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Carlton watched Spencer's approach with the same sense of despair that had driven him out back in the first place. In one hand, Spencer was holding a florid bag, whose contents Carlton was quite sure he wouldn't want to deal with. So, he tried to stay calm, trying to stem the tide of irritation which always seemed to rise at the mere sight of the man.

This was supposed to be his lunch break. He'd come outside to think, away from prying eyes. It was the closest thing he could get to privacy when he was at work. Spencer, though, seemed to have little concept of privacy. Or, if he did, then it was something Spencer chose to ignore. It was one in a long list of things he disliked about the man; and he didn't need this kind of annoyance right now, not today, not with the ink barely dry on his divorce papers, and not with the failure of it all weighing him down.

"Lassie," Spencer cried out. "There's my favourite Head Detective! Hey, mind if I join you?"

Of course he minded, but Spencer didn't wait for him to say 'no'.

"I brought donuts and pineapple," Spencer told him, waving that bizarre looking bag in his face. "You like pineapple, don't you?"

Carlton started that familiar count to ten; Spencer knew perfectly well that he hated pineapple.

"Man, this is a great spot: so peaceful, so quiet."

"It was until you got here," Carlton pointed out.

"Oh, Lassie, really? I'm hurt." And out came one of Spencer's ridiculous pouts.

Carlton looked away, disgruntled. Spencer simply carried on talking, and for once, he was glad he had the sound of his own inner demons to drown Spencer out.

Not long ago, he'd been a great cop. His path to the top had been laid out: first the Academy, then Detective in five, Chief in ten, and maybe, if those idiots at mayor's office got their heads out of their asses, Commissioner in twenty. Now, he could barely see himself making Captain. It was difficult facing up to that sort of limitation. Limits were for liberals and the unmotivated, certainly not for people like him. Yet, looking back at his career, he couldn't help wondering where it had all gone wrong.

Somewhere along the way, he'd forgotten how to play the political game. He'd been too vocal about some of the Chief's stunts, like using so-called 'psychics' to do actual police work, for God's sake! That, in particular, still burned whenever he thought about it, and he thought about it a lot. He agonized over it! It was hard not to with Spencer bounding up to him every day like some sort of overgrown crime-solving puppy. Also, Spencer's successes had the tendency to throw his failures into light.

He could have stomached that part, he supposed, if Spencer didn't have the makings of a great cop. Somehow, it was worse knowing that, while he struggled, Spencer found solving cases easy. Most of the time, the mere thought of Spencer getting the better of him was a bitter pill to swallow, but today having those amateur dramatics turned on him was too much to take.

"What do you want, Spencer?" he snapped, wanting that scrutiny gone. Granted, Spencer hadn't done much aside from babble incessantly, but he always felt uncomfortable under those sharp eyes and Spencer's unswerving ability to see the clues everyone else missed.

"What makes you think I want anything, Lassie?" Spencer countered, as though the two of them hanging out together was perfectly natural.

He realized, then, that Spencer had no intention of leaving him alone. Why that had to happen this day of all days, he couldn't fathom. If he didn't know better, he would have thought Spencer was trying to annoy him out of moping about the failure his life had become. And the idea of Spencer knowing him that well disturbed him on so many levels, he had to get away fast.

Spencer immediately started following him.

So, Carlton picked up the pace. He refused to accept that he was running, although hearing Spencer pant behind him made him glad that this was at least one area where Spencer hadn't managed to best him yet.

***

Inside the precinct, his cycle of misery continued as it always did with a case. This one landed on his desk with a terse: "Get this solved," from the Chief.

Soon after, Spencer landed there as well with a cry of: "Ooh, the circus? I love the circus, Lassie! When are we going?"

Guster then appeared at his desk, saying: "The circus, Shawn? Oh, hell no! We are not going to the circus, Shawn. You know what the circus does to my complexion, Shawn," although thankfully without sitting on anything. But the fact remained that his desk was now cluttered with idiots, and he couldn't see a way to clear it.

Much to his dismay, they never seemed to go away. Each day, he held on to that faint hope that it was a new day, that perhaps a miracle would happen, and that Spencer and his irritating sidekick wouldn't show up to disrupt the natural order of things. He held on to that hope because letting go would mean he was admitting defeat; and one thing he could still say about himself was that he was not a quitter.

On the way to his car, he ran leads with O'Hara and did his best to ignore the fact that Spencer and Guster were following them. It was difficult, since Spencer persisted on spouting nonsense in his ear. But, he was a veteran member of the SBPD, he could ignore most things.

Except, apparently, Spencer trying to leap on him like some sort of deranged Chihuahua.

"Get away from me right now," he snarled.

"Aw, come on!" And Spencer made another feeble attempt to grab his arm—which he was able to counter, much to Spencer's consternation. "Look, no one knows magic like Gus and I do. Really, we just want to help you solve this thing."

Carlton immediately became suspicious. "You want to help me?"

"Of course, Lassie," Spencer told him. "I always want to help!" He sounded fond and exasperated, but the look on his face said he was guilty about something. Or, at the very least, embarrassed, perhaps even constipated.

Carlton went with guilty. Spencer was always guilty of something, which perversely seemed to make it harder to pin anything on the guy. After appearing to give it some thought, he said, "Okay, Spencer, I think I know how you can help!" He put on his sunglasses, ignoring O'Hara's raised eyebrows and the fact that it was approaching dusk. "You can help by staying the hell out of my way!"

Spencer's face screwed up in an expression of hurt, and for some inexplicable reason that left him feeling vaguely unsettled. He'd already moved by the time Spencer came back with: "That was mean, Lassie. So, so mean!" But he ignored those words in favour of getting into his car. He had nothing to apologize for; he was the one, who was the real cop here. Plus, he had a job to do, one that did not involve pandering to the feelings of two con men.

Once O'Hara got in beside him, he sped out of the parking lot to the gratifying sight of Spencer, in the rear-view mirror, fading into the distance.

"You know, it wouldn't hurt to give them a chance," O'Hara said a few minutes later.

He glanced over at her. Her mouth was pressed into a flat line, and that air of disapproval only seemed to grow with his refusal to respond. Frankly, he couldn't see the point! As far as he was concerned, Spencer and Guster had no business working this case, and he was damned if he was going to let some two-bit fraud get the jump on him when he still had some fight left in him.

***

At the circus, the case took that inevitable turn toward the bizarre.

The sign outside said: *Madam Zola, Psychic Extraordinaire*. Beside it sat a big picture of a crystal ball and another sign that said $10. Carlton stared at both of them, considering his options. He really didn't want to go in there. He got enough psychic mumbo-jumbo down at the precinct; the last thing he wanted or planned to do was to go into some garish tent looking for more.

All of a sudden, Spencer came out of nowhere, yelling: "You have got to be kidding me! Please tell me you're not going in there!" Which pretty much determined that he, O’Hara, or maybe the whole goddamn PD would be going in there!

He glanced over his shoulder at Spencer, who was twitching like a cat on a hot tin roof. "What's the matter, Spencer?" he jeered. "Afraid of a little competition?" He wasn't above a little taunting of his own when it suited him, and anything that got Spencer riled up seemed like a good place to start.

Spencer, for some reason, lunged at the $10 sign, and it was only Guster's quick thinking that stopped him from falling flat on his face. After some spectacular flailing, during which Spencer tried and failed to extricate himself from Guster's arms, Spencer eventually declared: "That woman is not a real psychic!"

"And you know this because . . . ?" Carlton raised one eyebrow.

"Because I read her psychically."

Carlton didn't even try to stop himself growling. "Look, Spencer," he said, "why don't you leave this to the professionals, and go paint Guster's toenails, or whatever it is the two of you like to do on your girls days out!"

"But, Lassie, I'm sensing that you really don't want to go in there," and Spencer launched into another one of his spasmodic flailing episodes.

This time, Carlton ripped off his sunglasses so that he could glare properly at him. "Spencer, I swear to God, if you don't shut up and get the hell out of my way, I will end you."

When Spencer opened his mouth again, Carlton pulled out his gun.

Spencer very quickly then moved off in favour of hiding behind Guster.

Even O'Hara took a step back as well. "You weren't really going to shoot him, were you?" she said, looking vaguely concerned.

"It was just an option," Carlton admitted before striding into the tent. He wasn't interested in hanging around for pointless chit-chat. For some reason, Spencer didn't want him anywhere near this place. He owed it to himself to find out why.

***

Up close, Madame Zola appeared to be nothing more than a bored housewife, who was using palm reading to supplement her income. First, the woman welcomed him with the trade spiel of 'You will meet a tall dark stranger'. Only, in his case, his true love was apparently of indeterminate height, indeterminate colouring and not entirely unknown to him! Then, after spewing out more rubbish about his soul mate being nearby, she relieved him of $10 without saying anything useful about the case.

Carlton didn't know why he was so disappointed. He didn't believe in psychics any more than he believed in the boogie-man. He did, however, believe in checking out any potential lead that would help solve a case. It was what made him such a good detective, or at least what used to; and the detective in him was a bit disconcerted by the absence of anything overtly suspicious in the tent.

He knew something weird was going on here, he just couldn't figure out what it was. And the thought that two idiots like Spencer and Guster might be on to something, while he was still scratching around in the dark, made him question everything that was sane about police work.

After citing the woman for wasting police time, he stepped out of the tent to find O'Hara and those idiots waiting by the front. O'Hara was at least trying to look like she hadn't been eavesdropping or laughing, but Guster wasn't even bothering to pretend, and Spencer was just a writhing mess of uncoordinated limbs and unnecessary drama.

"Oh, cut the crap, Spencer!" Carlton yelled right in his face. "I know you're up to something, and so help me God, I will stick to your ass like white on rice until I find out what the hell you're playing at!"

Spencer stopped his psychic convulsions and gave him an incredulous look. "Lassie, I didn't know you cared! Although, the thing with sticking white rice on my ass sounds a little weird. That's weird, right, Gus?"

"Oh, it's weird!" Guster concurred.

"See? The jury is in! Gus thinks it's weird; Jules too, although she's trying to hide just how weird she thinks it is behind that incredibly straight face of hers. The point is that it's weird, and dare I say it, a little kinky. And I really don't think we know each other well enough for—"

Carlton stalked off. It was either that or start shooting, and frankly Spencer wasn't worth the bullet or the extra paperwork.

***

From there, despite following every lead imaginable, he and O'Hara couldn't catch a break.

Two frustrating weeks in, even he could sense that he was close to snapping. How much time did they have, he wondered, before Spencer rode in on his psychic horse to steal the show? Hours? Days? Or was the Chief simply going to order another Psych consultation? He hated not having all the pieces lined up. Even more, he hated feeling like he was missing some vital clue that Guster or Spencer would undoubtedly have seen.

It was enough to make him retrace his steps all the way to the circus, until he found himself right back at square one.

Standing outside Madame Zola's tent, he couldn't help thinking about how weird his life had become. Visions, crystal balls and psychics: this was not what he'd signed up for as a detective in the SBPD. He was almost willing to swallow his pride and ask for a reading, if that was what it took to solve this damn case. And he might have done, had he not been presented with a tableau of cocaine, clowns and circus clairvoyants when he stepped inside the tent.

Carlton immediately drew his weapon. Once again, he did his best to ignore the psychic elephant in the room, but it was difficult since Spencer had somehow managed to arrive there before him. One day, he promised himself, he was going to figure out how Spencer always managed to be one step ahead of him. But, for today, he had to settle for scowling. A lot.

He watched Spencer go through an elaborate chicken dance that somehow told a dastardly tale of drug trafficking, murder and cross-dressing. After that, the only thing left for him to do was arrest a lot of clowns.

***

Hours after booking almost every clown in the county, he was still at his desk trying to work out how he'd missed a major drug trafficking ring operating within his jurisdiction. His mood darkened considerably when Spencer showed up. He might have been able to quell the urge to throttle something had Spencer not started talking. But talk Spencer did, about the case—

"That was without a doubt the most fun I've ever had at the circus."

—about his pet sidekick—

"Even Gus managed to get in on the action, you know what I mean? You do know what I mean, right? Because your face is doing something weird, and right now I'm not even sure what that means."

—about some pineapple he was apparently dating—

"Wait! Is this about that lady clown with the huge pineapples? Because it was only one date, I swear, and mostly psychic platonic not date date."

—and Carlton couldn't understand why Spencer thought any of this was of interest to him. When had things got so bad that Spencer could approach him like this? He still remembered the good old days when Spencer wouldn't have dared come near him for fear of being shot. Days which, unfortunately, seemed to be long gone.

He tried walking away again, as though with several long strides he could distance himself from the immutable fact that Spencer was beating him at his own job.

Spencer thwarted that by darting up alongside him.

By the time they reached the vending machine, Carlton was itching to shoot something. Spencer had barely even stopped for breath, and that continual stream of nonsense was giving him a headache. He put a few quarters in the machine, took the M&Ms it spewed out, and had to quickly whip them out of reach when Spencer made a grab for them.

"Lassie, Lassie, Lassie!" And Spencer followed that up with even more of his irritating hand flailing. "Is that the way to treat a friend? A colleague?"

"Colleague?" he spat.

"Too much?" Spencer just shrugged. "Okay, fine! How about a friend, then? Okay? Let's go with that!"

At some point during the whole 'colleague versus friend' debate, Spencer had slung an arm round his shoulder. So, on top of the whining, he was now forced to endure Spencer invading his personal space. He really didn't like people touching him. Specifically, he didn't like that Spencer seemed to think it was fine to take such liberties.

The frustration he'd been struggling to contain went from simmer to boil.

"So, I've been thinking about what you said the other day," Spencer went on, reeling him in close. "That thing about ending me if I don't stay out of your way? That's not very friendly, Lassie. And you know what? I'm hurt!"

It was long overdue, he told himself. Only a matter of time before Spencer called him on his earlier behaviour. Still, he was mildly disconcerted by the confrontation now that it was here. Why they even had to go through it was beyond him. Wasn't it enough that he'd tolerated Spencer? That he'd put up with his delusions, and the endless rambling?

No. Of course, it wasn't! Spencer wasn't the type to leave things alone, hence his punishment was destined to be trying and everlasting. Something about the man routinely brought out the worst in him. Even now, after months of Spencer's antics, the mere sight of him was enough to raise his blood pressure when, really, it should have been so simple.

In dealing with Shawn Spencer, all that was required was a little control, understanding, and patience—things that did not come easily to him.

The frustration suddenly boiled over, and the next thing he knew he had Spencer backed up against the wall with his forearm at Spencer's throat.

"You think you're pretty funny, don't you?" he snarled. "Well, guess what, Einstein, thinking is not your strong suit. So, let me do it for you: stay out of my way, and leave the thinking to those of us who can."

He pretended not to notice the stunned look on Spencer's face before he turned and walked away.

***

Later, after he'd calmed down, Carlton started feeling guilty. He remembered how Spencer had frozen, wide-eyed, during his rant, almost as though Spencer had genuinely been afraid of him.

Eager to put the whole episode behind him, he ordered another drink at the bar. Four scotches later, Spencer's frightened face was still on his mind.

It was a cruel thing to have done. For all that he and Spencer tried to rile each other up, they had an unspoken understanding, one where Spencer annoyed him, then he yelled at Spencer, and then they both went their separate ways. This time, even he could tell that he'd taken things too far, and it meant now that he was going to have to be extra nice to Spencer to make up for it.

Carlton honestly couldn't say he was looking forward to that.

The man was and would probably always be an irritating pain in the ass. But as painful as it was to admit, at some time in the past few months, he and Spencer crossed a bridge of animosity into tolerance. He wasn't going to go as far as calling it 'friendship', because under no circumstances would he ever befriend someone so ridiculous. But there was undoubtedly some form of connection between them now, and he could feel it affecting the no longer guilt free insults he used to hurl at Shawn Spencer.

The weird thing was, deep down, he knew Spencer was just trying to help. It was written all over him each time Spencer bounced into the precinct, each time Spencer wormed his way into cases where he didn't belong, each time Spencer inadvertently showed him up. Even when he was off duty, when every inch of him begged for solitude, somehow Spencer still found ways to insert himself into his life. Although, how Spencer equated that with helping, Carlton didn't have a clue.

Halfway through the bottle, still trying to wrap his mind around that, what he was pretty sure was a hallucination of Spencer sat down next to him.

"Oh, hey, it's you," he muttered in lieu of a greeting.

"Hey, yourself! You're looking rather punchy this evening."

Carlton took another look at his drink, well and truly puzzled. "It's not punch; it's scotch," he declared with the sort of gravitas only the truly shit-faced could accomplish.

Spencer's snort was even more puzzling, but it didn't make the slightest dent in the mellow of his buzz.

"I'm glad you showed up here," he went on, riding those clouds of fluffy feelings. "Wanted to say sorry about what I did earlier. Didn't mean to push you." Although, once he noticed that Spencer hadn't responded after a while, he started to feel incredibly affronted. Did this hallucination think he was too much of a jerk to apologize? Because Carlton Jebediah Lassiter could admit when he was wrong, and no way in hell was a—

"Whoa there, tiger! You just took me by surprise, okay? I was not expecting that! In fact, I was kind of expecting something more along the lines of how you consider me to be a waste of the department’s time and resources."

All at once, Carlton relented, insides melting. "That was a long time ago, and we really didn't know each other then. Anyway, we're friends now; you know that!"

He didn't mean it, of course. In the back of his mind, he wasn't sure he would ever completely trust this man or his hallucination. But a little lie wouldn't hurt, and anything was better than those soulful looks Spencer kept giving him. Spencer could be so sensitive at times, such a strange mixture of cockiness and vulnerability.

He touched hallucino-Spencer's shoulder, kneading it in a gentle, apologetic sort of way. Then, he pushed him all the way out of the booth, because it was already past his bedtime.

Outside the bar, the hallucination refused to leave him alone while he waited for a cab. Spencer kept looking at him like he wanted a hug or something. Which was completely out of the question and clearly never going to happen.

Unfortunately, he didn't count on the amount of alcohol he'd ingested.

Somehow, after they got to his place, he found himself clinging to Spencer and offering to show him his gun collection. The rest of the night was a total blur.

***

In the morning, Carlton felt sick to his stomach for reasons that had very little to do with alcohol.

When a man got drunk with another man, it changed things. Bonds were formed; relationships grew from there. It was one of the many reasons why he preferred to drink alone, and on the rare occasions when he did drink with someone, he was very particular about who that person was.

For the life of him, he couldn't understand how he'd allowed himself to end up drinking with Shawn Spencer.

Once he'd cleaned himself up, he took stock of the situation like any good detective. He'd woken up fully clothed; at least that was something; although, it was clear from the Advil on his nightstand and the trash can nearby that Spencer had accompanied him into his bedroom. He wasn't thrilled at the idea of Spencer wandering round his home unsupervised, despite the fact that nothing else seemed to be out of place. Still, as he made his way down to the precinct, he couldn't shake the sense that Spencer had somehow gleaned things about him just by being in his apartment. Things, which no one else would have been able to see or guess.

In all honesty, he didn't know if there was such a thing as a psychic. Had someone asked him the question years ago, he would have just laughed and said 'no'. Now, with Spencer, he wasn't so sure.

He put it down to detecting. Most of the time, he felt more comfortable that way. Then again, Spencer had a habit of making him uncomfortable and making him doubt the status quo. With Spencer, up was down, or suddenly down became up; and no matter how hard he worked a case, he was always one step behind. Even more troubling, Spencer was always right.

He wanted to kick himself for having let Spencer near him when his defences were down. It was a massive tactical error. To have any chance of levelling the playing field, he knew he was going to have to gather his own Intel on Spencer from the source that knew Spencer best.

***

Fishing was his third favourite thing, behind golf and putting the bad guys away. So, in his bid to understand Spencer more, he decided to go fishing with Spencer's dad. The last time, he'd learnt a lot about what made Spencer tick just by spending those few hours with Henry. He was quite certain that a subtle dig here and there would yield more useful information.

Sure enough, all it took was a mention of the next civil war re-enactment for Henry to get started.

"Borrowing your moustache wasn't Shawn's most brilliant idea. That boy has so much potential and he's just wasting it."

From his perspective, Carlton wasn't seeing the potential, but he didn't think it was wise to comment on that. "Maybe he's a late bloomer?" he suggested instead.

"Oh, please!" Henry reeled his line in with a dismissive scoff. "First of all, Shawn doesn't know what he wants. That's why he keeps flitting from one thing to the next instead of settling down like a mature adult. Then, even when what he does want is right there in front of him, he does everything possible to sabotage getting it!"

The line went back out, flicked into the water and settled there.

Carlton kept his eyes fixed on it firmly. Months ago, he might have wondered how Spencer's apple had fallen so far from Henry's tree. Now, of course, he knew better: Spencer had jumped. He still had no clue where Henry was going with all of this, especially when Henry suddenly brought up the topic of his rivalry with Spencer.

"You know, I'd almost given up on him finding anyone who could handle him. Gus just goes along with his harebrained schemes; he has since they were kids. But, you, thankfully, you're not letting him push you away."

"I'm sorry, what?" Carlton looked at Henry sideways.

"I'm talking about Shawn's constant need to sabotage his relationships!" Henry sounded uncomfortable even having to explain that much. But Carlton had already started connecting the dots, and in all honesty he couldn't believe the picture Henry was painting for him. "Look, I'm not saying he's ever going to change!" And by then Henry had turned to give him an encouraging look. "Just, with you at least, he knows it has to be an adult relationship. That's what he needs: someone with a firm hand, and someone who won't put up with all his crap."

The subsequent pat to his arm felt a bit awkward, but there wasn't anything weird about it beyond the fact that it conveyed an acceptance of him and of Spencer, and of the two of them together. That was when he rewound the entire conversation in his head, and then replayed it at half speed, listening very carefully to each and every word.

The astonishing part was that Spencer's own father appeared to be giving him his blessing to do something with his son.

Carlton had a horrible idea what that thing was.

Before he could examine it further, he shoved the whole thing to the back of his mind. Because, no way in hell was he ever going to date Shawn Spencer let alone get into a long-term relationship with him. And, God, just the idea of dating Spencer. That incessant flailing. Not to mention the ridiculous sidekick. God!

No, the whole thing was insupportable, and he wasn't having any part of it.

Henry seemed content to let him mull things over in silence. Which was fine by him. Men weren't even supposed to talk about relationships; it was no wonder he was lost for words!

The only positive, as far as he was concerned, was Henry's stance on the whole thing. Even if he weren't entertaining the thought—and he most definitely was NOT—being liked by the in-laws was new territory for him. Victoria's mother had barely tolerated him during their marriage; now that they were divorced, cold wars had felt warmer. Knowing that Henry approved of him where Spencer was concerned was something of a revelation.

It felt good to have someone on his side for once. And, well, he and Henry fished together on occasion. Which was nice. Plus, their camaraderie drove Spencer crazy. Which was even better. And not once had Henry criticized his pole technique since he'd thrown the idea of him and Spencer out there. So, okay, yes, there were undoubtedly some other positives to dating Spencer.

Except, he was NOT going to date Spencer. Not ever!

***

But, like a certain stubborn psychic, the thought refused to go away; and despite the rest of the afternoon passing without further attempts at matchmaking, Carlton couldn't stop thinking about it.

The whole thing made his head ache!

Spencer was everything he hated in a person: flighty, irresponsible and full of shit. He was a loyal friend, though, which seemed out of character somehow with all his other personality flaws—and which some traitorous part of his mind seemed determined to point out. But the flaws more than outweighed any good points, and that was all he needed to know.

He still didn't get where the idea of him and Spencer as a couple had even come from in the first place. Aside from a vague segue into mutual tolerance, there was no love lost between them. Everyone knew that! Unless there was something else going on that he'd missed, or which people had somehow managed to keep from him?

Carlton didn't know what to believe any more.

He wasn't completely oblivious. He knew Spencer had been throwing himself at him for some time now, but he'd always put it down to Spencer trying to throw him off his game. Henry's suggestion seemed to imply that there was more to it than that.

He thought about Spencer's vastly inappropriate behaviour: the heckling, the interference, and the general invasion of his personal space. Had Spencer been any more juvenile about it, he would have called it pulling pigtails. It was almost as if Spencer were deliberately trying to annoy him just to get his attention.

When he looked at it in that light, he came to one shocking conclusion: Shawn Spencer had a crush on him.

***

The next few days were a trial, having never experienced the situation of unwanted male affection. How long had this been going on, he wondered, watching Spencer regale O'Hara with some outlandish story about their current crime scene? He hated thinking that Spencer had been lusting after him right under his nose and that somehow he'd missed it.

Had he not been a consummate professional, he would have challenged Spencer on the spot. But making scenes was more Spencer's style, and he was having enough trouble with the concept that Spencer had genuinely been flirting with him all this time. It was impossible to resist going over their past interactions, like old cases, looking at the evidence.

Like 'Exhibit A': the touching.

The unavoidable reality was that his line of work often called for some degree of physical contact. Spencer, however, it seemed loved touching him under the flimsiest of circumstances. In fact, Spencer looked for any opportunity to touch him; if one didn't exist, Spencer simply manufactured one.

Then, there were the pet names: Lassie, Lassie-face, Lassidophilus, and the utterly unforgivable Lassie-buns.

He took everything out, rearranged it and came back with a picture of flirtation and courtship so bizarre it was no surprise he'd missed it the first time around. Of course, now that he knew what was happening, he couldn't seem to stop seeing the signs!

He wasn't sure whether to curse Henry or to thank him for taking the scales off his eyes. Either way, he decided, he was planning to carry on as if nothing had changed.

Wondering how the hell he was going to pull that off, he joined O'Hara, Spencer and Guster, who were standing by the staircase, waiting evidently for him. To avoid any drama, he went to stand next to O'Hara. Only, somehow Spencer slipped in beside him and had the audacity to pat him on the arm.

It could have been a manly pat between two guys, who just happened to cross paths at work, or it could have been an I want you pat. Carlton wasn't sure any more, and that unnerved him. Spencer had been giving him pats like that for several months now. And now that he thought about it, he wasn't at all happy that Spencer might have been touching him all this time for the purposes of some illicit gratification.

He took a step back.

O'Hara looked at him sideways. "Something wrong?" she asked.

"Of course not! Why would anything be wrong?" he deflected. But now everyone was looking at him, even Spencer's sidekick. "What?" he growled.

The sidekick looked away. O'Hara raised one eyebrow, saying nothing. Spencer, meanwhile, looked like he might be a little hurt, or constipated; Carlton really couldn't tell any more.

To avoid making things worse for himself, he kept his mouth shut. The important thing was Spencer had no clue that he was on to him; and he wanted to keep it that way, at least for a while longer, at the very least until he figured out how to deal with the situation. Because, he really didn't think he could cope with two relationship conversations in one week, and he certainly didn't want to get any more involved with Spencer than necessary.

***

Unfortunately, things didn't work out that way.

In Goleta, Spencer pushed him out of the way of an oncoming truck, and Carlton experienced a moment of sheer blind terror. The truck sped by; he reached behind himself in a desperate attempt to pull Spencer to safety, only his hands encountered nothing but air. In that moment, when he'd been convinced Spencer hadn't made it, all he'd been able to do was stand there gasping and scrubbing the wetness from his face with hands that refused to stop shaking. Now that everyone was safely accounted for, Carlton didn't know what to do.

Spencer was already waving Guster away, saying, "I'm fine! Jesus, Gus, let me go!" And O'Hara seemed to be winding down as well. But, for him, it was all too fresh. Too much had happened in the past few weeks: the divorce, Henry's matchmaking, the revelation of Spencer's feelings for him, and now this—Spencer risking life and limb to save him!

He realized that the situation with Spencer was far more serious than he'd originally thought. People with crushes didn't do things like that. They didn't throw themselves into oncoming traffic for a fleeting emotional attachment! No, Carlton suspected, it all added up to an even more shocking conclusion: that Shawn Spencer was in love with him.

Truthfully, he wasn't sure how he felt about that. He embraced the immediate rush of denial that it should be Spencer, of all people! But, there was a small, tiny part of him that, let's face it, was flattered, and an even smaller part of him that was relieved. He wasn't getting any younger. He knew he was difficult at the best of times, and he'd been nothing but hard on Spencer. Victoria had ended things between them saying he was impossible to be with. So, it was nice knowing that he could still attract some romantic interest, even if nothing could ever come of it.

However gratifying it was to be the object of Spencer's affections, he wasn't about to let that affect his judgement, and he certainly wasn't going to soften his stance where psychics were concerned.

***

Several days on, however, Carlton came to the conclusion that he was losing his mind.

It was the only logical explanation he could find for why he was agreeing to socialize with Spencer outside the confines of the precinct. Oh, he still snarled and was generally surly when asked. But, that was more to keep his reputation in tact, and to convince anyone who might have been listening that he was only doing it under some form of duress.

He wasn't expecting much difference from the other nights at other bars where he typically drank alone. So, he situated himself at the bar, where he sipped his scotch slowly and watched the people around him, taking in the interplay between Spencer and Guster and the other guys from the precinct, who had chosen to join them. He couldn't help noticing that Spencer gravitated toward him. He also noticed how, if he was quiet for more than a few minutes, Spencer would contrive some way to draw him back into the conversation. A question, an inappropriate touch, any excuse to keep him connected!

He kept waiting to be annoyed by it, but that never happened. If anything, he felt a little warm inside that Spencer cared enough to hover over him.

By the end of the evening, he'd actually had a good time. He was loath to admit that, even to himself. So, he just kept quiet about it. He refused to commit to joining the group on another night out, but from the way Spencer kept grinning at him he had a horrible feeling that battle was already lost.

***

On the Peters case, Spencer got shot, and Carlton had another one of those revelations, which threw all his previous conceptions right out of the window.

It was barely more than a graze. Spencer lay there in his hospital bed afterward, trying to milk it for all the attention it was worth. Naturally, O'Hara was quietly supportive; Henry was quietly dismayed; he . . ..

Well, he was not so quietly freaking out! He did a lot of threatening and yelling—at Spencer for being so reckless, at the doctors for being too slow, at Guster for no reason at all. When that failed to calm him down, he threw some posturing in there as well.

None of it made him feel any better.

Two hours on, he still hadn't been able to quell the fear he'd felt when that gun had gone off. The thought that Spencer, irritating, reckless Spencer, could be ripped out of the world, out of his world and out of his life . . ..

The fear came rushing back, making his heart pound even faster.

He sat down in the hallway outside Spencer's room and considered the ramifications.

As hard as it was to fathom, evidently Spencer's feelings weren't entirely unrequited. He struggled to admit that, even to himself. It was only the thought of life without Shawn Spencer, which finally hammered it home. Somehow, that seemed even harder to stomach than the idea that he might be in love with the man, or that he'd been using antagonism to mask his attraction to him.

He spent a long time in that hallway coming to terms with that particular revelation.

***

Admitting he was in love didn't make things easier. If anything, awareness of his feelings brought with it some unfortunate side effects.

He started behaving differently.

Unfamiliar with the rules of man-love, he wasn't entirely sure how to treat Spencer. In his uncertainty, he kept giving himself away. He started wearing cologne. He was more understanding, almost patient, so much so that even Guster was beginning to eye him with suspicion. But it wasn't until the Captain pulled him aside to commend him on the new improved Carlton Lassiter that he realized how much he'd slipped up.

He left Vick's office that afternoon feeling anxious and determined to clamp down on his errant behaviour. No sooner had he reached his desk than the cause of this insanity popped up like a badly dressed penny.

"Lassie, think fast!" Spencer then threw something at him.

Which, instinctively, he dodged, saying, "You do realize that some of us do actual police work around here." He frowned at Spencer, wishing the man would at least have the decency to wear a suit to work instead of that ridiculous ensemble. Then, he calmly walked away.

A few steps down, he realized his mistake. It had been the perfect opportunity to shout, but he'd missed it. Again. Now, people were staring at him. Worse, Spencer was one of them.

"Okay, what was that?"

"What?" he hedged, defensive.

"That!" Spencer gestured at his face, which was presumably making all sorts of guilty expressions. "Seriously, Lassie, you're starting to freak me out."

And there it was again: the concern for him under all the drama. His heart responded with a disgusting little flutter, which left his stomach quivering and his cheeks warm.

"I mean, you've been weird for weeks now," persisted Spencer. "Well, weird for you, anyway. But it's almost as though something strange happened in Lassie-land, and the rest of us didn't get the memo."

For the life of him, Carlton didn't know how to answer that one. So, he just kept quiet, hoping Spencer would mistake his silence for his usual brand of irritation. He threw in a glower, just to make it authentic.

"Oh, I see: you're in love!"

"What? How did you—" he cut himself off before he gave the game away completely.

As usual, Spencer was too fast for him. "Who is it? Anyone I know?" Spencer then proceeded to sing, "Lassie's in love, Lassie's in love," in a horribly off-key voice.

Carlton wasn't sure whether he wanted to kiss him or kill him. He thought the flirting was nice, though. Despite being a little juvenile for his tastes, some small part of him was actually enjoying the repartee. So, he decided to try flirting back a little, saying,
"What's the matter, Spencer? Afraid you're not my favourite any more?"

Spencer looked at him like he'd lost his mind. "Oh, please! I'm everyone’s favourite. That's why we're having dinner tonight."

"I'm busy!" Carlton shot back. He wasn't, he just didn't want to seem too easy.

Spencer parried with: "Monday, then," and simply walked off without giving him the chance to protest.

Carlton stared after him for a long time, shaking his head. Somehow, despite his best intentions, he'd wound up dating Spencer after all.

***

The day of their date came with little psychic fanfare.

Carlton kept it casual: first, a romantic stroll down the pier; then, dinner at the Mandarin Palace, followed by a night-cap at his place.

After several rounds of mu-shu pork and with Spencer slumped next to him on his couch, he felt at ease for the first time in weeks. The lights were down low, Johnny Mathis was crooning softly in the background, and no one was throwing anything at anyone. All in all, for a first date, things were going well.

Then, Spencer started talking.

"You know what's weird?" Spencer didn't wait for him to answer. "I never thought we would get to this point: just the two of us hanging out. No cases, no dead bodies, no 'one of us accidentally bumping into the other at a random civil war re-enactment'. Although, come to think of it, I was expecting more of a Wild West theme tonight . . .."

Because that had been one of his original ideas for the evening, Carlton decided not to comment.

"Hey, remember back when we first met?"

"Yeah?" He looked at Spencer sideways.

"You were a real jerk."

Carlton took a moment to digest that. "Okay," he conceded. Then, in the spirit of total disclosure, he added, "But, so were you."

"Never as bad as you," Spencer pointed out—rather tactlessly, in his opinion, since they were supposed to be seducing each other. Still, he was willing to overlook that until Spencer muttered, "Anyway, I had a good reason."

"And I didn't?" he countered.

Evidently, Spencer wasn't interested; he was building up to something, and Carlton had a feeling he wasn't going to like it. He chose that moment to make his move, and—

"Whoa, Lassie! What the hell?"

"What?" Carlton drew back, confused.

"What do you mean what?" Spencer had already begun pointing back and forth between them. "What's with the whole, you know . . .." Then, Spencer threw in more hand gestures followed by some spectacular flailing.

At any other time, he would have been pleased to see Spencer so clearly lost for words, but this was just crushing. "I thought you had a thing for me."

"A thing? Who even says that any more?"

And, oh, that hurt! Carlton felt the barb pierce deep in his chest. "So, you don't have . . ." he swallowed hard; his heart broke a little more. "Because, after the shooting and what your father said, I thought . . .."

Spencer kept staring at him with an abject sort of terror, which was trying to mask itself as pity but was coming off as revulsion.

Reeling, Carlton stood up and made for the liquor cabinet. In the background, he could hear Spencer bleating something or other about Henry, but it was easy enough to ignore in favour of the roaring in his ears. Several inches of bourbon later, his hands were still shaking. He couldn't understand how he'd got this so spectacularly wrong. All the evidence was there, pointing him toward this! He'd even had Henry's blessing, or he thought he had. Unless, somehow, he'd misread that as well?

"I think you should leave." The words choked their way out of his throat, not entirely of his own volition. But, as far as he was concerned, it was the first sensible thing he'd said all night.

Spencer responded with a choked up sound of his own; and it took all his strength to turn and face him—and the humiliation—head on.

"Leave," Carlton told him, deliberate this time.

For a while, it looked like Spencer was going to argue. Then, Spencer finally got up and walked out the door, leaving him alone to salvage what he could of his pride.

***

On his way into work the following day, Carlton rehearsed his plan one last time. He was going to behave normally, and he was going to be rational. He was not, under any circumstances, going to look at Spencer, talk to Spencer or even acknowledge that Spencer existed. Last night never happened as far as he was concerned, and there was no reason why they couldn't get back to their usual adversarial relationship with everything at status quo.

The plan worked until he reached his desk, where Spencer was perched waiting for him.

After he'd finished telling Spencer to: "Get the hell off my desk," he told himself it was the shirt. A riotous colour combination of pink and yellow that was a total eyesore, and which no self-respecting conservative could have let pass without comment. It was the only explanation he would allow for why he'd found it impossible to keep his cool.

Going through his case files, he did his best to carry on like this was just a day like any other. It wasn't easy, because the awkwardness he felt around Spencer was unbearable. Just seeing that carefree grin made him cringe inside, and his mind couldn't stop replaying the moment where Spencer had crushed any hope of them having a relationship. He felt like a fool. Worse, he knew he only had himself to blame. Guys like him and Spencer didn't mix; he should have known better than to think there could be anything between them.

Around lunchtime, O'Hara brought over a bagel, which she placed on his desk in front of him. It was a sad little thing with crumbled edges that practically screamed: 'Sorry your date with the man you thought was in love with you ended badly!'

He scowled at it, then scowled at O'Hara, then ate it in two large bites as if to say: 'Move along; nothing to see here; no Head Detectives were hurt last night in the quest for love!'

"I don't even want to know what you meant by that!" O'Hara shrank back.

But Carlton was barely paying attention to her any more. He was more interested in feeling sorry for himself, even though he could tell that people were watching him, trying to figure out what had happened the night before. This was why he didn't like dating people from work: you couldn't get away from it when things turned sour.

He realized that he was going to have to take surly and mean to new levels if he was going to discourage any other overtures. Wallowing on a personal level was one thing; he really didn't want anyone else's pity. Having people hate him for being a petty asshole was preferable to that.

***

At the end of the week, it wasn't clear whether his new plan had backfired or not.

He stood by his desk eyeing the folder marked 'Urgent: For Detective Lassiter', a folder which had appeared at some point during his trip to the coffee machine. In his experience, nothing good ever came covered with that much glitter. Sure enough, as he leafed through its contents, he was horrified to find several of those women's magazines, which his ex had tended to read whenever she'd found him particularly exasperating.

"Okay, who left this on my desk?" he roared, turning round and waving the folder in the air.

No one replied. One glance around the bullpen, and people scattered like ants.

Under different circumstances, he would have been thrilled at the power of his glare. However, these cowards weren't telling him anything he needed to know, and O'Hara didn't seem any more inclined to help than they were.

Frustrated, he sat back down and went through the pile, looking for clues. There were articles on relationships, advice on how to keep a man, and one very interesting piece on displacement therapy, which looked like it might hold some weight. Unfortunately, none of it gave any indication of who had left the magazines for him in the first place.

He wasn't a complete idiot. He knew people were trying to tell him something: that ever since his failed date with Spencer he'd been moping and making life miserable for everyone, and that he really needed to find a way to move on. But, that wasn't the point. The point was he was struggling with a crisis of confidence.

He just didn't get how he'd managed to misread so many clues in both his professional and personal lives. Each time he thought about it, the parallels made him wince: how he always seemed to be one step behind until the big reveal, which he could never see coming despite the evidence laid out in front of him.

It felt like failure, and too much of it revolved around Spencer. All the more reason, he told himself, to put this nonsense behind him once and for all.

***

Spending the evening at the gun range did wonders for his equilibrium, and after much soul searching, Carlton decided that it was time to get back out there.

Now that he was apparently open to other options, maybe he would find some anti-Spencer, who would interest him enough to take his mind off the real thing. Someone with a steady job, someone with principles and dignity. Someone, who wasn't a flighty, irresponsible con man. Surely there had to be people like that out there?

He snapped off his holster, re-loaded and then emptied the clip dead centre.

Yes, he definitely needed to get back into the dating scene. But, slowly and carefully. After several years of marriage, he was rusty; he could admit that. Although, obviously, he wasn't all that great at male seduction, if Spencer's terrified 'Whoa! What the hell?' reaction was anything to go by.

Another target rapidly disintegrated under a hail of bullets.

He paused for a moment, imagining his hands gliding over firm hard planes as opposed to soft smooth curves. The idea was surprisingly appealing. As much as he liked women, the fairer sex had always baffled him. He'd always been more of a man's man. There were bound to be other men, who wanted the same things he did. Men, who were looking for a partner. Men, who were like him.

His gun went into his holster, and then his earmuffs came off.

Yes, getting out there was exactly what he was going to do. He had a few ideas about whom to ask out; and aside from some qualms about dating in his forties, he couldn't deny that he was keen to get this show on the road.

***

His first date was a disaster.

The guy—and he used that term loosely—had no appreciation for the art of police work, and seemed to think that golf should be played on a miniature course laid out like Tolkien’s Middle Earth.

Carlton tried not to let that deter him, but half an hour putting in Mirkwood was enough to make anyone resentful. To make matters worse, he was convinced they were being followed.

The perpetrators weren't exactly masters of stealth. Each time he and his date, Brad, moved to a different hole, the shrubbery nearby rustled. Voices came from behind the bushes—loud, whispering snatches of conversation interspersed with what sounded like someone smacking another person. After one particularly loud bout of shushing, Carlton decided that he'd had enough.

Turning round, he pulled several branches aside and found—

"YOU TWO!" Outraged, he let go, sending the shrubbery hurtling back to hit Spencer in the face.

"Okay, ow! Ow! OW!" Spencer leapt out into the open, and literally began to make a song and dance out of his injury.

"Do you know these guys?" Brad asked after Guster, too, crept out from behind the bushes.

"No," Carlton replied.

"Yes," Spencer warbled at the same time.

Brad's scoff was anything but amused. "You know what? I'll just leave you guys to sort this out. Obviously, there's some history here, and I don't need any more drama in my life. I'm out of here."

Smarting, Carlton didn't even try to stop him; it was clear from Brad's attitude that this particular relationship was going nowhere. He watched the potential unravel with a control that was barely hanging by a thread. Then, once Brad was out of earshot, he turned his attention back to Spencer.

"This is a new low, even for you," he growled. "What are you doing here, and why the hell are you following me?"

"First of all," Spencer held up one finger, "I'll have you know that nothing is too low in the pursuit of fashionable pants! Really, Lassie, that's what you wore on your date with Bradley McDoofus back there?"

Carlton glanced down at his tartans, momentarily confused; this was the height of golfing fashion! Before he could defend his clothing choices, Spencer had another flailing episode.

"Wait a minute, was this a date?" Spencer paused mid-flail to stare at him incredulously. "You and that guy? Seriously?" He sounded shocked and amazed, as though it was inconceivable that an attractive guy like Brad might want to date him.

And, wow, that cut deep, but Carlton refused to let it show. "What's it to you?" he snarled, taking an aggressive step forward.

"Nothing," Spencer backed down at once. "I just didn't think he was your type, that's all."

"My type?" Carlton snorted derisively. "Let me guess: you think you know what that is?" He watched Spencer squirm at that, wondering what Spencer was playing at now. Had it been anyone else, he would have thought they were jealous, but he'd been wrong too many times before. Also, this was Spencer, who didn't play by any rules he could understand.

He had a feeling that it was some stupid prank, which he was better off not knowing about. So, rather than wait for an answer he wouldn't like, he decided to take a leaf out of Brad's book and leave the drama behind.

***

His second, third and fourth dates went a lot smoother, if he ignored the parts where Spencer always happened to make an appearance. Months ago, he would have read something into it. Now, he was just fed up.

At some point during his coffee meet with Tom, he decided that he was going to confront Spencer about his behaviour. Spencer was barely even trying hide any more. He could see him plain as day loitering three tables down, and the whole thing pissed him off more than he thought possible. He was halfway over there to yell at him when, seemingly out of nowhere, one of the guys waiting at the counter pulled out a knife.

Carlton reacted without thinking. In less than a minute, he had the perpetrator subdued, handcuffed and mirandized, before he started dragging the man out of the store. Unfortunately, he wasn't expecting the idiot's accomplice to try to mount a rescue right there.

An elbow slammed into his side; someone built like a linebacker collided with his shoulder. Carlton lost his footing, slipped and crashed head first onto the ground.

He woke up some time later to a splitting headache and Spencer clutching his hand.

Spencer's eyes were bright with emotion, and Carlton had the smug sense of righteous feeling that, oh, he hadn't been wrong at all. Right before he blacked out again.

***

The doctors kept him overnight for observation. In the morning, once they discharged him, he went back home where he settled in to play a waiting game. He'd gone on hundreds of stakeouts before, so this wasn't altogether different; it was just a matter of having the patience to reel in his catch.

Late in the evening, when Spencer showed up on his doorstep, Carlton knew that this was it. Not only had his patience paid off, finally he had the upper hand in this relationship.

He let Spencer in.

He then let Spencer ramble on and on, grateful that he didn't have to do any of the talking. Although, by the end of a particularly long discourse on concussion, Spencer still hadn't said anything worth hearing as far as their relationship was concerned, and Carlton was losing patience.

"That's it?" he scoffed. "You came all the way over here to tell me that I need to take better care of myself?" He wasn't about to make the first move this time. Considering how things had gone the last time they'd been in his apartment, he wanted Spencer to be the one to put himself out there.

Spencer promptly surprised him by doing just that in a spectacular stream of ranting. "You were supposed to be unattainable!" Spencer said, accusing. "You were supposed to be out of reach, like some sort of giant detective brass ring—hell, I don't know! Then, all of a sudden, there you were hitting on me, and I guess I didn't handle it as well as I could have."

Before he could even raise an eyebrow, Spencer added: "Okay, fine, so I freaked out," sounding quite agitated all of a sudden. "But, after that, I freaked out more when you started dating other guys. Which has got to stop, by the way, because I will not share you! Then, you almost get yourself killed in a fucking coffee shop of all places. Seriously, who does that, Lassie? What kind of Head Detective nearly gets himself killed because of a latte with—"

Carlton wrapped both arms around Spencer, bringing the tirade to an abrupt halt. He could feel Spencer trembling against him, and it made his heart ache seeing how distraught Spencer was. Upsetting him had never been his intention; he just needed the certainty that this was real, and that he hadn't misread the signs yet again. "Hey, it's okay," he whispered as the trembling went on. "Spencer, I'm fine. Everything's fine, I promise!" He stroked his hands up and down Spencer's back, trying to soothe him; and it was the easiest thing in the world to brush his lips against Spencer's forehead when Spencer finally stopped shaking.

He let Spencer bear him back then, accepting that Spencer needed some measure of control.

He didn't even complain when Spencer shoved him up against the wall. No, he didn't get the chance, because the impact pushed the air out of his lungs and forced his mouth open—opening him up, as it turned out, for Spencer's tongue. It stroked his lower lip gently, coaxing him to open wider. Once he did, Spencer pressed in and took his mouth with the kind of urgency that made him ache to give Spencer whatever he wanted. He heard himself moan as Spencer's tongue thrust slick, hot and rough against his; and he wasn't at all prepared for the heat of it, or for the wave of pleasure that crashed over him.

He grabbed Spencer's shoulders as his knees went weak. And all he could do was hold on while Spencer held him up against the wall and kissed him, tangling their tongues together again and again until, eventually, he had to tear his mouth away.

He let his head fall back, for a moment, and took several deep breaths, trying to regain some control. Only, Spencer kept working against him, mouthing gently down the line of his throat.

"Spencer," Carlton whimpered; he couldn't help it, not after Spencer started sucking on the skin over his pulse. He wanted Spencer to mark him there—so badly he was the one, who was trembling now. He didn't even notice his shirt had been unbuttoned until Spencer slowly drew back to stare at him with an expression of pure lust.

"Damn, would you get a load of that," Spencer growled, making him flush bright red.

No matter how often he'd thought about the two of them together, he'd never imagined Spencer would actually lick his lips at the sight of him. Flustered, he puffed his chest out a little, shivering at feel of Spencer's fingers sliding into his chest hair. Then, Spencer leant down and pressed his face into it, breathing very hard.

"You like that, huh?" Carlton whispered, heart racing.

"God, yeah," Spencer told him breathlessly. "I can't believe you've been hiding this from me all this time."

He felt Spencer press a kiss to his sternum, and a part of him wanted to protest that he hadn't been hiding anything at all. But Spencer kept nuzzling and stroking the hair on his chest; and he was finding it hard enough to think before Spencer's thumbs grazed over his nipples, circling them very slowly.

"Jesus!" Carlton shuddered, arching into them and gasping as that sweet tingling wave of pleasure spread through his entire body.

"More?" Spencer looked up, sounding a little desperate himself now.

Carlton nodded, still gasping; he wasn't capable of much more than that, not with Spencer nuzzling him again, lips brushing the sensitive skin below his ear. He cupped a hand over Spencer's nape, guiding him back down; and they both groaned out loud when Spencer tugged lightly on his nipple, closing his teeth gently around it before sucking the sting away.

"God, that's good," Carlton told him, squirming with pleasure. "That's—oh, God!" And he didn't care any more if they were moving too fast; he just sagged back against the wall and let Spencer take what he wanted, trying not to lose it with every wet, slow rasp of Spencer's tongue.

In the end, he couldn't hold on any more. He started grinding up against Spencer's stomach, working his hips harder and harder until he was shuddering uncontrollably and grunting into Spencer's neck while the slick, slow spurts from his cock soaked through his boxers.

Spencer drew back while he was still struggling to catch his breath. "Did you just—"

"No," Carlton denied at once. He was a grown man; he refused to believe that he'd just come in his pants like a teenager, even though it was patently obvious that he had. The large wet spot at the front of his pants called him a liar, as did the scent of come in the air.

Closing his eyes, he hoped Spencer wouldn't be inclined to press the topic. That was why he didn't see it coming when he was dragged off to his bedroom by a Spencer very much intent on screwing the rest of his brains out.

***

The next day at the precinct, Carlton had some trouble sitting down, and Spencer literally could not sit still. He was bouncing around, practically broadcasting that SBPD's Head Detective had had sex with its lead psychic. He was also using every annoying nickname under the sun since, apparently, he knew he could get away with it now. Frankly, he was just plain irritating.

Carlton had no idea why he found it so charming.

Around midday, Spencer announced to everyone at large that he'd had enough for the day. For his ears only, Spencer added: "I'll see you later this evening." Then, Spencer leaned over and kissed him on the cheek in full view of everyone.

The world felt like it tilted to the side, for a moment.

Spencer, quite sensibly, ran.

Image and reputation demanded an immediate response. So, Carlton leapt out of his chair, yelling, "Spencer, you get back here right now!" When that didn't happen, he gave chase.

He caught up with Spencer by the interrogation rooms.

"Okay, Lassie, look—"

"In a minute," he snapped, dragging Spencer by the scruff of his neck into the room behind him. Inside, he steered Spencer onto a chair, leant over him and growled, "Never ever do that again, unless you plan on doing it properly."

"Properly?" Spencer smirked. "So, does that mean I can—?"

"No," Carlton vetoed that at once.

"Aw, come on, Carlton! Please?"

Exasperated, he scowled at the man he loved, who was also quite possibly the bane of his existence. "I thought I told you not to call me that!"

"You're kidding, right?"

"No."

"You still won't let me call you 'Carlton'? Even after last night?"

"Especially after last night!"

"I—what?"

Laughing at the look on Spencer's face, Carlton took the time to kiss him until he was truly lost for words.

 

The End.