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The Road to Tikihama

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There were times when sleep didn't come easily to Shawn. He would never in a million years, plus or minus a few ice ages, admit it, but their cases often kept him awake at night.

Rather than sleeping soundly in his bed (or anyone else's, he wasn't that picky) Shawn would find himself riding his motorcycle around Santa Barbara, usually at a speed that his father would call reckless, and without a warm enough jacket, which his mother would disapprove of. Somewhere in the back of his mind he was aware that most people stopped defying their parents purely out of spite sometime in their late teens. But Shawn wasn't most people.

For one, he was almost constantly out of gas and out of money. Which was fine, really, as long as Gus could be prodded into treating Shawn's machine to a tankful every now and then. But Gus wasn't as generous as he used to be, and not nearly as easy to manipulate as he'd been at, say, age ten to seventeen, when Shawn hardly ever had to buy a movie ticket for himself. Not to mention the popcorn.

But Gus had grown up, the traitor, which meant no extra gas, which meant no aimless, cool-looking motorcycle-riding into the night. Shawn usually didn't mind. Much. There were other things he could do.

Sometimes he went loitering in the park opposite the station with a spyglass, half a dozen cold cheeseburgers and a bucketful of coke for company, in case something criminally interesting happened that would justify him showing his face there at night.

Or he hung out at the office, which had an XBox, a TiVo, lots of sugary food supplies, and a complete collection of Knight Rider tapes to show for itself. Sure, the old VCR botched the colors all the time, but David Hasselhoff was way more fun when he looked a little green around the gills, anyway.

The close proximity of the pier was another plus. Shawn liked the pier. Especially when it was deserted, and when the waves were crashing exactly like this, and when the wind was trying to ruffle his hair (tough luck), and when his supply of M&Ms was virtually limitless. He popped one into his mouth. It tasted green.

A state of ongoing consciousness during the dark hours of the night wasn't such a bad thing, Shawn decided. Not as long as his mind kept circling around unexplained case-related details, yet undiscovered connections, or the best way to annoy the living daylights out of Lassiter in the morning before his second cup of coffee. Lassiter's second coffee, not Shawn's. Because Gus was convinced that coffee made Shawn twitchy and restless. When he pointed this out to Shawn, one particularly slow Thursday morning in the office, Shawn looked up from the hopscotch field he'd drawn on the office floor and promptly hopped onto a chalk line. "Aw, Gus, look what you've done! I lost. Against myself! I really thought I'd be more of a challenge."

"Twitchy and restless," Gus repeated matter-of-factly.

"Dude," Shawn said. "That summarizes the very heart and essence of my being in a compact and astoundingly accurate way. And you're noticing only now? I'm shocked. And deeply disappointed."

Gus glared that less than intimidating glare of his and still forbade him to drink anything but decaf. Officially Shawn abided by the rule. Unofficially, Gus could always tell when Shawn had gone straight for a double espresso. Stacy, Shawn's favorite barista, always topped it with whipped cream and brightly colored sprinkles. That made it even better. Sprinkles made everything better, after all.

It was worth the pointed looks and not-so-veiled complaints Gus would aim his way afterwards. Shawn would usually shrug and say something like, "You wouldn't believe how well caffeine goes with sprinkles. Don't knock it 'til you've tried it," or, "Honestly, I ordered decaf. But a cute little girl in a pink Barbie dress begged me to switch it for her espresso. I couldn't very well leave a tiny six-year old with a drink that is strictly for adults, now could I, Gus? It could have stunted her growth!"

By which time Gus would start muttering about how Shawn's blood pressure would be going through the roof, or how Shawn had better behave himself despite his caffeine high, or he would ask how Shawn expected to go to sleep anytime in the next, oh, two to three days.

Contrary to popular belief, Shawn knew not to drink double espressos before bedtime. If he was sleep deprived, it was never due to caffeine consumption.

The thing was, Shawn was not a quitter. No matter what his father told anyone who wanted to hear it, and anyone who didn't want to hear it, and sometimes complete strangers. It wasn't that Shawn couldn't hold a job. It was that no job had been able to hold him. Shawn never quit. He moved on.

He liked that about himself, being a non-quitter. But apparently it was possible to be too much of one. He never could stop and take a pause, couldn't let things rest. Not as long as there was a serial killer or violent robber around, or, like in one memorable case, an elderly lady with a pointy umbrella and little patience for impoliteness. Lassiter still had that reddish spot on his forearm, the tiny scar where the metal tip of the umbrella had broken his skin. It only showed when Lassiter shrugged off his jacket and rolled up his sleeves, or when he reached out and tried to steal one of Juliet's cupcakes (sprinkles on top) without anyone noticing.

Shawn always noticed, but he pretended not to. Lassiter was best not disturbed in this important phase of his development. He had just started to discover the upside of fun, the importance of loosening his tie once in a while, and the awesomeness that was sprinkles.

Sadly, beer didn't come with sprinkles. Or was that not sad at all? Shawn couldn't decide. He drummed his fingers on the bench beside him, tapped his propped-up foot on the pier railing in time with the imaginary beat, and considered retrieving the half-empty bag of sugary sprinkles from the cupboard under the easy bake oven in the office. Beer with sprinkles. It was worth a try, but the walk from the pier up to the office looked long and steep, and the treacherous steps would probably not stay horizontal and right-angled under his feet, either. Maybe M&Ms would work as a substitute? Although-- No. It'd be a crime against chocolate. Possibly beer, too.

Shawn sighed regretfully. He leaned back on the bench, watched the sun rise, felt the world spin a little faster than it should, and wondered why the hell he had even started on that fifth beer.

Alcohol in larger quantities wasn't something Shawn was used to. It messed with the intricate workings of his brain, and he couldn't have that. His brilliantly gifted and meticulously trained mind was the one constant in his life, the one thing he could always depend upon.

Well, that, and Gus' friendship, important constant number two. Thinking about it, there was also his dad's control-seeking and patronizing personality. And Juliet's enthusiastic professionalism, complemented by a spark of humor that was just right. Also, there was the chief's no-nonsense attitude. And Lassiter's openly displayed disapproval – an expected occurrence in every working day.

When had Shawn's life become all about constants rather than variables? Variables were good. Variables were Shawn, the complete opposite of dull and stuck-up and fixed in place.

An excess of constants in his life should probably have him worried, as well as the overuse of math terminology in an internal monologue, but somehow Shawn couldn't be bothered. He put the fifth beer bottle down beside the bench without finishing it.

He still wasn't tired. And it wasn't even the good kind of insomnia tonight, the productive must-solve-case insomnia. It was the less common, but much more unsettling I-almost-died variety.

Shawn should have gotten used to this. It had been happening a lot lately. Bad Guy of the week would get wind of Shawn and Gus' fine detective work – or 'snooping around' to the untrained observer. Bad Guy would then draw his gun/pickaxe/firepoker on them and advance, sometimes slowly and cautiously (which was really, really bad), sometimes hurriedly, with a mad gleam in his eye (which wasn't quite as bad, but scarier). And always, always, Bad Guy wasn't fast enough to put a hole, however shaped, in either of them before Lassiter and/or Juliet entered the scene and convinced Bad Guy to lay down his weapon of choice, usually with a friendly, non-threatening shot to marginally important parts of the anatomy.

Everything was always over in a couple of minutes, and there was nothing to worry about, after. Nothing at all. Everything always turned out fine, and that was that.

It was just-- These occasions would be more fun if they were actually fun. Shawn wanted them to be fun, wanted to be able to remember them as the adventures his mind insisted they must have been, what with the extreme lack of boredom, and the catching of evil murderers, and Jules looking kind of hot when she was all determined and pointing a gun.

Instead, his photographic memory turned out to be less than perfect in its consequences. There were a lot of great things Shawn could have spent this night, any night, thinking about. In fact, he had a list of those written down, pinned to his fridge with a Marvin the Martian magnet, for when he needed to be reminded of the awesomeness that was life at five-thirty in any given early morning. Pineapples was right there at the top, closely followed by The Uncertainty Principle and Boxers that say 'Eat my shorts'. Slow-mo memory replays of a bearded madman coming at him, cold water dragging at his clothes, panic squeezing the breath out of him-- that wasn't anywhere on the list. Not even close. Not even sort-of-around-ish.

Shawn had known that alcohol wouldn't break the-- thing. Memory feedback loop. But it should have made him care a little less. That had been the plan. The plan had sucked from the get-go. He capitulated and decided to sacrifice the rest of his beer to the ocean gods, or to anyone who might incidentally be swimming under the pier with their face upturned and their mouth open. He bent down to grab the bottle from its place next to the bench when a pair of familiar shoes attached to equally familiar legs walked into the edge of his vision.

Lassiter. Lassiter walking down the pier, tense and stone-faced and apparently even less happy than on the day Sergeant Kruger had beaten his score on the shooting range by half a dozen points.

Shawn could feel a grin spread on his face. This was exactly the kind of distraction he needed right now. This was perfect.

 

*

 

Carlton knew that sleep wasn't going to come to him that night. Instead of going to bed to toss and turn for hours, he switched off his (very own) TV, got off of his (very own) couch, and left his (very own) apartment, heading for-- somewhere else. Anywhere else, really.

Now that his apartment had officially been upgraded from 'temporary living quarters' to 'home', he found he couldn't stand staying there anymore. As much as he wanted to accept, or better yet, not think about the failure of his marriage, it wasn't that easy.

He had half expected things to get better once the divorce papers provided tangible proof. Only subconsciously, of course. Even after all this time, they should have been able to work things out. They could have worked things out. Carlton knew this as certain as the sky was blue, as the grass was green, as Spencer was a shameless liar.

Instead of hating himself (he'd done everything he could), or hating her (just not possible), Carlton started hating his apartment. It wasn't really fair. The apartment had never done anything wrong, except for being nice and vacant when he had needed a new address, back when his old one was being sold on the street to any Tom, Dick and Harry with an arrest record and an axe to grind.

Thankfully, this minor aversion was only going to pose a problem during his off-hours. Carlton briefly considered not leaving the station for a while, but there were only so many nights he'd be able to spend on a cot in an unoccupied cell before the chief or O'Hara would notice. Two, maximum. They were police detectives, after all. And it wouldn't be worth the hassle. He was fully equipped to deal with the chief's disapproval, but O'Hara's concern, the inevitable questions, her obsessive compulsion to help-- no.

Carlton preferred this aimless midnight stroll, with an occasional stop at a bar for a coke or a ginger ale. Because he wasn't going to get drunk over this again. Not after last time. He still didn't remember how much of a pathetic ass he'd made of himself in front of Spencer, who likely thought that 'discretion' was a difficult science word.

The sky was already starting to lighten in the east, in red and purple, when the ocean surprised Carlton by appearing right in front of him. He hadn't been paying attention to his surroundings, with his subconscious at the steering wheel, but he liked where it had taken him. The pier was a quiet place to be at sunrise – or so he thought before he heard someone call his name. And not just anyone. Spencer was sprawled on a bench at the side of the pier.

"Lassie!" Spencer shouted, delighted, and waved at him.

Carlton froze in mid-step. "Spencer? What are you doing here?"

"I could ask you the same thing," Spencer said cheerfully and patted the empty space next to him on the bench. "Come on, Lassie, there's room for another creature of the night here on the throne for the rulers over all things dark and evil," he said, grinning. "That includes early morning work-outs, cucumbers, Dallas reruns, and all those neatly aligned office supplies on your desk. Really, it does. I checked." He patted the bench again and his grin faded a little. "Okay, so this is not the throne for the rulers over all things dark and evil, but wouldn't it be cool if it was? Let's pretend that it is."

This was taking cheerfulness to a new level, even for Spencer. Carlton stayed where he was, suspicious.

"You look so not happy," Spencer said, tilting his head. He was squinting a lot more than he usually did, and his gestures were a little off-target, and that was when Carlton noticed the beer bottles. Jesus, was Spencer drunk? He'd better not be. He already acted completely nuts when he was sober; Carlton had no desire to observe an intoxicated Spencer in action.

"What is it?" Spencer continued, squinting at him some more. "Did your cat die? When did you get a cat? Why didn't you tell me? Is it a tabby? I always thought you look like a tabby kind of guy. Just last week I said to Gus--"

"Spencer," Carlton interrupted sharply.

Spencer actually shut up for a moment and looked at him expectantly, as if to ask, "What?"

"I got divorced yesterday," Carlton finished. "I'm not in the mood for your antics."

There was a beat of silence, which meant that Carlton had time to curse himself for spilling the beans to Spencer, of all people. He stuffed his hands into the pockets of his pants and considered turning around and leaving. He would have done it, too, if there had been the slightest chance of Spencer letting the topic, and him, go.

Yeah right, he thought, maybe when hell was frozen over. He knew Spencer well enough to tell from the look on his face that the devil was still roasting marshmallows over a nice hot fire.

 

*

 

Shawn usually digested information fast as lightning. Really, really fast. So fast that Gus had taken to calling him Nanosecond Man. Never in front of possible sexual partners, of course, because that could lead to unpleasant misunderstandings.

Okay, so actually Shawn had totally invented the name himself, but that was beside the point.

This new development, this new piece of the 3D-puzzle that was Lassiter, took its sweet time working its way though Shawn's brain. In terms of natural phenomena it was more like a mudslide than a lightning strike. For a moment Shawn didn't know what to say. It was an unfamiliar feeling and really not pleasant. Plus, mudslides were infinitely less cool than lightning strikes as metaphors went. But Lassiter seemed to suffer from a mudslide moment of his own, with an added edge of twitchy restlessness. That made it easier to bear.

"Have a beer?" Shawn held out the last bottle from the six-pack to Lassiter, who considered the offer long and hard. Longer and harder than he would have needed to, in Shawn's opinion.

"How many of those have you had?" Lassiter asked and came closer.

"Four. And a little," Shawn said.

"In, what, the space of ten minutes? You're drunk."

"I've always been proud of the fact that I'm a cheap date," Shawn answered seriously.

"Of course," Lassiter said, dead-pan. He carefully brushed non-existent dirt off the bench before sitting down next to Shawn and accepting the beer.

Suddenly Shawn didn't feel all that drunk anymore. The world wasn't spinning as wildly anymore, for one. He leaned forward, looking intently. Lassiter's edges weren't blurry at all. He was all sharp and defined and-- stuff.

The profound truth of the thought sank in, and Shawn nodded approvingly to himself. Sharp and defined and-- stuff, that was Lassie.

Lassiter shot him another one of his suspicious looks, then twisted the cap off the bottle and took a swig. He turned to look out over the ocean. Sometime later he said without turning his head, "Quit staring at me. Did no one ever teach you that it's not polite to stare?"

Shawn blinked. Right. His eyes were still focused on Lassiter, which meant that, in light of the time that had passed and Lassiter's excellent peripheral vision, 'staring' was a justified assessment of Shawn's behavior. And no, his father had taught him no such thing. Or maybe Shawn hadn't bothered to listen.

"You," Shawn said earnestly, pointing a very steady finger, "are a bucket of cold water."

Lassiter turned his head and eyed him. "Right," he said after a moment, but he didn't sound entirely convinced, much less adequately flattered.

"Like, really cold water. A bucket of cold water," Shawn clarified. He really did feel completely sober now. It had to be a special kind of Lassie-magic. "Deep water, too. Very deep and-- stuff."

"Deep," Lassiter repeated with a frown, his tone cautious. "That's-- reassuring."

"I thought you'd find that--" Shawn began. He would have continued, but Lassiter was shaking his head to himself. The movement was barely there, but Shawn wasn't hyper observant for nothing. "Wait, are you yanking my chain?"

"Am I yanking your chain?" Lassiter asked, incredulous. "Are you kidding me?"

"Hey, I asked first."

"Spencer, you--" Lassiter took a deep breath. "Why don't we just sit here for a while and drink our beer. In silence. Before I get tempted to shoot you."

Shawn nodded. "Uh-huh. I can do that. I bet I'm not nearly as much fun without my famous witty comments and clever observations, but why not? I try everything at least once."

"Silence, starting now," Lassiter ordered and pointed the neck of the bottle at him, possibly as a sign of determination.

Lassiter turned to look out over the sea again.

Shawn timed thirty seconds on his watch, then he said, "It's four-thirty in the morning."

Lassiter's head fell forward until his chin rested on his chest, in defeat, or maybe in annoyance, but hopefully in defeat. "It's bad enough that you're completely unable to carry on an adult conversation," Lassiter said into his shirt. "You better not make a habit out of stating the obvious, too."

Shawn raised his eyebrows. "The obvious, Lassie? Not obvious to you, obviously. You're still wearing your tie. In a tight knot. At a time when decent people have long since passed out on a convenient stretch of sidewalk, preferably near a bush. That is just not natural."

Lassiter turned to him, glaring. If Shawn had a dollar for every glare Lassiter had ever sent him, and two for the really dark ones, he would own one-thousand seven-hundred and sixty-seven dollars and thirty-five cents now. As it was, there were only twenty-two dollars to his name. And thirty-five cents, of course. There was no such thing as a partial glare.

"Let me spell this out for you once more," Lassiter said. "I am comfortable wearing a tie. I like wearing ties. Now that we've finally cleared that up, can we never speak of ties again?"

Shawn pretended to consider this. "No. Talking ties with you is fun."

To Shawn's complete surprise, Lassiter rolled his eyes. It was a very un-Lassiter thing to do, and more than a little disturbing.

"Now, that is completely unattractive," he said. "Please tell me you don't do that when you're on dates."

Lassiter upgraded his glare to the two-dollar kind. "Seriously, Spencer? I just told you I got divorced, and you want to discuss my dating habits? That brings me straight back to the point where you're completely unable to carry on an adult-- You know what, forget it." He handed the bottle back to Shawn.

Before Lassiter could get up and leave, and before Shawn had really thought about it, he said conversationally, "The funniest thing happened to me last night: I almost died."

Lassiter froze, his hands still on the bench where he had put them to push himself off. Shawn froze, too, wondering where the ten foot pole was that he had sworn it would take for him to touch that topic. It didn't seem to be around anywhere.

"What do you mean, you almost died?" Lassiter asked.

"What do you mean, what do I mean? It was a perfectly clear statement. If you want the gory details, say, 'Spencer, give me the gory details.' And attach a 'please'." Shawn took a swig from the beer that had formerly been known as Lassiter's.

Lassiter glared again (another dollar's worth), but he lifted his palms from the bench and crossed his arms. "If you want to tell me your life story, go ahead, but I'm not going to ask for it."

Things were never easy with Lassiter, which Shawn rather liked a lot about him. "I'll make you a deal. My story for yours. My full recollection of the real life horror movie night for everything about divorce day, first hand recap, from your lips to my attentive ears. What do you say, Lassie?"

The strange thing was, the more Lassiter tried to darken his glares, the less intimidating the look on his face got. It was a mystery never to be solved, or possibly only to be solved by Shawn himself.

"Okay, so I'm going to tell you anyway," Shawn said amiably. "Good call, Lassie."

It was entirely possible that this was the alcohol taking its dreaded effect, but Shawn gave Lassiter an accurate description of the events, even though it was in text message style. "A crazy guy with a machete and a serious childhood trauma came after us and almost killed Gus. I thought he had, anyway, and then he caught me in a half-drained swimming pool, in the middle of the night, during a storm with a huge creep factor, with that dark forest all around and flying leaves and all that. It was a close thing. Almost drowning might have been involved, and almost being sliced up, but Jules shot the bad guy in the hand before any of that happened," Shawn said, and added as an afterthought, "Everything turned out fine. Except for the two dead people. But we got the murderer. Camp Tikihama is safe once more."

Lassiter-- did nothing for a moment. Then he blinked. "Tiki-- what? Are you serious?"

"Completely. And yes, that comes as a shock for me, too." Shawn lifted the beer bottle again, but he found it empty. When had that happened?

"Really?" Lassiter asked, frowning. "Wait, a machete? I never had a perp come at me with a machete." He sounded wistful.

Shawn felt his eyebrows rise all the way up to his hairline. "It's not all it's cracked up to be, Lassie. You're not missing out on much. What's a machete, anyway? A butter knife blown completely out of proportion. No biggie."

It was only when he saw Lassiter staring down at them that Shawn noticed he had his hands clasped tightly together, leaving the knuckles white. He consciously relaxed the death grip his right hand had on his left. Also, ow.

"O'Hara had everything covered, I take it?" Lassiter said, still staring at Shawn's hands. Shawn waved them, just to make him stop.

"Oh, she was a pro. I especially enjoyed the part where she disarmed the crazy murderer in the nick of time. Don't you worry, Lassie, one fine day, not too far from now, she'll be a better police officer than you are."

Shawn had intended to get a rise out of Lassiter. That was what gave his life meaning and purpose, after all. But Lassiter just gave a quick smile, no more than a short twitch of the corners of his mouth. "Probably."

"Huh," Shawn said, tilting his head. The movement promptly made his head spin again. So much for the Lassie-magic. "Sounds like somebody has lost his mojo."

"Spare me your psychic crap," Lassiter shot back. "Mojo? What does that even mean? You have no idea what it means. You spurt these imaginary psychic terms all the time because you think they make you sound like a professional, but guess what? They only make you sound stupid."

Shawn leaned back a fraction, surprised by the vehemence of the outburst. "I never sounded, or looked, stupid in my entire life," he said, offended. Then he amended, "Well, except that one time in eighth grade when Lissy Hiller put her Barbie sweat band on my-- Never mind. You really don't need to know that. Where was I? Right, your mojo. It's a common term. It should be familiar to anyone who hasn't been living under a rock or inside a bunker or otherwise underground for the last--" Shawn noticed the look of increasing irritation on Lassiter's face and decided that cutting to the chase was his best option; a lot better than being thrown off the pier. It was a shame. He so rarely had a devoted audience. "Your mojo," Shawn explained seriously, "is the collective entirety of your very best abilities, if-- IF," he emphasized with a raised finger, "there's fun involved."

Lassiter let that sink in for a moment, no doubt awed by the depth of the statement. "I'm afraid to ask," he finally said. "But fun involved in what?"

"Whatever you're doing."

"When?"

"At any given time," Shawn said, sighing. Lassie was ever the skeptic, forever suspicious. "Lassie, I don't think you've opened your mind wide enough to get the complete implications of--"

"I don't think I want to open my mind, thanks, Spencer." Lassiter measured Shawn and the bottle park with his best deductive-reasoning face. "Just how many empty bottles have you thrown over the railing before I got here?"

"I'm not drunk, Lassie." Not much, anyway. Not with his own private cold bucket of water so close.

"Good," Lassiter said. "It wouldn't help, anyway."

"Help?"

"With the insomnia. This isn't your first sleepless night, is it?"

Shawn swallowed. His own private bucket of cold water really could be counted on to deliver. Of course Lassiter was observant, what with him being a detective and all. Shawn knew that. But Lassiter wasn't usually this observant. He wasn't supposed to be.

"Define 'sleepless'. Are you talking sleeplessness in the clinical sense, or rather in its common perception as--"

"Spencer," Lassiter interrupted and turned around on the bench so they were face to face. Specifically, Lassiter's serious face to Shawn's carefully blank one. "With your choice of – for lack of a better term – profession, this is going to be a regular occurrence. You know that. You've had close calls before, and this kind of thing comes with them. It's a job hazard. Go to sleep with dogs, you get up with fleas. There's no catching flies with honey in this line of work. That's one thing O'Hara has yet to learn."

"Nice," Shawn said in his cheerful voice. It might have come across a little too cheerful. "Do you have any more of those animal analogies in your repertoire? Something with whales, perhaps? I like whales. They're big. And-- big. And apparently they're mammals, even though they bear no resemblance at all to, say, squirrels. Or cows. Or even cats."

"Spencer," Lassiter said, shaking his head. "You're nuts."

Now, that was more like it. "Thanks, Lassie. You say the sweetest things."

Lassiter caught Shawn's gaze and made an effort to hold it, and he put a hand on Shawn's shoulder, too. Apparently this next bit was going to be important. "Spencer," Lassiter said. "If you can't handle this, you need to give it up. Or else it's going to squash you like a bug, and that's not going to be pretty. I've seen it happen. This is a dangerous job, and not just because you might get shot, or-- or stabbed, or thrown off a building, or strangled, or poisoned, or drowned, or sliced up--" His voice drifted off as he lost momentum, then he caught himself. "You catch my drift."

Shawn did. The vehement protest that was on the tip of his tongue died a quick death. There was a wobbly quality to Lassiter's voice which Shawn identified as honest concern. That was-- kind of sweet. And he had not just been thinking that. "What is it with you and the animal metaphors?" he muttered instead.

"I have an annual-season ticket for the zoo," Lassiter said, as if that explained anything.

In his capacity as the master of non-sequiturs, Shawn was unimpressed. "Cool. You should take me there some time. I don't think they'll recognize me after more than twenty years, so we'll probably be safe."

"I'm tempted to ask, but then again, I'm not sure I want to know," Lassiter said. He started collecting empty bottles from the ground. "Come on. I'll drive you home."

"But I don't want to go home," Shawn said, and he absolutely did not sound petulant.

"Yes, you do," Lassiter said, then corrected, "I do, anyway, and I'm not leaving you here."

"Aw, Lassie. That's sweet, you being all concerned about my safety."

"Shut up, Spencer." Lassiter picked up three bottles, one at a time, and pinned them to his chest with one arm. "We're leaving."

"No," Shawn said, determined. "I think we should celebrate."

"Celebrate what?" Lassiter straightened up again.

"Surviving," Shawn declared. It was a great reason to celebrate. The best. He leaned over and started tugging on the knot of Lassiter's tie.

Lassiter tried to fend off the attack with his one free hand. "What are you doing?"

Shawn rolled his eyes. "We've been through the getting-intoxicated part of the evening. Well, I have, for the both of us. Now we can get to the part where we celebrate by losing our ties. And hey, since I don't wear one, we're already halfway there."

Lassiter shook his head and bowed it in defeat, muttering something unintelligible. There was a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth, though, a weird cross between incredulity, irritation and-- and-- fondness, of all things. Then Lassiter looked up, like he wanted to say something, but the words never made it out. Shawn's hands stilled, with the tie halfway pulled through the knot. Lassiter's face was close. Really close. His eyes were kind of-- pretty. A little wide, too. And Lassiter wasn't moving away. Neither was Shawn, he couldn't help but notice.

"Um," Shawn said eloquently.

Lassiter cleared his throat. "You, Spencer, have to celebrate by wearing a tie," he said. He pushed the bottles at Shawn. Shawn took them. He was still a little too perplexed to think of protesting. Lassiter pulled the tie loop off over his head and then lowered it over Shawn's. He fixed the three top buttons of Shawn's shirt, pulled the tie tight and arranged it to his satisfaction with a few practiced movements.

"There," he said, leaning back.

Shawn remembered to breathe, but he couldn't quite remember why he'd forgotten to do so in the first place. He looked down at himself. The tie was orange with gray stripes. His shirt was checkered in red and white. "Oh man. The fashion police is going to turn up any moment to throw me in jail," he said. "I'm going to get life for this. I deserve life for this."

Lassiter smirked. "Yes, you do. It looks hideous."

"And whose fault is that?" Shawn complained, which only seemed to amuse Lassiter more. "When they lock me up with used car salesmen and Posh Spice, my resulting trauma will be all your fault."

"Let's get you away from public eyes, then," Lassiter said and picked up the remaining bottles.

"But I don't want to go home," Shawn said again. This time he definitely sounded petulant. He added a whiny, "Dad," hoping that would make it sound funny rather than pathetic.

"Shut up, Spencer," Lassiter said, and that was, what, only the second time tonight? They'd make it to at least five 'shut up's before the night was over. Shawn was determined.

Lassiter started walking away, expecting him to follow. Shawn did, with a sigh, and with three bottles wedged between his arm and his chest, an empty M&M bag in his pocket, the bruises from the night before still spread all over his body, and Lassiter's very best tie around his neck.

At some point, this night had officially crossed over from very depressing into sort of weird.

 

*

 

It wasn't until they reached the Psych office, with Carlton's hand securely around Spencer's arm, that Carlton remembered he hadn't brought a car. But Spencer's motorcycle was in the parking lot in front of the office.

"Keys?" he asked.

"Huh?" Spencer said. Apparently a drunk Spencer was a slow Spencer.

"The keys to your office?"

"Oh, right. Here," Spencer said and fished them out of his jeans pocket.

As soon as he'd dumped his share of the bottles in a trash can in the office, Spencer started rooting through a cupboard. He surfaced again, holding up something in triumph.

"Lassie," he said and shoved the item into Carlton's hand, "I want you to have these."

It was a plastic bag of colored sprinkles, already opened, but secured shut with a rubber band. Oo-kay, Carlton thought, this was it, Spencer had now officially lost it. "Er," he said, only a little desperate. "That's-- sweet."

"Ooh, funny. Very funny," Spencer said with a cheeky grin. "Lassie, I'm proud of you. And everyone deserves sprinkles once in a while. Especially you," he added as an afterthought, then he turned his eyes away quickly.

Carlton had no idea how to proceed with that train of conversation. "Do you have a spare helmet?" he asked instead and let the sprinkles slide into his jacket pocket.

"Why?"

"I didn't bring my car."

Spencer's head whipped around. "You can ride a motorcycle?"

The tone in Spencer's voice-- It did weird things to Carlton's focus on reality. He was so used to flippant and condescending and teasing from Spencer, and now there was something approaching awe in his voice, even if it was slightly drunken awe. He blinked. "It's not rocket science, Spencer. The spare helmet?"

"In the closet," Spencer answered, gesturing vaguely. "It's Gus' helmet. He won't mind if you borrow it. I think. Maybe. Sometimes he's a liiiittle overprotective of his things, if you know what I mean."

And that had nothing at all to do with Spencer being around all the time, Carlton guessed. He pulled the closet door open. It creaked, and then there was a dull thump. An offensively pink bowling ball rolled slowly through the door, passed between Carlton's feet and continued to obey Newton's third law of motion until it hit the leg of Guster's desk with a small clonk.

Carlton wasn't at all surprised. Well, okay, the pink had him a little thrown. He wouldn't have taken either of them for a bright pink kind of guy. "I think I can handle Guster," he said and noticed with more than a little pride how completely unruffled he sounded. All that time he'd spent around Spencer had schooled his ignore-the-weird-stuff-and-focus-on-sanity skills to levels he hadn't ever dared to hope he could reach. It came in handy on the job, even when Spencer wasn't around. People often did things that were more than a little nuts, especially perps.

Spencer nudged the bowling ball carefully with his foot. "Hey, you. I was wondering where big evil Gus hid you. The closet? Man, that's lame, even for him."

Carlton found the black helmet on the second shelf from the bottom and tugged it free from under a balled-up lime-green sweater and a pair of purple sneakers with yellow polka dots.

"You should consider yourself lucky the fashion police haven't shown up before," he called out.

"That's all Gus, not me," Spencer answered in protest, which was a total lie. Guster had fashion sense, and more importantly, he had dignity. "You should see his pajamas," Spencer added in what he clearly thought was a helpful manner.

"No, thanks," Carlton said. He gave sweater and shoes a firm shove so they would stay on the laden shelf. The forceful movement traveled up the shelf frame, and next thing he knew, a stuffed Sponge Bob hit him in the face, flying in from somewhere above. Carlton stood still for a moment, just blinking, and possibly taking a breath or two. Maybe this was a sign. Maybe he shouldn't be here. Maybe he shouldn't recognize a Sponge Bob when he saw one.

He pushed the closet door shut again, before anything else in there could try and leap at him. For all he knew they could have stored plutonium in there. Or the cure for the Spanish flu. Or the Spanish flu. Or maybe a zebra or two, because their stripes went so nicely with Spencer's checkered shirts.

He turned in time to watch Spencer pick up the bowling ball from the ground, give it an affectionate pat, then walk over to put it down in the middle of his desk, right on top of a half-eaten sandwich that had seen better days. It squished under the assault.

Mildly surprised, Spencer bent down to peer closely at the mess. "Ooh, egg salad," he said approvingly. "I thought I'd finished that. No wonder I'm hungry. It's been three days, but this would have phase-shifted my hunger backwards for the space of half an egg-salad-sandwich digestion. That would have been perfect timing for breakfast tomorrow morning."

With great effort Carlton managed not to comment on that and tried the helmet on instead. It wasn't a perfect fit, but it would do. "Okay, Spencer. We're good to go."

"Wait," Spencer said, holding up a hand.

"What now? You're not taking the sandwich. Forget it."

"No, no, it's not that." Spencer was squinting at him. "It's the Lassie-on-a-motorcycle part of this that I can't wrap my head around. It just doesn't compute."

"Let me give you a visual to help with that," Carlton said and tugged him out the door. Because, seriously, he wanted to get home sometime tonight.

There was an awkward moment when Spencer got on the bike behind him and couldn't decide where to put his arms. Carlton finally grabbed them by the wrists tugged them around his torso with a little more force than necessary. Their helmets bumped together, back to front.

"Just hold on," Carlton called out over his shoulder.

"Thanks for the advice, Lassie. I was just wondering how much fun it would be to just let go and fall backwards at forty miles an--."

Pointedly, Carlton started the engine.

"Did I mention?" Spencer yelled over the noise. "I'm almost out of gas."

Of course he was. Carlton couldn't even find it in him to be annoyed. He checked the gas gauge. It might still be enough to get them both home. "No risk, no fun?" he shouted back. He'd never ever in his life said that before, and he had always, deep down, secretly wanted to.

Spencer didn't answer, but Carlton could feel him laugh, his body shaking against Carlton's back.

The ride was quiet, apart from the low rumble of the engine. They weren't going fast; Carlton was cold enough as it was. His back was warm, though, with Spencer pressed up against him. Maybe it was Carlton's imagination, but it seemed like Spencer was tightening his grip around him. And it felt a lot like Spencer was resting his helmeted head on the back of Carlton's shoulder. Okay, so Spencer was pretty out of it, more tired than actually drunk, and probably close to falling asleep. He'd better not fall off the bike after all. Because that was one accident report Carlton really didn't want to have to write, much less pitch to Henry Spencer. There was just no way to spin, "Your son fell off his motorcycle while I was driving," in a way that made Carlton sound like the hero in the scenario. Actually, there was no way to spin it that didn't make him the bad guy.

Fortunately, Spencer didn't fall off the bike. He carefully slid off after they had come to a stop in front of his drycleaner's-shop-slash-apartment. Yes, Carlton knew all about that. He'd staked the place out for a week in his off-hours, after all, back when Spencer had first consulted with the police department. The apartment was still the same, and Spencer hadn't changed much, either. He was still the same pain in the ass he'd been three years ago, but by now he he'd proven himself to be a trustworthy pain in the ass. Not that Carlton would ever admit that to his face.

Spencer got rid of his helmet, reached over and turned off the engine, stealing the keys in the process.

"Hey," Carlton protested, voice muffled by his own helmet. He tugged it off.

"I need to let myself in." Spencer dangled the keychain by what Carlton guessed was his apartment key.

"Just give me the ignition key then."

Spencer took two steps backwards, head tilted, frowning in concentration. "I--" he said. "I don't want to go to sleep yet." He sounded like he was trying hard not to sound pleading. "You want coffee? Tea? Milk? I have cookies. I think. Maybe I ate them already. Or didn't buy them in the first place. I'm not sure. There could be some."

Carlton remembered the 'join me for coffee' code from his dating days. He didn't for one second consider the possibility that Spencer was using dating code on him. Spencer was-- Spencer. Spencer thought Carlton could be lured into hanging out with him with cookies. Well, he wasn't completely wrong. But most importantly, Spencer sounded tired and miserable, and this was what gave Carlton pause. When he didn't immediately decline the invitation, Spencer darted forward to tug him from the motorcycle by the arm.

"I guess I could use a cup of coffee," Carlton agreed when he was already being pushed down into Spencer's couch.

"With whipped cream and sprinkles." Spencer waved the bag of sprinkles at him, grinning, and then vanished into what Carlton assumed had to be the kitchen. This was just great. Spencer was a pick-pocket now, too. The good news just kept coming.

Spencer's place was strangely appropriate, Carlton thought, looking around without seeming too much like he was looking around, in case Spencer turned up again. Spencer was sneaky like that.

This place was about as normal as Spencer himself was. Not many people had an electrically powered clothes rack in their living room. And not many people would think to use it to ferry their shoes around the room, either, tied together by the laces. Or their stuffed-- was that a cockroach? Who the hell owned a stuffed cockroach? And what for?

There was another thing the apartment had in common with its tenant. It wasn't psychic. Not in the slightest. Not as far as Carlton could see, which, admittedly, was only as far as the living room went. No crystals, no Ouija boards, no mysterious ornaments on any of the flat and paintable surfaces, and absolutely no mirrors. Carlton was by no means an expert, but he was fairly certain that mirrors were involved somewhere if you were serious about pretending to be a psychic. And possibly wide billowy dresses combined with twinkly jewelry, but he could understand why Spencer had foregone those.

Spencer and his hideous tie-shirt combination appeared from the kitchen, carrying two mugs. "Here, hold these," Spencer said and handed him the two very hot coffee mugs. He flopped down gracelessly on the couch next to Carlton. It almost made him spill the coffee. Spencer squirmed beside him to find a comfortable position. It took a while.

"Are you done now?" Carlton muttered and handed Spencer his mug.

"Yup. Kick back, Lassie," Spencer said. He toed off his shoes and propped his feet up on the coffee table, leaning back with a sigh.

Carlton did no such thing. That would have been weird. Yes, so he was already sitting on Spencer's couch at five in the morning, drinking coffee with sprinkles that Spencer had made specifically for him, and they were kind of touching from thigh to shoulder because the couch heartily encouraged a slow slide towards its middle. But Carlton had his limits, and the buck stopped at shoes, today.

He sat back, hands closed around his mug, a soft cushion supporting his back in a way that made him want to sink further into it and fall asleep there and then. Preferably not with his head on Spencer's shoulder, though.

All in all, he was surprisingly okay hanging out with Spencer in his living room. Predictably, the feeling was short-lived.

It wasn't long until Spencer lowered his mug, wiped a smudge of whipped cream from the tip of his nose, licked it from his index finger and asked casually, "So, what's the deal with that divorce of yours?"

If Carlton weren't so completely wrung out, he would have picked up the gauntlet and given this the retort it deserved. Everything could have turned into a nice and satisfying shouting match, which would have given him an excellent excuse to leave.

Instead, he took the minimal-effort-guaranteed-silence approach. "How long has it been since you last slept?" he shot back.

It worked. Spencer averted his eyes and took a sip of his coffee, then another one, still not talking.

Carlton wasn't as happy with the ongoing silence as he'd expected. It was uncomfortable. He'd thought they'd had the worst of uncomfortable silences before. He'd been wrong.

Spencer wasn't happy with it, either. When was he ever, where silences were concerned? Another three slow sips of coffee and one deep frown later Spencer suggested, "How about we trade questions? I ask you a question which you then answer to the best of your knowledge, and then you ask me a question, which I cleverly weasel out of, and then I ask you another one which you--"

"Yes, yes, I get it," Carlton cut him off. "Truth or Truth, Spencer?"

Carlton felt Spencer shrug rather than seeing it happen. "Everybody loves a good party game, don't they? They should, if they don't. It should be mandatory."

Carlton did not like party games. At all. He did not like parties per se. There was no way he was going to participate. It was a pointless thing to spend his time with. It was-- It was five in the morning, and that was really all the excuse Carlton had for answering, "I get to go first."

"Uh," Spencer said. He turned his head and looked at Carlton in surprise. "Okay then. Fifty-one hours."

Carlton was more than a little surprised himself. So much, in fact, that he needed a moment to catch up. "Fifty-one hours what?"

"I've been awake for fifty-one hours and seventeen minutes. Did you meet Victoria yesterday?"

Carlton shot Spencer a look. So this was how it was going to be. Well, two could play the game. "Yes," he answered and observed Spencer closely as he asked the next question. "Did you really think you were going to die?"

Spencer exhaled, his grip on the mug tightening visibly. "Yes. Where did you two meet up?"

The answer came more or less on autopilot. "At her favorite restaurant." Once again, Carlton was left staring at Spencer's white knuckles. They were the only visible sign that Spencer was in some kind of inner distress. "Why do you do this to yourself?" Carlton couldn't help but ask. Spencer was a civilian, and he'd made it clear on more than one occasion that he didn't intend to make an honest cop out of himself. Spencer didn't need to do this.

The question gave Spencer pause. To his credit, he didn't pretend not to understand what Carlton was asking. "It's the only thing I'm really good at," he said finally, and huh, it seemed like they were really going for the actual truth here. No smoke and mirrors, no diversion tactics, no calculated craziness. That-- wasn't what Carlton had expected. And did it mean that he had to be honest, too?

"Were you there early?" Spencer asked, with a knowing gleam in his eye.

"Yes, but so was she," Carlton said, a little defensively. He was distracted quickly by the distinct smell of a now-or-never once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and asked, "How do you do what you do?"

Spencer didn't miss a beat. "It's a hard-earned gift. I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but that's the way it is. I am a living and breathing oxymoron," he answered flippantly. He had obviously anticipated the question, and wasn't that the irony of ironies. "Why are you good at what you do?" he shot back.

That one was easy. "Talent and hard training." Carlton took a sip of his rapidly cooling coffee. "That's what gets you all the way to head detective. How did you 'earn' that so-called gift of yours?"

Spencer looked at him. "Talent and hard training," he said. They stared at each other for a moment, until Spencer turned away. "Psychic powers don't just drop on your head from the sky, you know. It's hard work, being a psychic. Have you seen Medium? I don't know how she manages that family thing on the side--"

"I watch The Mentalist," Carlton interrupted. "There's no such thing as psychics."

This, Carlton knew for sure. Even in this specific case. Especially in this specific case. He'd known for a while. He was a detective, so he had gone and detected things.

There was a folder marked 'P. Jane' locked in his desk drawer at the station. It contained all the files he had managed to gather on Shawn Spencer, starting from his earliest school records, which described him as a curious, open-minded and highly intelligent child. If Carlton prided himself on an I.Q. somewhere in the stratosphere, then Spencer's was in goddamn space. Little Shawn Spencer had also been a troublemaker, suffering from ADHD, which Carlton had no trouble believing, or imagining, at all. It was no surprise Spencer was so easily bored. This had resulted in a number of different paths of education Spencer never followed through with, and a string of jobs he never managed to hold for longer than three weeks.

Back when Carlton first got an inkling of what was up with the fake psychic, he had reviewed a number of cases, specifically the flying leaps and psychic hunches Spencer had provided. It became apparent soon enough that all Spencer needed to work his psychic magic were quick eyes, a photographic memory, lightning-fast thinking, a mean stubborn streak, and absolutely no capacity for embarrassment whatsoever. The first three could be trained, the latter two not so much. Still, Carlton was sure Henry Spencer was to blame for at least four out of the five.

What Shawn Spencer did was astounding in itself, but he wasn't, in any way, shape or form, psychic. Carlton couldn't even blame him for never coming forward with that piece of information. Not anymore. Somewhere along the line he'd run out of steam. After all, when Spencer had first tried, Carlton had been intent on arresting him for the crime he'd just helped solve. It was a pretty good incentive for Spencer to keep his mouth shut. Weirdly, it stung, a little, that Spencer was still lying to his face. But only when Carlton's mind wasn't preoccupied inventing one-hundred-and-one new ways to kill him, because Shawn was Just That Annoying.

And at this point, Carlton wasn't sure he even wanted to know. They worked, in a strangely dysfunctional way.

"My turn," Spencer said. "Did you know she was going to bring the papers for you to sign?"

"You're actually not all that drunk, are you?" Carlton asked, frowning. He was feeling a little woozy himself. The long night was finally getting to him.

"Told ya," Spencer said and grinned at him, all teeth. "Answer the question, Lassie."

"No," Carlton said darkly. "No, I did not."

"You thought she wanted to get back together, didn't you?"

Carlton gritted his teeth. "That's none of your business, Spencer."

"Well, whatever," Spencer said, waving a hand dismissively. "It was your turn to ask a question, anyway."

It was the flippant tone that fired up Carlton's anger. "What's so wrong about me wanting to work things out with her? We used to be good together, and I don't understand why that changed. Nothing's changed. We could have worked it out again. She just decided that she didn't-- It was a good thing we had. A great thing. I loved her, and I don't know why it had to end like this." Carlton knew he was babbling, and that was something he just didn't do. Babbling was for the childish and insecure.

Spencer nudged him with his shoulder. "You realize what you just said?"

"What?" Carlton snapped.

"'Loved' in past tense, Lassie? It seems there is hope for your broken heart yet." Spencer twirled his empty mug around on his index finger, spilling droplets of coffee everywhere. On Carlton's shirt and jacket, for example.

He wrestled the mug from Spencer's hand and put both mugs on the table. "And this is the part of the evening where I'm tempted to go and find myself a machete of my own," he said, glaring at Spencer, who got a completely uncharacteristic deer-in-the-headlights look that made Carlton almost regret the bad joke.

Especially since Spencer was right. It had been a Freudian slip of the tongue. A slip of the shocking-but-good kind. Three years was a long time. Maybe Carlton had been too preoccupied planning their reunion to realize that he'd changed, too, that it hadn't been just her. He still loved her, in a way, and he always would, but maybe there really wasn't a 'them' anymore. It was a strangely liberating thought.

He patted Spencer's knee reassuringly. "I'm only kidding. I don't usually kid. You should consider yourself lucky."

"Oh, I do," Spencer said, frowning down at his thigh, where Carlton's hand was now lying comfortably. Carlton snatched it back.

Spencer looked up. "If you want to do me some more favors out of guilt over your insensitivity – which I whole-heartedly encourage – you could tell me again how I astound you. That was great. You can do that again anytime."

Carlton put his hand down firmly on his own thigh. "I never said such a thing."

"You so di-id, Lassie," Spencer sing-songed. "Back when you were stinking drunk and had your 'altercation with a table'." He made the finger quotes in the air. "Ah, the good old days."

"I certainly did not say-- that. I would never say that."

"Yes, you did. It was back on that night when you gave me your handcuffs as a very special gift. I really appreciated that, did I ever say?"

"Wait, what? That was you? You stole my handcuffs?" Carlton had searched for the damn things for days before finally giving up and requesting a new pair. Gloria from supplies had treated him as if he'd asked for a new car and could she please make it a Ferrari?

"Uh-uh," Spencer said. "You gave them to me. You said you wanted me to have them. It was a very touching gesture. That reminds me. Can I have the key, too?"

"No."

"Aw, come on, Lassie. What good are handcuffs if you can't undo them after you're done with what you were doing with them?"

Carlton was certain he didn't want to know.

Spencer wriggled around on the couch, trying to get a little more face-to-face. It wasn't a very successful endeavor, because the soft couch fought it all the way. "Also, I'm a little disappointed," he announced. "I called you the c-word back then, and you don't even remember."

Carlton marveled once again at Spencer's ability to turn a conversation around in the space of a few sentences. It was an effective deflection technique, especially if the other person was unfamiliar with it and didn't know what hit them. "You called me what?"

"The c-word. Your name."

"Carlton?"

"Yes, that," Spencer said, nodding enthusiastically. "The c-word."

"What's so difficult about my name that you can't even say it?"

"It's just-- weird. You don't look like a Carlton. You're-- more like a Harry. Can I call you Harry?"

"No." Carlton let himself sink back into the couch. Enough. He'd officially had enough of this. He rested his head on a cushion, looking at the ceiling.

"Not even a little?"

Carlton didn't sigh, but it was close. "How could you possibly call me Harry a little?"

"That is a good question. Let's dwell on that for a while."

"Let's not. My name is Carlton. It's not that difficult to remember. Carl-ton. That's what you should call me. Not Tony, not Carly, or Carl, or C-man, or Harry or whatever else your juvenile mind can come up with."

"For the record, you just asked me to call you Carlton," Spencer pointed out, sounding pleased. "Just so we're clear on that. Make a note."

Carlton tipped his head sideways to look at him. "Spencer--" he said warningly.

"That's Shawn to you, now that we're officially on a first-name basis--" Spencer paused and seemed to brace himself, "--Carlton." He wrinkled his nose. "Are you absolutely sure I can't call you Harry?"

Spencer's face was unnervingly close. Carlton blinked and tried to focus on him. "Spencer--"

Spencer raised a finger. "Ah?"

Carlton sighed, for real this time. "Shawn," he said. "Shut up."

He was feeling a little-- strange. Spencer's breath was warm against-- everything all over. Sort of. His head rolled back into a comfortable position.

The next thing he knew, he was horizontal on the couch. And he was hot and sweaty. Someone had taken off his shoes and jacket and covered him with a blanket that provided far too much insulation. They had also removed the keys from his pocket, which Carlton discovered as he was about to sneak out. Both sets of keys were missing, Spencer's and his own. They were nowhere to be found in the living room, and neither was Spencer.

Carlton went to investigate and found the bedroom easily enough. Spencer was lying fully dressed across his double bed, on top of the covers, feigning sleep. He was looking a little too casually arranged and breathing a little too fast to have been lying there for long. Carlton suspected that a nose-dive onto the comforter had taken place just a few moments ago.

What had Spencer been doing? Watching Carlton sleep? The idea was more than a bit disturbing. On so many levels. None of which Carlton could think of right now, but he was positive those levels existed.

Something shiny caught his eye. A pair of handcuffs was dangling from the bed frame above Spencer's head, the free side unlocked.

Of course that was where they'd turn out to be.

"Spencer," Carlton said. "I know you're awake. I'm heading home. Where are the keys?"

Spencer did a bad job of faking sleepiness as he lifted himself up on his elbows. "Lassie. How have you been sleeping? Had some nice dreams?"

"Spencer." He held his hand out and snapped his fingers, right in Spencer's face. "The keys?"

"Right. Keys! Didn't you promise me a key for my handcuffs? You've got one, right?"

"Of course I do, but I'm not enough of an idiot to consider giving it--"

It was too much of a surprise for him to react adequately. Spencer's hand snatched out, and then there was a quiet snick when the formerly open side of the cuffs closed around Carlton's left wrist.

The cuffs rattled against the bed frame as he pulled at them once, harshly and unsuccessfully. He breathed in. He breathed out. Then he said slowly, "The key is in my apartment."

"Oops," Spencer said, not looking sorry at all.

 

*

 

This hadn't been one of his better ideas, Shawn had to admit.

Lassiter was slowly and methodically pulling the bed along by the frame in an attempt to get at Shawn, and his glare was worth at least a hundred dollars right now. It was crazy weird and very impressive at the same time. Shawn was still safely on the other side of the room, but Lassiter was making progress.

"I'm going to kill you, Spencer," Lassiter growled and tugged viciously again. The bed made a screeching noise as it followed him another half-inch, throwing up the rug in folds under one of its legs as it went.

Shawn had never been more inclined to take Lassiter at his word. Lassiter was usually all bark and no bite where Shawn was concerned. Theoretically he was intimidating, but in reality he was far too cute to be feared. Like a Saint Bernard dog, but to the extreme. Only not so much when he said things like, "As soon as I get my hands on you, I'm going to strangle you," like he really, really meant it.

"Lassie, it's not that bad. I'll go pick up the key in the morning, and boom, you'll be free again, just like that," he offered. "No big deal. You can forget this tiny little mishap ever happened, and no one is ever going to know except me, and who am I gonna tell?"

Lassiter stopped and pointed a finger at him, murder in his eyes. "If you so much as breathe a word about this to anyone--"

"Lassie, chill. I get it. Not a word. Cross my heart. You think I want word to get out about this? I have a reputation to lose."

"Yeah right," Lassiter said and wiped the sweat from his forehead. He kept the glare up for another moment, then shook his head. "Whenever I think you can't get anymore--" His voice trailed off. "You get worse."

"I'm taking that as a compliment."

"I thought you would." Lassiter looked only a little defeated as he sat down on the edge of the bed. Even 'a little defeated' looked completely wrong on him.

"Hey, at least I don't have to call Gus again. That's an upside right there," Shawn offered, cautiously approaching.

Lassiter pulled at the cuffs once again, trying a different angle, like it would do any good. "Is that what you did last time?"

"He's good with locks and fiddly things," Shawn said. "But he gets ridiculously nervous around the scarcely clad body of his very best friend. I have no idea why. Maybe it's a trauma induced by overexposure to Baywatch? He had a worrying dedication to the show, back in the day."

Lassiter made a quiet sound that was a cross between reluctant interest and horror. "I'm sure I don't want to hear that story in detail."

Shawn was pretty sure about that as well.

Lassiter started examining the chain links between the cuffs. "Spencer, get me your metal saw," he demanded.

"My what? Oh, sure. I'll just go fetch my well-stocked toolbox," Shawn said and flopped down beside Lassiter on the edge of the bed. "Because I just live in the kind of anally organized household that would have such a thing. I think you're confusing me with my dad here."

"Spencer," Lassiter said warningly. "Either help, or shut the hell up."

That was number four. Five 'shut up's were almost in reach. "There's a piece of wire in the night stand," he said helpfully.

"What?" Lassiter turned to look at him, half irritated, half confused.

Shawn pointed. "The night stand. Steel wire. Good for picking locks, or so Gus keeps saying. I've been practicing."

"Have you?" Lassiter pointedly rattled the cuffs and raised his eyebrows.

"Let's just say that it's an art form I haven't quite mastered yet," Shawn said, only a little defensively.

"But I've seen you free yourself from--"

"I cheated," Shawn admitted. It was either that, or spend a really long time arguing with Lassiter over why he refused to lock-pick Lassiter out of this situation. "Feel free to give it a try. It's not as easy as it looks. Not even for me, and you know that's saying something."

Lassiter sent him a sideways look, then reached to open the drawer of the night stand. After some rummaging around and a bit of serious blushing, Lassiter found what he was looking for and quickly slammed the drawer shut again. Right. Maybe Shawn should have just gotten that wire from the drawer himself-- Nah. Watching Lassiter find the lube had been fun enough to outweigh the don't-let-Lassie-find-out-too-much-about-me angle of the whole thing.

It only took a few minutes for Lassiter's arms to get tired and for Lassiter himself to get increasingly irritated. Shawn spent the whole time observing the unsuccessful attempts closely over Lassiter's shoulder.

"Goddamn it. You stupid fucking miserable piece of--" Lassiter muttered at one point.

Shawn knew things were getting bad when Lassiter started with the colorful swearing. "You do realize those things are designed to keep bad guys from doing exactly what you are doing? It's no surprise that even you with your desperate manly determination can't--"

"Spencer!" Lassiter yelled, getting right up in his face.

Shawn leaned back reflexively. "I'm just saying, Lassie." He raised his hands in the international gesture for 'don't kill the messenger'. "Look. You're beat, I can see that, with your drooping shoulders, and your unhappy hair, and those little bags under your--" He realized he wasn't exactly helping his case and rerouted. "I'll get you the key, but I probably shouldn't be driving for another couple of hours. Just-- go ahead, make yourself comfortable."

Shawn wouldn't have expected those words to ever be able to make him uncomfortable. Maybe this had something to do with the fact that he hadn't been planning on forming the sentence the way it had come out. He hadn't been planning on forming that kind of sentence, period.

"On your bed?" Lassiter asked, powers of deduction sharp as ever. He sounded suspicious, like Shawn was likely to have an ulterior motive for this, which, yes, was usually the case whenever Shawn pulled off something outrageous and crazy. But not this time. Shawn wished he had an ulterior motive, because if he could identify his motive as an ulterior motive then he'd at least have a vague idea what exactly the motive was. He was drawing a blank right now.

"It doesn't look like you're going anywhere anytime soon," Shawn pointed out. "You might as well make the most of it, do things that usually aren't on your detectively agenda, like, say, relaxing for once. Lay back, put your feet up, get some rest, that sort of thing."

"I know how to relax," Lassiter said indignantly. He tried to gesture without factoring in the limited mobility of his left arm. The cuffs jingled in protest, and he made a face. "Why does everyone always think that I don't know how to enjoy myself? I have hobbies."

"Collecting ties is not a hobby. Neither is sorting ammunition. Or polishing your gun." Shawn tilted his head. "Although, in a euphemistic kind of way, that almost counts."

They both took a moment to mull that over.

"At least I don't cuff unsuspecting people to beds in my spare time," Lassiter said crossly.

"You should try it sometime. You're missing out on all the fun."

"I just might, Spencer," Lassiter said, eyeing Shawn in a way that was both measuring and dangerous. "I just might."

That look made Shawn feel cold all-over, then hot even all-overer, with an abruptness that was startling enough to have jump from the bed.

Lassiter averted his eyes again, staring at the cuff on his wrist instead.

Shawn watched color rise in Lassiter's cheeks again, fascinated. "What is this?" he asked, gesturing between them. "I don't know what this is." He was certain there was a 'this' to discuss. There had been a whole lot of a 'this' going on before, when he'd had one hand on Lassiter's tie. And no, he was not going to think about euphemisms right now.

"I don't know what you're talking about," Lassiter said and met Shawn's eyes squarely.

There was a moment of silence.

"I think I'll take you up on that offer now," Lassiter said, which confused the hell out of Shawn. Then Lassiter swung his legs up on the bed and shifted to get comfortable, his left arm bent awkwardly over his head.

"Oh, you mean sleep," Shawn said. Then he berated his subconscious inwardly, because, hey, what did it think they had been offering here?

"Of course sleep, Spencer. Now disappear, so I can get some," Lassiter said, then added hastily, "Sleep. So I can get some sleep."

Suddenly double meanings were everywhere. Shawn was intrigued by the way they suddenly popped up.

Lassiter shifted again and punched the pillow into a shape to his liking. "Wake me when you're sane. No, wait, like that's ever going to happen. Wake me when you're sober." He winced, spared the cuff around his hand and then Shawn another glare, and closed his eyes.

Those same eyes opened again very quickly when Shawn set a knee on the bed and started crawling his way across to Lassiter, waving a peace offering. It wasn't a white flag, but it was close. It was a soft blue washcloth of unknown origin that Shawn had been keeping in a drawer for ages, for equally unclear reasons.

"Spencer, what are you doing?" Lassiter sounded alarmed.

"Clearly I'm attacking you with this dangerous and deadly weapon," Shawn deadpanned, rolling his eyes. He half stretched out next to Lassiter, then leaned over him to reach the cuffed hand. "I'm just trying to make you more comfortable," he told the bed frame above Lassiter's head. "Would it kill you to show a little appreciation?" Lassiter's breath against Shawn's chest was warm and distracting, in a very-- distracting way.

"I'm not really in an appreciative mood right now," Lassiter snapped into Shawn's shirt. His breathing was fast and shallow. "Seeing how I've been cuffed to a bed against my will. That is not my idea of a fun time. It's the exact opposite to my idea of a fun time."

"I'm never going to hear the end of this, am I." Shawn carefully wound the dry cloth around Lassiter's wrist under the cuff and pulled at it until all the folds were straightened out and Lassie's wrist was nicely cushioned. Shawn's right arm kept brushing Lassie's left, goosebumps traveling all the way up to his shoulder. The knuckles of his left hand kept nudging Lassie's palm in a way that made Lassie's fingers twitch. It was action and equal and opposite reaction in spades; Newton would have been proud. "There," Shawn finally said. He let the cuff, and Lassie's hand, go. "Isn't that much better? Am I a genius or what?"

He slid down the bed a little, satisfied with his work, and turned his head to grin smugly at Lassiter.

It shouldn't have taken him by surprise how close Lassie's face was. Shawn was practically lying half on top of him, and at the upper end of a human body there was usually a head attached, which had generally, front and center, a face to show for itself. Still, it was almost a shock to find him this close. Like, really close. How had they gotten this close again?

"Spencer," Lassiter said. "What are you waiting for?"

Shawn wanted to ask Lassie to call him by his first name. But since turnabout was fair play, he'd probably have to call Lassie the c-word in return, and that was a no-can-do.

He thought about machetes and divorce papers.

"Did you know that life's too short?" he asked.

Lassiter blinked. Shawn could see it in detail, up close like that, with their noses almost touching. Lassiter cleared his throat. "That's just one of those things people say. It's a broad generalization. Life can stretch extremely long under the wrong circumstances."

For Lassiter, the glass was always half-empty.

For Shawn, just one glass had never been enough.

"You know, Lassie," he said conversationally. "We could kiss now. I mean, we're already in the perfect position; it's only practical. And thinking back now, things have kind of been leading up to this point the whole night. Maybe even since the day we met, and isn't that a slightly disturbing, yet very interesting thought."

He put a hand on Lassie's shoulder, on the place where it met Lassie's neck, where the collar of the shirt ended and skin began. The rational part of Shawn's brain kept insisting that this was probably not such a great idea. Shawn had never listened to that part of his brain before, and he had no intention of ever starting to do so. Rational Brain should have realized that by now and spared itself the effort.

"This is insane," Lassiter said and licked his lips. This was A Sign, Shawn was sure of it. He also noticed, a little belatedly, that Lassiter hadn't tried to back away. Not with any serious determination.

"I don't know about you, but I'm all for insane." Shawn leaned in. Rational Brain tried to explain to him one last time, in small words, what a colossally stupid idea this was. It was a futile attempt. Their lips had touched. It was too late. Shawn and Lassie were on the runway, speeding towards either a concrete wall or a spectacular take-off.

It turned out to be neither, at first. Lassiter moved back a little, without having done so much as move his lips against Shawn's. "You did not just do that," he said, with his eyes squeezed shut. "Why did you do that?"

"Huh," Shawn said, reflecting on the tingling in his lips and his racing pulse. "That was nice. I think I want to do it again."

Lassiter's eyes opened. "This is a bad idea," he said, sounding a little panicked. "A really, really bad idea."

"You think that going on the roller coaster is a bad idea. You think that having three scoops of cookie dough triple chocolate ice cream at once is a bad idea. No offense, Lassie, but when it comes to the fun things in life, your opinion is not to be trusted."

"Once again, Spencer: I do know how to have fun," Lassiter said indignantly.

"Yeah, whatever," Shawn said and kissed him again.

Lassiter didn't protest. It was worse. He went and proved Shawn wrong. Shawn, as a rule, did not like being proved wrong. He generously made an exception in this case, because Lassiter reciprocated like it was the last thing he'd ever get to do.

They made out on the bed, kissing with lots of tongue and tousling of hair and pornographic noises and everything, and it was fun. It was slow and easy and fantastic, even with Lassie restricted to using only one hand to explore the skin under Shawn's shirt.

People needed oxygen once in a while, even psychics, so Shawn rolled onto his back at one point, breathing deeply, in and out. He felt stunned, and weirdly accomplished, and exhausted. "Huh," he said. "I usually see these things coming."

"Don't even start," Lassiter said warningly, but his voice seemed to come from far away.

In the space of Shawn's next blink, three hours passed.

He woke with his nose in Lassie's shirt, almost nudging his shoulder. They really should stop falling asleep on one another before it became a habit-- Okay, scratch that. They should start taking the expression literally. As soon as possible.

Lassiter-- No, Carlton-- No.

Shawn sighed. This first-name thing didn't even work in his head.

Harry was asleep, face tucked against his awkwardly bent left arm.

That didn't sound right either.

Lassie grunted in his sleep, something that sounded suspiciously like, "Freeze!" Of course Lassie would go hunting bad guys even in dreamland, where crime was theoretical and only as difficult to solve as your powers of imagination were vivid. It couldn't be much of a challenge for Lassiter, then.

Shawn climbed from the bed as silently as he could, plucked a random pair of shoes from the clothes rack, collected the keys from the fridge and went out.

 

*

 

When Carlton woke up, both his hands were free. The cuffs were lying on the night stand. Spencer was talking on the phone in the next room, not exactly a model of consideration. Carlton, who could technically still be fast asleep, understood almost every word.

Almost. He rose soundlessly and snuck closer to the door.

"--Gus, no," Spencer hissed into the phone. "Under no circumstances are you to lay a hand on Lucille!-- What?-- Oh, please. Everyone names their bowling balls-- Yes, they do!-- Gus-- You're not going to-- No-- You-- Gus-- Gus! It's my office as well. I can put on my desk whatever I-- What? Yes, I know." There was a pause. "Three days, maybe four? Come on, it can't be that bad. The way I see it you got two choices: You can dial down your super smeller-- What do I know? Just picture a lever or something, that always worked for the Sentinel. Or you pack up your laptop and find somewhere else to do that boring stuff you think is so important-- I feel sad for you, Gus. Money is extremely overrated-- No-- Gus! You touch Lucille only on pain of--" He fell silent, then muttered, "No respect for other people's property," and put the phone back in his jeans pocket.

"And that includes four-day-old egg-salad sandwiches?" Carlton asked without thinking. If he had thought about it, he would have kept his mouth shut and high-tailed it out of there through the bedroom window. Shawn turned around, and yes, okay, that was the guy who'd kissed the living daylights out of him just a few hours ago. Shawn Spencer, self-proclaimed psychic and pain in Carlton's ass-- Carlton might have to think of a new personal honorific title for Shawn, because the old one now led to distracting images appearing before his inside eye.

"Of course," Shawn said without missing a beat. "R. E. S. P. E. C. T. all the way. Gus lectures me on this twice a week, like clockwork. It's only fair he should reciprocate."

Shawn looked at him, and there it was, the awkward moment Carlton had been expecting since he woke up. They were going to stare at each other, and neither of them was going to say anything, and the silence was going to be extremely uncomfortable, and it was going to go on forev--

"I had to take your car back here," Shawn said and walked past Carlton into the kitchen. "I ran out of gas in your driveway. It was very convenient, almost like fate. Your car was right there."

"My car?" Carlton repeated and followed him. "You better be kidding--"

"Chill, Lassie. Your car is fine. I treated it with R.E.S.P.E.C.T., just like a law enforcement vehicle deserves. Gus would have been proud," Shawn said. He waved a paper bag at Carlton and added, "And I brought you breakfast."

Carlton processed this. "You what? Tell me you didn't eat in my car."

"Uh, I didn't? Donuts don't count. They're not part of any food group, so they don't count." Shawn produced a plate from a cupboard and started pulling donuts from the bag and arranging them.

"So god help me, if I find chocolate on the upholstery--"

"You want coffee?" Shawn interrupted him, ignoring the warning tone. It was one of Shawn's most annoying qualities that he was never intimidated by anything Carlton said or did. No matter how menacing Carlton tried to be, or with how much conviction he uttered a threat, Shawn was never impressed.

"Spencer, you--" Carlton said, then reconsidered. "I'm leaving."

That got Shawn's attention. He turned and faced Carlton, his expression an unreadable mask of innocence. "Why?"

"What do you mean, why? It's morning. My car is here in the driveway. I'm leaving."

Shawn leaned back against the kitchen counter, eyes intent on Carlton's. "I mean, why do you want to leave when I could decide any moment that I want to kiss you again? I could have my mouth on yours in, like, four seconds flat. I'm pretty sure I'd even grab your ass this time. I really want to, and maybe run my hands over your chest--"

Carlton swallowed. "No," he said. "We're not doing this. I'm not doing this. This is a stupid idea, and it's insane, and-- and stupid. And I don't really want this, anyway. I mean, why would I? You're all-- and I'm not-- I really don't see why I should even lose any sleep over this."

Shawn pushed off the counter. "I could be licking your neck," he continued in a low voice and took one step in Carlton's direction. "I could be biting down gently on your earlobe. I could be running my hands through your hair-- Ooh, that reminds me." He veered off course, making a beeline for the fridge.

It left Carlton standing with sweaty palms and with his heart thumping a little faster than absolutely necessary. It left him confused. It left him curious. Curiosity won over the need to get out of there, and it won hands down. He went to peek over Shawn's shoulder at whatever it was he was doing.

Shawn was writing something on a piece of paper pinned to the fridge by an evil-looking cartoon magnet with black space for a face. He leaned closer. It was a list, with Pineapples at the top. Shawn was currently squeezing in a few words between The Uncertainty Principle, and Boxers that say 'Eat my shorts'. Carlton watched as the pen formed the words Lassie's bed head.

"This holds some strange significance, doesn't it?" Carlton said into Shawn's ear. He realized too late just how close he had moved in. There was a sharp intake of breath, maybe Shawn's, maybe his own, he wasn't sure. Shawn leaned back a little, and they were front to back, suddenly touching in a lot of places. Carlton's lips were almost brushing Shawn's ear.

The pen cluttered to the floor.

"That is for me to know and for you to find out," Shawn said and turned his head sideways, just enough for his lips to meet Carlton's.

This was still a really stupid idea. But it felt amazingly good for a really stupid idea. It felt even better when Shawn turned them around and pushed him back against the fridge, kissing him with recklessness and intent, like he wanted to make up for three years' worth of half-truths all at once.

Carlton wasn't well-versed in the secret language of kissing. He didn't know whether he was kissing reassuringly, in an I-knew-all-along way, or whether he was just kissing like he really would like to get more, and closer, and soon. It was entirely possible. Because this was hot. This was making him cling and grind and gasp in embarrassing ways. This was making him wish the bedroom was closer. This was making him almost forget who he was doing it with.

Eventually, he had to come up for air. "You don't actually own boxers that say 'Eat my shorts', do you?"

"You might get lucky and see them one day," Shawn said and brushed his fingertips across the back of Carlton's neck. "Who else should have the privilege, if not the good boyfriend?"

And Shawn had claimed that Carlton was the bucket of cold water.

Carlton carefully slid away and out of Shawn's grasp. "I'm not your boyfriend," he said.

Shawn just looked at him for a moment, assessing. "Okay," he said.

"I'll never be your boyfriend," Carlton said, because it was the truth. This was a ridiculous idea. This would never work. How was this supposed to work? They'd be a disaster, a train wreck waiting to happen. What had Carlton been thinking, falling for one of Shawn's games like that?

"Of course," Shawn said agreeably and, god, licked his lips. The same lips Carlton had kissed a few moments ago, and whoa, he really needed to get out of there.

"I mean it."

"I know."

"I'll go now."

"You do that."

"Don't think that I won't."

"Wouldn't dream of it," Shawn said earnestly.

Carlton eyed Shawn suspiciously, then grabbed his car keys from the kitchen counter where Shawn had put them.

"Bye, Lassie," Shawn said. He gave a short wave.

Carlton left, and the manner in which he did could absolutely in no way be described as 'fleeing'.

 

*

 

Lassiter was fleeing.

Shawn watched the front door fall shut behind him. Then he took some time to collect his things; wallet, keys, jacket, a different pair of shoes, a certain item from the kitchen. He stepped outside and carefully locked the front door behind him.

Lassiter was waiting in the car, looking tense.

"You forgot your sprinkles," Shawn said and let himself sink into the passenger seat. "I knew you couldn't leave without your sprinkles."

"Your motorcycle is still in my driveway," Lassiter said by way of an explanation.

"It's very considerate of you to think of my poor little vehicle all alone in a strange place," Shawn said and put the bag of sprinkles in the glove compartment. "The way you never lose sight of the little things-- it warms my heart."

Lassiter snorted unattractively but didn't say anything.

Shawn was usually the communicator in any conversation. In fact, he was famous for barely ever stopping to communicate. This called for a strategic silence, though, if only to see what Lassie would come up with to fill the conversational void.

For a long time the only sound was that of Lassie's fingers tapping on the steering wheel.

Finally, in a move that made Shawn in his capacity as the master of non-sequiturs proud, Lassiter asked, "The Uncertainty Principle?"

Shawn straightened in his seat. "You even have to ask?" he said. "For a deeply complicated and horribly confusing science theory, the concept of this is spectacularly cool. Wouldn't you just hate for everything to be predetermined? To know what's going to happen an hour from now, a week, a year? Wouldn't that just suck the fun out of everything?"

Lassiter looked like he wanted to point out that he enjoyed a little predictability in his life, thank you very much. He didn't actually do it. Not quick enough, anyway.

"You're thinking about how you'd never have predicted this, aren't you?" Shawn continued and gestured between them. "Isn't that half the fun? I think it's half the fun."

Lassiter turned his head to glare at him, and that was when Shawn knew things were going to turn out okay. The glare aside – another two dollars he was never actually going to get to collect – Lassie was clearly barely able to restrain himself from leaning in closer. "Spencer--" he said warningly, but Shawn cut in again.

"I hear this whole driving thing generally works best when you start the car first. They say that it moves then, all on its own, almost like magic."

"Shawn," Lassiter said, still looking at him with the expression he usually used on weekdays to make the perps crumble. "Shut up."

"Oh, hey," Shawn said, smirking and also trying really hard not to lean himself into a compromising position. Trying not to just grab Lassie by the collar and have his wicked way with him. Again. "That makes five," he said.

"Five what?"

"Poorly veiled declarations of undying love, also known as the heartfelt 'shut up's that travel from your lips to my ears. I knew we'd make it to five tonight. Although, technically, the night's been over for a while, so it probably doesn't--"

"Shawn?" Lassie asked, and he was so leaning right now.

"What?"

"Shut up."

Shawn grinned. Not because they'd made it to six now, even though that was awesome, but because Lassie looked a little flushed, and a little like he might be grinding his teeth, and very much like a man thinking himself to be caught between a rock and a hard place. Not that Shawn would have put quite that negative a spin on the situation, or one quite that dirty. It depended. Oh, who was he kidding? He would have gone with dirty in a heartbeat.

"You want to come in?" Shawn asked. He figured Lassie had to say yes to that, since it was the literal opposite to the last thing Lassie apparently wanted to be doing. For now. "There's donuts," he added, in case another incentive was needed.

"Well, if there's donuts," Lassiter said with biting sarcasm, "how could I refuse such a tempting offer?"

Shawn sighed and rested a hand on Lassie's shoulder. When that didn't lead to any negative reaction, like yelling, or more intensive glaring, or people being shoved out of cars unheroically at zero miles per hour, he lifted his hand to cup Lassie's cheek. "For once in your life, stop thinking with your head," he said, then focused his mind really hard and added, "Carlton," without making a face.

 

*

 

Carlton was staring. He couldn't help it. Shawn had a hand on his cheek, and he was looking serious for once, but neither of those was the strangest thing about this. The strangest thing was: Carlton didn't much feel like shaking the hand off. It felt warm on his skin, if a bit sweaty, but not weird enough to merit drastic measures. And his body seemed to be of the opinion that this was the good kind of weird, anyway.

"You may think with your other head, though," Shawn informed him generously. "You know, the one that's not on your shoulders." He frowned in concentration and added, "Carlton," again.

"For god's sake," Carlton snapped. "Call me Lassie. The way you say my name-- It sounds like you're mocking me. "

"Okay, Lassie," Shawn said, grinning like the Cheshire cat. "Fine by me, Lassie. Can we go inside now, Lassie?"

"Why am I doing this to myself again?" Carlton muttered.

"Oh, but that's easy," Shawn said and kissed him, right there in the car out on the street in front of Shawn's house, like he had just taken Shawn home at the end of a date, which Carlton supposed he had, in a way. An unconventional and spontaneous thank-god-we're-alive-and-kicking date, maybe, but still kind of a date. With coffee and sprinkles and premature bondage and really hot kissing.

Carlton blindly reached to open the car door. "Let's take this inside," he said, but when he tried to do so, the car wouldn't let him.

Shawn huffed out a laugh against Carlton's neck. "Somehow I knew you'd practice safe sex," he said and demonstratively tugged at the seatbelt Carlton was still wearing. Carlton told himself he was finding this funny rather than embarrassing.

Shawn opened the seatbelt and practically shoved him out the door before climbing from the car on the other side. His enthusiasm was obvious when he reached for Carlton's sleeve in passing and pulled him along all the way to the front door. He didn't have to pull very hard. Or at all, really.

It wasn't until Shawn had unlocked the front door that he remembered. "Oh, wait, I forgot the--"

Carlton put an arm around his waist, pulled him inside and closed the door behind them.

 

*

 

Shawn was pushed roughly against the door, Lassie's forearm pressed firmly across his chest.

"Leave the damn sprinkles," Lassie said, his breath hot against Shawn's lips.

It was close to blasphemy, saying such a thing, but under the circumstances Shawn was totally willing to let it slide.