Disclaimer: you know if I had any ownership of psych-things, I wouldn't be only writing fanfic for it.
Rating: T because I feel like it and because it makes me nervous to think K means Kids.
Summary: Set at some point when nobody's involved with anybody else (yet), the crew is called in to investigate mayhem among fanfic writers. Muahahaha...
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"Detectives, my office." Vick's expression was odd, and Lassiter glanced at Juliet before they both got up from their desks to follow her.
"What do you think it is?" Juliet whispered.
"No clue, but looks like Spencer's in on it." He was already weary, and from her expression, she didn't seem to hold it against him.
In Vick's office, Shawn and Gus were already occupying the chairs—Shawn perched on the back of his—and as soon as Vick reclaimed her own chair, she gestured to folders on her desk.
"We have a case, but it's complicated."
"They're all a little complicated," Lassiter said.
Shawn scoffed. "To you, man, but not—"
"Mr. Spencer," Vick interrupted. "This is my time to talk." He subsided, and she went on. "There's been an incident behind the scenes of a reality show being filmed here in Santa Barbara. Poisoned water was provided to some of the cast, and while no one was seriously injured, the show's producers have called us in to find out who's responsible."
"I thought reality shows thrived on that kind of crap?" Lassiter leaned against the wall, arms crossed.
Juliet nodded. "Yeah, isn't trying to sabotage each other sort of the point of reality shows? I mean, how do we know it's not a publicity stunt?"
"This isn't that kind of show. I think," Vick said. "It's not really my area of expertise, but Gus here seems to be our personal expert."
Gus took the floor. "You know that show Fake? About the guy who pretends to be all kinds of different things?"
"Sure. Oh!" Juliet exclaimed, "is this the reality show about Fake?"
Lassiter frowned. "A reality show about a show about a fake?"
"Yes," Gus said. "The reality show is centered around some of the people who write fan fiction about Fake. They put thirty fan fiction writers in a house for three months to watch the new season of Fake together, and the show—which is called FakeFic—tracks how the subset groups relate to each other as the season progresses, with the winner being the one who is voted by all the groups as the best writer."
"The subset groups?" Lassiter felt his eyebrows going up.
"You're asking a lot of questions," Shawn snarked. "Just let the man talk."
"When do you let him talk?" Lassiter retorted.
"Thank you, Lassiter. As I was about to explain," Gus went on with A Look to Shawn, "the fanfic writers are divided into three groups, according to which ships they prefer on Fake."
"Ships," Vick repeated.
"In the night," Shawn murmured.
"Relationships," Gus clarified. "On Fake, there are three main characters: Jon, Mariette, and Dalton. The fanfic writers fall into three groups. Some want Jon and Mariette to be a couple; they're called Joniettes. Some want Mariette and Dalton to be together, and they're called Daliettes. And then some," he added more carefully, "want Jon and Dalton to be together. Those are the Jontons."
"Wait. Are the guys gay?"
"No, Lassie, that's not how fanfic works." Shawn's tone was slightly condescending. "You don't have to be gay to be in a slash story."
"Slash?" Vick rubbed her temples.
Juliet jumped in. "It's what they call same-sex pairings in fan fiction."
"Right," Gus said. "It goes back to the early days of the genre, with stories which paired up Kirk and Spock from Star Trek. The writers, when describing the stories, would put a slash between the names of the characters in a romantic or sexual relationship, and over time, slash became the shorthand used to refer to that kind of story." He looked nervous. "And there's a lot of it."
"Why would the fans pair up straight characters?" Vick asked.
"Well, usually there's a strong emotional bond or significant shared history between the characters, and the fans run with it."
"It's odd," Juliet remarked, "since on Fake, there isn't any emotional or really any other kind of bond between Jon and Dalton. They're just opposites, that's all, and both completely straight."
"Who writes these stories?" Lassiter was frowning again.
Gus again had the answer. "Predominantly females, but there are exceptions." He seemed a bit self-conscious. "I used to write a bit of Airwolf back in the day."
"A bit," Shawn mocked. "Tell them about the A-Team."
"Shawn. You used to write Saved By Th—" The rest was cut off when Shawn punched him in the arm. "The point is," he said with difficulty, "it is usually women, teenagers on up, who put out the most fan fiction."
"Okay," Lassiter said, ready to move on. "What's going on at the crime scene?"
Vick took over. "The three subset groups are housed in different wings of a mansion with one central TV viewing room. They interact in the TV room and during meals, and aren't allowed any contact with the outside world short of what they see on TV. They've been in place for nearly two months, and yesterday, Group #3—the Daliettes—were given bottled water which had been tampered with, and six of the women went to the ER for treatment. All of them are at least temporarily back at the house, since no one wants to lose out on the potential prize." She glanced at Juliet and Lassiter. "I need you on the scene to talk to everyone, starting with the on-site psychologist who was originally hired simply to monitor the women over the course of the filming."
"And they're all women?" he clarified.
"Aged fifteen to fifty," she said with a smile.
Shawn was smiling too, but Gus nudged him into paying attention again. "Chief! We're invited, right?"
"Yes, Mr. Spencer. We'll be counting on your… powers of observation, psychic or otherwise, to pinpoint who might have poisoned the water bottles."
"Someone with access to the kitchen, for starters," Juliet said.
"Go check it out." Vick handed over the folders. "Here's the information the staff provided about the participants and the house. Get to work, people."
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Juliet and Lassiter got to the FakeFic house first, partly because Lassiter was determined to make their presence known before the guys arrived, and partly because the aforementioned guys swore they couldn't go another ten minutes without a taco, and would catch up momentarily.
"It's just ten a.m., isn't it?"
"They have the appetites of ravenous wolves," Juliet reminded him. "Continually. Let's go in."
The house was a restored mansion set on a vast green lawn surrounded by tall trees, and they were met at the door by Frank Stephens, assistant to the producer. "Detectives," he said with some relief. "Thank God you're here." He peered past them. "I understood you were bringing a psychic?"
Juliet shot Lassiter a preemptive look to stop him saying 'no, because he's not psychic,' and answered, "He and his associate will be here in a few minutes."
"Reeking of hot sauce," Lassiter muttered.
Juliet pretended not to hear. "Who stays in the house other than the fanfic writers?"
"Not me," he said with a faint shudder. "These women are… intense. I'm here only when the producer is here. That's Katherine Newton, and she's in the dining hall. We film some nights up until lights-out, which is eleven, and the camera crews come back at seven a.m."
"Lights- out? The women honor that?"
"Well, the house alarms are set and they're told we won't back them up if they set them off and the police show up. It's in the contract they sign. After hours, they agree to stay here, in their rooms, no straying."
"Yes." Stephens swallowed. "I never knew fear until I took this job. It's not all of them, though. It's mainly—"
"Thank God!" said a spiky-haired blonde striding toward them. "Saved by the police, as society intended." She offered her very strong hand to them each in turn and Lassiter resisted the urge to massage his crushed bones afterward. "I'm Katherine Newton, producer and director. Come in to the kitchen." She started away, but they all paused when the doorbell rang again.
Stephens let Shawn and Gus in, sniffing discreetly. "Tacos?"
"Very good, my man. You must be the butler. I'm Shawn Spencer, this is Linguini Salmonella, and we're with—"
"Spencer, Guster, get over here," Lassiter snapped.
"Them," Shawn finished.
In the kitchen, a rather large and surprisingly high-tech stainless steel affair, Katherine Newton sat a glass-topped table and invited the others to join her. "We have a lot of ground to cover before we set up for the next shot."
"Frank was about to tell us who stays here apart from the contestants," Juliet prompted.
"As in overnight? There's one monitor per unit but they're not expected to do anything except call 911 in an emergency and call us if anyone bolts. During the day, the camera crew, the housecleaning staff, the psychologist and of course the cooks are here along with me and Frank, but we don't stay all day."
Frank muttered, "Who would want to?"
Katherine shot him an amused look. "Frank's having trouble with the ladies."
"They're not all ladies," he said with a grimace.
"What about the cooks? This poisoned water; who had access to it?" Lassiter had remained standing, restless. He didn't like it when there were so many people on the loose.
"The water was purchased right here in town. We have the receipts."
"But only the Daliettes' water was poisoned?"
"Wait, which ones are the Daliettes?" Lassiter asked, and in the same breath, "Spencer! Guster! Move away from the pantry!"
"Dude, I'm looking for clues!" Shawn protested.
"Really? And exactly what clues did you find in the cookie tins?"
Gus stuffed the last of a chocolate chip cookie in his mouth while Shawn tried to hide the two he had in his hands, a telltale smear of chocolate already on his chin.
"The spirits need sustenance too, Lassie." With exaggerated huffiness, Shawn stepped fully into the pantry with Gus and closed the door behind them.
Juliet turned back to Katherine. "Please send the bill for any excess food consumption directly to Chief Vick and she'll deduct it from their consulting fee."
"Will do," Katherine said briskly, making a note. "Anyway, we saved the bottles for your inspection but it looks like they might have small needle marks. There was some water in the bottom of the case so that's why we thought to check."
"A leak when they were pierced," Lassiter agreed. "Yeah, we'll take a look at those."
"Fortunately not all the women drank water that night."
Juliet, obviously disturbed at the odd noises coming from the pantry, glanced at Lassiter, and he interpreted this to mean she wouldn't object if he took action. "Water was provided to all three sections? Would anyone know ahead of time which case was intended for which section?"
"Wouldn't have to. Each dorm has a small kitchenette—nothing like this, but enough to keep them stocked in snacks for the night. The cases were purchased that morning and placed in each kitchenette then. Assuming the poison wasn't added prior to purchase, the culprit would have had all day to access the bottles."
"And you're sure they weren't tampered with prior?"
Katherine smiled. "Yes."
Frank elucidated, "I bought them. We were low on a few items and I stacked the cases in the back seat of my car. I know they were dry then."
"He's kind of touchy about his car upholstery."
Frank's jaw tightened. "One incident with a sick child in a new car can scar a man."
"I hear that," Lassiter murmured, thinking of Shawn. "Have there been any other incidents?"
"No, just general bickering and sniping."
"It's those Joniettes," Frank said distractedly. "And some of the Jontons. The Daliettes, they're not so bad. But the Joniettes, they're fierce." He shivered a little.
Lassiter sighed, strode over to the pantry door, and dragged Gus out by his arm. "Get out," he said grimly, "and go do your so-called psychic crap." He pointed at Shawn, who emerged carrying an open package of cheese straws. "You. Go wash up and for God's sake, find a breath mint." He snatched the cheese straws away from him and closed the package, tossing it back in the pantry.
He knew he probably came on too strong sometimes, but he was just as often damned glad he could. Juliet had once told him he "could intimidate like nobody's business with those piercing blue eyes and patented scowl," and most of the time even Shawn backed off. Which was the goal.
With Shawn and Gus out of the room, he relaxed a little (which wasn't always wise, given the havoc they could wreak unsupervised). "Can we talk to the psychologist?"
"Of course. He'll be here in about ten minutes." Katherine stood up, grinning. "Want to meet the girls?"
Truthfully, no, but he let Juliet answer in the affirmative, and Katherine led them back out into the main hall. "They're in the great room, as we call it, watching reruns of Fake from last season."
She pushed open a wide ornate door and stood aside. Frank had hung back, and Lassiter gave him a critical once-over. Yes, a group of women can be terrifying. But suck it up, man.
As if he heard this thought, Frank leaned in close and whispered, "You don't know, detective. You just don't know."
Scowling, Lassiter only said, "Go find Spencer and Guster. They need adults to watch over them."
Then he followed Juliet into hell.
He took a breath. Thirty pairs of eyes—some curious, some annoyed, some much too intense, some critical—bored into him. He knew they were looking at him and not Juliet, because, well, he just knew.
Juliet knew it too; she stood a little closer and murmured, "I've got your back." Thank God for her, he thought.
Katherine called out a cheerful hello to the group. "Ladies, these are Detectives Lassiter and O'Hara of the SBPD. They're here to help figure out who tried to kill some of you."
A third of the eyes rolled, a third re-focused their intensity, and the rest were a blur, because Lassiter felt uncharacteristic fear creeping up on him. Juliet touched his arm lightly. He took a breath.
"Which one are you?" asked the nearest female, who looked to be in her mid-twenties, coming out of a Goth phase, and who was distinctly leering.
"Detective Lassiter," Juliet said, when he hesitated. "You are?"
"Damned happy to finally see a man other than Frank and the cook," the girl said with a smirk. "I'm Tessa, leader of the Jontons."
"Yes," Katherine elucidated, "each ship group has a captain. Francie," and she pointed to a seemingly docile forty-something woman with a long braid, "is captain of the Daliettes, and here is Camryn, heading up the Joniettes."
Camryn was probably not twenty yet, Lassiter judged, and she had a part-frou-frou, part rabid French poodle air about her. Her earrings were heart-shaped and she was wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with a picture of the actor he knew portrayed Jon on Fake.
"Which ship?" she asked abruptly.
He stared at her. "Come again?"
"He's impartial," Juliet said quickly, again coming to his rescue. He would definitely have to buy her next coffee.
"What about you?"
"Oh, I don't watch the show enough to have an opinion."
Lassiter glanced at her, knowing she was lying, yet admiring the strategy. It would do no good to become either the enemy or friend of any of these groups. He cleared his throat. "I don't suppose any of you has any theories about who poisoned the water?"
Immediate cacophony erupted, and Katherine cut it off quickly with a shouted, "Quiet!" followed by the shrill sound of a whistle she pulled out of her pocket. "Ladies," she said silkily, "please don't give me reason to film you all acting like animals. Let's have the team captains answer the question, shall we? Tessa?"
Tessa sprawled in one of the many padded chairs, most of which were facing the giant-screen TV which someone had paused on a close-up of Jon getting in Dalton's face. At least two of the young women were looking between the screen and the detectives, little longings (for the image) apparent in their half-glazed expressions.
"It's not the Jontons," Tessa said emphatically. "We take enough heat as it is writing about what we know is the only real ship on the show."
Groans from two-thirds of the room could be heard, but Katherine brandished her whistle again and there was relative calm.
Francie flipped her braid behind her back and said reasonably, "Actually, the Daliettes take more heat than you do."
"Damn straight," muttered Camryn. "Because the Daliettes are idiots."
"Camryn," Katherine snapped. "Knock it off. Or save it for when the cameras are on."
Camryn tossed her hair. "Look, Jon and Mariette are dating on the show, and that's how it should be. Plus they belong together, because duh, and anyway, Dalton's a cold fish."
"He is not!" yelled two-thirds of the women.
Katherine blew the whistle, and Lassiter said loudly, "I asked if any of you had any theories about the poisoning, not the stupid show."
Oooh, wrong approach. All of the women glared at him then, and Juliet put her hand on his arm again, protectively. Damn, he was glad she was his partner.
Tessa repeated coolly, "It wasn't the Jontons."
"It certainly wasn't the Daliettes," Francie added.
All eyes went to Camryn, who flushed. "Well don't look at us. We wouldn't. We couldn't. Where are we going to get poison anyway? We've been locked up here for two months."
Katherine said, "They get visitors once a week, and since this isn't a prison, the only thing we stop the visitors from bringing in is technology."
"Thanks a lot for the vote of confidence, Katherine." Camryn flopped into her chair and turned to face the TV. "Means a lot."
Katherine eyed the back of her head with obvious dislike, but let it go. "Had enough?" she asked the detectives with false brightness.
"Yes, please," Juliet answered quietly—Lassiter didn't dare speak right now—and the three of them went back into the hall. Katherine closed the door firmly behind them.
"That was fun," Lassiter managed.
"Barrel of," Katherine agreed. "If we weren't over halfway through this, I'd pull the plug in a heartbeat." But saying it, she still gestured to a camera operator who'd come down the hall to go ahead and get started with the contestants.
Juliet glanced at her watch. "Where's the psychologist?"
"Where are Spencer and Guster?" Lassiter countered, suddenly remembering there were far worse things than a room full of man-hungry angry women, such as calls from the mayor to Vick and on down to him when Spencer ran amuck.
"Probably back in the kitchen," Juliet said with a sigh.
"Dr. Rodahill should be in any minute. I can show you the three dorm sections if you like." She started up the stairs, and they followed. Lassiter allowed himself to touch Juliet's arm to guide her up ahead of him.
"And what about the monitors you mentioned?"
"Well, they're only here from nine p.m. to seven a.m. so we didn't think they were involved in this, but I'll get you their names."
"Might give us some insight into how things go when each group thinks it's alone," Lassiter suggested.
"Dr. Rodahill gets reports from the monitors daily, and he's onsite from mid-afternoon to early evening. I asked him to stop by this morning specifically to meet with you." At the top of the stairs, she pointed to three doors off the main hall. "In alphabetical order, the Daliettes, the Joniettes, and the Jontons." She went straight, pushing open the Joniettes' door. "And here we have… oh crap, what the hell is this?"
Lassiter looked past her, and sighed.
"Dammit, Shawn," Juliet murmured.
Shawn and Gus were in the middle of the room, engaging in a tug-of-war over a lacy black bra. Frank was sitting on one of the ten beds, his face in his hands, rocking back and forth slightly.
"I think I just got an idea for a new show," Katherine said dryly.
Lassiter shook his head. "I hope this Dr. Rodahill brings a lobotomy kit."
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