FOOLS RUSH IN

A one-shot, featuring Shawn and Lassiter.
Set in early season one.

-x0x-

"I do not understand the human race.
It has so little love for creatures with a different face.
Treating animals like people is no madness or disgrace.
I do not understand the human race."
(From: 'Doctor Dolittle'.)

-x0x-

"Lassie, stop the car!"

He almost – almost – jammed his foot down on the brake, if only for the satisfaction of watching his passenger jerk forward against the seatbelt. But this was Spencer, the jackass who made a sport of winding him up on a daily basis. No way was he falling for yet another joke at his expense, or being held hostage to the man's insatiable appetite for junk food. "Are you kidding me?" Lassiter grumbled. "It's bad enough that the Chief ordered me to follow up on this ridiculous hunch of yours when I had better things – important things to do today. I will not be stopping at every snack bar and fruit stand on the way to Ojai."

Spencer hit the dashboard with his palm, making Lassiter wince. "I said stop the car. Please," he ground out.

Was that anger in his voice? A genuine emotion?

Lassiter steered the car to a gentle halt. Far too impatient to wait, Spencer had his belt unbuckled and was already heading out of the door. He hit the ground running; a man on a mission.

Curious.

"Are you coming?" the bane of Lassiter's life yelled back over his shoulder.

A wiser man would probably have waited in the car. The detective had suffered more personal torment over the past few months than any saint could bear (and Lassiter would be the first to agree that he was no saint). But Spencer was behaving in a way that was distinctly unsettling. Maybe… Lassiter hesitated to admit it. Maybe this wasn't a prank or a fool's errand. Maybe the man needed help.

"Truer words," he growled as he stretched his long legs out of the car and peered after the sprinting figure of Santa Barbara's very own officially endorsed snake oil salesman.

Spencer left the road in a sudden swerving manoeuvre, heading down a long driveway that led to a tumbledown farm, complete with shabby outbuildings and a lone white cow in a field of weeds. He was shouting something as he ran. Lassiter couldn't make out the words but the tone was unmistakeable. Spencer was furious. This could only end badly. Instinct kicked in as Lassiter pounded along the road, trying to reach him before he did something unbelievably dumb. For a change…

When he reached the entrance to the farm, he skidded to a halt and stared in disbelief.

Shawn Spencer, the idiot who couldn't fight his way out of a wet paper bag, was wrestling with a complete stranger; a wiry little man in dirty overalls. The object of their struggle was a heavy stick. Spencer gripped it firmly yet the man refused to let go. They twisted and tugged in an increasingly urgent battle. Leaning in, Spencer set his teeth to the other man's wrist, drawing out a long scream from his opponent. Overalls retaliated by kicking Spencer's legs out from under him. Lassiter winced as Spencer went down hard. Now the stick was back in the stranger's possession – and Spencer was in serious trouble. Lassiter drew his weapon. "SBPD!" he yelled, edging forwards along the dirt track.

Overalls looked up, distracted. Spencer took the opportunity to grab him by the ankle and pull him over. Both men rolled on the ground, still fighting. Lassiter's line of sight was compromised by a low fence that ran from the driveway to the barn. "Dammit, Spencer, do you want my help or not?" he hissed between his teeth, moving sideways to find a new vantage point. He could still hear the scuffle; a series of moans and grunts with the occasional yelp thrown in. Was that Shawn… or a dog, perhaps? Hard to tell the difference, he thought wryly.

"Spencer," he called out. "You okay?"

"Just… peachy. Ow!" A loud 'thwack' preceded Spencer's cry of pain. The scuffle died away completely. Lassiter's blood ran cold. He raced to the end of the driveway, observing the whole pathetic scene in seconds.

Shawn Spencer, curled up and clutching his ribs.

The angry farmer, stick raised for another blow, frozen by the sight of Lassiter and his gun at such close quarters.

And a timid, achingly-thin mastiff, chained to the fence – the cause, he suspected, of all this commotion.

"Let's try that one more time," Lassiter suggested to the farmer, feeling a perverse sense of enjoyment at the man's horrified reaction. "SBPD. Drop the stick. The twenty foot rule is a myth – and I'm a crack shot."

The farmer complied with a sulky expression. The stick rattled to the ground. Spencer sighed with relief and, secretly, so did Lassiter.

"Now," the detective continued. "Spencer. Care to fill me in?" He kept his tone light for once. Spencer was biting his bottom lip against the pain he obviously felt. When he sat up, he kept one arm wrapped around his chest. His breathing was shallow and erratic. Little gasps escaped him every time he tried to fill his lungs. Though his face was pale, there were two red patches high on his cheeks, remnants of his fading anger. Instead of answering Lassiter straight away, he struggled onto his knees and shuffled over to the dog, who cringed away from him in apprehension.

Spencer reached out his free hand. His lips were moving, Lassiter saw, as he crooned gentle words meant for no one but the wretched creature in front of him. The dog watched him warily, sniffing the air around his fingers. Spencer's face was inches from the mastiff's open mouth, but he showed no fear. Instead, there was a look in his eyes that Lassiter had never seen before. It was warm and full of infinite compassion. "You poor boy," Spencer whispered, louder now. "I've got you." Slowly and with confidence, he stretched out both arms (even though the action caused him further discomfort), unbuckling the collar that connected the dog to its chain.

The mastiff licked him on the nose. Spencer wrapped his arms around it. He was shivering as the adrenaline left him, but he didn't seem to care. The dog was trembling too. It laid its heavy chin on Spencer's shoulder.

Lassiter let out a breath he did not even remember holding.

Dogs know. The thought was unexpected and he tucked it away to think about later.

"Hands off," muttered the farmer. "Tha's my property."

"Not anymore," the detective said evenly. Spencer and the dog were staring up at him with identical expressions. Lassiter wanted to laugh but clenched his teeth against the embarrassing urge as he approached the farmer. He handcuffed Overalls to the fence, leaving him trapped there like the dog he had mistreated.

The move wasn't lost on Spencer. "Lassie!" he exclaimed in admiration. His dopey grin was infectious. Once more, Lassiter ground his teeth together but a tiny twitch in the corner of his mouth threatened to betray him.

"You're shaking," he observed.

"And stirred," Spencer quipped, "by your manly rescue." He paused to catch his breath. His gaze was still fixed upon Lassiter. "Thank you," he added quietly, as soon as he was able. No jackassery for once; no smart remarks. Just a man who cared enough about a random dog that he would risk his life to save it.

"You're welcome." Lassiter's reply was out of his mouth before he could stop himself. Most surprising of all (and something he would never admit to Spencer) – he actually meant it.