Summary: Chapter 17: Stakes get higher. Guards get lowered. A fence is opened, but a door is closed.

A/N: Second-to-last chapter, can you believe it? I so hope this is satisfying…

When we left off, Shawn had just disarmed the second of four bombs between himself and Juliet. Here we go from there:

Shawn unlatches the second gate, untying the silenced explosive, and rushes through. If this pattern continues, he has precious little time to get to Jules.

The third gate is much like the second—the explosive tied to the gate, blocking him from just unlatching it, but this time, the device is on the floor. This device is different, though. The clock is flashing two minutes, just like the previous two—they must be triggered to begin once the previous device is stopped or explodes—yet this clock is different from the clocks on the others. This clock appears to have several notches in it, where wires could be plugged in.

The device is strapped with at least a dozen wires of half a dozen colors, but each one has a unique end. Shawn examines them without touching them. The notched ends of the wires are too small to plug in. How does this work? He looks around frantically for some kind of instruction, noting that he's already lost twenty-four seconds. Aha! Underneath the device, on the ground, a note is sticking out. Maybe this will help him.

The note offers a riddle, one that Shawn recognizes immediately. "Tear one off and scratch my head. What once was red is black instead."

"Batman Forever? Really?" he muses. More Val Kilmer? In any other instance, he might be thrilled. But not this time, although at least he clearly gets to be Val Kilmer's character this time. This time, he knows Arthur is playing with him. Arthur hadn't expected him to get this far, and now that he has, Arthur has to taunt him once again. "You have no right to use Val like that," he mutters.

He recalls the answer to the riddle instantly, of course—a match—but there are clearly no matches here. How does that even fit?

He glances worriedly at the clock, then at where Juliet is sitting—so near, so agonizingly far away. Think, Shawn, he says to himself. This time, it's his dad's voice, not Gus', that appears in his head. "If a clue doesn't make sense at first, Shawn, that doesn't mean it's a bad clue. Sometimes you're just looking at it from the wrong angle."

Of course! Match, in this case, isn't talking about matches from a matchbook; he has to match the wires together. Together, the notched ends might plug in.

He has so little time, so he has to just go with his gut. Quickly, he pairs the wires together of each color, trying to plug them into the notches on the clock. His hands tremble as he goes, mismatching a few plugs at first. With seven seconds on the clock, he still has two pairs to plug in.

At first, it seems like the final pair won't plug in—but with one final push, and one second on the clock, it clicks into place. The clock goes silent, and Shawn almost collapses with relief. It's only another glance at Juliet—who, he realizes, has no idea what's going on around her—that reminds him that he's still, in another sense, running down the clock. Quickly, he pushes open the gate, heading towards Juliet.

"Sweetheart, it's me," he says, as he approaches the final gate, knowing that if she hears the sound of him approaching without knowing it's him, it would be terrifying. He doesn't give a second thought to how easily the pet name rolls off his tongue.

"It's only me, Jules," he continues. "I'm almost there. They're—everyone else is gone. I'm going to get you out of here, I promise." Juliet nods and begins fidgeting in the chair, trying to pull her hands out of the duct tape that binds them.

Shawn kneels to the ground in front of the gate, examining the final explosive, which is also on the ground, blocking him from opening the gate. He hopes there's a note this time, as this one looks more complex even than the others—the key to the gate is at the bottom of a large metal box, but he can barely see it through a maze of colored wires. By the looks of it, the clock at the top—which has three minutes winding down, rather than two-has to be turned off with the same key.

But the note that's provided this time only offers a kind of shrug. "Just pull it apart?" it suggests. But then, at the bottom of the page, there's more. "Be sure that the yellow wires never touch the black ones."

Quickly, Shawn sizes up the situation. He can pull all the yellow wires out, towards him, and thus keep them from touching the others, but in order to pull the rest of the wires apart and grab the key, he'll need both his hands. Even if his arm had been at its best, it's an impossibility. With just his two hands, it's impossible for the yellow wires to not fall back into the box, brushing the black ones, and resulting in an explosion. He has to tie them back somehow.

There's no puzzle here, and yet, this device is the trickiest, because he can't do it on his own. He looks around frantically, for something to clip or hold the yellow wires back, but there's nothing around. His heart is pounding faster than ever before—he's so close, and he can't stand the thought that this might be it.

Here it is, the last explosive between him and Juliet-in fact, she's near enough to him now that he could probably reach her-and yet, it might be all for naught?

Arthur's words flash in his mind again. "If you get to her in time, you might watch her explode in front of you, before it's your turn." Impossible. It was always supposed to end like this. Him, helpless, because he doesn't have enough hands for the delicate work that needs to be done.

No. It can't be. He won't let it.

But there's no time. If there were time, he would pull a strip of fabric from his clothes, try and use that as a makeshift tie to hold the wires back. But there isn't time for that, and Juliet doesn't even seem to have a hairtie for him to use, not that he'd have any way to get it if she did.

He calls out to Juliet, who has not managed to free her hands, but has brought them up to her mouth, attempting to use her fingertips, the only part of her hands that remain free from the tape, to pull at the gag in her mouth.

"Sweetheart, did they strap any explosives to you?" He asks. "Just nod or shake your head."

Juliet shakes her head, still fumbling for the gag. Her helplessness in this moment matches his, and it breaks his heart. It can't end this way. He can't watch her suffer.

But then an idea comes to him, with only two minutes remaining. If he can help Juliet with the gag, he can use that to tie it back. But he needs her to move closer, so he can reach her through the fence.

"Jules, I need you to scoot your chair towards my voice," he says. "As close as you can, okay? I need a scrap of cloth, or something to disarm this bomb and get to you. I'll solve this, okay? I promise." He knows as the words leave his mouth that he can't promise, that this is nothing more than a shot in the dark, but to ease her suffering and his own, he has to say so.

Juliet nods, begins pushing the chair towards the fence, but as she reaches it, she plunges her bound hands into her jacket pocket, instead of bringing them back up to her face, to work on the gag, like he was expecting. He looks at her in confusion—forgetting that she can't see him—but when her fingers emerge a second later, there's a long strip of fabric dangling from them.

A blindfold, he realizes. It must have been the one she'd told him about back when she was explaining everything that had happened when he was passed out, the one Hernandez had tried to get her to wear in the car.

"Jules, oh my God," he says. "That's perfect. Thank you." He grabs it through the fence, careful not to touch the actual fencing itself, in case there's some way that it's electrified that he's not aware of. He's desperate to reach back through, start undoing Juliet's blindfold and gag and bound hands himself, but he can't yet. He has to disarm the bomb first.

"Sit tight, sweetheart," he says, and since he knows his voice is her only indication of how things are going, he tries to make it as calm and comforting and soothing as possible, even though his heart is racing and he's sweating and he's more terrified than he's ever been in his life that there won't be enough time. "I'm going to help you and get you out of there in just a second, I swear. I just have to get this done first."

Returning to the device, he tries desperately to keep his fingers from shaking as he collects the yellow wires, easing them out of the thick tangle of wires cautiously, like a game of Jenga, careful not to let them touch any of the black wires that crisscross across the bottom of the metal box, along with dozens of other colors, obscuring the key from him. When the yellow wires are gathered, he ties them up and back, balancing them on the edge of the metal box, with the blindfold he'd taken from Juliet's pocket.

With fifteen seconds remaining, he plunges his hands back into the box, pulling the wires apart with great difficulty, as they wind tightly together the closer he gets to the key, tangled in the middle of a mass of wires. At last, he reaches it, pulling it out, as slowly and carefully as he can, so as not to jostle any of the remaining wires and defeat the whole purpose of his care.

There's no time for a sigh of relief when he finally frees the key. He shoves it desperately into the clock, just as it hits three seconds remaining, and just for a second his heart stops as it seems to stick instead of turning.

But then—at last, after the longest, most frightening second of his life—it turns, clicking into place, and the clock goes silent. He's done it. He's made it to Jules.

Frantically, he stumbles to the gate, turning the key into the latch and throwing it open. He runs to Juliet, pulling the gag out of her mouth first, as gently as he can, and then working on the blindfold around her eyes, which is tied in a knot so extravagant that he's glad they didn't try and work on it before—there's no way he could have undone it in time.

When he pulls the blindfold off, it's damp, and he realizes as he looks into her eyes, at last, that she's been crying, silently, the fear overtaking her as she wondered if she'd ever see him again. It's all he can do to keep from wrapping his arms around her, but she's still tied to the chair.

"Shawn," she whispers, her voice hoarse from the gag. "Shawn, I'm sorry, I thought-." She coughs, her cough cutting her off mid-sentence.

He shakes his head, even though it breaks his heart to have to stop her, to not know, still, what she meant to say. But it breaks his heart even more to watch her try and speak right now, especially since she has nothing to apologize for. "Hold on," he says. "We've got to get you out of here, still. I don't know—I don't know if there are other explosives around. I didn't have time to look around before getting to you. We've got to get you away from here."

She nods, and he pulls at the duct tape on her hands, his face tightening in concern as she winces when he finally pulls it away from her skin. "Sorry," he mutters. "I know that hurt."

She shakes her head, shrugging it off, and wrings her hands to loosen them up. She takes a deep breath, trying to get some air into her lungs. Shawn moves to her back, where she's still tied to the chair, and she can tell his hands are still trembling as he undoes those knots.

Once she's free, he pulls Juliet away, as quickly as he can, and they run out the gate, towards the furthest end of the warehouse. There's a door there, and as far as Shawn knows, it's the one that's the least likely to be strapped with any kind of explosive.

"I was looking around earlier, when Arthur was talking," he says when they reach it, "and this seems like the only door they couldn't have left out of when they were making their escape. It was open earlier, and the warehouse backs up to a lot of some kind. It's fenced in. There's a little alley out there, but it's not wide enough for a car. Their getaway cars would have had to be somewhere else, like where you brought me in, earlier, or the loading dock. So this door is our best bet."

Juliet nods, but Shawn has more to say.

"But Jules, it's—it's not looking good," he says, gently. "I'm not sure that we won't get blown up if we open this door. Someone had to close it, and that someone could very well have strapped it. But I'm also not sure this place won't blow up anyway, that there aren't other devices around here somewhere, just to trap us inside."

He's still trying to sort out the puzzle in his mind, trying everything to make sure that this is it, this is the only door that fits, their safest bet, even though it still might be a disaster. Juliet is watching him, her eyes wide, looking as though she wants to say something.

He shakes his head as he thinks it through again, his voice frantic. They're running out of time. "I don't think he'd need to strap this door," he says. "They didn't think we'd get this far, and I don't think they'd stop to secure explosives on the other side of the door while they were making their getaway on the other side of the warehouse. I think this door might be our only chance."

He doesn't know if he believes it, doesn't know if he's trying to convince himself or Juliet, doesn't even know any longer if his reasoning makes sense, and yet, he feels like they have to try. The threat of being inside, and having it explode around them, is greater than the threat of the door being strapped, isn't it? And either way, the door would be set off if the cops ever made it here, when they tried to force their way inside, so they're probably doomed either way.

He shakes his head again. "This is the only way, I think." He says. "Okay?" He watches her face carefully, watching as she processes this, and the devastation almost overcomes him. If this is it, he will have failed her. He won't have kept her safe. It will be all be over, and it will be his fault.

There are no ways out, and they both know it. If there is a bomb on the other side of the door, and it detonates, this is it. This is all they get.

"Jules," he whispers. "Earlier, I said—well, I said everything I wanted to say to you, and I meant it. I love you, and I'm so, so sorry. If this is it, I—well, I'm so sorry for hurting you, for breaking your heart, for everything. I'm sorry for causing you to be here, now."

Juliet is quiet, watching him. A slow smile spreads across her face. Then she shakes her head. "My turn," she says.

Shawn frowns in confusion. "Huh?"

"I'm sorry, too," she says softly. "I love you. I do. I don't think that I could ever stop. And I should have told you that earlier."

She sees Shawn's eyes widen, softening as he looks at her, like he's hardly daring to believe it, but before he can respond, she pulls him towards her, her lips finally meeting his in the kiss she's been fighting against giving him for the better part of this entire nightmare.

Shawn is too shocked to do anything at first, but then he responds, with so much enthusiasm that it's as though he—like Juliet—is almost forgetting where they are, forgetting that there might be a clock running down, that this might be the very last moment either of them spend alive.

But then, all at once, they remember.

Once Shawn's surprise has passed, Juliet feels the precise moment that the kiss stops being about the world about to go up in flames around them, feels it turn slow and soft, a forgiveness, a reconciliation overtaking them. She isn't sure if the tears running down her cheeks are entirely her own or whether they are mixing with Shawn's as well. If the world ended for them in a few seconds, she thought, it would be okay. She would die happy. She would die loved, in the arms of the love of her life, the man who had tried to sacrifice himself for her over and over again, who had kept choosing her and choosing her, no matter how hard she tried to push him away.

Impossible as it seemed, she thought, she would die feeling safe.

When at last they break apart, he holds her close, his warm hand still resting against her cheek. He looks into her eyes, his face so close to hers that they're almost close-talking. The smile on his face so wide and giddy, it's infectious; she forgets where they are again, just for a moment. "I missed you," he whispers.

She can only nod in response, still breathless, still fighting to process the joy that's bubbling up inside of her at being back in his arms at last, even as fear still pushes its way to the surface, reminding her that it isn't over, that they still could very well be dead in a minute.

She thinks maybe Shawn gets it, because he pulls back from her just a little, lacing one hand through hers, and turns serious again. "We have to try the door, don't we?" he asks.

She nods, reluctantly. The door is the only way. It's as risky as staying here. And she doesn't want to spend another second in this warehouse, not after everything they've gone through here. "I think it's the only way," she says gently.

The fear is still there, still inside her—she knows this—but it feels somehow different, having reconciled with him, having told him that she still loves him. If this is it, at least she's with him, her greatest comfort, the man who loves her like no one ever has, who she loves more than anyone else in the world.

"Jules, this is it," he says. "This might be—this might be how it ends."

She nods, squeezing his hand tighter. "I love you," she whispers.

He pulls their joined hands up to his lips, brushing a kiss along her knuckles, and it gives her the warmth and comfort it always does. "Together, then?" He asks, as they take one last step towards the door.

She nods, and he looks at her, a silent countdown, as together, they place their hands on the door and push it open.

Juliet almost freezes in the doorway, bracing herself for the world to burst into flame around them.

But it doesn't.

It doesn't!

Before she can even turn to properly look at Shawn, they're outside in the fading afternoon sunlight, and all at once, she's crying again, hardly aware of herself, and jumping into his arms. She doesn't know if it's her that first presses her lips to his or the other way around; all that she can feel is pure, unadulterated joy, Shawn's mouth moving against hers, one of his hands in her hair, the other wrapped securely around her waist. They're outside, in the sunlight, and it's warm, and they're safe, and they're together, free at last. She pulls back from him, peppering little kisses all over his face before her lips meet his again, and he responds so enthusiastically that he's almost lifting her off her feet, injured arm be damned.

Her sobs turn into giddy laughter as they inch apart, their passionate kiss giving way to the tightest hug she'd ever been in, Shawn's arms wrapped securely around her as she clings to him, her body pressed so tightly against his, she almost can't be sure where she ends and he begins.

"We did it," he whispers into her, "we're alive, we're out. We're safe."

Juliet can hardly think of a response, she's too busy shaking and crying and laughing as she clings to him, not even realizing the string of words that's coming out of her mouth, in time with Shawn's racing heartbeat, as she presses her face into his chest.

I love you, I love you, I love you.

A/N: You guys, it's almost over! There's only one chapter left, and it'll probably be a short one, as it's more of a wrap-up than anything else. I cannot believe it's almost over, after all this time, but I would really love to know what you guys think about this first part of the ending!

Thanks so much, as always, for reading along, and especially to those of you who have left comments so far! Getting feedback really makes my day. Thank you so much!

See you next week for the conclusion! I really hope you'll like it!

P.S. Val Kilmer plays Batman in Batman Forever (1995)—I actually decided to use the riddle before I even remembered that, and was amazed at my luck when I realized how well it fit!