Near Miss

Following the events of "Lassie Jerky," Lassiter requests a favor from Juliet.

Technically, this is a Carlowe, but also leans in the Lassiet direction. Oh, and Shules is implicit in the timeframe.

Sometime by the end of the week, Lassiter was scheduled for discharge from the hospital to convalesce at home. He'd endured surgery and a blood transfusion for the gunshot wound, and stitches for the bear trap injury. Now all that was left was the healing. Even that came with a struggle, however. In his anxiety to leave the sterile room and return to work, he had tested the limits of both his own patience and that of the nursing staff.

Juliet visited daily since the incident. Shawn and Gus had trailed her the first couple of days, but Lassiter looked worse on those occasions, more stressed, so she requested that they hold back. When that didn't work, she moved her check-ins to early morning, before she headed in to the station. With her partner out of commission, she was mostly desk-bound, catching up on paperwork, so a late start wouldn't raise any eyebrows. Besides, Chief Vick had tacitly approved, if not practically ordered, her to monitor her partner's progress.

Juliet caught the look of exasperation on the face of the nurse exiting his room as she entered, and she gave her a look of sympathy. They were professionals here, but even experts needed a break from a very irritated Carlton Lassiter.

At the moment, the irritated man in question leaned half out of his bed, uninjured leg flung over the edge as if he meant to climb out. His center of gravity suggested that he would instead collapse into a pile on the floor. "Carlton!" Juliet called, rushing across the room to avert disaster. She grabbed his bare calf, a little more roughly than she intended, and pushed him back into a supine position. His shoulder, the one in the sling, fell back against the mattress with an audible thud, and he grimaced.

"O'Hara." He scowled but didn't meet her eyes.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?"

He didn't answer. Several days' growth of stubble lay on his face, giving him a grizzled look that would have fit in well in the cabin. He'd obviously been unable to shave with only one functioning arm and had likely resisted anyone's offer of help. Juliet noted this with a detached part of her mind, the primary part focused on getting an explanation for his ridiculous behavior.

She persisted. "Are you trying to set back your recovery? Do you want to stay here another week or two, or what? Because I guarantee you they want you out as much as you do." She pointed a thumb back toward the hallway and the beleaguered staff.

His eyes flashed to her then, a little panicked. "No."

She paused then, mollified by his apparent surrender. Her hand hovered over his chest, as if to steady some wounded part of him. "Did I hurt you?" she asked quietly.

Lassiter tried for a casual shrug, which prompted another wince. "No more than it already hurts."

"I'm sorry." She withdrew her hand, settling it on his right forearm instead. "Where are you trying to go?"

Again, he seemed unable to meet her eyes. "I just needed to walk around."

Juliet could feel the tension in his arm, probably a side effect of the energy he'd built up over days of doing nothing. Though he was more than capable of remaining still for hours at a time on a stakeout, he only did so with a purpose. Otherwise, he was a force in motion.

"That's what they want me to do," he added defiantly. "I'm supposed to work on my mobility."

She patted his arm. "Okay, but do they want you to walk around unsupervised?"

"I have a cane." He turned his head, looking somewhere past her to the cupboard that held his personal effects.

Once he'd moved from angry to petulant, Juliet knew she had something she could work with. She adopted a gentle tone she used with her nephews when trying to encourage them to do something unpleasant but necessary. "Well, why don't we see if the nurses are okay with us taking a walk around the floor?"

Just then, the nurse who'd tromped out of the room earlier returned, this time carrying a walker. "This should work for your height," she said with forced joviality.

Lassiter stared at the device, aghast. "I'm not using that."

Juliet rolled her eyes. "Come on, Carlton."

His jaw clenched. "I have a cane."

The nurse lifted the walker slightly and gave it a wobble, as if to show off its superior features. "Four legs are better for stability when you're first getting your sea legs back."

"Last time I checked, I have not yet reached the age of one hundred," he growled. "My leg isn't broken – I just have a few stitches."

Juliet tightened her grip on Lassiter's arm warningly. "You know how they say 'pride goeth before the fall'?" she said in an undertone, then turned to the nurse, adopting an apologetic expression. "Would it help if I walk alongside him, you know, as a little extra support? That way, he could use this cane he's so obsessed with?"

The nurse hesitated, obviously trying to decide between the lesser of two evils. She landed on the side of a less-cranky patient. "All right," she sighed, nudging the walker into the corner. "But I'll leave this here in case you change your mind."

A smile broke across Juliet's face. "Oh, thank you so much! I promise I won't let him do any cartwheels." She glanced back to Lassiter, who hadn't quite managed to wipe the scowl off his face but at least looked less outraged.

More at ease now with a friendly face, the nurse smiled back. "You've really got your hands full with this one."

Juliet rolled her eyes again. "Tell me about it." She crossed over to the cupboard and opened the door.

"How long have you been together?"

"Seven years," Juliet said, distracted, leaning half into the cupboard. Finally, she spotted the handle of the cane, tucked behind the blazer he'd worn on their forest adventure, drooping on a hanger. After getting soaked in a stream and covered in mud, the suit was probably a lost cause, Juliet thought idly.

Back to cheerful again, this nurse. "Well, you must be doing something right. He calms right down whenever you show up."

Juliet held up the cane triumphantly. "Got it!" It was standard hospital-issue, with a padded flat handle and an aluminum shaft. "Let's hope it lives up to expectations."

Lassiter was quiet, his eyes wide and bewildered, darting back and forth between Juliet and the nurse.

"Do you need some help getting out of bed, then?" the nurse asked.

"No." The answer was out of Lassiter's mouth almost before she finished the question.

Juliet looked at him sharply.

Lassiter caught it and ducked his head. "That is, thanks for the offer, but I think she's all I need." His eyebrows gestured toward his partner, whose expression thawed at the admission.

That has a nice sound to it, Juliet thought and immediately wondered where that had come from.

The nurse didn't bat an eye. "Well, back to my rounds, then. Let me know if you run into any trouble." She didn't waste any time slipping out of the room and back down the hallway, her clogs thudding on the linoleum.

Juliet, having watched the nurse's departure, turned back to find Lassiter already swinging his legs over the side of the bed. His legs bare from the knees down, right shin securely wrapped, he wore fuzzy blue socks with non-stick decals on the soles.

"Nice booties," she said with a smile.

Lassiter rolled his eyes. He tried to scoot himself to the edge of the mattress, and in the process, the bottom of his hospital gown rode up, exposing an increasingly dangerous amount of his thighs: pale but well-muscled and with the same smattering of dark hair she'd seen on other parts of his body.

"Uh, Carlton," Juliet began, closing the distance between them again. She wasn't sure whether he was wearing anything under the gown, and knew she'd get an eyeful of something she shouldn't, but she had trouble dragging her gaze away. "Do you need to put some pants on?"

"Nah, it's fine," he said, determined. He used his healthy arm to push his way forward, landing one toe on the floor just as Juliet got near enough to catch him. Following his momentum, he finally heaved himself to his feet. She ended up a little too close, grabbing hold of his torso with both hands to steady them both.

They froze for a moment, Lassiter's right hand automatically settling on her upper arm, head bowed.

"There's no way you're going to keep me grounded while you're wearing those heels," he murmured.

Juliet decided to take a step back, literally and figuratively. "I guess you better hope that leg holds you up, then," she said lightly. "Let me see if you need to be tied up in the back." She handed him the cane and circled around him.

Lassiter opened his mouth, then closed it again, rethinking whatever comment he'd been about to make. He straightened himself imperceptibly, almost as if he were striking a pose.

She smiled and busied herself with retying the top set of fasteners, where his back peeked out. The cloth gown was obviously designed to fit bodies within a fifty-pound range, leaving extra cloth to wrap around Lassiter's leaner figure. So no risk of indecent exposure, Juliet thought with what she realized, embarrassed, was a twinge of regret.

"Let's go," Lassiter said as soon as she finished the ties, already stepping forward. "We'll do a couple loops around the floor."

She staggered a few steps to catch up, his speed picking up even as he relied heavily on the cane for support.

They moved in silence for a stretch, Juliet finding no real reason to accompany him other than as moral support, but keeping a hand gently on his elbow nonetheless. She was surprised at how well he moved so soon after his injuries, driven by determination to get released, surely. Still, she detected a layer of anxiety underneath that, some fear that he wasn't willing to raise without prompting.

"What's the rush? We're walking in a circle, not on a coffee run."

Lassiter glanced at her. "I usually go for a run this time of day."

Well, there wouldn't be much of that for a while, Juliet thought. Though perhaps not so far off as she would have guessed until she saw him on his feet.

"Okay, but this is not how you run. This is… pacing." The word popped into her head suddenly and it all came together for her. Something was bothering him, a problem that he needed to work out, and he was a man who solved things best by walking it out.

He didn't answer for a moment, but also didn't deny the accusation.

Juliet sighed. "Well?"

"Listen." Lassiter stopped abruptly and squared his shoulders. "I need – could you do me a favor?"

Juliet almost tumbled forward on pure momentum but caught herself before she pulled him off-balance. "Of course," she said without hesitation. "Whatever you need."

For a moment, he stared straight ahead, avoiding her gaze. Then, resolved, he turned to her and met her eyes. "On Saturday, I'm supposed to visit Marlowe."

"Oh," Juliet said, surprised. Not where I was expecting that to go.

"I'll probably be discharged by Friday, but…" He looked down at his right leg, stretched out a bit in front.

"Did you need me to drive you, or…?"

Lassiter sighed. "I thought of that. But they're not going to let me in with a cane – and certainly not a walker." He looked at her again, his eyes pleading. "And honestly, I'm not in any shape to walk through a prison right now."

Juliet frowned. "So, what are you saying?" Later, she'd take a moment to cherish this recognition of his own vulnerability, but now she focused on the ask.

"Could you drive up to Lompoc and visit Marlowe for me?"

She blinked a few times in quick succession, biting back her first few responses. "Are you sure? Why would she want to talk to me?"

"I just need someone to explain to her what happened." He shifted uneasily. "I don't want her to think I've given up on her."

Juliet furrowed her brow, half in sympathy, half persisting on the thought of getting out of this obligation she'd already agreed to. "Can't you call her? I mean, you are a cop – you can get through if you need to."

Lassiter shook his head. "She has limited phone privileges, and I already missed our scheduled call this week." He didn't specify when that was supposed to take place, though Juliet could conclude that he probably was unconscious for it.

"Well, how would I even get in? Don't I need to be on a list of her approved visitors?"

He nodded. "You are." At her surprised glance, he added, "I had you placed on her visitor list at the start. If something happened to me, you'd be able to tell her. You know, like now."

Juliet paused, taking a moment to assess why she met this idea with such resistance. If she was honest with herself, she was uncomfortable with Marlowe, not so much as a general concept as of an actual living, breathing woman. Over the years, she'd gotten a sense of Carlton's type as far as women were concerned, and Marlowe did not fit the picture at all. Sure, she was attractive, and seemed to be genuinely interested in him. Or was she just taking advantage of the obviously besotted cop who might get her sentence reduced?

She shook off the traitorous thought. It wasn't her place to question it. God knew she'd made her own questionable decisions in the romance department – was currently making, if one were to ask Lassiter himself. The best thing to do was to ride it out and hope Carlton emerged on the other side with his heart intact.

But that doesn't mean you have to make friends with her. Then again, what would happen when Marlowe finished her sentence and they were still together? Would she and Carlton go on double dates with Juliet and Shawn? She stifled a laugh at the idea.

Lassiter was waiting for her response, anxiety growing. "I don't have anyone else to ask," he said, his voice faint.

She leaned in for a hug, carefully avoiding his various injuries. "Carlton, of course I will."