that he'd fully expected to eat alone. It was with shock that he'd watched his partner lift a fork and scoop out a large bite of apple and flaky crust. It had only taken a single taste. After watching his partner polish off about three large slices plus ice cream, he'd made a mental note to buy Franny McNab a bouquet of two dozen roses in gratitude.

 

One week and five sessions later, O'Hara had asked him to leave.

 

His phone vibrated. Carlton grabbed it from the center console while still keeping his eyes focused on the property across the street.

 

“Yeah.” As he spoke, a stubby blue car pulled up behind him; positioned in the shade of a tall hedge bordering the sidewalk. Carlton sat back in his seat, still speaking into the phone. “I'm surprised Guster let you borrow his car again after what happened last night.”

 

Spencer snorted. “Hey, Gus understands the science behind Mentos and cola, and I'm surprised you're not more concerned about the fact that I could have died.”

 

Carlton glanced into his rear view mirror, making certain Spencer could see him rolling his eyes. “If you had died from an exploding colon it would have been your own fault and barely worth my pity.”

 

He turned back towards the house, one hand covering his mouth as he yawned. From his cell the sound of Spencer's waspish nattering continued on, and on, and on...

 

“Okay, enou- ENOUGH!” In the God blessed silence he rubbed his forehead. Honestly, he still wasn't thrilled about this arrangement. At all. But he also knew he couldn't carry out this self-appointed duty round the clock for days on end. So why not utilize the seeming endless supply of Spencer's energy? Besides, of anything he was certain about, it was Spencer's devotion to O'Hara – puppy crush pathetic though it was. Two days of constant surveillance on top of weeks of little sleep had driven Carlton to the point of walking death. And in his desperation, he'd grit his teeth, swallowed a lot of pride, and called the consultant for help.

 

“I've compiled a list of six new vehicles that didn't match any of the neighbors on this block. Four were drive-bys, while the other two parked and the occupants entered two of the homes across from O'Hara's property. They remained at these locations for two hours and four hours respectively.”

 

There was no response. Carlton glanced in his rear view mirror only to see no sign of the other man. The small car was empty.

 

“Dude, really?” exploded in his left ear. Carlton jumped, one hand clutching the steering wheel while the other tightened on his phone – seconds from turning the device into a weapon.

 

“Spencer...”

 

The idiot had leaned down into his open window, though the expected grin was absent. Removing his sunglasses, Lassiter tore off a sheet from his notepad and shoved it into Spencer's hand. “That's a copy of vehicles and suspects. Keep track of everyone that comes down this street, and I mean everyone.”

 

Spencer glanced once over the sheet before stuffing it in his pocket. “Everyone? Does that include mimes?”

 

The steering wheel creaked under Carlton's twisting hands. “I don't care if it's a grandmother in a purple satin jogging suit walking her Bichon; you will make note of them and report back to me!”

 

Spencer's lip quirked just slightly. “Bitch'in?”

 

“I didn't say bitch'in...!” Growling as the other man chuckled, Carlton grabbed his sunglasses once more and slid them over his eyes. “Just stay here until I come back at noon! And don't fall asleep!”

 

He started the engine while Spencer was still hanging onto the door frame and took some delight in the rapid backwards hop to avoid having his toes crushed under the tires. Glancing into his mirror as he drove towards the intersection, Carlton watched Spencer get back into his car. Then, making sure there was no cross traffic, he continued on his way.

 

 

 

~~~

 

 

 

Shawn definitely needed to have a talk with Gus about his over-protectiveness. One little mishap, that seriously could have happened to anyone, and now he was forced to sit on plastic seat coverings. He shifted left, wincing at the little squeak that accompanied that motion. No activity at the house from what he could see – which wasn't much with all the shades drawn. Of course, it was also pretty early.

 

Not that he would have, but Carlton had had a point in warning him to stay awake. Coffee and soda could only keep a body alert for so long before boredom and too little sleep demanded their toll. Gus had even started forcing sleeping pills on him, which Shawn had only taken once before deciding it wasn't worth the gummy grogginess. Besides, he wasn't a stranger to insomnia. Every time he was stuck on a case, sleep became one of the lower priorities, just after eating. If it wasn't for Gus's bottomless stomach he'd probably starve himself half the time. Actually, he blamed Gus for the little pooch of softness currently deforming the six pack hiding underneath. Too much jerk chicken and not nearly enough celery. Shawn refused to acknowledge that he'd made an effort not to prescribe to any set exercise program. As he recalled, the last time he'd used a piece of workout equipment he'd nearly died. So what if the bomb was actually his phone – he was pretty sure he'd been toying with a coronary by the time he'd collapsed to the floor. He should have recognized that the writing on the water bottle had been done by Jules...

 

Shawn breathed through his nose – his palm wrapping over his jaw as he stared at the house. Still nothing happening. His eyes wandered down the sidewalk, noting how quiet the neighborhood was. Well, not totally quiet. He sat up a little as motion drew his eyes to a form moving at the far end of the block. After a second or two he was able to more clearly see the shape of a man jogging. He was dressed in sweats and a t-shirt, and had clearly come from some distance as there was sweat soaked across his chest.

 

Attention going from the man to a passing car to Juliet's house to the man again, Shawn sighed and sagged a little deeper into his seat. Barely past seven in the morning and his eyes felt raw and dry. He could hear the pat, pat, pat of running feet now. The jogger was almost directly across from him, slowing as he neared Juliet's house. Shawn sat up. The man took a few more steps and then stopped, breathing heavily. After a second, he pulled a water bottle from his hip and swallowed several times, letting the excess spill down his front. Then, while capping it, his eyes wandered right, glancing at Juliet's house before sweeping back ahead, landing on Shawn. Smiling, he tipped a wave, placed the bottle back on his hip, and continued on his way. Shawn watched until he was gone from sight down the next block.

 

Pulling Lassiter's note page from his pocket, Shawn jotted down the details; middle-aged white male, about one hundred and sixty pounds, goatee, brown hair, eye-color indistinguishable from that distance. Fishing a fig Newton from the package beside him, he proceeded to make a rough sketch as well. However, he didn't think this was their guy. He'd seen a wedding ring on his finger as well as a scar across his forearm. Juliet had given a very detailed description of her attacker and those were details she would not have missed.

 

The pencil stabbed a few times at the sheet – puncturing through and snapping the lead when it impacted against the steering wheel beneath it. Shawn returned to staring at the house. It took a little longer for his breathing to slow and even out. A car passed him by, and he dutifully jotted down the license plate as well as the description – though the busted off lead created a fuzzy double line. The sun had turned the street golden by this point and he squinted as beams began to reflect off the windshield. Juliet's file sat in the seat next to the box of cookies and a few bottles of water – Gus had cut off soda along with any other stain producing substances. Any other time Shawn would have managed to sneak in contraband anyhow, but truthfully his appetite hadn't existed for some time.

 

Sighing, he drummed his fingers against the ledge of the window. It wasn't just the current situation that had him so anxious either. Yesterday he'd stopped by the station to see if any new progress had been made on the cop side of investigation into Juliet's attack. Unfortunately they had been just as stalled as him. The DNA blow had knocked them all down a peg. Currently the officers were researching any possible out of state leads, but the process was slow. With nothing left to do, Shawn had begun wandering the station absently – thrown a bit off center since neither Lassiter nor Juliet had been around. But then, completely unprepared, he'd seen her. Mom. The question of what she'd been doing there had vanished before he could ask. Of course – why else would she be there? So instead of asking, he'd accepted a hug and asked how long she'd be in town.

 

Shawn fished another cookie from the package even though it was the need for activity rather than hunger that drove him. He chewed without tasting, the whole time watching the windows for even a sign of movement. He actually swallowed wrong when the curtain jerked in the center window. He'd just taken a mouthful of water and had been unprepared to see activity. Coughing and sputtering, he blinked at the shape hovering behind the glass. It was her cat. Feeling three kinds of stupid as he wiped his lips, he still took this as a positive. If kitty was up and about, Jules was likely awake too. It wasn't too far of a stretch to believe she kept her pet close while she slept.

 

Sure enough, less than a minute later he saw a flash of her wrist as she pulled the fluffy gray form from the sill. She didn't remain long, but just seeing that she was active was enough to settle his tension. Yawning, he let his head fall against the headrest. Lassy would be back at noon to make certain his partner ate lunch. No, that wasn't what he'd told Shawn, but for the past three days since starting Jules Watch, at twelve on the dot he'd arrive back at the house with bags of food in hand. Never allowed to share the savory items, Shawn was always sent packing while Lassy finished out the shift through evening. As far as Shawn could tell, the guy probably grabbed only a few hours of sleep a day; and offering to take more of the load had met with complete stonewalling.

 

It wasn't the first time Shawn had wondered how long this would go on. Even though he hadn't spoken to her yet he'd caught enough glimpses of Juliet at the station, going to and from her sessions, to suspect she wasn't as shaken as she had been those first few days. However, by contrast, Lassiter was more frazzled than ever. Of course, Jules was Lassy's partner, so it only made sense that the guy would be worried...

 

Shawn dug another Newton from the package, but rather than eat it he instead proceeded to shred it. Crumbs and fruity fragments gathered on his lap. He wiped away the bits, then snagged another cookie.

 

Jules must be getting better. After all, Madeline Spencer was one of the best in her field and he didn't think that just because she was his mom. Shawn sniffed at a tickle in his nose, the sun reaching a point where it was hitting him right in the eyes and screwing with his sinuses. In his hands, the second cookie was soon obliterated as well. He grabbed a third.

 

Juliet hadn't returned to her window since corralling her furry friend. However, that hadn't kept the kitty away. Gone just long enough to wolf down breakfast, the slightly chunky creature had returned to the window and had managed to push the curtain a bit askew. Dropping the fifth partially mangled cookie back into the package, Shawn sat up so he could attempt to peer into the house. Unfortunately the same sun beams that had blinded him were also scattering across the pane, not allowing him to see anything not pressed tightly to the glass.

 

Still, he was content with that one glimpse he had gotten – more than he'd seen in days. Sliding back down, rubbing sticky fingers on his jeans, he settled in to wait. Lassiter would be back in a few hours. All he was required to do until then was guard the house. He could do that. Better than staring at his phone hoping for a call to say the cops had finally gotten a lead. This way, he at least felt as though he was doing something worthwhile.

 

Breathing through his nose, he reached for the discarded pastry. Once more fixing his eyes on the window, he began to shred.

 

 

 

 

~~~

 

 

 

He'd been out there for hours. Juliet didn't know if he thought he was being stealthy or if he'd intentionally parked so she could see him. She hadn't really been surprised by his presence either. She certainly hadn't been surprised that Carlton had taken to shadowing her. Seeing him out there every day, though, had twisted her emotions. She couldn't make up her mind whether she was grateful or frustrated or even ashamed that he hadn't let her be. Her choice to demand her space had been a snap choice, but she'd stuck with it. She could never get over this if he was always hanging over her. And he'd certainly never get back to his job if he was forced to babysit her day and night. But, God, that first night she'd missed him so badly she'd nearly called him half a dozen times to beg him to come back. Her house hadn't felt like a refuge but a cage. Every corner was menacing – a place where he could be hiding. She'd finally curled up on the couch, blanket wound around her and weapon near at hand. She hadn't managed to sleep at all that night. It hadn't been until morning, glancing out the window, that she'd spotted his car. And then, after a few days, Shawn took up watch as well. She still couldn't make up her mind about that. Her throat clenched tight every time she thought about him, knowing what he'd seen in her file. But after a couple of days, she'd begun looking forward to seeing that blue car.

 

Juliet's stomach twisted as she pulled a blanket up around her shoulders. She hadn't bothered with breakfast this morning, but with Carlton bringing lunch in about an hour or so, she didn't want to eat. He still worried enough about her appetite and it wouldn't help his anxiety if she filled now and only picked at her food after he arrived.

 

Something collided softly against her side and Juliet flinched. However, when the fluffy gray tail curled over her arm, she groaned. “You need a bell.” She chastised her pet, receiving a drawn out maow in return. Reaching for the rotund body, she frowned when the feline dodged her hands and leaped back to the floor, turning to glare over its shoulder and yowl.

 

“Oh no – you were fed already and you really don't need more.” Not that the complaints ended. “How about you eat your tuna?” More complaints, growing in volume and frequency as she stood and walked towards the kitchen, nearly stumbling as a fat kitty body twined around her ankles and darted back and forth in front of her. Her other cat had been an easy to please creature – would eat whatever was set before him without issue. This one though... For such a fat cat, she was incredibly picky. What sort of cat didn't eat tuna? Feeling that indulging the beast was better than harassment, Juliet gave in to the endless demands and dug out the bag of dry food; scooping a small handful dropping it into the bowl – needing to pull her hand back fast to avoid being bit by needle teeth.

 

Leaving the cat to her noisy smacking broken up by attempts to purr, Juliet headed back towards the couch. On the way there she inhaled, sniffed, then wrinkled her nose. Sweat stench clung in her nose. Several days of ten minute showers were taking their toll. The need to scrub herself raw was strong, but it paled next to the fear of being alone and vulnerable – naked – under streaming water and incapable of hearing beyond her shower curtain. But she couldn't let Carlton into her house if she stank like a member of the WWF fresh from a cage match.

 

The trouble was, even with the risk that she'd kill both of their appetite's with her wild animal aroma, she struggled with the second person that had taken up residence in her mind – the terrified presence that cried and trembled at what used to be easy.

 

'Nothing you're feeling is wrong.' She'd heard those words years ago but for a different reason. That session way back when, going over rookie fears and agonizing homesickness with the station psychologist. She'd believed it, then.

 

Arms wrapping around her body, Juliet shivered. The more she thought about showering the more desperately she wanted one. Her body felt frozen, smelled awful, and she literally craved heat and water.

 

Her eyes moved towards the window, and an idea came to her.

 

 

 

 

~~~

 

 

 

 

His phone chirruped and Shawn jerked, smacking his elbow against the window. He grunted, rubbing once at the numbing sting before grabbing his cell from the dash. His eyebrows went up at the name displayed. Throat losing moisture, he accepted the call and put the speaker to his ear.

 

“Jules?”

 

There was hesitation on her end as well, and Shawn looked towards the house as he heard her breathe.

 

Shawn, hey.” There was some shuffling and a sniff.

 

He waited, but there was nothing in his ear but respiration. He sat up, looking more intently at the house.

 

“Jules, are you okay?”

 

He heard more sniffing and it cut through him. He was the guy who found answers – he fixed things, and he was damn good at it. But he couldn't fix this. “Jules?”

 

Another sniff, a huff, and then he frowned as something totally unexpected sounded on the other end. A laugh. “I need to take a shower.”

 

Maybe he could put her on hold – mom would probably be at the hotel, possibly on the way to the station – he had no doubt she'd be willing to put in an emergency session if...

 

Shawn?”

 

“Yeah,” his voice squeaked a little, “yeah, Jules, I'm here. You said you...” his face felt warm and he rubbed the back of his neck with his free hand.

 

I just don't... I didn't want to...” the amusement was gone already, her tone retreating into embarrassment. When it finally emerged again it was barely above a whisper. “I don't want to be alone...”

 

Oh.

 

Aw Jules... His throat clenched tight, creating a painful pressure when he swallowed. Tugging once at his earlobe, he dropped his hand back down to his lap. Jules wasn't supposed to sound like that. Hearing that waiver kicked every protective vibe in his body into high gear. He remembered sitting across from her at a restaurant, years ago. She'd been crying, her head bandaged from impacting the skull of an escaping prisoner. Never so helpless in his entire life, he'd desperately tried to fix it. He remembered grabbing her hand as she'd prepared to leave the table, trying to assure her that it would be okay, but only seeing defeat in her expression. She'd recovered, eventually, once Tancana, the escapee, had been brought to justice – never mind the other criminals that had been involved. But that had just been a headbutt and a temporary smudge on her honor.

 

Shawn's hand rose again to wipe across his face. “Do you want me to call Lassiter?”

 

It was a stupid question. If she could call him she could call Lassy – but he also knew about impulse decisions that quickly became regrets. If nothing else, he could at least give her an out if she wanted it.

 

Do you... think you could come inside?”

 

So she didn't want the out. “O-okay...” Heat followed by a runner of chills barely allowed that stumbled reply. His body felt as though it was glued to the seat. After the call disconnected, he closed a fist and pressed it against his lips. How many times had he fantasized hearing that invitation? The heat flooded into his gut and his eyes stung with shame. So that's his first thought? Disgusted with himself, Shawn exited the car, crammed his phone in his pocket, and headed across the street, still scanning up and down the sidewalk.

 

At the door, he scratched his bicep before lightly rapping his knuckles against the wood. Instead of opening the door, however, Juliet pulled aside the window curtain and peered out at him. Her expression was a cocktail of emotions – relief, sorrow, embarrassment, the last one growing in strength as she allowed the curtain to fall back into place. Moments later the chain slid in its groove and clacked against the door followed by the dead bolt. She pulled open the door, and then immediately stepped to the side, giving him several feet to walk inside.

 

He started to smile, only to freeze – his breath shuddering as he took in her appearance. Her hair...

 

Juliet didn't look at him, but instead dropped her eyes as she closed the door again and put the locks in place.

 

“Jules...” Shawn started to speak, raising his hand towards her in an unthinking gesture. At the motion she flinched, gasping and wrapping her arms around herself.

 

“I'm sorry-” he took a step back, his body thumping against the doors of the coat closet. He forced his attention away, regretting... everything. Now what? Clearly humor wasn't an option – hell, like he'd manage anything more than a flood of apology. God, her hair... Lately when he'd seen her at the station it had been pulled back in a bun – tight, severe schoolmarm style. He'd had no idea it was... butchered! But she hadn't mentioned her attacker cutting her hair...

 

“I-um...” Shawn's jaw tightened on the start of whatever his brain could possibly have come up with to ease the situation. She'd done it to herself. The man had been fascinated by her hair, and now she couldn't stand the sight of it and had hacked it off. He felt a slimy warmth rise up his throat.

 

Juliet seemed to realize what he'd been focused on because her hands suddenly pushed across her scalp and gathered the varied lengths at the nape of her neck. She retreated from him a bit more. “Um... I uh... can you just, you know, just stay here? By the door?”

 

The sound of pleading took away any ability to manage words. Swallowing – feeling the tissues in his throat stick – he nodded. His hands crammed into his pockets as she made her way towards the other room. After a minute he heard a door close and a lock click in place. Just barely he heard the sound of running water as the shower was turned on.

 

Tipping his head back and shutting his eyes, his skull thunked against wood. Yep, he'd officially made things worse. Great job, Shawn – you're a hell of a guy.

 

 

 

~~~

 

 

Juliet kept her eyes forward as she passed through the master bedroom, only stopping long enough to grab a change of clothes from the dresser. The lesser of two evils as far as she was concerned and her options were limited. If she abandoned this space completely and used her minimally equipped guest bathroom, she'd risk another panic attack in that tiny room. It had been during that first sleepless night without Carlton. Her bedroom had been an unbearable prospect without his presence to reassure her – so she'd decided on the other bathroom just off the guestroom for her shower. Ten minutes in she'd suddenly felt suffocated by the tiled walls. It hadn't helped that instead of a door, the stall was fronted by a plastic curtain. When the heat had risen from the water, the curtain had sucked in towards her – crowding her even more. It had been too much and she'd panicked. Not that she didn't get the shakes even walking past her bedroom these days. She couldn't believe she'd actually attempted sleeping in here that first night. It made her sick.

 

Locking herself in the bathroom, she turned on the shower to let the water heat while she shed her clothes and kicked them into the corner. In a few moments steam began rising over the pebbled glass door while mist collected on the surface.

 

Her first step under the water sent a shiver through her body – one associated with pleasure rather than distress. Her sanctuary. Unlike the other shower stall, this one was a place of safety. The shower head was positioned to create a steady rain, a massage of tiny streams that poured across her shoulders and back. With the steam billowing around her it felt as though she was in another world. Real life was the fantasy – all the events associated with it only shadows.

 

She turned the knob another notch, and then tipped her face towards the ceiling.

 

 

 

~~~

 

 

Shawn had waited ten minutes before abandoning his post. Forensics had done a thorough job – he knew that from the photos taken throughout the house. Still, finally being on the scene, he couldn't stop the compulsion to look around for himself. If there was anything anywhere, he damn well planned to find it.

 

He headed through the living room first, glancing towards the bedroom with the adjoining bath, knowing there was no chance of access unless he intended to pick the lock. He could have, but nothing in the world would compel him to do so. He saw the blankets and pillow on the couch – several plates and cups collected on the coffee table. There was also a box of tissues, half emptied, sitting on the far end – the used litter of crumpled brethren scattered amongst the dirty dishes. On impulse, Shawn gathered of the dishes and trash and carried it all to the kitchen. Tossing the used tissues, he set the dishes in the sink and rinsed them before stacking them in the dishwasher. He found he soap under the sink. After the cycle was started, he made a quick scan of the kitchen, keeping tight track of the time now that the sound of the shower was drowned out by the dish washer.

 

Nothing jumped out at him. He pursed his lips before abruptly striding towards the guest bedroom. Several times Juliet had been left alone. She'd mentioned being chloroformed a few times – presumably because the man had intended to be gone for more than a few moments. So what had he been doing during that time? Unidentified fingerprints had been found on a number of surfaces, primarily the kitchen, bathroom, and obviously the bedroom. They'd established that the man had eaten a couple of peanut butter sandwiches and had polished off a carton of milk so... at least they knew he wasn't lactose intolerant. Nor did he have a peanut allergy. That narrowed it down to maybe a few million in the state? Gus would have more precise figures but it probably wasn't worth a call yet.

 

Further away from the kitchen the sound of the shower could be heard again. Shawn checked his watch as he slid open the top drawer of the dresser sitting opposite the bed. Half an hour since Juliet had locked herself in the other room. She'd be coming out soon. Not only that, but Lassy would be showing up soon as well and would no doubt enjoy an opportunity to bash a shapely skull if he caught his co-conspirator rifling through a drawer filled with his extra socks and underwear.

 

Huffing, Shawn gave up on the dresser and moved to the bed. Signs of Lassiter's habitation were scattered everywhere here as well – a tie hanging off the bedpost, a pair of sneakers chucked in the corner and in the guest bathroom, male toiletries such as shaving lotion and... a pink Bic?

 

Shawn jumped at the sound of something smashing outside the room. What the hell...? Dropping the razor into the sink, he headed back out towards the living room, eyes sweeping to the master bedroom.

 

“Jules?”

 

 

~~~

 

 

 

Juliet wiped off mirror with the palm of her hand. She'd only shut off the shower a few seconds ago and water drops pattered steadily into the drain; however she'd still managed to dress – pulling clothes on over her moist skin in spite of how revolting it felt. She stared at her face. Strange that it was when she wasn't under the water that she felt like she was drowning. She pressed the side of her fist against the glass. She'd felt really good earlier this week – like she was recovering. Why was everything starting to spiral again? What was she doing wrong? Was she too weak to survive alone anymore? Thousands of women in her situation stayed alone even after their ordeals – so what was wrong with her?

 

Her breath stuttered and she sucked in her lower lip as she felt the muscles in her chest contract. Repressing it made her eyes burn but she'd be damned is she had a crying fit now.

 

Her fist thudded on the glass. She glared at her reflection. This was what Shawn had seen... a broken down girl with an Edward Scissorhands haircut. She couldn't even laugh in self-mocking. She was pathetic.

 

Sniffing, she braced both hands on the edge of the sink.

 

 

 

~~~

 

 

“Jules?”

 

Shawn was only a few steps from Juliet's bedroom when he heard another crash. That wasn't from the bedroom...!

 

He just had time to spin towards the front door when it smashed open in a final blow. He had no chance to move as a dark form rushed him, one hand swinging hard. Pain exploded in his eye as a fist smashed into the side of his head. Color clashed with light and sound as the impact dropped him to the floor.

 

Shawn, are you okay out there? What are you doing?” He couldn't answer Juliet as his hand cupped the side of his face, then moved quickly to block the second blow. He barely succeeding as the punch glanced off his forearm to strike his shoulder, bruising both.

 

Another swing was coming his way and Shawn kicked out without looking, impacting more from luck and anything. While the other man grunted and stepped back, Shawn rolled to his knees and launched himself into the man's gut. He tried to wrap his arms around the muscled torso but a blow between his shoulders ended that attempt with breath stealing pain. Then, before he could even begin dealing with that hurt, he felt himself wrenched upright and shoved backward into the wall.

 

He gasped as his hair was twisted around knuckles, yanking back to lift his head. The man stared at him, blue eyes, goatee, hair shaved close to his scalp. Shawn snuffed and gulped, tasting blood. There was no emotion in the gaze looking down at him. Seconds of scrutiny passed, the man's eyes moving slightly back and forth as he examined him. Then, finally, he nodded, grunting.

 

“She's too good for you.” His voice was raspy – like a smoker – though there was no smell of tobacco on him. “You don't belong here,” he continued, not inflecting, his tone steady, “you've turned her into a whore.”

 

Shawn's eyes widened.

 

It was him! It was him, it was him, it was...

 

The man leaned in, his fingers tightening until Shawn felt individual hairs stretch and snap. He hissed, pressing against the wall as the man moved closer until his lips were brushing next to Shawn's ear.

 

“You need to understand... she belongs to me. She'll only, ever, belong to me.” He backed away, his lips stretching apart, finally forming something mimicking a smile. “You need to see. In order to understand.” The grin was like bared fangs. “You can't have her. She's mine. My angel... my beautiful angel...”

 

Shawn felt his body shaking at the spoken words – having read them in Juliet's statement. This man had whispered those same words while he was raping her.

 

“Shawn?” The door to Juliet's room unlocked and began to swing open.

 

The man smiled, turning his head.

 

“No!” Shawn scrabbled his fingers against the wall, panicked. “Jules, RU...” fingers wrapped around his throat, closing off his air. In the same second, a free fist rammed down brutally, plowing at a vicious angle into his gut.

 

“GNUUH!!” His vision became white static at the traumatic blow. Seconds later the hands released him and he crumpled without resistance to the floor. He couldn't breathe or think or move; couldn't stop tears of pain from streaming down his cheeks. But he could hear. And he could panic at what he heard.

 

“Shaw...” Juliet gasped, then whimpered. Shawn heard a struggle – feet moving and then a hard collision. She started to scream but something stopped it.

 

Seconds of quiet, Shawn screaming at his body to move, fingers twitching and burrowing at the carpet. Jules... Jules, no...

 

There was a snuffling sound, and another whimper. And then...

 

“Were you washing his stench from you? Huh? Bitch. You couldn't wait could you. Couldn't wait to spread your legs like a whore. You think I didn't see you bring your own partner home with you?”

 

There was a slap and a muffled scream. Shawn ground his teeth and whined, sucking in a gasp, still incapable of movement. He growled, fingers clawing desperately as the man raised his voice in a shout.

 

“How could you do this to me!? You loved me!!”

 

Another slap, and then Shawn's chest froze in agony at the sound of ripping cloth.

 

“I think you need a reminder of what you gave up.”

 

Unmuffled, Juliet's scream cut through the room.

 

Forcing every molecule in his body to obey, Shawn dug his fingers into the carpet and hauled himself to his stomach. Then, shaking in pain, his eyes locked on the horror in front of him – Juliet pinned to the floor, eyes squeezed shut, as the man yanked her sweat pants from her hips.

 

“NO!” Gathering his feet beneath him, Shawn lunged.

 

Chapter Text

Juliet's scream drowned out Shawn's shout and seconds later his body hurled into the larger man, ripping him away from her and sending them smashing into the wall. He saw Juliet roll away and then the only thing in his field of vision was a fist. Blur became black as thick knuckles rammed into the bridge of his nose. He grunted as tears stung his eyes. His face felt hot, growing to a throbbing burn where he could swear his nose used to exist, but there was no way he was touching it to confirm that. All of this taking seconds, he scrambled backwards in a crab crawl, previously pummeled midsection cramping tight as he moved.


“Get back here you little shit!” Apparently no longer in the mood for taunting conversation the man lunged, catching Shawn by the ankle and dragging him back. Shawn tried to roll to his knees but ran out of time when about two hundred and twenty pounds of gorilla crushed him against the floor. There was a single breathless chuckle from the man, his sweat dripping onto the smaller man's face. In that moment he slammed his knee once, and then again, directly into Shawn's groin.


“NUGH!” Once more breath evacuated, but it was so much worse this time. Following his grinding scream, he gagged, dry heaving against the carpet. He couldn't see past the flashes of color in his eyes. His fingers clawed aimlessly at the floor, toes digging and pushing his body into a knot. Tears became a flood, his throat so raw from barking nausea that his sob sounded like a rasp.


“You're staying down this time!”


Shawn blinked fast, not liking the sound of that. Only able to turn his head, the rest of his body remaining in fetal mode, his eyes widened at the dull metal held in the man's right hand. Seeing he had Shawn's attention, the man smiled.


“Insurance.” In that moment, he stabbed.



 

~~~

 




Twenty minutes after entering the store, Carlton knew he should have gone to the one closer to his place. Whatever obsession O'Hara had with this deli's hard crust rolls, they weren't worth waiting behind Gramma Incontinence and her passel of grandkids; each one clamoring like a hyena for their own special treat. The one making the loudest ruckus was a toddler demanding a dill pickle. However, by the way the old gal was asking the harried deli worker to please repeat himself for the dozenth time, it was clear she'd turned that car battery sized hearing aid to low before entering the store.


The quartet of screaming spawn went a long way towards easing the desire for a little Lassiter of his very own – not that he'd retained a lot of hope for that after Tory had locked the doors and swallowed the key to that dream.


It was fast approaching the noon rush – individuals decked out similar to himself, most with cell phones plastered to their ears, were beginning to queue up behind him. The poor bastard running the counter suddenly found himself inundated by nearly a dozen hungry and hurried lunchers, most probably trying to work this into their half hour break. Their agitation with the slow service was edging towards riot by the time Bessy collected her fried chicken and day old potatoes with gravy. Denied their choices, her small herd kicked up enough protests and squalling that it completely drowned out Carlton's requests.


Repeating himself, he had to repress the urge to whip out his badge and gun at the next asshole that tried to edge in front of him. However, he'd long ago perfected a glare that could cow all but a handful of individuals – a skill developed, not from years of dealing with the lowest filth of humanity, but from growing up in a house dominated by a woman that could make priests fear her wrath more than eternal damnation.


Another attendant finally appeared on the scene, relieving her coworker of some of the crowd. Shortly afterward, Carlton collected his food and dropped the packages next to a bag of apples. Using the plastic basket as barrier, he shoved his way through the masses, making towards the cold cases. He'd noticed that O'Hara was getting low on a few things, so he may as well pick up some groceries while he was here.


Then his eyes moved to the small floral department. He turned on his heel and headed towards the cloying odors of spring.




~~~

 





The second Shawn crashed into her attacker, Juliet shoved to her knees and stumbled towards the bedroom, towards her weapon. She could hear a punch land, followed by more fighting. Her sweat pants tripped her up after three steps and her knees burned on the carpet as she fell. Yanking them back to her waist, she held the torn edges of her shirt together as she regained her feet and ran. She reached the door just as Shawn cried out in pain. She looked back, panting, as the larger man slammed his knee between Shawn's legs. Shawn gagged – rolling to his side. In that moment, the man yanked something from his pocket – a knife. She breathed in to scream just as the blade thrust down – burying into Shawn's abdomen.


“NO!”


At her cry the man looked up, grinning. He leaned into the blade and began to twist, ignoring Shawn's noiseless gape. Then he scrambled to his feet and charged. Juliet tore for the bedroom and slammed the door just as the man smashed into the wood – pushing it open a foot before Juliet forced it shut and jammed the lock in place, tearing the skin off two knuckles. The door immediately crackled under the impact of the body hurtling against it.


Her hands shaking violently, Juliet ripped open the drawer of the side table next to the bed, yanking it all the way out and nearly dropping it on her toes. Her weapon bounced out and tumbled out of sight beneath the edge of her box spring. Falling to her knees she clawed beneath the bed, fighting dust bunnies and chewed up cat toys to get her fingers on the grip of her gun. As soon as she had it she reached for the phone above her next to the lamp, dialing while she used her elbow to push against the mattress and gain her feet. Another slam splintered the edge of the door next to the knob and Juliet knew it was about to give. Just as the call went through on the other end, the wood exploded inward, sending the lock spinning across the room.


Lass...”


Juliet dropped the phone to clutch her gun in both hands, firing as the man charged inside. He swiped at her and she screamed as pain in her hand sent the gun skittering across the floor. Then her attacker stumbled back, his hand on his arm.


Juliet whirled and ran for the only remaining escape route – her window. Her hands shoved at the top of the frame.




~~~

 





He knew he should have gotten a cart. The basket hanging on his arm had begun to dig a groove from the weight of produce it contained. In his other hand, Carlton gripped a dozen tulips, pink and peach along with a couple yellow ones.


He was reconsidering drawing his weapon.


Even with the delay of his shopping, he'd somehow still ended up in line behind Granny Moses and her demon spawn. It wasn't even a shock that she'd whipped out a Ziploc baggie filled with coupons that looked like they'd been trimmed via laser scalpel. Peeling them apart methodically one sheet at a time, the OCD biddy insisted on handing over in the same one by one manner as each item that matched a coupon from her collection passed over the scanner. Finally, after the third check of his watch, Carlton gained enough space on the conveyor belt to snag a separator and slap it down behind the cantaloup and twelve cans of pinto beans that signified the end of her purchases.


Another few seconds and he began unloading his far more modest purchase. Block of cheese, milk, bread, frosted animal crackers (admittedly a personal purchase but he'd keep them at O'Hara's place either way), a few varieties of fruit, his deli selection, and of course, the flowers. When it was his turn at the counter, he tried to ignore the smiles from the check out lady.


“Oh, I love tulips! Are these for your girlfriend?”


“My partner.” He answered blandly while his eyes scanned the faces around him. Meanwhile the young woman had grown suddenly silent. When Carlton turned to pay for the items he caught her discomfort. “Something wrong?”


She worked at a smile, though it was obvious something was embarrassing her. “I'm... sorry, I didn't mean to assume... I mean, I don't have a problem with that at all.”


“Huh?” Forehead wrinkling as he backtracked over the last bit of conversation, he abruptly caught her misunderstanding. Moron. Rather than get caught up in pointless explanation, he just grabbed his bags and stalked towards the automatic door.


His phone started ringing before he even reached the street. Juggling his back, he nearly dropped one of them before he could hook his fingertips on the casing of his cell. Only needing his thumb to flip open the cover, he made a small spin to get the glare of sun off the screen. It was O'Hara. Probably calling to add another item to his list.


Lifting one leg to push a bag back into his arms with his knee, he accepted the call and bent nearly in half to get it to his ear.


“Lassiter.”


It sounded like she dropped her phone from the clatter that met his response. Carlton was just about to speak again when a sound exploded through the speaker that froze his lungs. Gunshots. Unmistakable. A second later he heard his partner screaming.


The bags burst apart as they hit the pavement; his shoes skid as they mashed the head of a tulip in his race to the car. Hitting the lock release as he ran, he kept the phone mashed to his ear as he crammed behind the wheel and jabbed twice at the keyhole before getting the thin strip of metal into the ignition. There was more screaming and the sound of things being broken. Carlton was forced to drop his phone in the cup holder in order to back out of his spot – swearing that if Gramma made another show to block his path she was gonna get up close and personal with assisted suicide.


Thankfully the way was clear and in under a minute he was roaring for the first intersection, one hand grabbing for his radio to yell for backup before he retrieved his phone once again, feeling his foot crushing down on the gas pedal at the sounds he was hearing on the other end.


He never should have left her!



~~~

 

 




She didn't even have time to raise the window a centimeter. Fingers wrapped in her hair and yanked backward. Juliet screamed again as she lost her footing and tripped on the rug. As she fell she twisted, willing to sacrifice more hair to break free.


“Bitch! You bitch!” Her body was hurled towards the bed, then immediately crushed under the man's weight.


“No!! No, NO!!” She clawed at his face and kicked, only to have her legs trapped under his thighs.


Grabbing her hands, the man forced her arms above her head, laughing as he gripped her wrists in one large palm, freeing a hand to punch her, hard. So hard her consciousness flirted towards black. In the seconds of motionless the man grabbed her shirt and tore it the rest of the way open. His hand now grasped her breast, nails biting into soft flesh and shoving aside the encroaching darkness with pain. Juliet screamed again – bucking as she fought to throw off his weight.


“HELP! HELP ME PLEASE! HEEELP!” Another punch bloodied her lip, a third felt like it nearly dislocated her jaw, turning her screams into sobs as the man resumed ripping at her clothes. No, it wasn't happening! It wasn't happening! God please, please! She screamed again as her pants were yanked down once more. The feel of them twisting around her ankles sent her into a frenzy and she began thrashing – somehow getting one knee loose to ram upwards, just missing the man's groin to impact the inside of his thigh. He still grunted, no longer grinning as he locked his fingers around her jaw and repositioned himself to once more pin both legs.


“Why did you have to ruin it, WHY? You're just a filthy whore like the rest of them!” His lips crushed down against hers, quickly moving down her throat.


“Please don't, please...” She couldn't stop sobbing, though she didn't stop screaming either. His hand had left her jaw and was once more squeezing around her breast, twisting as he groped, her screams becoming ones of pain. It felt like her flesh was on the verge of tearing.

 

And then new panic boiled from her stomach, sending cold waves down her limbs as his hand left her breast. The grin returned to his face, smeared with her blood; his thumb brushed her cheek before she flinched away, shuddering. Then, raising his stomach from her body, he slid his hand down her belly... and between her legs.

“No...” She whimpered, her throat tightening so much she couldn't scream. Tears rolled into her hair. Her nose and lip leaked blood across her chin. His fingers curled. Juliet pushed her head into her pillow and shrieked.

 

~~~

 

Shawn hadn't been able to make a sound when the blade had gone into his body. The shock of being stabbed had frozen him, a single jerk his only movement as the metal had split through his flesh and sank to the hilt.

 

He'd heard a scream, but it hadn't been his though his mouth had been open wide – breath seeping in an exhale that had seemed to grate out forever while the sensation of being ripped in half had eclipsed everything. Some time later there'd been gunfire and then more screams. He'd tried to kick his feet against the floor but aside from the knife wound he'd still been reeling from the cruel blows between his legs. Instead of being able to move, his struggles had only led to more dry heaves as his stomach knotted. This, in turn, had aggravated the tear in his midsection and resulted in his form writhing on the carpet.

 

Clips of sound flickered through the dream of the next several minutes. Within that bubble, he'd lost track of what exactly was happening. He remembered he'd been stabbed after some period of time not remembering. He hadn't felt the blade yank out of him again but it must have as there'd been no handle in the path of his hand when he'd felt the wound. His blood was slippery and really warm. It had thickened pretty fast too after hitting the air. Some of it had even started to become gelatinous as it had begun to cool.

 

Somewhere to his right he heard a scream.

 

He remembered everything.

 

No! Jules!!

 

~~~

 

 

She closed her eyes, trying to remember the sound of waves. She couldn't hear them, but she could see them – and every crest was stained with blood.

 

 

~~~

 

 

At seventy miles per hour, his ETA was five minutes.

 

He wanted to push it past a hundred.

 

He climbed just over thirty-six, siren clearing a slow motion path through the mid-afternoon traffic jam of office bound commuters.

 

He climbed the curb around a minivan and felt the oil pan under the sedan scrape the median as he gunned up the exit.

 

But no matter what he did, it wasn't going to be fast enough.

 

The phone was still attached to his ear.

 

He'd heard everything.

 

He already knew he was too late.

 

~~~

 

 

Juliet turned her face towards the wall. Numb was creeping back, but it wasn't fast enough to stop the new pain cutting through her.

 

Body shaking, throat raw, she swallowed the tremor of cries building in her throat. Crying hadn't helped before. It had only made it worse. As if anything could make this worse.

 

But at least she knew where she had to go now. She knew where she needed to be. It was the only thing left that she could do. Closing her eyes, she found the water and let herself sink into the darkness.

 

 

~~~

 

 

Shawn had begun to blink slowly. His hand felt as though it was plastered to his abdomen, sticky glue between his fingers while fresh warmth continued to seep beneath his palm. It was some time before he noticed the silence. Juliet wasn't screaming any longer.

 

His chest jerked as he began to pant – panic making it through the bleary distortion. What was happening? Had she gotten away? Was she alright?

 

He tipped his head, trying to see through the doorway to his right. He could just make out the edge of the bed in the darkened room. It was shaking.

 

“No... no Jules, no-no...” He dug his fingers into the floor once again, the agony in his torso screaming but his desperation urging him on. He dragged a foot, two feet, every inch gained revealing more of the room.

 

He clawed at the soft fibers under his hand, groaning as the throbbing in his stomach seemed to tear his body in half.

 

In the dark of the room, he saw the form of the man holding Juliet down. He saw her face turned towards the wall, her eyes dull as she stared into nothing. She wasn't even crying any longer.

 

“Stop... God stop...” Shawn's voice cracked, wheezed. He couldn't scream, though from the pressure in his lungs it felt as though he had.

 

Still pleading, sobbing, Shawn made one more frantic lunge – and felt his arms collapse beneath him.

 

His vision was beginning to darken, but he could still hear. Heavy breaths, grunts of an animal.

 

Before his sight left him completely, he looked up, and saw Juliet's eyes. For just one moment she looked back at him, her emotions exposed, bare, devastated. Then, it was gone, empty, and she turned her face the other way.

 

Shivering, teeth chattering with shock, Shawn tried a final time to get his body to move. And something inside him tore. His lungs seized around a scream, trapping it in his chest where it spread and grew and burned. Then, just before his brain cut all power, he heard it – amidst the sounds of violation. The words that already played over and over, their soundtrack bleeding throughout all corners of his soul.

 

My... Angel...”

 

~~~

 

 

Backup was already approaching with blazing sirens, two blocks away and closing as Carlton entered the house, gun drawn and angled away from his body. His heart had stopped beating some moments ago when he'd spotted the splintered damage of the kicked-in front door. Wood was only as strong as the screws holding the lock in place, he set aside self berating about better security for a later date.

 

No sound. No movement. The couch had been pushed about a foot out of place – indents in the carpet showing where it used to reside as well as the valueless treasure of wrappers and other discarded litter that had been secreted beneath it for who knew how long. There was a single drying smear of red on the floor behind it. He stepped forward and swallowed. A path of bloody swipes and arcs led across the carpet for three feet. At the end of that path, Spencer rested; curled up like a sleeping toddler. Carlton took a single step forward and knelt, eyes scanning the room while his non gun hand pressed against Spencer's pulse. It was there, but not at the breakneck Indy 500 speeds he'd expected to encounter given the amount of sugar that had to make up the bulk of the man's blood. Blood that was evacuating his body far too quickly from a jagged rip below his sternum.

 

Carlton reached down to pull back the soaked hem of Spencer's shirt when sound within the house jerked him back to his feet. The sirens outside were loud now – units were pulling up on the street. However, there was no time to wait for them.

 

He couldn't risk letting emotion jeopardize the next few minutes, no matter how desperately he wanted to go forward through the open bedroom door. He didn't know what condition his partner was currently in and it scared him to death. But the perp could still be on the scene. He had no choice...

 

Angling towards the far wall, he eased slowly across the living room, aiming for the kitchen and the source of the noise he'd heard. Another foot and he could see the single step down into the back hall. On one side, steps lead down towards the basement. On the other side, the threshold headed to the backyard – the door to access it hanging open.

 

He raced forward, his dead heart suddenly hammering to life once more. Not this time dammit! Not if he had to foot chase the son of a bitch to Albuquerque!

 

O'Hara's back yard bore all the trappings of a novice gardener with no time to invest in her hobby. choked out sugar snap peas in weed filled pots rested at the base of the weathered concrete steps leading down to grass that hadn't seen a barber in weeks. Tomatoes long ago rotted out and half chewed by any number of vermin sat just beyond the yard to the right in a small plot of tilled earth pitifully enclosed by a foot tall chicken wire fence. The only successful vegetables appeared to be either cucumber or zucchini – he'd never been able to tell the difference between the two – long tube shapes of dark green that had burst free of their enclosure to spread into the yard.

 

Carlton checked all sides before moving forward, his eyes honing in on the one likely hideout – a small tin shed at the far end of the property. Voices within the house indicated uniforms on the scene. He stepped towards the shed.

 

Movement from behind was his only warning. Carlton pivoted just as something long and sprouting metal teeth swung at his skull. Barest tips of metal grazed across the left side of his scalp – enough to draw blood and bend him at the waist. Roaring furiously, his attacker swiped his weapon the other way, slamming it into the detective's right elbow and numbing it down to his fingers – his gun vanishing into the thicket of yellowed lawn gone feral.

 

The third swing aimed towards his face. Carlton managed to avoid contact, his rattled brain managing to identify the barely used metal garden rake lifted from the wall leading to O'Hara's basement. So that's where the fucker had been hiding...

 

The other man charged, multitoothed weapon lofted above his head like broadsword. Dropping low, Carlton lunged forward and felt the air evacuate the man's chest where his shoulder impacted. He felt the handle of the tool strike the back of his thigh as it fell from the man's grip, and then they both tumbled to the ground.

 

Even with his knee folding over a golf ball sized rock Carlton didn't pause as his hands clasped together and smashed against the side of the bastard's head. Not anywhere near going quietly into that dark night, the other man rallied back, jabbing at Carlton's throat with his knuckles. His throw missed, Carlton's didn't. Blood pouring from his nose watered down the man's shout, though he still wasn't giving up. Even on his back, vision obscured by swelling eyes, the man managed to stick an uppercut. It was the last one he'd land.

 

No longer subduing a perp, Carlton had bypassed “jury by peers” and gone straight to “verdict read”. Unlike a shootout there was no need to tally fist strikes, his intent well and truly set on tenderizing this side of beef until it was no longer fit even for hamburger.

 

“Detective!”

 

His knuckles mashed a swelling cheekbone.

 

“Detective Lassiter!”

 

He lifted his fist for another blow.

 

“Detective!”

 

Arms wrapped around him – the set of two nowhere near enough to break through his focus, the four sets that joined in finally managed to drag him back and hold him down while he practically snarled – fighting to get back to the job left unfinished.

 

“Detective, they need you inside right away! It's your partner...”

 

The verbal cold water shivered its way through his limbs. Looking up quickly at the forms circled around him, Carlton began struggling to his feet – aided in the task once it was clear he wasn't going in for the final kill.

 

Not waiting for explanation, he bolted for the house, tossing back a single command.

 

“Somebody, find my weapon!”

 

Inside, the scene was a complete flip from the rooms he'd crept through less than ten minutes ago. The circle of paramedics gathered around Spencer was too much like a pack of vultures preparing to eviscerate their latest meal. Given the speed at which they were shouting abbreviated orders back and forth, the injury was as bad or worse than Carlton had guessed.

 

He saw the stretcher being rushed inside as he shoved through the melee to get to the master bedroom where several officers stood in a knot, faces anxious or downright scared. Upon his approach they quickly moved aside, their relief at seeing him clearly displayed as he passed them.

 

The only light in the room came from the window. The air smelled like gunpowder and something else, something sickly familiar that demanded acknowledgment he wasn't yet ready to face. But there was a finite time frame for denial – rapidly eroding with the sounds coming from the bathroom.

 

He walked past the bed, noticing the sheet rumpled and pulled away from the mattress. He noticed the blood, and...

 

His eyes shifted to the floor where torn and discarded clothes rested amidst more drops of blood. Having wasted his adrenaline reserves outside, he had nothing left to fend off the exhausted horror that started to fill in the empty cavity of his gut. He came to a stop on the opposite side of the open bathroom door – breathing for several moments before he lifted a hand, preparing to pull it wide.

 

“Sir...”

 

One of the officers had ventured in after him. Carlton pivoted his body, aware that everything felt soft at the edges. Like moving through taffy. The man behind him was younger than him by about half a dozen years, though his expression tacked on another five to that number. One hand was still extended towards the Head Detective though the Buzz wannabe had yet to grab hold of him. Good thing though since Carlton wasn't certain about his reflexes at the given moment.

 

“What is it, Officer?”

 

A swallow and blink, eyes tracking to the side before sweeping back. The final move to the dry-mouthed dance was running fingers through curly blonde hair. Carlton was too drained to snap, but he managed enough with a glare to stop the equivocating in its tracks. The younger man pointed to a chipped edge on the door, the damage taking a second to identify as being caused by a bullet.

 

“She's armed.”

 

Carlton gushed out a breath, though it was sudden loss of respiratory control rather than emotional reprieve that winded him. And he'd thought he was done risking life and limb facing down against the deadly end of his partner's Glock. He still had nights where the close call memory of nearly eating a bullet kept him awake well into the hazy part of morning.

 

Gesturing the other cop back with a hand against his chest, Carlton once more reached for the door. Beyond it, the steady drumming of the shower went on and on, muffling all but sharper cries. Steam vented out in a boil as he widened the door and he winced at what that much heat was doing to O'Hara's flesh. Lobsters required less heat to cook.

 

“O'Har...”

 

“GET AWAY FROM ME!!” He ducked as raw concussion punched another hole through the already ventilated glass shower door, the bullet burying into the trim over his head. Someone quickly passed him a vest and he slipped it on, fear redirecting to his partner as the possibility grew; first for a ricochet, and then more terrifyingly, the notion she might use the weapon for a manner other than defense.

 

“O'Hara, it's Carlton!” He kept low, no longer sure that identity would be enough to calm her this time.

 

“KEEP BACK!” The demand was frantic, but at least she didn't punctuate it with another bullet. He needed to get that gun away from her.

 

“I'm coming in... please don't shoot me....”

 

She sobbed, the shadow of her body shifting behind the glass followed by the hollow tap of her gun hitting the pebbled surface. She was on the floor of the shower, and Carlton would bet that both times she'd fired, she'd simply aimed up blindly and pulled the trigger. He wondered how much of her panic had contained enough awareness to go for the ceiling rather than the figures in her doorway.

 

“He can't hurt you. He'll never hurt you again, Juliet. We caught him. It's over.”

 

The following seconds were worse than the countless minutes preceding them. He'd slid close enough to see her movements clearly – though still distorted. The gun was now cradled in both her hands. Her body was hunched down, shaking as the cries lengthened into wails. Her gun rose, and for a second that filled his life, he saw it aimed towards her heart. No!!

 

And then her other hand grasped the barrel as she extended it through the door.

 

Carlton looked back, gesturing a signal to the blonde officer still standing in sight, adding a single mouthed word to get the message through. Nodding quickly the man spun and jogged out of sight. Taking advantage of the temporary privacy, he once more curled his fingertips around the edge of a door – hissing as somewhat self-inflicted damage finally let itself be felt across torn knuckles and possible fractures given the way his hands were swelling.

 

Juliet pulled herself tightly into the corner as the door slid aside, only her hand with her gun remaining extended. The moment Carlton's fingers grasped the handle she let go – both arms wrapping tightly around her knees. Popping the clip and dispensing the round from the chamber, Carlton slipped the weapon into his pocket before reaching up to turn off the shower – arm, head, and part of his shoulder instantly drenched in stinging heat before he finally slapped off the knob.

 

Do-Right chose that moment to reappear, blanket in hand as requested. Carlton snatched it before waving the man back out of the room. Enough disgrace had been heaped on his partner without throwing yet another wide-eyed and fresh-faced colleague into her circle of humility.

 

Long past caring about the condition of his clothing, Carlton eased one leg over the rail and settled his knee in the puddled water on the floor of the stall, hissing as the edge of metal bit into his ankle. His weight resting on the lip quickly cut off blood flow – sending tingles into his foot. Readjusting, he straddled the threshold, blanket in hand.

 

“I've got a blanket.” No clue at a better opening, he stuck with stating the obvious. Apparently it was enough because his partner shifted, reaching one hand across to touch the bundled softness. A moment later, Carlton rocked back as she battered against him; washing out to shaking breaths while her arms snaked around his neck nearly to the point of strangling. Draping the blanket as well as he could, tucking it around her form while trying to keep as much of it out of the water as possible, he then began the difficult process of sliding the two of them back out of the shower and onto a less slippery surface.

 

Though the tile wasn't a huge improvement, it was enough of one that he could gather his legs beneath him and wrap his arms around Juliet's shoulders. Allowing her to lean against him while he stood – knees popping like corks from champagne bottle – as he pushed up from the floor. He felt nauseous as the climb to vertical challenged the blood flow circulating through his system – a small waver as his head filled with heat before his body reattached itself to the floor. The odd sensation receding again, Carlton clutched Juliet as her body began to sag. Though not unconscious, she had been wrung of strength – her legs no longer supporting her. Acting fast, he slipped one arm under her knees and cradled her – feeling her body stiffen and tremble. Her face pressed against his chest beneath his chin, her body convulsing once more with fresh grief.

 

The blanket encased all but her arms and toes – part of it even draped over her face as Carlton turned from the bathroom and carried her from the room.

 

There was no sign of Spencer when they emerged back into the chaos save for a frighteningly large circle of blood soaked into the carpet. Rust red footprints from the paramedics tracked out the front door and from the sound of it, the ambulance carrying the injured man was just pulling away.

 

More paramedics, catching sight of Carlton, began to descend. A sharp head shake prevented them from reliving him of the weight in his arms, though they tagged along beside him as he made as much speed as possible towards the exit.

 

Another ambulance was waiting on the street, choked with black and whites and drawing neighbors from all sides to the activity. Carlton glowered at the sight of several hand held camcorders eagerly recording the show for home movies – but that was nothing compared to the news vans adding to the parking lot conditions – reporters already crowding forward for their soundbite. Sickened at the thought of them turning his partner into tomorrow's headline, Carlton was grateful for the paramedics clustering around him to block himself and O'Hara from view as much as possible.

 

In under a minute he was in the back of the ambulance, doors slamming shut and cutting off the shouts, snapshots, and questions. Refusing to release her grip, O'Hara was still clinging to his neck when a paramedic swabbed her arm and administered a sedative.

 

Within a few minutes, her body began to settle and he was able to transfer her her to the gurney. A few minutes after that, one of the paramedics beat his fist against the wall behind the cab. Sirens flashing, horn blaring to clear the street ahead, the ambulance pulled away from the house and carried them on towards the hospital.

 

 

Chapter Text

Carlton had called Vick from the ambulance. He hadn't told her anything beyond the arrest of the suspect and that O'Hara and Spencer had required medical care. She had asked for more details, but when he'd quietly suggested they discuss it at the hospital, she'd grown silent. She'd then told him she'd contact Henry, Madeline, and Guster.

 

He'd already abandoned the ER when Vick arrived. His hand injury had received the short straw in the triage department so he'd muscled his way to the nurse's station to pry his partner's current location from Laverne and Shirley behind the desk. He'd been ready to abuse his badge with some bad cop interrogation when the Chief had found him. Somewhere in between his arrival at the hospital and his current tirade against the medical establishment, he'd actually managed to dig up a roll of Ace bandaging. He was in the midst of winding the stretchy material around his bruise blackened knuckles when Vick appeared. The two woman at the counter had been visibly relieved to hand over control of the rampaging detective to his superior. Bartering the promise of his partner's location against his need for an examination, Carlton had finally allowed himself to be hustled off to a small room away from the general populous of refugees. The fact that Vick had threatened shackles and a tazer had gone a long way towards taming his tirade.

 

“Maybe you should let your doctor do that...”

 

Carlton winced but continued fussing with the roll of bandaging he'd confiscated. “I'd take a janitor with a Gray's Anatomy fixation, but it seems anyone with a medical degree around here is a bit busy.” He managed one more wrap around his fingers before Vick placed her hand on his wrist. She didn't need to speak.

 

Jerking away from his superior, he threw the roll of bandaging across the room. The soft bounce against the wall nowhere near satisfying, he followed it up by sweeping a heavy glass container of swabs from the counter. The impact against the floor was a small explosion of thick shards and would have been followed by even more destruction had Vick not shouted and grabbed his wrist. Her grip was stronger than her frame suggested her being capable of exerting.

 

“Detective!”

 

The bull in a China shop moment evaporated with the fireball of pain radiating from fingertips to shoulder. The neglected injury hadn't benefited from his tantrum in any way. Although, it had managed to finally attract medical attention.

 

The nurse who pushed open the door had an expression on her face like she'd been expecting to see severed body parts rather than a pissed off head detective cradling his swollen hand against his belly.

 

“Oh my... Are you alright? Here, let me see...” She reached for Carlton's hand. He let her examine the damage while flapping his other hand at his side. “Let's move just a little this way – I don't want you accidentally stepping on the glass.”

 

The nurse probably assumed the container had broken by accident. He hissed as her probing encountered the epicenter of pain.

 

“Ooo, I think it's broken.”

 

“Yeah, I got that!” He snapped before tugging his hand back with another spike of agony. He wanted to be with his partner, not wasting time on a procedure he could probably handle on his own with a roll of duct tape and a couple of sticks.

 

“Just wait here a few minutes while I get your doctor.” The young lady retreated back out the door.

 

Carlton held his hand against his chest. “I don't have time for this...”

 

He started to follow the nurse, only to be restrained by the Chief grabbing his arm. “You aren't going anywhere until that's treated!”

 

“It's fine...”

 

“Oh is it?” Vick stared him down, not needing to point out that the swollen tissue and his inability to bend his fingers due to hot stabs of agony were not an indication of “fine”.

 

Seconds later Vick dropped her hand. Though he was still twitching to barge down the hallways in search of his partner – practically vibrating with the need to be at her side – Carlton managed to restrict himself to pacing.

 

“What happened?”

 

No other specifier – not that there needed to be. But without further questions it was left in his ballpark to fill in the details. This was not a report he wanted to give in any situation, much less standing in a hospital treatment room. He knew there wasn't time for play by play with this so-called doctor returning. He kept it brief – both for himself as well as for Vick.

 

She'd known Spencer was injured, but so far, neither one of them were certain how badly. Carlton only knew that there'd been far too much blood on the carpet around Spencer's body. Where he struggled in speaking was his admittance that he hadn't been there when his partner had needed him. That every effort he'd taken, every hour of sleep abandoned to keep her safe... had failed.

 

Vick was merciful, and respectful enough, not to try coddling him with regards to that emotion. Whatever her feelings on the issue, she kept it to herself until he finished. Good timing too as minutes later the long absent doctor finally appeared.

 

“Hello there, my name is Doctor Miles Bishop. I was told you've been self-medicating in my absence.” The doctor smiled as he walked to the sink to wash his hands.

 

Vick patted Carlton's bicep before walking to the door. “Stay here – I'll go find out where O'Hara is.”

 

It wasn't exactly an order and Carlton was ready to argue it, but Vick paused at the door and looked back at him. She knew how to keep her emotions in check – had to given her position and not least of which because of the judgment that could be cast down on her from above due to her gender and the assumptions of weakness that went along with that. But now, as her eyes met his, he saw the control release for a moment. Why did a woman's silent expression have so much more power over him than words? Victoria had had the same strength in influence – as did O'Hara. He supposed, maybe, it was because silence forced him to truly listen. Yeah, it didn't make sense thinking that, but the end result was that when Vick left the room, he stayed behind.

 

After all, his partner was no longer in his hands anyhow.

 

Given his track record, that was probably for the best.

 

 

 

~~~

 

 

 

 

Henry had been on the road when Karen had called him. The collection of movies on the seat beside him had been forgotten two blocks from the video store and would start gathering late fees by that evening. At the moment, however, he really didn't care about maintaining his perfect standing with Movie Zone.

 

It was a fifteen minute drive to the hospital. Traffic was loosening up since that afternoon but there were still a lot of lights to deal with before he could get to the freeway. Karen had refused to give him much in the way of answers. He knew Shawn had been involved in some sort of attack, but he didn't know where. He didn't know why Shawn had been there without Gus. He also didn't know why other officers hadn't been on the scene; though Shawn did have a propensity towards jumping the gun on investigations. Although, he'd been more cautious of that ever since he'd been shot earlier that year.

 

Henry growled as his phone rang again. He always complained when he spotted other drivers chatting behind the wheel and yet he still grabbed the cell and flipped it open with one hand.

 

Mr. Spencer! Chief Vick just called me – she said Shawn was hurt!”

 

“Gus...”

 

She said he's in the hospital, that it's serious! I'm on my way there now – did she call you yet?”

 

“Gus... Gus, yes, she called me. Look, did she say what happened?” Henry pushed down on the gas to nudge through a yellow light just as it was starting to turn. Only a few more intersections before he'd reach the exit.

 

No! She just said he was hurt – she didn't even tell me what happened to him!”

 

The next light held him up behind a tractor-trailer. Letting go of the steering wheel, Henry wiped his hand down his face. “Okay. Listen, Gus, I'm about ten minutes from the hospital – where are you?”

 

Gus was still breathing hard but after a few audible swallows his voice seemed to steady. “I'm-I'm about, uh, twenty-five minutes away. I was meeting a client at his house and he lives a ways out of the city.”

Henry's hand returned to the wheel, easing forward with the rest of the cars around him as the cross-traffic lights turned yellow. A few more seconds and he had a green again.

 

“Alright, just stay calm, Gus.” They'd been through this before, though Gus had been a great deal more calm at that time. Possibly that was because the last time something this dramatic had happened, the shooting, Shawn had somewhat maintained contact. He'd been hurt, but they'd also known he was ali...

 

“He's going to be okay.”

 

The call ended a few minutes later as Henry pulled onto the freeway. He made better time than he'd estimated and in a little under five minutes entered the hospital grounds.

 

Parking three rows from the entrance, he half jogged across the lot and nearly mowed down an old man with a walker when he pushed through the doors. The nurse's station was at the far end of the room. Two staff stood behind the counter, one of them occupied with the phone so Henry aimed for the older woman who appeared somewhat less distracted.

 

He was only a few feet from the counter when a door leading to the private exam rooms opened and a recognizable figure appeared. Henry immediately detoured and made for the slender woman walking his way.

 

“Karen!”

 

The Chief appeared to have been heading for the nurse's station as well, but stopped when Henry called her name. She only glanced back for a moment towards the door she'd come through before walking towards the older man.

 

Her hands rose, palms out, as she approached. “Shawn was taken directly to surgery...”

 

“What the hell happened?”

 

Karen reached for his arm but he yanked away and took a few steps towards the nurse's station again before turning back to her. “You said Shawn was attacked – was he working a case?”

 

Vick placed her hand on his sleeve again and this time Henry let himself be led from the center of the room towards a quieter corner.

 

“In... a way. Shawn volunteered to help with a investigation. But he was only participating in a consulting capacity...”

 

“Then explain to my why he's in an operating room!” Henry stared down the woman beside him and read the discomfort in her face. She was keeping something from him. He crossed his arms. “What sort of investigation was he involved with?”

 

Karen's discomfort increased as she shook her head. “Henry, this is not a case I can discuss with you.

 

“My son was hurt working this case, Karen!”

 

“And I understand that, but that doesn't change the fact that I can't bend protocol on this one.”

 

Frustrated, Henry brushed his hands over his scalp. There were only a handful of cases that would cause Karen to be this unrelenting. He also knew she would never involve Shawn on one of those cases without extremely just cause. However, she said Shawn had volunteered for the case – meaning he'd already known about it... If it was this sensitive of an investigation, why would she allow him to participate?

 

Henry had barely spoken to his son over the past few weeks. When they had talked, Shawn had been... evasive. Not that his kid didn't act more squirrely when his mother was in town. Maddie...

 

“Did you call Madeline yet?”

 

Karen nodded her head. “I left her a message; she wasn't answering her phone.”

 

Henry nodded as well, scratching his nose. “What happened to my kid?” It was asked softly this time instead of yelled. The gentle tone worked, however, as Karen breathed out and moved to stand beside Henry so that both of them were leaning against the wall.

 

“He was stabbed, in the stomach.” She hugged her arms before looking at the man beside her. “It's bad, Henry.”

 

He shuddered. He didn't need to be told it was bad. He'd seen stomach injuries before. Most of the time they were fatal.

 

Henry wanted more details, but before he could get the breath back to interrogate he heard a fast-walking tread and turned to spot Gus hurrying towards him.

 

One glance at Karen, holding her eyes long enough to impress on her that this conversation wasn't over, and he turned towards his son's best friend.

 

Now it was his turn to pass on the bad news.

 

 

 

~~~

 

 

 

Vick was still gone when Doctor Bishop led Carlton from the exam room to X Ray. Pressing his palm flat to the metal table hurt. He was really starting to feel the damage now that he'd come down a bit from the arrest and discovery of his partner's condition as well as Spencer's shocking injury.

 

The X Ray moved slowly as it scanned his hand. His slipshod bandaging had been removed once again, exposing knuckles that looked even darker and lumpier in the bright light of the X Ray machine.

 

The idea that he may have permanently injured himself had no effect on emotions that were slanted towards other concerns. He knew it was his fault his partner had been vulnerable to a second attack. Since the first assault he'd felt a gut deep need to protect O'Hara and not just because she was his partner. He trusted his instincts and they'd told him the danger wasn't past. So why had he left O'Hara in the care of an unarmed civilian? Spencer was no fighter – his greatest asset in a threatening situation was the decibel of his scream.

 

If he'd been where he was supposed to be, in Guster's car, he'd have seen the guy approaching the house. The man had entered from the front – kicked the door down. Where had Spencer been? There really hadn't been much opportunity to examine the scene beyond looking for the perp. Spencer knew better than to approach the house without a damn good reason. If he'd seen the perp, why hadn't he called to alert anyone? Had he even tried calling O'Hara or had he just gone in without a single plan in his head?

 

Not that the question needed asking when the answer was so obvious.

 

He was left in charge to protect O'Hara. He let her down in such a huge way that there weren't enough adjectives for “stupid shit” to describe him. The pain he felt was deserved dammit!

 

“Mr. Lassiter?”

 

“Detective.” Carlton supplied automatically. Doctor Bishop had reentered the room now that the X Ray was complete.

 

The doctor pulled out the large black sheet while Carlton cupped his aching hand against his chest. Following the older man to a wall with its bank of lighted panels, he tried not to rub at the misshapen knuckles under his fingers.

 

“Okay...” Bishop started in a drawn-out tone. He snapped the slide into the rail at the top of the first panel. One knobby finger pointed at the very obvious break on the farthest right bone of his hand. “As you can see here, the fifth metacarpal has snapped at the neck; it's known as a Boxer's fracture because it's most commonly caused when you punch someone or something.”

 

It wasn't his first broken hand so Carlton recognized the type of break right away. He was glad it wasn't more serious. He listened while the doctor went through his advise even though the treatment plan wasn't a mystery to him. The good news was that they could treat him without an operation. The bad news was that it would mean nearly three months of recovery. The bad, bad news was that it was his primary gun hand that was injured.

 

Bishop ended the conversation and led his patient to yet another waiting room. Though he was even more motivated to self-medicate now that he knew exactly what was wrong, Carlton still managed to restrain the impulse with the knowledge that Vick would just force him back here again anyhow with a reprimand attached.

 

So he played the good boy and paced the sixteen square feet of floor space to pass the next twenty minutes of enforced privacy. He'd stopped caring about his hand back in the X Ray room. His mind had swung back to previous obsessions about his partner. He never should have left her in Spencer's care. He should have been the one sitting outside her house. He knew how to disarm a guy wielding a knife. He'd disarmed the son of a bitch when he was wielding a metal rake after all.

 

He never should have left her...

 

The door eventually opened again, though it was a nurse instead of Doctor Bishop that entered. The process of taping two fingers, applying a brace, and passing over a cup of Ibuprofen took a total of fifteen minutes. Snagging the list of at-home care instructions, he finally broke away and went in search of the Chief.

 

He took the stairs down instead of the elevator, needing the exercise after being confined to small rooms for the better part of an hour.

 

He found Vick near the nurse's station along with Guster and... Henry Spencer.

 

Carlton didn't know how much the Chief had told the older man – though there were obviously some things she couldn't. No doubt that had made for a very circumspect explanation for what had happened to his son.

 

He was still across the room from the group when Henry looked up and spotted him. At the expression on Henry's face, Carlton sped up the pace rather than allow the man to come to him. There was safety in numbers and right now he wasn't in the mood to be on the receiving end of that anger.

 

He should have remembered that Henry wasn't intimidated by crowds.

 

“You left my son alone.”

 

Vick moved forward, not quite inserting herself between them. “Henry...”

 

Grey eyes didn't move once they'd locked on target. However, it wasn't the expression of an ex cop calling on old skills to break a stubborn criminal, but the barely restrained stare of a man who didn't know if his kid would survive the next few minutes.

 

“Why was Shawn alone?”

 

The demanding whisper was something Carlton had never perfected – his own methods of forcing information generally involving a tad more sarcasm and a lot more threats. But Henry's technique definitely had merit, if not the intended effect. Rather than be intimidated, Carlton could feel his heart begin to thud with anger.

 

Shawn, would have been just fine if he'd done what he was supposed to do!” Matching intensity with intensity, ignoring the startled sounds from both the Chief and Guster, Carlton used his height as a natural advantage over Henry's five foot nine.

 

However, Henry had his own advantages, though not as clearly delineated. At Carlton's accusation, the expression in the older man's eyes brightened with both outrage and ache. In that moment, the detective knew that whatever leverage he'd imagined had been his, had just been lost. And with that realization came clarity – and the knowledge that the person he was blaming wasn't the young man fighting for survival in an operating room.

 

He dropped his eyes to his arms, crossed over his chest. No longer focused on verbally beating down an overwrought father in a play to soothe his own guilt, Carlton could feel all the agonies he'd been ignoring until now. Not just bruises and breaks, but the crush of worry for his partner as well.

 

Mind reading skills he must share with his best buddy and business partner making an appearance at the most inopportune of times, Guster suddenly spoke up.

 

“Hey, where's Juliet?”

 

Glaring was instinctual, though it did nothing to stop the other man from looking around for the missing woman. It was Henry, though, that applied actual detective skills as at least some pieces fell together in his mind.

 

“Oh God...” His expression was no longer furious when he looked up at Carlton. Instead, it was thick with concerned understanding.

 

Picking up the thread of thought being shared amongst the group, Guster, once again, blurted without thinking. “Oh my gosh, was she attacked again?”

 

“Again?”

 

“Guster!” Henry turned towards the young man while Carlton hissed his name in warning. Vick's phone rang and she stepped away to answer it after a glance at her head detective.

 

More pieces were falling into place, faster than Carlton could stop them. It wasn't more than a few seconds before Henry's eyes widened before shifting to his own for confirmation. Whatever pain was on his face, Carlton knew the older man read enough to get the final truth.

 

Words vanished among the three of them.

 

In another minute, Vick returned, her cell phone still in hand. “That was Madeline – she's on her way.”

 

Henry brushed his fingers over his lips before walking away from the tension. Guster joined him and the two men wandered towards the rows of chairs in the waiting room, though neither one of them sat.

 

Wiping his palms down his eyes, feeling the sandy burn that came from sleeplessness, Carlton keep his attention on the brace wrapped around his hand as he spoke.

 

“Did you find out where they took O'Hara?”

 

Vick nodded. “She's still in examination. Her doctor will let us know when she's been moved to a recovery room.”

 

His hand itched under the blue brace and Carlton scratched as far beneath it as he could reach. Apparently proximity didn't equal relief and he debated just chucking the thing completely. After all, the last time he'd busted his knuckles (on a wall that time) his only treatment requirement had been to ice it frequently and try not to bust any heads until it healed.

 

“It wasn't Spencer's fault. He tried to...” The sensation of his throat swelling caught him off guard and he coughed to disguise the shameful wobble. He could feel the sting in his nose when he sniffed, along with a foggy moisture he refused to acknowledge as anything other than allergies. “Thank you, Chief. I should probably go work on my report...”

 

Her hand stopped him before he could get far – an easy feat when the most he'd managed was to slide his foot a few inches.

 

“It can wait.”

 

Their perp was in custody and his victims were receiving the best possible treatment. They had him solid. She was right, it could definitely wait.

 

He plucked at his brace. There should have been more to say but he just couldn't come up with the words. After a few seconds he quit trying.

 

Walking away from the Chief, he let himself fold down into a chair across from Spencer's support group. A moment later, Vick joined him again, silently sitting by his side.

 

Indulging the mood, he bent forward until his face was hidden by his hands.

 

And when Karen's palm rested on his shoulder, he didn't shrug it away.

 

Chapter Text

You look at me, bitch. Don't you dare think of him!”

 

You're beautiful. I can see why they wanted you. But you're mine... you know that now, don't you.”

 

My Angel...”

 

They'd sedated her for the exam this time around. Her memory hazy to begin with, she'd panicked upon waking up in a hospital bed, dressed in a thin gown, thighs knotted with cramps, belly hollow and sour, feeling as though she were coated in a slick filth. She hadn't made it to the bathroom – barely made it out of her bed. When the sound of vomiting attracted a nurse, Juliet had scrambled away from the woman, grabbed the water pitcher from the side table, and thrown it wildly. Not waiting to find out if the woman's cry was from pain or surprise, she'd raced to the bathroom and locked the door.

 

The gentle rapping of a fist coupled with the encouragement that she was safe now didn't really encourage her or make her feel safe. She'd heard those words before – they'd been repeated countless times by Carlton, Vick, Madeline... And look what had happened.

 

Instead, she found a corner and backed herself into it. The nurse gave up on extraction efforts after a few minutes and left, likely to get reinforcements. Juliet had no intention of accommodating them either. The idea of anyone looking at her... touching her... was repulsive.

 

You're mine... my angel...”

 

She gagged again and bent over the wastebasket nearby. She couldn't scrub enough to get rid of the sensation of his body on hers. When she was alone, she could hear his voice, whispering between gasps. What difference did it make whether or not they'd caught him? He may be behind bars but he was still here too. She'd never be rid of him. The only touch she could remember was his. The smell of him was so strong she could taste it in her throat. But... the eyes she saw... It wasn't his eyes that stood out in her mind.

 

Hazel, brows pushed together, creasing his forehead in a way she'd once thought endearing...

 

Juliet shivered and wiped at the moisture peppered across her upper lip. He'd seen... he'd seen it happen... Oh God... No, no, no...

 

Her breath hitched and fought but staving off tears was a skill she no longer possessed. Not when her entire body was a hot torch of shame. Shawn had seen it happen. And she hadn't even tried to get away. He knew exactly how disgusting she was. He'd lain on the floor, bleeding, while she'd made a pathetic grab for her gun. But... instead of trying to save him, like a cop would have, she'd locked him outside her door... left him there to suffer while she'd hid...

 

She'd abandoned Shawn to save herself.

 

She'd forgotten everything – all her training. Everything she'd learned since moving to Santa Barbara had been wasted effort. She hadn't even tried to escape once she'd lost her weapon and he hadn't even had to pull his. He'd just pushed her onto the bed, stripped her clothes....

 

And she'd let him.

 

And for what she'd done, she'd deserved it...

 

 

 

~~~

 

 

 

They'd had to cut his son open in order to fix him. He'd sat between Gus and Madeline, all three of them slouched forward and mute. Karen and Lassiter had remained in the room with him too until a female doctor had come to speak to them all. Henry hadn't heard what had been said among their group, but he hadn't really tried to listen either. He knew more than he needed to now with regards to that. He also knew, now, why Madeline was in town. Really knew. She'd told him she'd been called in to council a few officers. He was accustomed to her not going into detail as per regulations, but the fact that this had even partially involved his son – now fundamentally involved him – had left him with the wrenching sensation of being kept out of a loop he should have been privy to from the start.

 

Shawn had tried to save Detective O'Hara from a terrible assault. The stab wound he'd earned for his attempt had been severe.

 

There were hours of waiting after the nurse had come and gone to speak to the officers. He and Gus had been abandoned by Vick and Lassiter some time ago. Madeline had also abandoned them not long after Karen had left with her detective – an urgent call had dragged her away to another part of the hospital. It wasn't difficult to guess whom she'd been summoned to see.

 

An hour after she'd gone, Shawn's doctor had finally appeared with an update.

 

There'd been a lot of details regarding the nature of the surgery, the amount of blood lost and the risks involved with the procedure. Henry had known enough about damage to the pancreas that he'd become nauseous at the implications. He'd asked about the potential that Shawn could develop some of the more life threatening complications, but the doctor had rapidly assured them all that with the majority of the organ still intact, the risk was greatly reduced. However, that hadn't meant Shawn would be on his feet anytime soon. In fact, they planned to keep him in the hospital for the next couple of weeks.

 

After going over a few more minutes of “what to expect” and “what to look out for”, the doctor had finally led them to ICU. Henry had asked the doctor to relay the information to Madeline, not bothering to correct the assumption that she was his wife. His mind hadn't exactly been occupied with their marital status.

 

He could hear Shawn's voice in his head with perfect clarity the moment he stepped into the room holding his son. 'One of the perks of major surgery – you get a private suite!' Shawn might have taken amusement from that, but Henry had none as he stopped just a few feet beyond the doorway. Gus was behind him, the doctor in front. None of them moved closer.

 

“I don't expect him to wake up until sometime tomorrow – and even then he'll be in and out. As I said earlier, there will be a process to his recovery. Don't be surprised if he doesn't say much the first few days.”

 

Henry nodded to acknowledge that he'd heard, though his mind wanted to respond with “you don't know Shawn.” But he didn't say it. Being honest with himself, these past couple weeks, it was clear he didn't know the kid either. But then, how much effort had he put into figuring out what had been on his son's mind?

 

“There will be a nurse just outside who is monitoring his condition. She'll be in and out regularly, and you can call her with this button if anything happens.”

 

“Thank you, Doctor.”

 

After the man left, he and Gus continued their approach to the bed. Shawn's condition wasn't a surprise after the explanation they'd received, but that didn't make it less shocking.

 

Gus winced when the chair he pulled towards the bed screeched against the hard floor. Letting the younger man settle next to his friend, Henry remained standing – having done enough sitting in the last few hours to leave him with a stiff back and bruised backside. Mindful if the various tubes and lines snaking from his son's arms and torso, Henry let his fingertips touch the back of Shawn's hand. There were scrapes across the knuckles as well as bruising that traveled nearly to his elbow. The other arm was in the same condition. There was more bruising on Shawn's abdomen – a large discoloration just below the sternum. And just under that was the stained gauze covering both the knife wound and the incision from the surgery.

 

The doctor had told them that the ventilator would only need to remain in place for the first day. As long as there weren't any complications it would be removed the following morning. However, the feeding tube, IV line, and other equipment would have to remain a while longer.

 

Quite a while longer.

 

In fact, the doctor had said it could be up to three weeks before the drainage tube could come out. There was no fast cure for his son. And given what he'd been told, Henry knew that there wouldn't be a complete recovery. Unlike the shows his son loved to watch, there was no easily tied up ending here. The last few weeks had caused permanent changes to all involved.

 

Shawn's chest filled with air – pushed through the ventilator and into his lungs. After a moment, it eased back out again in the same, regulated way. It was hard to watch the perfectly timed respiration – mechanical and false, it was too much like watching a body kept active but not alive. He refused to see his son that way. He couldn't bear it.

 

Many people, Shawn included, could claim he loved his son conditionally. As long as he finished his chores, as long as he obeyed the rules, as long as he became a cop when he grew up, then he could earn the devotion of his father.

 

But it wasn't true. Not for a second – not from the moment Henry had seen that indecipherable blob on the ultrasound scan suddenly turn into his baby boy had he ever stopped loving his son.

 

So why had he never told his son that? Why had he let the chance slip away to the point where he might not get it back?

 

Shawn had asked him once what message he'd pass on if he only had fifteen seconds left to live. He hadn't been able to answer; though not because an answer hadn't existed. Why was it so hard to tell his kid that he loved him?

 

Still mute, rather than speak, Henry instead tightened his grip on the hand under his fingers.

 

 

~~~

 

 

 

The nurse had tried to coax her from the bathroom for almost five minutes. Two instincts had kicked in at the sound of knuckles on the door. Part of her wanted to respond – wanted the presence of another human. But it was also the human presence that kept her plastered to the floor. She wasn't scared. She wasn't angry. She wasn't sad. She just felt tired. She was so tired. All the emotions she'd had the previous few weeks were gone. If she allowed anyone into the room, that person would expect her to talk. But what would be the point of that? If they wanted to talk, it meant they already knew what had happened.

 

Eventually the nurse left – though Juliet didn't know if it was because she had quit, or because she'd gone for backup. She probably should stand, but she was still shaking. Probably from the sedative. Too bad they hadn't been as generous with the pain medication – her legs and lower back ached terribly.

 

Sure enough, as she'd assumed, there was another series of light raps on her door. And then...

 

“O'Hara?”

 

Oh no.

 

Carlton wasn't the type for gentle knocking, but unless the nurse was doing it for him, he'd somehow managed to tame the impulse kick open the door with his heel.

 

“O'Hara, you... do you think you can... Look, I'm sure it's cold in there.”

 

It was endearing the way he fumbled when he was anxious. She would have chuckled at his hesitancy if she wasn't so busy clenching her teeth around the wet hiccups trying to burst from her throat. Why did it hurt all of the sudden? Why did his voice strip away the comfort of stoicism and expose a raw center she hadn't known was there? A few queries and she was forced to sag against the cabinet and cling through the sobs that convulsed her shoulders. Silent for a few seconds, her lips peeled back from her teeth, she sucked in a reflexive breath... and the cries burst free.

 

With nothing of control left, her throat grated as every exhale carried a wail – a torrent that had no guidance – a thorough evisceration of the deluded fantasy that had suggested she could actually heal.

 

 

 

~~~

 

 

He actually put his shoulder to the door before common sense smacked the pinch of skin furrowed between his eyebrows. He couldn't prevent the reaction. Where, before, a crying woman sent him scurrying the other way, now it caused the same adrenaline surge for action that he got from drawing his weapon on a criminal. The reminder of his helplessness at offering either salvation or comfort came back to him at the startled yelp on the other side of the door the moment he impacted against it. Not enough that he'd failed to save her, now his thoughtless reactions were making everything worse.

 

Swearing under his breath, Carlton took a moment to scrub his unbroken hand over his scalp. The sounds of misery in the other room had died down almost instantly – though he could still hear jolting breaths. Was she afraid to make any sound? He couldn't judge what she was feeling if he couldn't see her. And he'd spent enough time with her, now, that he could interpret her state of mind just by the tilt of her eyebrows.

 

Approaching the door again with a bit less momentum, he leaned against the surface and listened to the sounds of his partner within. After a second, he knocked, lightly, as he had when he'd first arrived.

 

“O'Hara?”

 

The gasps turned into a snuffle, followed by the sound of movement. Then her voice, startling in its closeness to his ear.

 

“I'm okay, Carlton. Is...” another sniffle, “is Shawn... Is he still...?” Her voice rose in pitch before the question tapered off into a whimper.

 

Trying to finish construction on her incomplete query, Carlton didn't immediately answer. The hesitation was an obvious mistake as the gasps resumed – nearly hyperventilating.

 

“No... no, no, please, no! Please don't say, don't...”

 

Full sobbing resumed and Carlton's repeated knocking had no effect as his partner retreated away from the door again. He didn't want to yell at her through the door – he wasn't sure she'd really hear his words at this point.

 

Instead, he pulled out his cell and dialed.

 

 

 

~~~

 

 

It had taken two seconds after he'd hung up the phone again for Carlton to attempt speaking to his partner once more.

 

She wasn't hysterical, not yet, but who knew how long it would take to reach that point if he allowed her to think the worst? So once more trading cop for friend, he flattened against the door and began making a real effort to break through the frantic denial rising in intensity on the other side.

 

How many times he repeated that Spencer was alive – with the unremarked 'for now' accompaniment in his mind – he didn't know. Instinct wanted him to yell, to override the panic with much louder force – give in to the part of him that knew damn well it could bully defiance into submission. Constantly he had to dampen that ingrained drive down. Sure, there was a chance that tactic could actually work, but to what result?

 

So, though it challenged vocal chords more used to a stronger vibration, he kept the volume just loud enough to get through the wood – hoping it was enough to get through to his partner as well.

 

The sobbing had disintegrated to hitches and whimpers by the time Madeline arrived to take over.

 

Ten minutes after she appeared, Juliet emerged from her sanctuary.

 

Not wanting to abandon his partner, yet equally unwilling to get in the way, Carlton had compromised with the need for privacy and the need for protection by standing guard outside the hospital room. His glare tracked patient and medical personnel alike, mentally questioning the reason for their presence in his vicinity until they passed out of the ten foot safe zone he'd claimed.

 

Enough time passed that the the adrenaline surge he'd maintained since charging from the grocery store parking lot finally began to wear off. In its wake he was left with limbs micro-wracked with tremors, a chest that thudded his heart against sore ribs, and bruises, breaks, and lacerations that a single dose of medication was unequipped to soothe.

 

Vick had returned to the station some hours ago. There was still a prisoner to deal with and all the paperwork that went along with that. Even though he hadn't “officially” been on the case, Carlton knew a share of that paperwork would be his to deal with too. He had been the arresting officer regardless of his involvement in the actual investigation.

 

He looked down at his hand, wincing when he flexed his fingers. He should have killed the bastard.

 

The door behind him opened and Madeline touched his arm lightly. “She's asleep.”

 

Giving the hallway once more look, he followed the woman back inside. O'Hara was in her bed, blankets pulled to her shoulders. The mismatched lengths of her hair were spread across her pillow, and the random thought passed through his head that he needed to find the number of her stylist and make an appointment. The second it entered his mind he wanted to bite his tongue – in spite of the fact that it hadn't been spoken out loud. “Thank God.”

 

Madeline obviously thought his murmur had been gratitude that his partner was at peace. One more pat on his arm and she moved him towards one of the chairs closest to the bed.

 

“I'll stay with you until she wakes up again.” She whispered before settling into her own chair.

 

Carlton was grateful, but then his forehead pinched. “What about...”

 

“Henry and Gus are with Shawn. I called him a few minutes ago and he's doing alright. He's out of surgery and probably won't wake up until sometime tomorrow. Right now, it's more important that I stay here.”

 

Maybe it was selfishness, but he didn't bother suggesting she do otherwise. He'd given up the mantle of lone guardian weeks ago – and honestly hadn't had it at all since that first day when Spencer had sauntered into the hospital with a grin and plush toy in hand. This wasn't his burden alone. It had been a group effort from the beginning. It was only now that he actually saw that.

 

Settling in, knowing Madeline had her eyes trained on the younger woman, Carlton let his own eyes close. Dry and heated, his brows pinched down at the sting of his lids over his irises. Moisture seeped out in an automatic reaction. It ached to sit, it ached to stand, and lying down wasn't an option. And given the way gravity seemed to be increasing its pull on his form, staying awake wasn't going to be an option either. He didn't want to sleep, but after weeks fighting the natural process, his body was prepared to play hardball. There were no final thoughts to carry him into the dark. The only thing he took with him was peace. The threat was passed. The bad guy was caught. His partner was safe.

 

 

~~~

 

 

When Karen returned to the hospital later that evening, it was to find Madeline Spencer watching over her two detectives while they slept. She stayed on the opposite side of the door for over a minute, just watching the scene as the older woman looked after her charges as though they were her children. While on one level endearing, the very fact that her officers were in this position couldn't be ignored. Nor could it be ignored that Madeline really did have a child whom she should have been sitting with. Instead, she was carrying out a duty Karen had ignorantly foisted on her simply by leaving to tend to her station. Regretfully, though, and with truly sympathetic guilt, it was a duty that the Chief would have to ask the woman to carry just a bit longer.

 

She entered in silence, though Madeline looked up the moment the door opened. Whomever she'd expected to see, the emotion that emerged on her face at the sight of the chief was one of calm welcome.

 

“Any news?” Karen didn't clarify her inquiry – there were too many pieces to that question to narrow it to a single subject.

 

Madeline shook her head. “These two have been asleep for nearly three hours. I spoke to Henry a while ago and Shawn is stable.” She turned her eyes back on the sleeping pair.

 

Karen knew her companion had a level of calm in the face of stress that was forever outside her reach. Whether because of her position at the department or because she'd been raised with a sibling that had nurtured her vindictive and high-strung side, the end result was patience with a very strict limit.

 

Madeline though... whatever her upbringing, her personality was a rare beast in Karen's experience. However, she was glad of it, even if it meant taking advantage of the woman at the worst of times. But as things stood, she had no choice.

 

“Madeline, I apologize for this, but I need to ask a favor...”

 

 

~~~

 

 

The coffee machine was still slightly blurry even though he'd been squinting at it for nearly thirty seconds. He hadn't just been asleep, he'd been comatose. Rip Van Winkle's understudy if he wanted to be funny. He really didn't want to be funny but he couldn't always control the path of his thoughts when it was struggle enough to keep saliva from drooling down his chin. He was certain to the point of pretty damn that he hadn't slept that deeply since college.

 

The chief, blessed woman, set a cup down in front of him. No vending machine fare, somehow she'd managed to dig up an honest ceramic coffee mug and had filled it with liquid nirvana. He didn't ask where it had come from – no doubt some poor surgeon coming off a late night was searching his desk for a missing cup. Carlton sent a mental thank you for the sacrifice and gulped down a swallow – blessedly hot and laced with cream.

 

Vick allowed him to down a little over half the cup before leaning forward on her elbows – a movement that brought Carlton's foggy attention to her face.

 

“How's your hand?”

 

It wasn't the ice breaker he'd been expecting. At the question he looked down, flexed, winced, and shrugged.

 

“It's fine.” The warmth of his coffee cup made the sting worse rather than better, so he held it with one hand while letting his injured paw rest on his thigh. Maybe he felt a little bit like a kid hiding stained carpet by pulling a rug over it; maybe he didn't care. But then, it seemed like Vick didn't care either, because after rubbing her eyes she moved on to the real reason she'd dragged him from O'Hara's room.

 

“Our perp has a name, but not much else. Theodore Banks. I had Officer McNab add it to his search parameters along with his fingerprints but...”

 

“But more than likely it's an alias and for all we know this is his first vic...” He couldn't finish the sentence – couldn't categorize his partner that way. And honestly he didn't believe his own irritated mutter anyhow. The part about the name being an alias, sure. But not for a second did he think this was the bastard's first assault. There'd been too much planning with this. Too much patience. First timers started small and usually made a lot of mistakes. And they didn't target cops. No, this guy had a history.

 

The last inch of coffee in his cup was already cooling, but that didn't mean it wasn't palatable. As picky as he was about flavoring, it was the caffeine buzz he craved the most. Especially with what the Chief proceeded to share now.

 

“Banks won't talk to us outside of giving us his name. He's been a stone – hasn't asked for a lawyer; hasn't even asked for a glass of water.”

 

Carlton pushed his empty mug away before sitting up straighter. He could tell Vick was leading up to something. He could feel it coiling beneath his navel – sour and bubbling. “He wants something. He wouldn't give his name and then just clam up. No, he's planning something, that sick bastard.” Getting more and more worked up, Carlton didn't realize he'd been clenching both fists on the table until Vick said his name – he suspected for the third time.

 

He looked up, and then felt the throb in his right hand as his clenched fingers loosened. He groaned as he tucked his hand against his belly once more. The pain wasn't going away and it sank in that the dose of medication he'd taken earlier had run its course some time ago. An ice pack would be nice about now.

 

Rather than think about his injury, however, Carlton studied the expression on Vick's face – making another leap based on the way her forehead had tightened above her eyes.

 

“He did say something else... didn't he.”

 

Vick folded her hands, her persona much like the authoritative stance she adopted when she was seated at her desk.

 

“Yes. He made it very clear... that there's only one person he'll speak to.”

 

A long breath out – any anticipation that may have existed now stripped from his tone as he slumped back in his chair.

 

“Me.”

Chapter Text

“She was scared, even though I told her it would be alright, that I wasn’t going to hurt her. After our first time, she cried. I told her that, that she needed to just relax, but she wouldn’t stop crying. I hit her, maybe twice, I, I don’t really remember. I know they say you shouldn’t hit girls but she was overreacting and I didn’t know what else to do.”

 

Banks tapped his fingertips together, studying his hands for a moment. Then he rubbed at his nose before looking back at Lassiter.

 

“I told her I was sorry and asked her to forgive me. She wouldn’t look at me. It hurt – made me feel like trash you know? Like I wasn’t worth her time or something. I told her how much she’d hurt me. I told her I needed her forgiveness… that it was important.”

 

The smile was unexpected and Lassiter twisted his hands into his sleeves – forcing himself to only hear the confession. Hear it, but not picture it.

 

It wasn’t working.

 

“I explained that with this rift between us, nothing could come of our relationship. It would end just like that. I could tell she didn’t want that by the way she started shaking. I almost told her not to worry about it but I had to stand firm. If I was weak on this issue it would undermine every conflict from that moment forward.”

 

He closed his eyes and tipped back his head, smiling. “She forgave me. Do you have any idea how beautiful someone looks when they absolve you of a wrongdoing? It’s… transcendent. In that moment she was just so stunning. I actually loved her. She stole my heart – it’s incredible!”

 

Another laugh – dumbfounded and delighted.

 

“We made love again after that.”

 

Lassiter finally had to look away, completely sickened. His head was pounding and hot and if he didn’t step back for a few minutes he wouldn’t be able to prevent his hands from reaching across the table and twisting until he heard a snap.

 

Obviously the Chief was watching closely because barely a minute later he heard a light rap at the door. Banks was still lost in remembrance so Carlton left him to pull the door open about three inches.

 

Vick, unsurprisingly, was waiting – her face wiped of any telling emotions. But her lip was red where she’d bitten down and the skin beneath her eyes was dark. She kept her voice soft when she spoke, though Carlton was fairly certain Banks wouldn’t have heard her regardless of the level.

 

“Take a break – grab a nap in the overtime room. He isn’t going anywhere.”

 

Digging a thumb and index finger into his eyes, Carlton shook his head. “I got it, I’m good.” His vision blurred with bright spots when he took his hand away again. Ordinarily infused with adrenaline when a perp got chatty, this one actually seemed to be picking off bits of his soul with every word. It wasn’t melodrama, though it sounded that way in his head.

 

Vick wasn’t letting him go with the martyred act however. Not yet.

 

“It’s three in the morning, and you’ve been in here for six hours.”

 

“I can handle it.” It had only been six hours. Six hours of Banks talking about how long he'd stalked O'Hara, months of watching from a distance. He'd followed her on cases, to the gym, to her home... on dates...

 

It wasn't my place to interfere with her love life. We hadn't met yet, so who was I to get in the way? But it was obvious she didn't love any of them. She hadn't found 'the one' yet. I had to wait until she was ready. Then, one night she came home crying. That bastard she'd been pining after – the one she thought was her soul mate or something... When he turned her away, I knew. It was time.”

 

Vick's expression cracked just a little, but it was her mother side that added tenacity to her urging- which was unsurprisingly of a mothering nature too.

 

“Give it half an hour.” And then the cop side reasserted itself with the addendum. “Don’t make it an order.”

 

Which oddly enough was exactly what it became.

 

Stubborn and determined as he was, Carlton couldn’t stop the tired nod. Banks was eager to share, and thirty minutes wouldn’t hurt his enthusiasm one bit.

 

It would, though, give Carlton the strength to see it through.

 

Even if it meant he’d forever have his partner’s humiliation and torment trapped in his mind. Still, he wasn’t the one living it. The least he could do was to help carry it.

 

 

 

~~~

 

 

Does that hurt?”

 

I hope it hurts. I enjoyed hitting you almost as much as I enjoyed taking your partner.”

 

She screamed for you at first. I thought you should know that. She screamed for her mother too. But by the end, she was screaming for me.”

 

The half hour break only lasted about fifteen minutes. There was no rest possible with the proud confession dragging through furrows of brain matter. So rather than stare at the ceiling of the overtime room, Carlton had rolled from the cot and headed back out again.

 

Vick hadn't said anything when she'd seen him. Her face had said plenty – something that was a mix of resignation and exasperation... and maybe a spoonful of understanding. There were times she could order him and times she chose not to. Better to give him some leash than to write him up for biting the hand that fed him. Damn it, Spencer! Leave it to the absentee consultant to let him dredge up a canine metaphor about himself!

 

Another cup of coffee, black this time, and he reentered the interrogation.

 

Banks was still sitting in the same chair, though his feet were propped up on the seat beside him. Without speaking, Carlton slapped his heels back to the floor and moved the extra chair to the corner before taking the seat he'd occupied earlier.

 

His eyes felt raw, but with any luck, the sheen of red might intimidate the creature he was sharing space with. Or not given how Banks just smiled and rested his clasped hands in front of himself.

 

Carlton glared in response, then placed the recorder back on the table and hit the switch.

 

“Head Detective Carlton Lassiter, interviewing Theodore Banks.” Date and time given along with a few other details and Carlton sat back and folded his arms. When Banks mirrored his pose, he simply intensified his glare. He wasn't about to be drawn into a weak game of one-upmanship. Bad enough when Spencer goaded him into a pissing match; this guy was way out of his league. Refusing to acknowledge the mental backhanded compliment to the psychic, Carlton forced himself to relax. He had all night.

 

Banks grinned.

 

“I could tell you cared about her the first time I saw you.” He paused there; a tactic he'd employed in the last interview. He seemed to take pleasure from drawing out his reveals – and clamming up if he was interrupted.

 

Carlton said nothing.

 

“It was such a warm afternoon... cloudless blue sky. You were standing together – like a perfect matched set. Her hair was up that day and while I like it better down, it fit very nicely with her suit. Fuchsia and gray. She wore that for him, even though she was seeing someone else.”

 

Something triggered at those words. Carlton couldn't remember his partner's clothes from one day to the next save for a few of the more outlandish garments she'd donned on undercover assignments – but as to her seeing people... O'Hara dated, but for all his insinuations in the past, Carlton knew there were only a couple of men she'd considered beyond the first night out. To his knowledge, there were maybe two in the last nearly four years who'd made it past date three. However, only one of those men had been in a public setting with himself and his partner while they were obviously on the job.

 

Banks smiled as the crucial piece slid into place. “After that day at the National Savings Bank, she wouldn't leave my mind.”

 

 

~~~

 

 

 

It was barely after six in the morning when Carlton pulled into the hospital parking lot again. As badly as he'd needed to see his partner, he'd taken the time to go home after the interview to scrub himself raw in the shower. The cling he felt on his skin after leaving interrogation for the second time had to be sensed by everyone within breathing distance. Like hell he'd drag that anywhere near his partner. Not to mention he'd felt as though his flesh had been crawling with maggots – prompting the risk of blistering under scalding water.

 

O'Hara was asleep, as was her guardian. Carlton felt another stab of guilt, a different variety from the shame that held him for allowing his partner to suffer, but guilt nonetheless at seeing Madeline Spencer still at her post. Had she seen her son at all since his surgery? Carlton doubted it.

 

Rubbing at his eyes, he debated going inside. However, if he woke Juliet and she panicked at seeing him... So instead, he stood by the door for a few minutes and watched her through the tiny window. Not the ideal post as even his slender form disturbed the hospital flow as staff moved around him and occasionally bumped him on their way up and down the corridor.

 

Not in mood to be a hindrance – definitely not in the mood for another elbow check on his bruised abdomen – Carlton decided to hole up somewhere else until he could chance another partner visit.

 

Somehow, his feet took him on a deviant path even though his journey had been set on the cafeteria and whatever coffee was available there. Another room with another sleeping pair. At least there was less risk of a panic attack from memory induced trauma here. But that still didn't answer the question as to why he was here.

 

I thought he saw me – Spencer. I was in the crowd when he came out of the bank and at one point he was walking right towards me. But when his father spoke to him, I took the opportunity to change location. Not so great of a psychic after all, is he...”

 

Spencer looked like hammered shit. His breathing tube had been removed, but with all the tubes and wires jabbed and stabbed and trailing off his body he wasn't winning the Most Beautiful People awards anytime soon.

 

A glance at Henry was enough to establish that the man was out – hard. Maybe an armed invasion complete with tear gas would wake him up, maybe it wouldn't – but short of firing a round into the wall an inch above his bald head, Carlton was solid on the fact that there wouldn't be any questions from that corner.

 

He was starting to understand why his path had brought him here. There was a debt – and he owed big time.

 

It was so... fulfilling... to stick my blade into his guts. It felt a bit like stabbing through leather – the way his skin held for just a second, and then suddenly popped as the knife broke through. He didn't bleed right away either. So I leaned on the handle and sorta twisted... I was trying to see if I could grind my way to his spine. Ha! You should have seen the way he stared at me! Round, round eyes...”

 

Without looking at the younger man, throat flush with heat, Carlton folded his arms tight over his chest and allowed himself to tip back until he was leaning against the wall. He thought he was just there as a guardian – trading one broken companion for another. He wasn't prepared for the sound of his voice slipping free in a rasp. But once breached, the weak dam that had blocked his speech crumbled under the flood.

 

“You're a pain in my ass. I should have gone with my first instincts four years ago and tossed you in a cell. Better for the city, better for my blood pressure. Better for you.” He finished softly. His broken hand was starting to ache being pressed beneath his bicep so he dropped his arms to his sides.

 

He was like a gutted fish – gaping and wriggling... I thought about sticking it in his throat next – you know, work it around a little – leave that big ole' vein for last... And then just nick it so he could bleed out nice and slow...”

 

He'd already taken that sick fuck's statement, was it really necessary to hear a replay of his garbage every few seconds?

 

“Everybody thinks I was the one to make the first move on Luce... uh, Detective Barry. Look, Spencer, I don't know what sort of rumors you might have heard around the station but I'm not the most... smooth guy when it comes to women. In fact I... I guess you could say I get... um... nervous.” He glared at the silent form. “And if you even breathe a word of this to Guster or anyone else I'll pump so much helium into your air hose you'll be talking like a member of the Lollipop Guild until the day you die!”

 

No reply to the threat, but given the recipient, dire warnings of a permanent munchkin voice were likely considered amusing. Well it worked both ways because Carlton felt some of the embarrassment leave him at the thought of Spencer doing his “big reveals” in a helium toned trill.

 

“Anyway...” he looked at his feet – noting that the leather on his right shoe could use some polish, “it started the third week after Vicky moved back in with her parents. I drank a lot back then. I got plastered nearly every night and had already been reprimanded by the Chief a couple of times. If it kept up it was going to end up on file. I almost didn't care.”

 

The other chair in the room not occupied by a snoring senior citizen was growing more inviting by the second. However, he'd spent enough time on his ass already...

 

If you hadn't finally wandered in when you did, I was gonna go back out there after I showed lovely Juliet a good time. I had decided that cutting the little prick's throat was too fast. Castrating him was looking more appealing by the minute. He wasn't going to be a threat to my Juliet ever again...”

 

Carlton winced, then continued on. At this point the bandage was torn off – now it was time to treat the wound.

 

“Well, one evening Luce showed up at the bar where I'd been pouring down scotch half the night. I probably asked her if Fenich had sent her to reel me in or something. But she said she was just looking out for her partner. Then she told me she was taking me home and putting me to bed.” He smiled and rubbed his hand on the back of his head.

 

“She didn't tell me she'd planned to join me. I mean, it was just to sleep... I was too drunk to walk much less... you know. But by the next morning we... well she... She was... creative.” Carlton grabbed the pitcher of water off the side table and poured a glass to get rid of the dry scratch in his throat. That last sentence had ended in an embarrassing squeak. Damn hospitals always left him parched.

 

He couldn't stop rambling now that he'd begun. He wasn't the type to dig up a priest for confessionals, his habit being to get obscenely drunk and then pin down the closest neighbor to unleash his woes. The fact that his memory of such events was threaded through with dark spots was merely a bonus. Doing the same thing sober? Interestingly enough, the only difference was that he didn't slur. But it was still just as rambling – runaway boulder rolling down the mountain and leaving bloody cavities wherever it struck. And the worst of it was, there'd be no black spots to seal the memory behind.

 

“I blamed you when she left. And I blamed you again when... when O'Hara was hurt. But it wasn't your fault either time. Lucinda didn't leave because of the rumors. There'd been rumors long before your little show in the interrogation room. No, Luce left... well, she left because she knew there was never going to be anything between us. Aaaand... she didn't want her career defined by the fact that we'd slept together.”

 

That was the hardest thing to admit. He was ashamed that he'd let his dying marriage become a gateway to infidelity; regardless of the fact that his then wife had been sleeping at her parent's house. But worse than the affair was the fact that it had been done with his former partner. They were supposed to have been a team, not a cliche'. Though she'd been the “other woman”, he felt as though he'd cheated on Lucinda as well.

 

“You may have figured out I don't trust a lot of people. I sure as hell don't make a habit of making friends.” Carlton tried to clear his throat but it remained tight. Using his thumb, he brushed it beneath his eyes. And though his voice no longer had the same steady tone, he didn't stop. “O'Hara is my best friend.”

 

More throat clearing, followed by heavy swallows. It did no good. But he supposed he was pretty much done anyhow. Besides, Spencer was about as aware as a carrot so it wasn't like he needed to really do a wrap up. As it was, enough time had passed for him to go check on his partner once more. Being away this long was making him antsy.

 

“Good talk, Spencer.” What was it with him revealing his deepest secrets to members of this family? Even Henry had gotten an earful during the Drimmer debacle. The truly interesting thing was that he'd spent more time talking to individual members of the clan than they did to each other. He didn't know what to make of that, but he did know his current “session” was at a close.

 

Not bothering with anything pithy like a “get well soon” or even “see ya later”, Carlton simply walked out. Too many minutes had been invested in the psychic. Now it was time to retake guardianship of his other half.

 

And time to let a mother reunite with her son.

 

 

~~~

 

 

The door snicked into place. Shawn waited two beats before opening his eyes.

 

The tube so recently vacated from his throat had left him feeling as raspy as Lassiter had sounded. But even if speech wouldn't have been a struggle, the combined history lesson, threat, and apology didn't leave him with the equipment to respond. Faking sleep had been a reflex at the sound of his door opening. Certain it was his mother, but equally aware that it could have been a nurse, he'd gone boneless rather than face either type of interrogation that would have come his way. But then Lassy had started talking.

 

Shawn grunted while pushing himself a few inches higher on the bed. It hurt the bruises on his hands to press them against the mattress – defensive wounds he hadn't been aware of making – and it really hurt his chopped up midsection to take the brunt of the motion.

 

His memory was still sorta jostled and not playing by nice sequential rules. The recollection of pitching a coffee mug into the wall was followed by buying a stuffed lion at a gas station. Repeatedly, though, was the playback of metal digging into his skin – poking a small nick below his ribs. The actual stabbing itself was fuzzy – as were most of the events following that. But he couldn't stop remembering that first puncture... or the eyes staring down as knife began to invade his body.

 

His dad was still sleeping. It had only been a few days since he'd last seen the old man, but this was the first time he could remember that descriptive of his father being so accurate. It was shocking how old Henry actually looked. He felt some guilt that he was the cause of the sudden aging. Well he was used to guilt with regards to his father anyhow.

 

Left to his own devices again, still making sense of waking up in a hospital room and a passed out parent, he knew musing on what had brought him here would be brutal. So instead, he poured his concentration into study of his environment. There were a lot of tubes in his immediate vicinity. Without lifting the blanket, he suspected most, if not all of them, were poking through his body. The first association that popped in his head was the Borg from Star Trek. He felt both painfully nerdy and revolted at the same time with the comparison, so he moved his examination to the rest of the room to overcome the blow to his personality. Unconscious dad in a tan upholstered chair, check. Dusky white walls further darkened by the low light of the room, check. Medical chart sitting in a holder by the door... The door opened.

 

His mother stepped into the room and carefully eased the door shut with barely a click. She had probably expected him to be asleep. He knew she'd expected him to be asleep when her eyes drifted across to his bed and crinkled even deeper shadows into the hollows beneath them.

 

“Hey, Goose.” She whispered as she moved to his side. She ran her fingers over the top of his head and down his cheek.

 

Shawn closed his eyes in relief. Mom was here. That meant he had someone to stand between himself and his father's inevitable harangue. It also meant he didn't need to watch over the older man while he slept like he had been doing for the past hour. Well, sorta doing. The drugs weren't letting him stay awake for more than ten to fifteen minutes a shot. Listening to Lassiter talk had been the longest he'd fought his medication so far and now that his mother was here, he could feel himself slipping under again.

 

Eyes stared down, the blade starting to cut through his skin, cut into muscle...

 

There was a scream... he remembered a scream...

 

Mom kissed his forehead. “Just rest, honey. Go to sleep.” That hand still stroked his face. Mom was here now... and dad too.

 

'Safety on numbers' threaded across his brain and would have made him smile if he'd had the energy for it.

 

So much easier to sag against the pillow and enjoy the feel of fingers petting his cheek.

 

It was nice...

Chapter Text

It wasn't a novel experience, watching O'Hara sleep. Even before their temporary stint as roomies he'd spent more than one stake out with his partner tattooing her cheek with his shoulder. He'd been subject to everything from drool to giggle fits to attempted groping. Always a gentleman, he'd endured the snot and pawing hands, grasping for what he'd shuddered to imagine. He'd never been highly successful at resituating her against her side of the vehicle. Most times the least bit of movement would jar her awake – her hand going to her weapon until she'd remember where she was. She could attain a level of deep sleep that was envious. And yet, once awake, she only took moments to be ready for action. The problem was, that same ability now triggered a far more violent reaction than simple readiness.

 

So, Carlton sat. He knew from Madeline that O'Hara had remained asleep for most of the night. Granted, the older woman couldn't account for the period of time she herself had been unconscious. Four hours after leaving Spencer's room, O'Hara still slept. Of course, the IV in her arm likely accounted for at least some of what was keeping her down.

 

Carlton rubbed his fingertips together. He shifted in his seat, the motion bring along a rasp as his slacks dragged over the cushion. He'd been trying not to move at all given how loud his fidgeting sounded. Not that he was actually fidgeting per se; he was just trying to find a comfortable position on the chair from hell. If anything he was restless. But no, that didn't sound right either...

 

“Hi.”

 

Preeeetty sure he'd just garnered a sprain the way his head had snapped left so fast. The resulting burn was almost worth it though. O'Hara was awake.

 

“Uh... hi.” At least he didn't toss in a limp wave like a certain four year old consultant he knew. Of course he did grin. He hadn't meant to grin. He felt like an idiot.

 

His partner's expression had... lifted... for a second. But it never quite reached a smile before her eyes skitted away. If he were less practical and more poetic he'd have thought her deepening mood pulled the room's shadows to her face. However, Vicky had been the one for romanticizing the hell out of everything – something he refused to do. And there was nothing romantic about what had happened to his partner. The suggestion alone was enough to restore the nausea he'd managed to dodge for the past few hours.

 

Swallowing and looking at his hands, he was grateful he hadn't been asked to leave yet. There was still the chance, granted, but so far his partner seemed content to let him hover. Fingertips tapped together as he counted the cracks in the floor. Beside him, O'Hara shifted her legs – the motion a slip of cotton bedding that sounded like a hiss.

 

He wished he had a cup of coffee or even a hangnail – anything to give his hands an occupation other than twiddling. He wanted to look at his partner; just to see what she was feeling now. With her expression to guide him he'd know what to say. Or, at least, he'd know if she wanted to listen or not.

 

Carlton glanced sideways. O'Hara was looking at him. He manufactured a tickle and coughed into his hand. Well it was dry in the room.

 

“Carlton.” Her tone was the same one she took when he swore during a press conference or was insensitive with a traumatized victim – a zeal he'd toned down significantly in recent months. However, she also sounded exhausted. He knew from his own dalliances with stress that sleep didn't equal rest. Especially not if said sleep included traumatic memories and nightmares.

 

The blanket pulled away from the edge of the mattress as Juliet rolled. Another glance confirmed that her back was now facing him. She hadn't asked him to leave, but did she really need to speak her mind when her actions were to telling? Granted, though he had no intention of going, he wasn't certain what good came of staying. The trust they'd had a few days ago had crumbled. It was worse than that first assault. She'd been getting better! Well maybe not better in the way someone recovered from a cold, but better enough that she didn't need him around just to get through each day. Except now it appeared she didn't want anyone.

 

Now that Juliet was facing away, Carlton indulged in a long study of his partner. Not that there was a lot to see as most of her body was curled beneath a blanket. Scraps of hair poked out from the top while a bare foot in need of a pumice stone stuck out from the other end. Her toes were curled towards the mattress – rotating and furrowing into the sheet.

 

His exhale was louder than he'd intended, but then, it was so damn quite in the room that he could hear the leather creak of his shoes when he lifted his heels. The next sigh came from the bed – followed by a cough and a sniff.

 

His dry eyes returned to stare at his hands. The desire for restless activity had mostly passed and his fingers no longer tapped together. He rubbed his face – and when his hand dropped again he felt his upper body sag towards his knees. The scraps of sleep he'd managed recently hadn't provided rest. It'd been a long time since he'd been able to hit the range to let off steam by pulverizing paper criminals – longer still since the activity had brought him any pleasure. It was like losing Victoria all over again and just like four years ago, he had no idea how to make it right.

 

“Why...” O'Hara's voice barely broke through the wobble in her throat. Carlton fixated on the rounded shape that defined her head beneath the blanket. He could easily hear her swallow before sniffing again. He couldn't tell for certain if she was crying. He hoped she wasn't crying. He thought the question was rhetorical – the same kind of why that he'd been asking himself. But then she took a large breath.

 

“Why are you here?”

 

He was struck with combined hurt and anger and couldn't restrain his response.

 

“Excuse me?? What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Sitting up straight, he gripped the arms of his chair – earning a deep burn of pain in his right hand for abusing broken bones. Grunting, he released his hold just as quickly to tuck his hand into his belly while breathing through the nausea creeping up his throat.

 

Either from the gasp of pain or his indignation, Juliet rolled partway back to stare at him. Wet cheeks gave her away but she wasn't sobbing. In fact, she looked furious.

 

“I mean, why are you wasting your time here? You caught your guy! Shouldn't you be back at the station filling out paperwork? Or wait; I got it, you need my statement.” She pushed up on the bed, her face taking on a stiff parody of relaxation. “Well let's not keep you in suspense!”

 

Carlton could only stare, frozen, as she wiped her eyes and imitated a smile.

 

“Let me see... right. So, after you left I decided to take a shower. You know me, cleanliness is next to Godliness!”

 

“O'Hara...” His croak went unheard or ignored as she smoothed her blanket and kept going.

 

“I invited Shawn in because we all know a party is more fun with guests. I don't think he really wanted to be there...” She huffed and shook her head, smiling. “But then, all I have to do is bat my eyes and he'll come running, right?”

 

Carlton could only sit, horrified, as she built up momentum, her voice quickly rising in pitch.

 

“So anyhow, w-when I came out...” It was the first stutter to her obscenely cheerful delivery – tumbling her momentum off the tracks as her eyes lost some of the mania that had had Carlton wishing he'd never let Madeline leave the room.

 

A few seconds of quiet before Juliet started again – the pace far more hesitant... her voice nearly a whisper.

 

“I saw... him... He was standing near the front door. He was... he had Shawn by the throat and when... when he... when Shawn saw me he told me to run.”

 

Fiddling with the brace on his hand was easier than watching his partner struggle through the past day. This wasn't an official statement, nor had he planned it to be. He hadn't wanted to push her into reliving the attack, but now that she'd started, she seemed trapped in that memory. He had no idea if it was good or bad to be going through it like this. He wasn't Madeline and had no training to back him up if everything started heading south. While Juliet continued, her eyes distant and aimed towards the far wall, Carlton palmed his phone. Just in case.

 

“He was... so fast...” Seconds followed her whisper – enough that Carlton looked up to find her looking back at him. And once her eyes were staring him down, he couldn't look away again.

 

“I didn't run. I didn't do anything.”

 

Self blame was something with which Carlton had an intimate relationship, but that didn't mean he tolerated it well coming from anyone else.

 

“You did the best thing you could both for you as well as Spencer! Getting to a phone and calling for backup saved your lives!”

 

Whatever Juliet was hearing him say, it wasn't encouragement. Rather than acknowledge him, her eyes tracked back towards the wall – her voice becoming soft once more. “I once fought off an axe murderer barehanded. All he had was a knife... I had my gun and I still let him...”

 

“You did NOT let him!” Juliet flinched – hell, so did Carlton as his voice cracked across the space between them like a slap. Just as effectively, it rattled his partner out of her thoughts and left them both breathing hard and staring at one another.

 

In another moment Juliet's eyes refocused on the floor. “I'm sorry.” She whispered, pulling the blanket up to her neck. There was no longer just a shine to her eyes, but actual tears starting to slide free. She scraped the heel of her hand beneath her eyes before sniffing and curling to her side – thankfully not facing away this time; even if she wouldn't look him in the face.

 

Getting angry was not only a useless emotion, but a destructive one as well. And yet it was hard not to feel it creep along the base of his spine when every confrontation led to his partner apologizing and in tears. No matter how much he'd toned himself down recently, he couldn't wipe out the instinct to make things right as forcefully as possible. Obviously, however, strong arming his partner wasn't an option. Pretty much ever. Before the attack she'd have introduced his balls to his nasal passages. Now... well either she'd never spend another second in the same room with him or he'd be dead. He really couldn't imagine anything less dramatic.

 

Rubbing his palms together instead of clenching them, he managed to work himself past the heartless blurting stage. It helped to sneak glances at O'Hara's face. Somewhere during their conversation slash fight she'd lost a measure of the guarded look from her expression. It was too easy to see the hurt... the shame. He could feel the weight of it.

 

Another sniff as her body settled more heavily into the mattress. Carlton could see she was drifting.

 

“I can't get it back...”

 

Her murmur caused him to sit up a bit more – frowning.

 

“What can't you get back? O'Hara?”

 

But the sleep that she hadn't truly been fighting was already taking her out again.

 

Still, even without an explanation, he thought he had an idea of what she meant.

 

“O'Hara?”

 

A few deep breaths and then she exhaled. “Mmm...” No sign that her eyes would open again – no sign that she was still awake after that wordless response.

 

Carlton reached for her, then stopped and pulled his hand back. He reached out again and let his hand settle on the blanket inches from her wrist. One finger rose up and touched the ball of her thumb – barely a touch.

 

A second later her hand turned just slightly – allowing his fingers to slip across her palm.

 

He'd meant to offer her something reassuring – a verbal gesture of their solidarity as partners. But rather than wait for his comfort, O'Hara had taken the lead instead; using a single turn of her hand to say all that mattered between them.

 

Hissing at the pull in his back as he leaned forward, Carlton proceeded to lay his damaged hand over the top of their joined fingers. As was typical lately, the best conversations that happened between them came when they were both silent. He used to pray for such from her. Once upon a time.

 

Still, he couldn't stop the little spill of words as he stared at her face – stared at the pain that remained creased in her eyes.

 

“You're safe. I'm not leaving you.”

 

 

 

~~~

 

 

 

The nurse had dosed him up again less than ten minutes ago, but clearly she'd inserted a syringe filled with water into his IV. After all, that was the only explanation as to why there was literally no change in his pain experience. The day and a half of churning agony and torture he'd endured before finally going to a doctor, only to find out they'd need to perform an emergency appendectomy, had been like whistling through Candy Land by comparison. And that included the five minute pit stop at the Jujube tree.

 

He'd been relieved to wake up and find his best friend in the room and his parents absent. Doting was all well and good but not when the comfort came with a “terms of use” clause. Granted the conditions of repayment hadn't been laid out yet but there was no way he'd leave the hospital without a complete understanding of what was owed. And he'd been so proud of his no need for therapy record.

 

“No pineapple? Really? Dude, you could have at least sprung for a tropical fruit cup.” He was pretty sure Gus must have visited while he was unconscious – if the Get Well card with the sad faced puppy on the cover were any indication. This was the first time he'd actually seen him, though, since...

 

Do you... think you could come inside?”

 

“I don't want to be alone...”

 

“You do realize you're on a feeding tube and won't be allowed to eat anything for a couple weeks right?” Always with the logic, Gus. As though a feeding tube meant his taste buds didn't work. Not that he actually wanted to eat – this was about principle.

 

Damn, two minutes in and his buddy was already getting that harpooned baby seal look on his face. Time for distracting conversation.

 

“So how much did it cost you for Henry to give up his ringside seating?” Because there was no way he could envision the old man willingly leaving the room without some form of bribery. “I'm gonna say six weeks of lawn mowing and an afternoon listening to him recall what it was like to do police work with studded armor and a mace. Incidentally, a mace and Mace? Not the same thing.”

 

Gus snorted as he propped his backside against the wall. No response to the clear opening for intelligent conversation. With Gus, though, that was always about fifty fifty. If he scented any red herrings in the air, he'd either continue to drag the conversation back to the right path or, figuring out the subject desperately being avoided, would let himself be hustled into the deepest, darkest, forest of discourse on the unspoken agreement that certain things were best left unsaid. And Gus hated forests.

 

“Got any water over there?” Even when most of the talking was in his head his mouth still felt dry. In fact his whole body felt like a Saltine cracker. He was sure if he stood his mattress would be covered in a snowfall of skin flakes. Gross.

 

“You aren't supposed to have water, but I can give you ice chips. Hang on, I'll get some...”

 

“No,” Shawn coughed – wincing until it stopped, “I'm sure mom will bring some when she and dad come back.” And being alone was not on his to do list today. Not when he kept getting flashes of...

 

Do you... think you could come inside?”

 

“I don't want to be alone...”

 

Memory trying to come back – chunks and fragments, mostly words and fuzzy pictures totally lacking in HD quality playback. Though, that was probably a good thing.

 

“You sure? You sound like James Gammon.”

 

That comment was worth a smile, though outright laughter would have to wait until it wouldn't kill him to chortle. And Gus was right – there was some serious gravel rumbling in his throat. Water would help. Ice chips, on the other hand, were like a thirsty guy's burlesque theater. So close and yet so far from what they promised.

 

“I'm good, man. Really – I've got enough spit in my mouth to keep me going a little while longer.” And that was totally worth the twisted expression of disgust – even if it meant going without the meager solace of frozen fluids. “Sucks when it starts getting sticky though. Like you got day old slugs lurking in the back of your throat.”

 

“Shawn...” The last shred of mopey pity dried up – appropriately enough. Gus finally grabbed the chair and dropped into it; probably bruising his cossacks. And whatever Gus said, there was no way that was a real word. “Let me guess, tastes like a rancid weasel exploded pus across your tongue?”

 

Shawn grinned as the swell of warmth expanded in his chest – pushing out the whispers and shadows for later consideration. “More like a malti-poo with food poisoning dragged its ass across my teeth before giving birth on my molars.”

 

Gus was the one that laughed after that. That was better. If Gus was laughing than Shawn could too.

 

It wasn't natural for them to talk about deep things like cut up organs and how it felt to almost die. They hadn't done it when Shawn had been shot either – or when he'd faced Yang and watched her casually discuss murdering his mother. Those were subjects that were roped off and guarded by so many laser beams that even Gus's amazing trapezoid muscles couldn't finesse him past. And it was no different for Gus. Hell, Shawn hadn't known his buddy had been married until Mira had popped onto the ball field like a streaking fan.

 

And yet... It was hard... when the voices...

 

Do you want me to call Lassiter?”

 

Do you... think you could come inside?”

 

Always before there was a context for the dialogue in his head. It was his mother that remembered voices. He was a visualist – he read books for the pictures more than the words. It was weird and creepy to hear and not see...

 

“I don't want to be alone...”

 

His stomach – the part not held together with tape and paperclips – tried to flatten itself against his spine. It was the same sensation when clues teased at the solution to a crime. It was just there – all it needed was a tiny push... But he didn't want to push. He may only have fragments, but there was enough to make his hands dig into his blanket. There wasn't just a solved puzzle on the other side of the wall. There was something else... something black.

 

Damn, now it wasn't Gus that needed to be distracted but himself.

 

“So...” And he used to be so good at pulling topics out of the vast resources of his ass.

 

Gus had either been eyeballing his cuticles and calculating the date and time for the next buff and shine, or he'd been on the razor's edge of passing out. Not knowing what time it was made it challenging to determine where they were in Gus's sleep cycle. But, of course, as soon as he blurted that one word opening sentence, the minor glaze across his buddy's eyes receded back.

 

“So?” One word thrust and parry right back. Well that just wasn't fair. Shawn was dealing with a severe conversational handicap; therefore it was up to his wingman to take up the slack. The rules of engagement were very clear on this matter.

 

“So...” Shawn drew out the word and Gus's eyebrows twitched down at the repetition. Wounded or not, there's be a fist in his bicep if he kept this up. “We, get any calls at the office?”

 

Descending eyebrows shot back up – though Gus's eyes stayed at half mast in a look that was both humoring and a little patronizing.

 

“You mean over the last two days? Have any clients called?”

 

“Uh, yeah?”

 

Gus rolled his condescending eyes. “As in, did we pick up any jobs while you were in surgery?”

 

Shawn nodded and rubbed knuckles under his nose to stave off a sneeze that could very well have the potential of eviscerating him. Again. “Well I'm gonna be stuck here for half a month, maybe more; the cable is crappy and the nurses absolutely refuse to smuggle in an Xbox. Unless you and my dad are willing to put on leather and sing the acapella version of White Lightning, my entertainment options are limited to sleeping and working.” Perhaps a little more vehemently delivered than he'd intended – his whole midsection from chest to thighs cramped in pain. Stabbed, bruised, obviously kneed if that sadly recognizable ache was anything to go by. Yet another unfilled black hole in the galaxy of his brain. Not that he was remotely eager about recalling a kick between his legs. Certain experiences were just not meant to be savored; and going from stallion to gelding was at the top of the list of unsavory memories.

 

“No, we didn't get any jobs in the last two days.” Gus's voice reminded him that they'd been conversing. At least losing interest in that sort of activity wasn't new. Gus was well aware of his short attention span when it came to things he wasn't invested in. Still, talking was better than pondering the state of his manhood.

 

Get back here you little shit!”

 

Gus missed the skip in his breathing as he'd resumed staring at his hands. Okay, so Shawn wasn't the best of company right now but if Gus could fake being interested in a client's hemorrhoids he could spackle on a the same false emotion for his best friend.

 

“Hey, did we ever get the last check from that Cooper job?”

 

Gus sat up straighter. “Why are you so worried about money all of the sudden?” There was that interest that had been missing earlier. Of course, it was also shaded with exasperation and the light flavor of incredulity. “Shawn, tell me you didn't lose your insurance again...”

 

Eyes above him – silver reflections like water. “Insurance.” White teeth and sudden pain...

 

“Shawn? You okay?”

 

Headshake sending drops of wet scattering off his temples, Shawn scrubbed his fist across his lips. “Um... no, I'm fine...”

 

You're staying down this time!”

 

It was opening – just like the Ark of the Covenant in Indiana Jones. And he couldn't stop it – couldn't push it back into its box. And closing his eyes only made it stronger.

 

“Hey, Shawn?” Gus had stood up; worried. Shawn swallowed and pushed his head back into his pillow.

 

“I'm good buddy – just tired you know?”

 

Get back here you little shit!”

 

Insurance...”

 

There were pictures now. Sketchy 80's music video complete with bad guy. Only this wasn't a cartoon.

 


“You're staying down this time!”

 

There was screaming.

 

“Do you want me to go?”

 

“No!” His hands were trembling and Gus was looking seriously freaked out. Well that was fine cause Shawn was feeling seriously freaked out. “I mean... I...”

 

He was crawling. Crawling and dragging the mass of his body with his arms – sliding on a floor that was rough and wet. There was an open door a few feet away... his destination. He didn't want to go. He couldn't stop.

 

“Maybe I should get your mom...”

 

He couldn't respond now – not with the door so close. He could almost see inside. Just another foot. It was so hard to move...

 

A latch clicked somewhere but not the one in front of him.

 

The rectangle of black... but it wasn't solid black. There were shapes inside, the edge of a bed...

 

And then he saw eyes.

 

Blue darkened to gray in the shadows.

 

He remembered.

Chapter Text

Shawn was tired of his bed. Shawn was tired of his nutritional supplements. Shawn was tired of his physical therapy. And for the past two days, Shawn had become tired of talking too. That didn't mean Henry stopped trying to engage him. The doctor had told him that depression was a very common side effect to the sort of surgery they'd performed. The radical diet change wasn't helping either. Actually, that was making Henry a little unhappy as well because what Shawn ate, he ate. Not because he wanted to – but because there was no way in hell he was cooking double the meals every time he prepared food for the two of them. Or the three of them on the occasions that Maddie ate at the house.

 

All that, of course, was assuming he could get Shawn to eat at all. Loss of appetite was another thing he'd been warned about – and it was playing itself out alarmingly on Shawn's body. His son's thirty plus year old form that had begun fleshing out a bit in recent years had abruptly reversed course. Limbs were losing tone, his jawline had begun to sharpen, and the little bit of softness across his belly was completely gone. He looked they way that he had four years ago – when the wandering urge had still been strong enough that he could have vanished like a tumbleweed had the notion struck at the right time.

 

Henry had been that close to los...

 

The rice was starting to bubble on the stove. Time to add the chicken broth. Shawn had only been home for a week. The two weeks on an IV diet followed by a gentle reintroduction to solid food, solid in name only, had been hit and miss with his digestion. Gelatin, broth, and juice were about the only things allowed to start with and even those bland options hadn't always been kind to his stomach. It was a frustrating contradiction to be told that Shawn needed to regain weight, yet his body couldn't tolerate fatty foods. In fact, the doctor had insisted on a low fat diet. And the rules were absolute when it came to sugar. None whatsoever in the first four to six weeks – possibly longer.

 

A few stirs in the mixture as the broth started to bubble. As with every time he cooked lately, Henry had to stop himself from grabbing the salt and pepper. He'd season his own dish separately once Shawn's was plated.

 

Grabbing a beer for himself and a bottle of juice for his son, Henry tucked the drinks under his arm and carried the food out onto the deck. Shawn had spent most of the past week outside, staring at the ocean. Several times Henry had nearly had to carry the kid inside after sunset – his son hanging off his shoulders and fighting the stupor of fatigue. Any sort of exercise drained him, and yet he had no choice if he was to heal. Nights were their own torture. Oftentimes Shawn would be denied the sleep he badly needed because of the onset of RLS. He'd had, as he used to call them, 'itchy leg tingles' when he was a child. Far worse now, he was left nearly in tears whenever he had a bad attack. With few options to help, Henry found the only thing that brought any sort of relief was a rough massage of his son's calves. Many were the mornings he'd wake up with a stiff back in the chair he'd pulled next to the young man's bed.

 

Shawn didn't glance up as his plate was set down on the wicker table beside him. Henry didn't move away, though, until his hand emerged from the quilt and picked up the fork. Maddie may want to cut Shawn some slack on the emotional issue, but like hell the kid was going to mope himself into malnutrition. One nearly carried out threat of force feeding was all it had required for him to act appropriately when food was placed before him.

 

Settling in a chair on the opposite side of the table, Henry immediately dug into his meal. He ate with none of the pleasure normally brought from his cooking. Even with salt and pepper the food was only slightly better than eating a sofa cushion. He knew Shawn would agree with that assessment, the clink of fork against plate coming between long intervals of either staring down or staring inward. Finally though, with the better half of his dinner still mounded before him, Shawn dropped his utensil and slid away from the table.

 

“You're not done, sport.”

 

Henry scooped, chewed, and swallowed another bite before looking up. Shawn wasn't glaring back as he'd hoped. At least if he'd been glaring he would have been interacting. Henry slapped his fork down on the table, ready to battle, when the phone inside rang.

 

He pointed as he stood. “Eat!” Shawn sighed but at least he lifted his fork again. The portable phone was sitting on the kitchen counter where Henry had left it while preparing dinner. He should have brought it out with him given that it rang about this same time every day. He leaned against the door jam as he answered – watching Shawn pick at his meal.

 

“Hello.”

 

Hi Henry.” Maddie sounded tired. But then, she sounded like that a lot these days. Henry didn't hold it against her that he barely saw her anymore.

 

“Shawn's just outside – you want me to bring the phone to him?” He rested his fingers on the handle but didn't open it.

 

In a minute. I want to hear how you're doing first.”

 

His hand moved to rub across his face as he wandered back into the kitchen. “Oh, you know.” He plucked an orange from the fruit bowl, only to move it to the other side. It was twitchy behavior but that didn't stop him from grabbing a banana next and arranging it alongside the apples.

 

Actually I don't know, which is why I asked.” She had a way of getting him to confess that had always baffled him. She never forced – barely raised her voice. Half the time she sounded amused.

 

Henry gave up on fruit arrangements and sat down at the table. Though Shawn was outside he still lowered his voice.

 

“It's hard.” No longer occupied with the fruit bowl, his free hand slid an opened envelope his way before tugging a pen out from under the remaining mail stack. He may not be an artist, but he could be very adept at doodling when the need for distraction struck. “He doesn't want to eat, he doesn't want to talk... God, it's like he's seventeen all over again and...” He stopped himself as the ramble started to head into territory he wasn't equipped to deal with right then.

 

Madeline, whether she knew the direction of his thoughts or not, didn't remark on them.

 

The doctor said there'd be some depression. It's normal Henry. I know you're doing the best you can for him.”

 

“Am I?” Henry studied the halfhearted sketches beneath his pen. He'd drawn an apple with stick figure arms and legs. Irritated, he crumpled the post modern art and stood from the table to pitch it in the trash. He glanced outside on his way to the bin – and stopped.

 

“Mad, let me call you back.” Hitting disconnect, he set the phone down on the counter and dropped the crumpled envelope next to it – ignoring when it rolled to the floor. Then, opening the door, he stepped out onto the deck. Unfinished food still remained on the plate. Nearby, the chair had been pushed away from the table.

 

Shawn was gone.

 

 

~~~

 

 

If there was something to be said about short hair, at least it limited the time spent with a blowdryer roaring in her ear. She'd gone nearly a month before her depression eased enough to see to the basics. Embarrassed, she'd asked Madeline to help her even out the various lengths into something that approximated a bob. Not quite up to even Cost Cutters quality, at least she didn't look like one of Sweeney Todd's more hapless patrons.

 

With the blast of forced air gone, Juliet could hear voices speaking. Muted through the door, she could only pick up the variances in tone, but not the words. She wasn't concerned, though, as she knew the speakers. Since leaving the hospital, she'd been staying in her partner's home. Being away from her own home, in spite of the horror she'd experienced there, had left Juliet without any familiar comforts. Even her cat was gone – staying with McNab until some undetermined time when they could be reunited. It had been awkward from the first ten minutes. Carlton didn't have a spare bedroom.

 

Though she refused to sleep in his bed while he took the couch – and not just because she didn't want to displace him; there was no way she was touching a bed again in the foreseeable future – he wasn't comfortable letting her sleep on his threadbare sofa. After some debate, he'd finally gone out and bought a blow up air mattress as a compromise. This hadn't totally settled where he'd sleep however. He'd taken the couch. It wasn't ideal, but it allowed her to sleep.

 

After one week of additional “vacation”, Carlton had been forced back to the station. The first time was because he'd needed to testify at the trial against former detective Drimmer. Seemingly endless motions had pushed the trial back many months. It was only recently that the man was finally standing before a jury for what he'd done. It occurred to Juliet that Shawn would probably have to testify as well, but she hadn't asked, and Carlton hadn't said anything.

 

With Carlton out of the house and Juliet unable to stay alone, Madeline Spencer had begun spending her afternoons with her. It had the added bonus of giving Juliet someone to talk to. And, she discovered, it was much easier to open up to the woman in her partner's home than it had been at the station. And, it seemed, her partner was discovering the same thing. Every day when Carlton arrived home from the station, Juliet would take her shower. It was still nerve-wracking, but she could do it with the two people in the house that she trusted the most. At first there'd been guilt. Pretty much everything, lately, brought out that emotion from eating Carlton's food to adding tampons to his grocery list. She also felt ashamed for forcing Madeline to stay the extra hour it took to clean up in the bathroom. In doing so, she knew she was limiting the time the older woman could have spent visiting her son. She felt she was just making everything worse for everybody.

 

And then she'd overheard her partner talking. While she'd been in the shower, he'd been unloading his soul on the always willing ear of Maddie Spencer. It was another stab of remorse for Juliet to recognize that this wasn't just about her.

 

Eavesdropping was second nature to her – and oddly one of the few things that didn't bring her shame these days. In a family with brothers constantly plotting nefarious deeds, it had benefited both herself and them to keep tabs on their schemes.

 

Juliet sighed. No wonder her brothers were on her mind today. Well, more specifically, a brother. Ewan. She could say one hundred percent that she hadn't expected to pick up her ringing phone that morning and hear his voice on the other end. The first words he'd spoken hadn't been in greeting, but in accusation.

 

My own sister is raped and I'm only hearing about it now?”

 

Shock at the communication hadn't dulled her first inclination – to grab Carlton and run a trace. She had started walking towards the bedroom, where he'd been changing into his work clothes, when the knowledge that she wasn't currently a cop had flooded her mind.

 

Do mom and dad even know? What about the rest of the family?”

 

She wasn't on the job but the second she heard Ewan's voice, she'd slipped on the badge and gun. She couldn't stop a man from assaulting her repeatedly – yet she'd thought she'd had the right to arrest her own brother?

 

How could you keep this from us?”

 

She'd snapped at the disappointment in his tone. “How could you try to murder someone, Ewan!? How could you destroy everything you were, to be no better than that monster that...” And just as quickly she'd clipped her teeth together.

 

Goodbye little sis. I love you.”

 

Only a click, no time to say she was sorry, to tell him she loved him too, to say she wished...

 

A second later, Juliet had hung up as well.

 

She hadn't cried that hard in weeks.

 

The conversation outside the bathroom door had stopped. She could hear someone, probably Carlton, grinding coffee beans for his evening cup. Her hair was still a little damp, but the rest of her body was dry enough to pull on her clothes and be presentable.

 

Her footsteps were light but Carlton's peripheral vision must have been set on high. The moment she walked around the corner and into the kitchen, though his back was still towards her, he pointed to one of the stools nudged up against the center island.

 

“It'll be ready in a minute if you want a cup.” He said over the sound of pulverizing beans.

 

Juliet waited for the grinding to stop before she spoke. “Where's Madeline?”

 

Tapping the side of the grinder, Carlton emptied about a third of the contents into a coffee filter and started up the machine. “She had to make a phone call. She's out on the porch.”

 

Probably calling to check on Shawn. Juliet laid her arms on the counter and dropped her forehead on the back of her hands. She'd be passing on that cup of coffee tonight and going straight to sleep once Cops was over. Actually, she may just fall asleep during the first episode.

 

“How's the new partner working out?” Chief Vick had been adamant that Carlton work with a partner – temporary or otherwise. The way he'd told it, he'd half expected another Goochberg. Whatever Vick's intent had been with that assignment, Juliet still thought it had been a cruel blow to his ego. Getting to know her partner through the years had revealed to her a man who hid his hurts under a lot of hard. But that didn't mean he'd deserved to be saddled with a visual example of what the Chief claimed everyone thought of him.

 

Carlton grabbed a few cups from the cupboard; his own choice in a container looking more like a beer stein than a coffee mug. He poured some cream and sugar in the bottom, leaving the sweeteners on the counter for whomever else wanted them. Turning back towards Juliet, he lifted one shoulder dismissively.

 

“She's passable... as a temp. She managed to spell homicide correctly on her third try.” He straightened the towel draped over the rim of the small sink. Juliet almost snorted at the derogatory comment aimed at the poor woman pinch hitting for team Lassiter. “She isn't you.”

 

Carlton pivoted around as the coffee pot sputtered out the remaining few drops. Left to take in that last statement, Juliet rested her mouth against her fingertips. Anybody else saying that and it could have been dismissed in the same way one dismissed the 'hope you feel better soon' comments people made to sick acquaintances. But Carlton wasn't capable of pithy, throw away comments. Granted his tact was often in question, but what he said, he meant, down to the last word.

 

There'd been plenty of tears shed in Carlton's presence lately, but these were the first that actually felt good. They weren't the side effect of being broken. Instead, she felt a wash of warmth and companionship – of love for her partner – that wasn't reduced to romantic cliche', but entangled with the emotions she felt for her parents and siblings. She knew he wasn't aware of her state of mind other than what the fresh rainfall was telling him. That was obvious when he stiffened his shoulders and traced the handle of his coffee cup with his fingers.

 

Juliet brushed at her eyes. She didn't want to make Carlton even more uncomfortable by hugging him, but she didn't want to let him think he'd upset her either. Her vision continued to blur with fresh moisture, but she felt there was enough control in her voice to finally respond.

 

“I miss it. I miss working with you. I miss...” She sniffed, wiping again as the grief, always lurking under every emotion, returned to the surface. “I don't want to be like this... I don't want to be afraid...” She hiccuped against the back of her hand. “He took everything... and I don't know if I can get it back.” She'd meant to stop there, but the last, doubt-filled murmur broke away before she could stop it. “I guess he won...”

 

Carlton set his cup down hard on the counter, though he didn't make a move to wipe away the coffee that sloshed over his knuckles in spite of how hot it must have been.

 

“Hey! I'm only saying this once. Detective O'Hara, Banks. Does NOT. Get to win.” His finger stabbed against the counter to emphasize his words.

 

He meant every word, even when he sounded like he was quoting Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive.

 

Juliet looked up at her partner. From the first day, he'd been there for her. He'd held her through her tears, protected her from her nightmares, and hadn't flinched from the open wound her life had become. He believed in her. He hadn't ever stopped believing in her. And, she realized, it was time she start believing in herself.

 

“You're right,” she said, forcing her back straighter, “He doesn't.”

 

 

 

~~~

 

 

 

Shawn hadn't been able to swallow more than a few bites of dinner before his throat wanted to close around the mealy rice mixture. What he was allowed to eat was minimal. What he could eat was more limited still. What he wanted to eat was basically nothing placed before him on a daily basis. A lot of the time he felt nauseous – side effects of surgery and medication. The procedure had been explained, and then translated by Gus. So he was missing a few hunks out of a few organs or something – so what?

 

He'd walked only a few yards from the house before the benches along the beach had started to look very inviting. Supposedly he was going to feel this way for many weeks – possibly months – to come. He tried to care, but given the energy requirements, he chose to cram it into the same box that contained his father's lectures, his mother's three years of silence, and his report cards from his senior year.

 

Eat right, focus on the positive, and try to exercise. More or less the advise given to him by his doctor and fanatically enforced by his father. Mom... mom was less forceful about it. A lot less. She would always ask how he was feeling – but Shawn couldn't help but imagine she was inquiring more from professional habit than because she really wanted to know.

 

Turning his head to watch a parasailer go by, Shawn wasn't surprised to see his father walking his way. There was no rush – obviously his dad knew it wouldn't be hard to catch him if he chose to keep going. He would have considered it but the way his legs were quivering right around the area of his knees, it would be a a mostly downward journey. Instead, he grabbed the back of the bench he'd been eyeing and let his butt drop on the seat. A few moments later, his dad sat down beside him.

 

“It's nice out.”

 

They didn't talk while they were in the house so Shawn wasn't sure why his father would assume differently out in the open. Need a conversational opening? Talk about the weather. It was more Grandpa Spencer's style, but apparently his father wasn't above borrowing from his dad. Of course, it wasn't the sort of statement that needed an answer, so he just crossed his arms and leaned forward over his knees.

 

“Your mother called.”

 

Shawn had heard the phone ring too. It was part of the reason he'd decided to take a walk. He just... he couldn't talk to his mother right now.

 

“She's worried about you.”

 

“Really? You know, that's funny. She sure has stopped by a lot for someone who's worried.” That was exactly why he hadn't wanted to talk. Given half a second and he's blurting out a bunch of insensitive and selfish crap. He wasn't the one who needed his mom right now, but God help him he couldn't stop acting like a child with a scraped knee.

 

He'd been waiting for a reprimand for his thoughtless slander but Henry was apparently letting that one slide.

 

“She'd be here if she could, kid, but you know as well as I do what she has on her plate.”

 

Or not.

 

Shawn nodded. “Yeah, you're right. Make sure to record that on Facebook by the way – me telling you that you're right. It doesn't happen often and it probably won't happen again so I hope you enjoy the experience.”

 

Another parasailer went by, though Shawn barely noticed – his gaze having drifted from the waves to the shore. The tide looked like it was heading out. People were slowly starting to trickle away from the sand and towards their vehicles. The few holdouts were the parasailers and a few couples sharing the sunset.

 

“I'm not Kevin Costner.” He murmured. There was a shifting beside him but his father didn't speak. Shawn scrubbed his fingers down his face and sniffed. “For one thing I don't have the hair for it. Lassy does though...” He chuckled – looking towards the horizon. “Lassy is definitely more suited to guard Whitney Houston, am I right? I mean, have you seen the arsenal he carries around these days? I think he even has a tiny underwear pistol.” He winced. “That didn't come out right.”

 

“What are you getting at, Shawn?”

 

He smiled, finally looking at his dad. “If someone broke into your house, who would you rather have watching your back... me? Or Lassiter?”

 

Truth or platitude, whatever his dad had to say, he suddenly didn't want to hear it when he was more than capable of filling in the blank. “I can tell you, I'd pick a guy with a gun over some schmuck who can't bitch slap his way out of a paper bag.” He dropped his eyes to the sand under his feet. It was getting colder as the sun started to disappear. He shivered, wishing he had his jacket... or maybe a snuggie. “So why would she do that?”

 

“Who?”

 

Shawn shook his head, though not at his father's question. He wasn't really paying any attention to anything beyond his six inch bubble. “She should have waited for him... why didn't she wait? He would have come back... I could have gotten them lunch – there was no reason to ask me...”

 

She's too good for you.”

 

You don't belong here.”

 

You've turned her into a whore.”

 

Abruptly he looked up again at his father. “Oh my God! I made it worse!” He shuddered, arms wrapping around his middle while he stared in shock. “He was watching. He was watching all that time, but hadn't made a move... He hadn't made a move because he didn't need to but then...”

 

His father was shaking his head, a hand reaching out to rest on his arm. Shawn didn't hear whatever he was trying to say and his rambling became the worst sort of reveal. “It was my fault...”

 

“Shawn, no... it isn't...”

 

He shrugged off the hands – standing even though his abdomen was cramped in pain. “I SAW IT! You get it, dad? I heard what he said and I saw what he did and I didn't do ANYTHING!” He whirled to stalk off – to burn away his anger with motion – but almost face planted when his feet stumbled in the sand.

 

Hands grabbed him again – steadied him as he tried to breathe. He wasn't certain what emotions he was feeling anymore as both screaming and laughter tried to well to the surface – catching in his throat like a hot bubble. A sound he couldn't label as one or the other leaked out past the swell still building on the back of his tongue. His face burned with the heat of it. His hearing muted – sensation getting spongy on the corners...

 

All he could see were her eyes. He was ashamed.

 

He noticed that the stars were out sometime after the hysterical rage had faded down to embers. He could have fallen asleep where he sat – though the cold on all sides would make that a regretful choice. He could hear his father urging him to go back inside.

 

“Everything you tried to teach me... It was all a waste... wasn't it.”

 

The gentle pulling stopped, though the arm remained around his shoulder. “You tried...”

 

“I didn't listen. I did everything I could to be everything you weren't.” He looked at his father, took in all the accusation that the old man had to have been thinking.

 

“I thought I could always win...”

Chapter Text

 

The printouts in his hands were clutched tightly – their fibers gradually soaking in the sweat from his palms. His lopsided gait – often earning a lighthearted joke or two from his fellow officers, cleared a path through the stature inhibited crowd. Today, his face wasn't dimpled with a smile as lopsided as his stride; in spite of the news he had to share.

 

“Chief!” Breaking into a hard gallop, Buzz McNab cleared the last fifteen feet of bullpen separating him from Chief Vick's office.

 

She was standing just inside her doorway, a file folder in her hand and a young officer waiting for her signature, when McNab held out the papers in his hands – too excited by his discovery to heed protocol.

 

“We found him!”

 

 

~~~

 

 

“His real name is Theodore Banks Copeland. Thanks to Officer Buzz McNab, we've been able to track him back to Texas where his DNA has been linked to at least five other assaults as well as seven murders. One woman managed to escape but was unable to provide an adequate description.” Karen folded her hands on her desk. Standing on the other end of the room, Lassiter, Shawn, and Gus had remained silent through the briefing.

 

Shawn wanted to sit, but he didn't want to draw attention to himself. He knew how odd that emotion was given his normal state of being. But then, normal had been abandoned a long time ago. So instead, he leaned against Gus with as much subtly as he could manage and hoped his friend didn't make any sudden movements.

 

According to what Buzz had discovered, Banks... Copeland, had managed to stay under the radar for almost two years. DNA without an individual to match it to was nothing but a collection of material in a vial. Without a prior record, Copeland must have felt free to victimize at will. His MO was chilling. Based on the updated statement he'd provided once his true identity had been found out, he'd choose a woman whom he claimed he had a connection to. Following her for months, he'd build himself until he'd finally feel it was time for their first “date”. Using a house key he'd copied on a previous visit disguised as a delivery or repairman, he'd enter the home, restrain the victim, and rape her repeatedly. He collected hair as his trophy. A search of the apartment he'd stayed in while in California had turned up at least twelve distinct hair types... including Juliet's.

 

Afterward, he'd resume stalking – making certain the woman would remain “faithful”. Inevitably he'd find something that would prove her unworthiness. A boyfriend, a male coworker, and onetime a brother, would appear on the scene. Taking that as betrayal, Copeland would attack a second time; raping the woman again before killing her and whatever person he'd seen as his competition.

 

Shawn rubbed his arms. Copeland had intended to kill Jules. If Lassiter hadn't...

 

“The DA is handing Copeland over to the Houston PD for extradition. They'll be here in two days. I expect all of you to treat them with respect and courtesy... and to stay out of their way. Understood?”

 

Shawn could hear disgruntled rumbling coming from his Lassiter side. As for himself, he didn't have a problem. Texas had a death penalty and an itchy execution finger. As far as he was concerned, that was a solid case closed.

 

The icing on that cake would be wishing Copeland a happy last meal.

 

 

 

~~~

 

 

Four men surrounded their cuffed and shackled prisoner. Feeling meek and diminutive next to Lassiter and Buzz – Gus having chosen to hang back where he couldn't be killed should a Conair situation occur – Shawn still managed to wrinkle up a sneer as Copeland made the long walk towards the prisoner transport vehicle that would haul his slimy ass to the airport.

 

Stopping when he caught sight of the three men, Copeland returned his own lip curl – though it contained a lot more leer.

 

“Tell the lovely Juliet goodbye for me.” He chuckled, licking his lips.

 

Shawn clothes-lined Lassiter's midsection as the man made a single step forward. Then they all froze at the sound of heels behind them.

 

“You can tell me yourself.”

 

Dressed in a suit, hair perfect, her eyes locked on Copeland, Juliet stepped into view.

 

Shawn shrank back behind the two officers at his side – hoping she didn't see him.

 

Not flinching as she stared at the prisoner, Juliet's voice emerged – flat, hard, and barely loud enough for anyone other than Copeland.

 

“See, I plan to be there when they stick the needle in your arm. I'm going to watch every second from the moment they drag you to that table until the moment your heart stops beating.”

 

Shawn gulped as she stepped even closer – practically brushing noses with the man.

 

“When you see the poison feeding through those tubes and into your body... you think of me. Cause I can guarantee, once you're dead, I won't be thinking about you again.”

 

She stepped back then, and Copeland had nothing more to say either as he was led from sight.

 

At some point, Lassiter had moved up next to his partner. Shawn wasn't sure when that had happened, but he was glad to see Juliet hadn't been left standing alone in the corridor. Not the way her hands had begun shaking.

 

He wondered how she managed to slip away from his mother. Or had his mom brought her here? There was no sign of her so if she had, she'd chosen to let Juliet do this alone.

 

Feeling his exhaustion pulling at him again, Shawn turned to find Gus. He'd probably snuck off to the break room for a donut.

 

Footsteps at his back and fingers on his arm made his back go stiff. He knew the feel of those small hands without even looking.

 

Letting himself be turned, he swallowed hard as Juliet stared at him. This was it. Time to face what he'd done to her. Whatever she did, he knew it was deserved. He'd been expecting her wrath for weeks – had felt it hanging over him like a slowly falling pendulum – the blade getting closer and closer until it finally began to split him in half.

 

He winced as her arms rose – his eyes closing as he waited for the slap.

 

But...

 

Warmth as her arms circled around his neck. Her cheek pressed tight against his jawline. He could feel tears on his skin. Snuffing back a gasp, he carefully held her back – feeling the smallest twitch before she settled against him.

 

He was stuttering before he could stop – apologizing and trying to breathe through the lock clamped around his throat. But barely had he started on his train wreck of remorse before she lifted her head and cupped his cheeks with her hands – her palms growing wet upon contact.

 

“Hey. You listen to me Shawn Spencer.”

 

He stared at her as she wiped her thumb beneath his eye. Her smile was wobbled but she managed it somehow – the tilt of it both strong and a little sad. “Banks, does not, get to win.” She lifted her eyebrows. “Okay?”

 

He wouldn't let her down again. Not even to disagree. Nodding his head, Shawn mustered up a smile in return.

 

“Okay.”

 

 

 

~~~

 

 

 

That evening, Juliet sat on the couch next to her partner. The TV played an old episode of Barney Miller – a DVD collection she'd bought for him several Christmases ago. Stockinged feet rested on the coffee table – a concession he'd only allowed for her.

 

She didn't know when she'd truly return to work. Dressing the part today had felt good – but it hadn't defeated her demons.

 

She did know that she wanted to keep trying. And, as Carlton had promised, he'd be there when she was ready.

 

Juliet smiled as she snuggled against his arm.

 

It may not be a happy ending with a glittering castle and a golden carriage pulled by four white horses – but it was an ending she could live with.

 

She'd found her soul again.

 

 

-- The End