A Common Trope
Yeah, yeah… we know the drill. Own not even a minority interest in psych, wish I did, or at least that I got to play in the writer's sandbox with them, instead of out on the perimeter of the playground. TPTB got everything, no infringement intended, etc., etc…
AN: Yeah, so I thought this was going to be a one-shot, clearly my subconscious and Loafer had other ideas. So here we go: Juliet's side. Spoilers up through "Let's Doo-Wop it Again."
"No, Shawn, I don't care how much trouble it was to order the Naughty Nurse costume while you were still in the hospital nor do I care how much it cost to have it shipped Express, I am not going to put it on just to give you a pain pill."
His eyebrows did that Groucho Marx thing he thought was adorable, but that Juliet found vaguely creepy and stalkerish.
"But Jules, it's not just for pill administering. There's the sponge bath. Not to mention, the therapeutic massage. I ordered DVDs—"
"No." She held the tablet out along with the pineapple smoothie Shawn had requested when he found out she'd be dropping by his father's house to check on him. Henry had after work plans and frankly, was probably tired of being Shawn's baby nurse. Juliet couldn't blame him. She'd tried to help as much as she could, but Florence Nightingale she wasn't—on a good day. After a long day at work and with a patient like Shawn who was exhausting when healthy? Frankly, she was shocked Henry was still coming home at night.
"Shut up and take the damned pain pill or I will ball it up in a piece of cheese and force it down your throat."
And again with the waggling of the eyebrows accompanied by a stupid grin that was entirely too familiar. Sad part was, too often, she thought that grin charming. Less often these days, though.
Exhausted, just from five minutes of dealing with him, she sighed and said, "Shawn, please take the pill."
She had no idea if her irritation had bled through enough to make an impression or whether it was simply his remarkable skill for self-preservation, but in an instant the insufferable grin shifted to a smile—a real one—that was so genuinely sweet, she felt her annoyance ebb. At least enough to keep her from killing him.
"For you, anything, Jules."
As he took the pill and washed it down with a healthy sip of smoothie, the rest of the brashness faded, leaving him looking tired and more than a little pale. It hadn't been so much the emergency appendectomy that had done him in as the exertion when he took down Jimmy, the murdering security specialist. It had been an unusually brave move for Shawn—of the type he'd been doing more often and she wasn't sure why. Physically taking guys down was so not his forte. And in this case, post-surgical procedure, it had left him with torn stitches and extra tenderness, requiring more pain medication, much to the dismay of Henry's wallet.
"Are you gonna leave right away?"
Damn. She had intended to. She'd intended to give him his pill, make sure he had whatever junk food he needed, then go home, kick her shoes off, take a hot shower, and put on her ugliest, comfiest pajamas.
It wasn't often, however, that he showed his vulnerable side—at least not without some ulterior motive—and Juliet couldn't deny, it was a difficult side to resist.
"I'll stay until you fall asleep, okay?"
She held her breath, half expecting him to come up with some ridiculous comment or suggestion, like they should play Star Wars: The Old Republic—and no, she would not don the Princess Leia gold bikini now or under any other circumstance—or Twister or watch an A-Team marathon. Luckily, however, he really did seem to be exhausted and merely nodded and closed his eyes. Almost immediately, his breathing steadied and his hands, so often tense or moving, relaxed on the blanket.
Her heart stuttered a little bit as she stroked his hair back from his forehead, enjoying the rare feel of it without gel. He really could be almost unbearably sweet.
She paused, worried that she'd been disturbing him, but no—other than a small shift on the pillow, he remained asleep—his breathing steady, except for the occasional giggly wheeze.
"More… fun to keep…"
Oh, she could only imagine. But she really didn't want to.
"More fun to keep things from…" Another giggle escaped. "Keep things from Lassie."
Juliet froze, staring at the small, blissful smile on Shawn's face as the giggling and muttering subsided into a true, deep sleep.
Keep things from Lassie? What on earth could he mean? What could he possibly be keeping from Lassiter that would make him that happy? Juliet bit her lip—maybe it was just an off-the-cuff, dreamland remark. She wouldn't be all that surprised, really. It was kind of disturbing how much time Shawn devoted to yanking her partner's chain and how much enjoyment he derived from said yanking. Probably, that's all this was—yet another scheme or plan to get to Lassiter. But you know, Carlton had had a rough few weeks and really deserved a decent break from Shawn World. It was the least she could do for him. Once outside, she pulled out her cell and dialed.
"Psych, Burton Guster spea—"
"What, exactly, is fun to keep from Lassiter?"
"Yes, Gus, it's me, and if you try to lie over the phone, I'll know, because Shawn told me your breathing gets quicker, like an obscene phone caller and your voice squeaks like one of the Chipmunks."
"It does not—"
Sure enough, his voice rose on the last word, ending on a pronounced squeak, followed by rapid, shallow breathing.
"I honestly don't know what you're talking about, Juliet."
"Just now, I gave Shawn a pain pill and after he fell asleep, he started talking in his sleep and said, 'More fun to keep things from Lassie.' What did he mean, Gus?" she demanded.
A resigned "Oh," was followed by a long, heavy sigh. "Yeah. You know when Shawn gave Lassie the tip about Tina?"
"The Asian Lori Petty?"
"Right. The organization's CFO. Anyhow, when Shawn gave Lassie that tip, he told me that Tina had been volunteering at the Boot Camp."
"Which is where you, Tony, and Drake followed her to and where she pulled a gun on you."
"Right." Gus sighed again. "Shawn had a really strong feeling Tina would be at the Boot Camp rather than the community center, but he said he didn't tell Lassiter that because it was more fun to keep things from him."
The longer Gus spoke, the tighter Juliet's grip got on her phone until the tips of her fingers went numb.
"Gus, you guys could have been killed."
"We didn't know that at the time," Gus protested, "and well—Shawn was feeling left out. He wanted to investigate the way we usually do, following the likelier lead—"
"While Lassiter and I wasted time scurrying around like gerbils in a damned habitrail. Dammit, Gus—"
Unable to think of anything to say that didn't involve language that would peel paint from the walls, Juliet abruptly cut the call off. Yanking open her car door, she dropped heavily into the driver's seat, sparing a narrow-eyed glare at the Spencer home. A vision of herself storming back in there and holding a pillow over Shawn's head was entirely too vivid and tempting.
She knew he often—hell, always—skirted the edges of the law, if he wasn't downright trampling all over them, and she knew he'd often saved their bacon because of his unconventional methods, but this… this…
For every one time he'd helped them or even outright saved Lassiter, how many others had he blatantly sent her partner and her by extension, off on some dead end chase? Damn him—how many other times had he withheld information for his own amusement?
To make Lassiter look like a fool?
All of a sudden, a vision of Carlton, nose bandaged, brandishing his gun as he kicked in the door at the gangbanger house appeared in her mind.
He hadn't let a broken nose get in the way of solving the case. Hell, he'd let his girlfriend break his nose in the better interests of solving the case. Yes, it was extra beneficial that Marlowe would be getting a reduced sentence for her help, but Carlton's primary interest had been in finding ways to solve the case.
Always trying to do the right thing, no matter the cost to him.
It had been on her mind more than she wanted to admit to herself—his stunning confession from a few weeks back.
That night, after he'd returned with coffee and pastries and shut down tighter than a drum, she'd understood he intended to a) not say another damned word and quite possibly regretted what he had said and b) expected things to return to business as usual, which they had.
What he had said, however, had stuck with her and she couldn't shake the feeling, that was precisely what he'd wanted. Not so much because he expected her to suddenly reciprocate—no… she hadn't gotten that impression at all, but more because he wanted her to wake up and smell the coffee as it were. To shake herself out of what she had begun to realize was a pretty limiting world view.
God, she'd been so damned smug and sure she was right and in a few quiet words, Carlton had shattered that misconception.
Carlton—her partner—her friend—had fallen in love with her, but knew she didn't feel the same. And rather than ruin what they did have, he'd kept quiet and watched as she had relationship after relationship, possibly hoping maybe, maybe someday… before culminating with the one that had to have hurt him the most. Especially with the way she herself had treated him.
In retrospect, it wasn't any real surprise he'd wanted a new partner. No real surprise either that he'd finally closed the door on what had never been and allowed himself to fall for Marlowe.
She couldn't deny still being suspicious of the other woman, given how she'd insinuated herself into Carlton's life, and manipulated him. She'd been angry at Marlowe and at the Universe in general, because honestly, hadn't he been through enough already, tamping down the faint feelings of guilt at her own part in his misery.
And she'd remained worried right up until the moment she heard him mention Marlowe in passing and saw how… happy he was.
With the exception of the craziness surrounding his initial residence in his new condo, Carlton Lassiter had been happier than Juliet had ever seen him.
Scratch that—Carlton was just flat out happy. For the first time in the nearly seven years she'd known him he was truly happy, his eyes reflecting contentment and his demeanor even approaching relaxed on occasion.
And for the first time Juliet had seen him—really seen him—not just as her partner or her friend, but as a man.
You could have done that. You could have brought that to his life.
She shook her head at the taunting voice. No. No she really couldn't have. Not without him saying anything.
Why hadn't he said anything?
It didn't matter what he'd imagined she thought and it didn't matter what she'd said about inter-office romances and it didn't matter that Shawn had always been there, flirting, occupying her space, never letting her forget that he was right there, Jules, even if they happened to be dating others, while by contrast, Carlton had simply been there. Quietly. In the background. Listening. Offering opinion but only if asked and even if the delivery was graceless and left something to be desired in terms of tact, she always knew he'd given her questions and opinions thoughtful consideration. He might say he wasn't comfortable answering, but never did he deflect with obscure 80s pop culture references that no one cared about.
And he knew—he knew dammit—that she took his opinions seriously. That she valued what he had to say.
So why the hell hadn't he said anything?
She blinked up at Carlton, standing in his open doorway, looking down at her, brows drawn together, eyes dark blue with concern. The bandage was gone from his nose, but the faint bruises remained beneath his eyes. Without thinking, she reached up, then froze, her hand dropping as he flinched and took a step back.
"O'Hara, what's wrong? Why are you here?"
"Can I come in?" Because she was damned if she'd do this in a hallway. Especially with those twin sisters lurking about who had a creepy habit of appearing out of nowhere.
"Yeah… sure." Stepping back, he opened the door wide enough for her to pass through, then closed it behind her although he made no motion to move beyond the foyer.
"What's wrong? Do we have a case?"
Juliet watched him go through the motions of pulling his cell from his pocket and staring briefly at the screen before shaking his head and putting it away as if from a distance. Heard his "What's going on?" as if through a filter, tinny and somewhat faint. All she could hear clearly was the pounding of her heart and the question she had to ask.
"Was it after the clock tower?"
His face wavered, then sharpened into almost painful detail, the five o'clock shadow, the slight messiness of his hair, the pale bluish-purple bruises beneath his eyes and the intense blueness of the eyes themselves as they clouded, then cleared.
"Son of a bitch," he muttered, shoving a hand through his hair. "Did something happen with Spencer?"
She ignored his question in favor if repeating hers. "Was it after the clock tower?"
"Why does it matter?"
"Just answer the question, Carlton—" Her voice shook, not with tears or anger, but just with the desire to know. "Was it?"
For a second, she thought he wouldn't answer. Thought he would literally put her out in the hallway and tell her to go home and mind her own damned business and really, she wouldn't have blamed him if he had. He'd lived with this for a long time and finally found a measure of peace and now she was barging back in and demanding answers to which she probably had no goddamned right.
But just as she expected him to open the door and tell her to get the hell out, he instead took a deep breath, his shoulders rising and falling, and as he exhaled, the man she'd once known—the unhappy one—reappeared.
"Why didn't you say anything?"
"I already told you—"
"You can't me there wasn't more."
"Knowing you didn't feel the same way is a pretty big thing, O'Hara. Given what it could have cost us."
"But if you felt that strongly—why didn't you try to convince me?" Juliet hated that she might be hurting him all over again, but it suddenly seemed incredibly important to know everything. "Why didn't you fight for me?"
A sharp laugh escaped as he ran his hand through his hair again.
"I did," he answered shortly. "As best as I could."
The days of riding a desk at City Hall flashed in her mind—Carlton dropping by, asking her opinion on a case, trying to draw her back in, asking how she was doing. Of course, Shawn had also been there—always there—always making sure she knew he was right there, Jules.
"I had a lot to come to terms with, too, Juliet."
She was startled out of her thoughts by his quiet statement and his rare use of her given name.
"I couldn't do it again if I wasn't sure."
She knew he meant not just a relationship, but a relationship with a partner. She remembered the rumors.
A small smile turned up one side of his mouth, but there wasn't a damned happy thing about it. "The only thing I was sure of was that you didn't feel the same way and the more time went on, it didn't seem as if there was any way you ever would."
Taking a deep, shuddering breath, she closed her eyes against the hot, acidic burn. He was right. The only thing that had opened her eyes to the possibility of Carlton was the happiness he'd found with another woman coupled with his confession. Without those two things, she would have bumbled along, as blissfully stupid and unaware as Shawn at his worst.
Maybe they really did deserve each other.
Or maybe Carlton was right and she needed to learn to look beyond her own assumptions and idiotic misconceptions.
The muscles of his throat worked as he swallowed hard. "Yeah, me too," he said, his voice lower and huskier than normal.
A more genuine smile crossed his face. "Always."
She stared down at her hands, her fingers twisted together painfully. "As a friend, can I ask you a favor?"
"Anything. Especially if involves shooting Spencer. Did he finally do something?" he added with clear concern.
"Yeah, but it doesn't have to do with me. Not yet. But keep that thought in mind, okay?"
Since she was still staring at her hands, she sensed rather than saw his smile. "Okay—so what's the favor, then?"
Her mouth suddenly dry, every muscle tense, she very nearly couldn't say the words. But forcing herself to swallow, she finally managed to croak out, "Would you… would you… kiss me?"
Dead silence. So silent, Juliet could hear the faint beep as someone on the street below locked their car and the muffled sounds of a door opening and closing somewhere down the hall.
"So I tell you how I felt and all of a sudden, you feel an urge to… what? Experiment?"
It would've been easier if it had been a typical hot-headed, outraged Lassiter response. Then she could have just fumbled an apology and gotten the hell out, dragging the tattered shreds of her dignity. This steady and oh, so cold voice made it all infinitely worse.
"I'm not some damned lab rat that you can pull out, run through his paces for a treat, then put back into his cage after he's outlived his usefulness."
He was entitled. He was so entitled to be this angry.
But dammit, in a way, so was she.
"You never gave me a chance, Carlton—not a real one." She held up a hand, forestalling the protest she saw forming. "I get it—I really do. I get that you tried to let me know, the best way you could at the time and I get why you felt you couldn't go any further. And you know, I'm not going to say that you were wrong either, because I don't honestly think you were. However—" She took a step closer—close enough to feel his body's heat and see the anger and confusion and something… else living deep in those blue eyes.
"In the end, you never actually gave me a chance." She studied each of the features of the partner she knew so very well. And the man beneath that she didn't know at all. "Besides, haven't you ever wondered?"
"Have you?" he shot back, the muscles of his shoulders bunched tight beneath his dress shirt.
Again, the silence descended, as Carlton stood there, angry and confident he knew the answer. Except he didn't—not really.
"Yeah, I have," she admitted. "And it's because you told me how you felt." The anger, the anxiousness, the fear, all fell away until finally, she was left with an overwhelming feeling of sadness. "You never gave me a chance, Carlton. You can at least give me this. Just once—no judgment, no expectations. You're with Marlowe and I respect that, but I just…" She sighed. "I just have to know what I missed. So maybe next time, I'll know better."
It sounded lame and honestly, kind of pathetic and needy, even to her and all the wonderful justifications she'd come up with for even asking such an outrageous thing. She could only imagine what was running through Carlton's mind as he stood there, stock still, eyes wide and unblinking, a thousand emotions flashing through them, but not a one of them one she could recognize. At least she wasn't seeing pity. If she had, she would have had to resign and leave Santa Barbara immediately. Maybe go to Borneo. They had cops in Borneo, right?
"I gotta go—"
Her hand had only just barely touched the doorknob before she found herself turned and pushed up against the wall. She had only an instant to register that damn, he really was warm, and how different he felt from Shawn, tall and lean and surrounding her in a way that felt secure and safe without feeling smothering, before his mouth was on hers and it was then that she really registered how different he was from Shawn.
How different he was from everybody because he was so undeniably… Carlton.
He could have kissed her in a dark room and she would have immediately recognized him.
Quiet, intense, confident, with so very much simmering below the surface—a hint of coffee and of whisky and something more that spoke of twisted sheets and heat and desire.
Juliet had always recognized how very much Carlton wanted—he wanted justice, he wanted the bad guys, he wanted a good cup of coffee first thing in the morning, he wanted people to treat the job and him with a respect he felt he'd earned.
She just hadn't understood he'd wanted her.
And right behind everything she recognized, came a wave filled with the lesser known—the gentleness she'd glimpsed on rare occasion, the urgency that had him pressing against her as his tongue coaxed her mouth to open to him, stroking and learning her from the inside out, his hands firmly anchored in her hair, tremors running through them as if they desperately wanted to wander, but he was stopping just shy of crossing that particular boundary.
Given what she was feeling, probably good that he had that sort of self-control.
Nothing awkward or sloppy or tentative. This man knew what he wanted and when it was within reach, knew how to obtain it and more importantly, how to treat it.
Lucky Marlowe… lucky, lucky Marlowe.
Stupid, stupid Juliet.
Slowly, he drew back, his lashes casting dark shadows on his cheeks. Sliding his hands along her arms to her wrists, he grasped them gently and pulled them from his hair. Immediately, she felt the loss—wanted to feel the thick, surprisingly soft strands once more. Maybe twice.
Maybe a whole lot more, except there was no maybe about it and she knew she couldn't.
She'd made a deal.
"Well." The fingers of one hand touched her mouth, making her shiver. "Okay. At least now we know."
She covered his hand with hers. "Except you knew all along, didn't you?"
He shrugged. "I suspected."
"I'm so sorry, Carlton."
"Don't be." He smiled. "At least we're both happy now, right?"
She'd let him believe that. She'd smile and keep to her promise and they'd remain friends and partners and things would go along much as they had for the past seven years.
What other choice did she have, really? At some point, things with Shawn would either work out or more likely, they wouldn't and by then, Carlton would either be firmly entrenched in his relationship with Marlowe, whom he really loved, she knew—or maybe… just maybe…
But Juliet couldn't let herself think that way. She'd already been selfish enough for two lifetimes.
Late that night, after she'd cried, then cried some more, she stared up at the ceiling and realized—not only did she now firmly believe in the friends-to-lovers trope, another common trope had proven itself to be true: