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The Hedgehog's Dilemma

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"What are we looking for again?" Lassiter asked, shining his flashlight down where the dim safety beacons wouldn't reach. Of course, then he had to see the sludge clinging to his shoes and he grimaced, deciding they were a lost cause. Sissy clung tighter to the pad sewn into the right shoulder of his jacket and whined at every jostle. She hated bath time.

"The spirits didn't tell me exactly, just to go with the flow," Spencer answered, high stepping beside Lassiter as if that would keep his precious tennis shoes clean. Espinete leaned forward in the leather holster Shawn tied to his thigh. From what Lassiter could see, the hedgehog's spines were fluffed in the same anticipation that made Spencer's eyes gleam during a case. "In this instance, they meant the toilet flow."

Lassiter winced as his heel skidded in something that made a loud squelch when he picked his foot back up. "I'm sending you the bill for a new pair of shoes," he threatened, still wondering why he bothered humoring the fake psychic.

"Be nice, Carlton," Sissy said softly, her voice right next to his ear. She'd always been amused by Spencer's antics and glad when Spencer managed to startle a laugh out of Carlton too.

"He'll just expense it back to the police station," Lassiter grumbled, less irritated with Spencer's lack workplace ethics when it meant he could splurge on a new pair of patent leathers to break in. The breaking-in part was his favorite.

"There!"

Spencer's voice echoed through the sewer tunnel, bouncing so Lassiter couldn't pinpoint the direction when he turned to find Spencer gone. Between the dripping water and the splashes from Spencer's flailing, he couldn't tell were the psychic had disappeared. "Spencer, you get back here this instant!" he didn't want to be responsible for Spencer's untimely, yet inevitable death. Not to the chief, and not to Spencer's over protective father, or his cowardly partner.

"I think I found it Lassie! Now we can—Woah!"

The larger splash definitely came from behind him and to the left. Lassiter backtracked and took the first branch off the main tunnel. He kept his flashlight moving back and forth and carefully kept his eyes searching for a safe trail. There was a reason these tunnels were being replaced. His diligence paid off when he reached a hole forming an impromptu waterfall where the water crashed down out of sight.

"Spencer!" Lassiter yelled, crouching down to look through the broken tunnel. All he could see was black water rushing past. "Spencer!"

"Come on, he's headed this way!" Sissy yelled, leaping from his shoulder and into the murky water without a thought for her fur. The twin white stripes running down her back, made her a little easier to keep in the tiny circle from his flashlight.

They splashed through the murky water full of nastiness that even god didn't want to know about chasing the echoes of Spenser's shouts. The tunnel came to an abrupt halt, water suddenly swerving to the side and sluicing into a series of pipes. A grate covered an upper riser, locked at one end, with a ladder built into the wall underneath. Lassiter shone his flashlight through the bars and found Spencer's canary yellow t-shirt, muddied and stained, with the psychic laying still in a shallow puddle.

"He's down there, isn't he?" Sissy asked, prowling around the edge of the grate. Her nearsightedness wasn't usually an issue, but sometimes, she fretted about not helping more.

"Yes," Lassiter said, helplessly pulling on the grate bolted to the bottom of the trough. There was no way he could get it off fast enough, no way he could get back to the hold Spencer fell through, no way anyone would get there in time. "And I don't think he's breathing."

Sissy shrieked, a noise the like Lassiter had never heard from a skunk, daemon or otherwise. The short hair on his neck stood up and his hands tightened on the bars until he felt rust flake off under the pads of his fingers. Sissy studied the bars for another few heartbeats and then dived between the widest pair.

"What the hell are you doing?" Lassiter asked, grabbing Sissy's tail on reflex. She managed to fit her shoulders through the bars, but her stomach and hips were stuck despite her wiggling.

"We are not going to let them die, now push me though!"

Lassiter closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He didn't want to let Sissy go by herself, but it was the only choice. They'd have to backtrack together, but if Spencer was dead, that slight annoyance wouldn't matter. Before he could change his mind, he helped Sissy through the bars, wincing at her yelp and the fur that scraped off behind her.

She splashed into the pool, and Lassiter called out, "Sissy, are you all right?"

"Fine," she answered. "He's not breathing, and Espinete is fading."

His stomach turned to ice, dropping his arm through the grate so he could get the flashlight closer. Spencer was turning blue, and Espinete's normally rich coloring had blended to gray on gray. He wanted to puke, he wanted to curl up somewhere with the most expensive bottle of booze he could find, but he could only lay there and watch with his heart beating a tattoo for retreat.

"Carlton. Carlton, I have to," Sissy said, words soft and heard more in his head than with his ears.

She climbed a nearby stack of loose debris made of tree limbs, junk, and trash. Lassiter held his breath, silently willing her to hurry and for her plan to work. Sissy leaped, flinging her legs out before curling into a ball and landing right on Spencer's chest.

Lassiter felt the impact against his own ribs and gasped, almost dropping his flashlight. He clenched his eyes shut and felt Sissy jump again, praying it would work. She rocketed down a third time, her paws jarring Spencer's chest, and this time Lassiter heard the shock of Spencer's inhale and felt his own heart jump a beat.

He watched Spencer curl his arm around Sissy's body, combing her matted fur with his fingers. That's what he saw, but what he felt was Spencer's hot hand reaching straight into his chest. It wasn't pain exactly, but Lassiter had never expect to feel anything like it. Sissy and Victoria's Rodite had gotten along, but touches between him and Rodite and Victoria and Sissy had been brief and necessary. And he knew Victoria was never thrilled to be married to a man with a skunk daemon. He could almost feel Spencer cradle him, and Espinete's spines poke him, but he knew it was Sissy, and she could only tuck her head by Spencer's neck counting his heartbeats.

"Spencer, if you ever do that again, I will personally see to it that you share the drunk tank with the largest, smelliest thug I can find," Lassiter promised, suddenly aware of his soggy clothes and the smell that would most likely never come out.

"Sounds a little counterproductive to me, Lassie, but don't worry,," Spencer said, his voice rough, making Lassiter glad he didn't know just how much water the psychic had swallowed. "Next time we're sleuthing through the sewers, I'll wear one of those monkey backpacks with the leash tail you can hold. On the bright side, I found the watch that proves the linguineist did it."

"Linguist," Lassiter corrected, fingers twitching with the urge to have Sissy back with him. Or to poke Spencer hard in the sternum just to make sure his hand wouldn't go through.

Spencer grinned up at him, watch around his wrist as he stood with both daemons clutched close. "I've heard it both ways," he answered.



* ** ** ** ** *


They closed the case, and Lassiter slowly forgot what it was like having Sissy so close to Spencer. The psychic never mentioned it, the most intimate thing two people could do, and all Spencer could do was flop around for attention when what felt like the entire SBPD met them just outside the sewer entrance to hear his wrap up. Sissy stayed quieter than usual, her fur still damp and her tail wrapped snuggly around Lassiter's neck.

Lassiter tried not to hold it against Spencer. Sometimes shit just happened, and no one in their right mind would ever expect any kind of real emotion out of a man who couldn't order lunch without lying and putting on a show. The real cherry on his pie was the cold he picked up somewhere from one of the dregs of society he'd interviewed before Spencer came swanning in with his theory about the university professor.

He coughed again, and cleared his throat, glaring out of the corner of his vision at Spencer's ass which hadn't moved away from his desk in the last ten minutes while O'Hara kept up conversation with him and his suspiciously busy-when-tunnels-were-involved partner. Sissy shifted her head over the edge of her basket on his desk, and he reached over, soothing down the ruff of her neck. He'd actually finished the paperwork for the case already, he was just idly clicking buttons until four when he could leave with his conscious clear to go home and collapse. A coughing spell made him clutch his stomach, painful dry rasps that almost tore the skin off his throat. Unfortunately, Spencer was blocking his path to the coffee machine.

After a glance at the group to make sure they weren't paying attention to him, Lassiter clicked to a different browser window and started playing Squirrel Assassin to distract himself. He was carefully pulling the catapult back to take out a rabid weasel when something warm and dry tentatively touched his hand. Lassiter glanced down sharply in time to see Espinete nudge a roll of pineapple flavored Life Savers over his fingers.

Spencer hadn't moved except to rest his hand on Lassiter's desk, palm up. Lassiter popped one of the candies in his mouth, and sighed with relief. Espinete never spoke much, maybe making up for Spencer's excess vocabulary and eighties references, but he rubbed his cheek against Lassiter's thumb and let himself be tickled under the chin.

The fur was so soft, warm and fuzzy, but actually, and he'd never admit it even under pain of death, he'd always been fascinated by the spines. He cupped his hand over Espinete's back, petting the hedgehog carefully and letting the spines slip through his fingers. Spencer shivered and his hand twitched, as he stuttered through whatever nonsensical reply he was making to O'Hara. Sissy climbed out of her basket, and rubbed noses with Espinete.

Lassiter reached across the desk and put his hand in Shawn's.