References to "This Episode Sucks" within.

Juliet had never visited someone in prison – that is, in a non-official capacity. She had certainly spent her fair share of time behind an interrogation table, or on the safe side of the glass. Whether by fate or good fortune, though, no one of her acquaintance had run afoul of the law.

Well, there was her brother Ewan. Juliet tried not to think too deeply about the mysterious and dangerous work her older brother did in the name of the government. She hadn't spoken to him since their encounter a couple years ago, when she'd arrested him, and it still pained her to think of the case that had driven such a wedge in her family.

As Juliet dragged herself out of that particular rabbit hole, the door leading from the holding cells opened. Emerging in her orange prison jumpsuit, hair swept up in a dark bandana, Marlowe tottered through the doorway, cuffed, escorted by a uniform. Her face was turned away from the glass panel, smiling, and so Juliet was able to see the exact moment when Marlowe looked up at her and realized something was terribly wrong.

Marlowe rushed to the table and grabbed the phone, fumbling with hands linked to get the receiver to her ear. "Carlton!" she cried.

If she'd questioned the fidelity of Marlowe's feelings for her partner – and she certainly had – that was enough to convince Juliet. She picked up the handset on her side of the barrier, holding steady, and said, "Carlton is okay."

Her breath on the verge of hyperventilation, it took a long moment for the words to penetrate Marlowe's panic. She wiped a streak of tears from her cheek with the side of her thumb and took a few deep breaths. Finally, she looked up to meet Juliet's eyes. "He's – alive?"

Juliet nodded.

Marlowe stared, waiting.

"I think you should sit down." Juliet gestured to the chair on Marlowe's side and slid into her own.

"I think you need to tell me why you're here, Detective," Marlowe said with an edge in her voice, but she obeyed the request.

Juliet studied the woman opposite for a long moment. Even without makeup, she had a pretty face, more conventionally beautiful than the women Juliet had known her partner to find attractive in the past. Then again, that slinky black dress she'd been wearing on their date night, the night they'd arrested Marlowe, certainly helped with whatever seduction games she was playing at.

She caught herself. That was unfair. And this woman needed some reassurance that the man she loved was all right.

"Marlowe, I need you to understand first that Carlton is okay. However, he was injured fairly badly and is recuperating in the hospital."

For a moment, Marlowe studied Juliet's face, maybe suspiciously, as if she were expecting a trick or a punchline. "What happened?" she asked weakly, the question coming out in a crackle over the line.

Juliet took a breath. "We were on a case that took us out into the woods, where we got stranded overnight. Carlton caught his leg in a bear trap and later suffered a gunshot wound. Unfortunately, due to the nature of the investigation, I can't go into greater detail than that."

Marlowe looked stricken, eyes downcast.

"But let me reassure you again that he will recover… slowly." And here comes the kicker. "However, that also means he's not going to be in any condition to visit you for a few weeks. I'm sorry." Juliet waited for this news to process.

At length, Marlowe looked up again. "Thank you for coming all the way out here to tell me this. I know it must not have been easy for you."

Juliet shook her head. "That's not –." She hesitated, unable to conjure a truthful yet appropriate response.

"No, really. I know you don't like me." Marlowe allowed a wry smile to touch her lips. "But you did it for Carlton. He's lucky to have you."

Pausing to consider all the potential responses, from denial to cockiness, Juliet finally settled on straightforward: "Thank you."

Neither of them spoke for a moment. Juliet watched Marlowe carefully, while trying to appear as if she was simply waiting out the silence. A range of emotions played across Marlowe's face, and Juliet tried to make sense of them.

Juliet liked to think of herself as a friendly person, one who got along with just about everyone. That was how she worked so well with Lassiter, after all. She'd been raised to believe that it was inappropriate to hate anyone, and she carried that into adulthood. So, no, she certainly didn't hate Marlowe. Dislike, though? Sure – fair game.

And why did she dislike Marlowe, anyway? Because this was the woman into whose arms Carlton had run after he learned about her relationship with Shawn? The woman with a handful of misdemeanors even before the break-in charges, the sort of woman he would have gleefully escorted to Booking himself, like the last night he'd been on a date with a lawbreaker.

But not this time. Right after he'd learned of her relationship with Shawn, Lassiter had acted increasingly unlike himself. Getting blackout drunk – with Shawn? Chasing after a mysterious woman, all the way to prison? What happened to her stolid, unchanging partner?

Jealousy. That was what was behind all this, wasn't it? His or mine?

"Is this how it's going to be every time?" Marlowe's question interrupted her musings.

"Every time what?" For a startling moment, Juliet thought Marlowe had somehow read her mind.

Marlowe looked up again, something in her expression fierce. "Every time he comes home late, am I going to wonder if he's coming at all?"

Juliet sighed. "Being a cop isn't the safest job. And Carlton's not the most risk-averse one out there." She thought of the many times he'd charged headfirst into battle with little regard for his own safety. Early on, she assumed it was because he didn't trust his tentative rookie partner to have his back. Later, she wondered if he took point as an act of chivalry, to protect her. Over time, she came to realize that he was driven by fatalism – so convinced that he would die in the line of duty that he almost craved it. Would he exercise more caution if he had something meaningful in his life, someone waiting for him to come home?

Marlowe traced a nail – flat and unpainted – along the edge of the glass pane.

Juliet finally recognized the significance of the question. "It sounds like you're thinking pretty seriously about building a life with him."

A feeble smile appeared on her lips. "Is that crazy? I mean, we only just met. We barely even kissed." She looked a little wistful. "What a kisser, though."

Juliet swallowed.

"But what else is there for me? You know I already had a record before the blood bank, and I've spent so long taking care of Adrian and then his friends." She bit her lip, pondering. "I guess I just felt trapped, caught up in this scheme. Adrian felt like he had no other options."

Juliet thought of the house she'd lived in, with three guys in their twenties. At the time, she'd been busy enough trying to maintain sanity amid the bloodsucker brothers and her AWOL partner that the oddness of this woman in that domestic situation didn't stand out. It should have been a revealing clue, perhaps sparing Lassiter an evening with chloroform, but then, it was too late for regrets.

"All those names on a list seemed insignificant – not like real people," Marlowe continued. "What did it matter when my brother could die at any moment?" She shook her head of the thought. "And then I met Carlton, and looking into those big blue eyes was like looking back into my own soul. Like we understood something about each other without having to say a word."

Juliet waited her out. It was true, after all. As proud as Lassiter was of his suspect staredown, she had occasionally wondered what the intensity of that gaze might feel like under other circumstances. Still waters and all that.

"I don't know if I deserve someone like him. I'm sure I don't. But I'll take it. For as long as it lasts."

Automatically opening her mouth to respond, Juliet realized she had nothing to say. She couldn't quite bring herself to persuade Marlowe of her worthiness, though at least now she could feel some empathy for the woman.

If Marlowe suspected anything uncharitable in her, she didn't let on. Instead, she gave Juliet a smile tinged with sadness. "He talks about you a lot. And he doesn't really talk about anyone else in his life." She shook her head in wonder. "It's like you're his whole world."

"Well, we see each other a lot," Juliet said feebly. She felt a little sick, as if she were getting a glimpse into a part of Carlton that he hid from her. She wanted to imagine that he had a fulfilling life outside of the hours they spent together, even though she feared this very thing, that he didn't.

"I wasn't sure I could compete with that," Marlowe said.

Juliet felt the need to justify. "But he keeps showing up here, week after week. I've never seen him so determined about a relationship. There's certainly something different about you."

Marlowe continued as if she hadn't spoken. "Every week, I wait for him to come in to tell me that he's found someone else. Or, not found, per se. Realized. I mean, why would he need to keep coming back here when what he really wants is right in front of him?"

"Marlowe, that's not what's happening." Juliet sighed, frustrated. "Yes, we're close, but we're partners. We spend fifty to sixty hours a week together. We put our lives in each other's hands. Anybody would be close in those circumstances. It doesn't mean what you think it means."

Despite her objections, Juliet had sometimes let her mind travel down that road, usually after yet another bad date. Far too often, she'd dated other cops. It made sense: not many in the civilian population understood the pressures of the job, the long hours, frequent interruptions. Relationships with cops were easy by comparison, because they started on the same page. But after a nice dinner with someone new, she found herself wondering why she never felt a spark.

And that was it, wasn't it? Not the general "we're all in the same boat" feeling, but the real bond between two people working side by side, all day, every day, for years. Carlton was the only one who met that criterion, and ever had, and so he was the only cop with whom it would be worth sharing anything else of herself.

But – partners. You couldn't share the responsibilities of the job and the promises of the heart.

First rule of police work: Don't fall in love with your partner. In the Academy, her female instructor had given her that important piece of advice. You're a woman in a male-dominated field, and you're going to be partnered with a man for probably every assignment you ever take. You've already got it hard enough; don't make it harder on yourself.

Back then, it seemed obvious. Granted, at twenty-three, fresh off a series of short-lived romances with college boys – emphasis on boys – she wasn't looking for love in the grizzled middle-aged men who filtered through the Academy. Years had passed, and she'd made connections here and there with men at the station, or in law enforcement-adjacent roles. Shawn Spencer being the latest of those.

Latest?

"And I'm in a relationship, with Shawn Spencer." Juliet hoped the pause wasn't too long, as if the very existence of the man, the relationship itself, wasn't the afterthought that it appeared to be.

"If I have to come in second, I'll take it." Marlowe chuckled, a little bitterly. "Does that sound pathetic?"

Juliet shook her head. "It sounds inaccurate." Her fingers tangled themselves in the phone cord. "You must know how much he values you."

"I haven't spent more than an hour alone with him. I don't know what he thinks." Marlowe paused, staring down at the tarnished steel countertop as if it held the answer. Her voice lowered. "But nobody's ever looked at me the way he does. Like – like I'm a gift. Me."

"That should tell you all you need to know."

Wryly, Marlowe added, "And you have the man who dresses up like a vampire with his friend."

She hesitated, uncertain whether this was an insult or an attempt at communion. "Well – then I guess we're all happy."

"Hmm."

Juliet gazed off into the middle distance for a moment, considering. "You know, I used to think that he didn't believe in love – well, because he often told me love didn't exist." She turned her eyes back to Marlowe. "But then I realized that wasn't it. He's so cautious about love, not because he doesn't believe in it, but because deep down he's a total romantic. And a few bad relationships have crushed his faith."

Marlowe frowned, whether in doubt or in sympathy, Juliet wasn't sure.

She carried on. "For the first time in a long time – maybe ever – he has hope." Juliet gave a nod to Marlowe, acknowledging this power she didn't understand. "I don't know how, but you restored his hope."

Tears welled in Marlowe's eyes.

"I – I guess it'd be weird to thank you for that. But." Juliet took a deep breath. "Thank you for being what Carlton needs in his life right now. Wherever it goes, however it works out – you're making him happy today. Maybe for now, that's enough."

Marlowe shrugged. "I'm not exactly in a position to make demands at this point."

Juliet couldn't help but notice a familiar fatalism when it came to romance. Okay, maybe they do belong together.

The uniformed guard, standing stone-faced behind Marlowe, took a step forward. Time's up.

Juliet lifted her chin in acknowledgement and got to her feet, the phone still at her ear. "I think Carlton will be able to call you again soon. Next week. He'll have a long recovery, but he should be back on his feet before we know it."

Marlowe nodded, seemingly more confident now of her place in his life. She tried a joke. "I'll be here."

Now that the dread of this encounter had drained from her, Juliet felt gracious, if a little unsettled. "I truly wish you the best, Marlowe."

"Tell Carlton to get well soon."

Juliet smiled and hung up the phone. She watched as Marlowe walked back through the door to her cell, head held high.

We're all happy. Juliet frowned and walked briskly out the door, not slowing until she made it outside the prison walls.

End.