The Company You Keep

I've been working on a story that turned into something much longer, but it's been slow going. In the meantime, I thought I'd play with some Probably Unnecessary Second Person Musing. Set in that nebulous time between "1967: A Psych Odyssey" and "Shawn and Gus Truck Things Up," during which two chiefs emerge, a head detective moves on, and a baby gestates.

You didn't expect it to ache so much, the leaving.

Yes, you knew you would mourn the city you'd come to call home after nearly a decade, the station with its mediocre coffee and donuts that always managed to taste a little stale despite being consumed within an hour of arriving on the table. You knew you'd miss your friends and co-workers, from reticent Dobson all the way up to big, goofy Buzz McNab. You knew you'd grieve for the man you left behind to decide whether he wanted to commit to your relationship if it meant disrupting his comfortable life.

You didn't know how adrift you'd feel without your partner.

Phone calls help, sometimes. When you feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of people in your vast new station – virtual strangers for whom you now bear some responsibility – it's nice to hear a familiar voice in your ear. Chief Vick is a support, too, and you've grown closer while navigating this new environment together. But she's busy, often, and her pragmatism is not the same as his comforting strength.

Hey partner. That's how he answers now. Not that sharp Lassiter greeting that was his old standby, even when he knew you were on the other end. Never Hi, Head Detective, not even playfully, and you know that's not because of jealousy or any ill will about your departure. He calls you partner because that is who you are – and will forever be – to him.

His voice is low and smooth in your ear and you can close your eyes and pretend you're home. You've spoken on the phone so much over the years, after all; you weren't joined at the hip. On occasion, you discussed cases over dinner, from separate kitchens, as new ideas came to light. This could be like that, right?

You murmur his name and something swirls between you in the quiet that follows.

How's crime in the big city?

Good for job security, you say lightly and enjoy his chuckle. This is what you have now, corny jokes, and you both cling to them if for no other excuse than for something to share.

After you left, you worried that this relationship might fall off with the distance, especially for a man like him. So remote for so much of your time together, he seemed the type that would struggle to maintain even a rapport as strong as yours, once stretched. And yet, he was the first to call, mere days after you'd driven up to San Francisco. He wanted nothing but to chat: this man who'd once denounced the very idea of small talk.

With that, you knew he missed you as much as you missed him. It was as if a floodgate had opened, something granting you both permission to reforge that bond.

You tell him about the Rubik's cube of a holiday vacation schedule you're trying to concoct for your detective unit. How did you manage this? you the staff need different overlapping things, each person with a special request.

Well, your first mistake is granting them time off.

You forget when he opened up enough to joke in a way that wasn't sarcastic. At some point, maybe after all those hours sitting together in a dark car on stakeouts, he warmed up to you or let down his guard. He liked to make you giggle; you could tell.

He tells you he'll send you a spreadsheet template he used to track schedules and you thank that organized obsessive mind.

You didn't use to thank me for my nitpicking. He recounts a time you cussed him out for denying your time off request because you'd used the wrong form. You laugh, even though neither of you had at the time.

I may have underestimated the role. You hesitate. And you.

He's quiet for a moment, and you worry that you've ventured into that territory you've both silently agreed to avoid.

You have no reason to doubt yourself. There's an edge in his tone that wraps around you protectively. Besides, if you screw up, it'll reflect poorly on your teacher. So don't screw up.

When did he start putting so much effort into cheering you up? It was before you left, certainly, but then maybe it stands out now because you need it more. You hum in agreement, promise not to let him look bad. You wish he were close enough to hug.

For some reason, you keep this new thing you share – this continuation of what you once had – a secret. Then again, there's no one around with whom to discuss it. You've spoken to Shawn only sporadically over the past few weeks, and though you haven't technically split up, you suspect that that's exactly what will happen, if only by attrition. Because you don't know what he wants to do and there's a part of you that wouldn't mind if you just got a clean break, both of you moving on with your lives, and that thought makes you a little sad and a little relieved.

You've chosen not to push Shawn because who knows what's happening in his head at any given moment, and you certainly wouldn't be accused of pressuring him into making a decision he'd regret. So when you feel homesick or need emotional bolstering, he's not the one you turn to.

You can't talk about this with anyone – not even your partner, especially not your partner – and that also makes you sad. Instinctively you know better than to reveal this ambivalence to him, but you suspect he already knows.

In the meantime, there's stability here with him, where everything else in your life is in some form of upheaval.

It's heartening, too, to hear updates from the station. He tells you about breaking up the ice cream social Woody tried to host in the morgue. Some of the news is disturbing.

He asks how things are going with your partner, and you detect a reluctance, as if he's not sure he wants to hear glowing praise of his replacement.

Your new partner is… nice. Truly, he is a good guy, friendly and hardworking, and you like him, and you didn't realize until now that you needed a challenge, a bit of conflict in your life to feel alive. You didn't appreciate how badly you needed that until it was gone.

You don't need to be jealous, you say, and you think you hear a breath of relief on the other end.

He says he's spoiled by not having another partner. I topped out with the best. Any other partner now would pale in comparison.

You're comforted by this new version of him who is able to pay compliments openly, not under threat of death. And still you recognize that it may be the distance itself that allows this sincerity.

Whatever this is, it's a sort of unconditional love. You would never have used that word – love – before, but now that there's some space, a safe number of miles between you, it feels easier to think that way. Maybe any other relationship would have clearer boundaries, sharper edges. Conditions. But in this middle area, the gray space in the air between your phone and his, you can pretend you have it all.

How is Marlowe holding up? you ask, in part because you fear the path your mind is leading you down.

She's handling the pregnancy well. You enjoy hearing the pride in his voice, surprised and proud yourself that he can find pleasure in domestic life.

He's so much happier now than when you first met him, then in the death throes of a bad marriage. You'd like to take some credit for his rehabilitation, that with your support, he was reminded of how to love and be loved. Both of you are better – stronger – for having orbited one another for those years.

I can't wait to see you as a father, you say, and your smile hurts your cheeks. You never thought you'd say that to him, never thought you'd think it, but now you see that protective, loyal side of him and know it to be true.

He tells you he's been preparing the baby for the cop life by reciting penal codes in the evening. For whatever reason, it seems to lull the kid to sleep when it's kicking late at night.

You laugh, but you also know he's not joking.

You're not sure what you are to each other now – the two of you exist in this undefined space of shared intimacy even as you pursue separate intimacies elsewhere.

Then he asks whether you've seen all the tourist sites yet and you get the sense he just wants to keep you on the line a little longer.

You don't mention the lunch spots your new partner has introduced you to – just in case – but you tell him about the cable car you took to Fisherman's Wharf for shopping. In truth, you don't have much free time and even less interest in roaming the city without a companion.

He proposes visiting you in San Francisco once the baby's born, and you agree how nice that would be even as you recognize the impracticality of traveling with an infant, the improbability of this man navigating crowds of tourists, but it's still better than what you've gotten from your actual boyfriend.

I'm sure you'll want to show the baby around Alcatraz, you joke.

I would never expose an innocent child to a dirty prison, he protests.

Your mind flashes to the baby's mother, who had more than a passing acquaintance with prison, and maybe he's thinking the same thing, because a little tension rises in the silence that follows.

Finally, he murmurs that he needs to head home – dinner's waiting. You sit up and realize that it's after six and you've been sitting at your desk as the detectives around you clear off for the night. You don't have anything waiting, but you can't begrudge the man this life that he's longed for.

Take care. It's a standard sign-off – you use it all the time, really – but you mean something different when you say it to him, and you think he understands that.

I'll call you tomorrow. And you know he will, and you know you can carry on until you hear his special ringtone – nothing that stands out, just one that assures you it's him. Miss you.

For a moment, your memory returns you to the chief's office – his office now – when you told him you were leaving. Though Vick's offer had been tempting regardless of how things went with his quest to be chief, you really didn't expect to take it until he told you he wanted to sacrifice his career for you. Whatever came next, you knew you had to ensure that he wouldn't live with regrets, even if it meant you would carry your own with you.

You're not sure who this man is who showed you what you meant to him before you lost him – cut him loose – but in that moment, you accepted that you would never let him go entirely.

You'll never have what you once had, but at least you still have this.

Tomorrow, you agree, as if there was a question.