[The genesis of this fic is Maja (aka windscryer) one day making manips and showing them to all of us in chat. Maja and I were doing this thing together where she would create an image and I would write a story to go with that image (ie Only Geeks Wear Glasses), and these would be oneshots collected in one series; but when Maj came up with this graphic, of an ethereal ghostly Shawn, I got instantly bit by an epic idea and wrote the first three or so chapters in one blissful haze of inspiration. What can I say? Everyone should have their own Maja.]
So the first thing that happens to Juliet O’Hara when she walks through the front doors of the SBPD as its newest member is: cold. Icy, chattering inside her, and she shakes; stumbles.
[Retrospectively, it kind of bugs me that I began with ‘so’. But I still like the conversational element it lends, the assumption of in medias res going on.]
The cold fades quickly to sunny Californian warmth, and Juliet shakes her head, and thinks to herself, That was weird.
Then she meets her new partner and forgets all about it.
Carlton Lassiter. The kindest thing you could say about him is that he’s broken. There’s something about the way he stands, as if his insides are full of sharp edges that cut him from within; there’s something about the way he speaks, how there is never any hesitation, yet – the odd pause, the odd hitch in breath. He knows procedural code inside out, backward and forward; he makes an unwilling yet skilled mentor; and he is never anything less than immaculately dressed and groomed.
[From the outset, Lassie stole the narrative show. Whenever I wrote a scene with him, he felt like the most compelling and magnetizing character. Poor Juliet, having to play second fiddle (as opposed to poor Shawn, having to play invisifiddle).]
Juliet is a good detective, and so she investigates. Gathers evidence, tries to track the trajectory of the rising star of the department’s Head Detective; tries to understand how that rising star could have fallen so low. [While I do believe very firmly that Juliet is an excellent detective, her investigating Lassiter is a total plot device. I don’t think she would have purposely set out to uncover his Deep Dark Secrets; I think Shawn would have compelled her to it, or Vick would have nudged her in the investigative direction. It was a characterization fail, here, to have Jules so eager to uncover all of her new partner’s flaws. But hey, she’s a newbie; and I can maybe, potentially see this Juliet-of-season-one, though not Juliet of any subsequent seasons.]
The list is a long one: separated and almost divorced, no children, affair with his last partner – all his problems are personal ones, Juliet notes. There’s not much she can do about that. Otherwise his track record is near-spotless. He has a more than decent arrest record and a reputation for solid investigative work. His academic credentials are no less impressive. There is one slight irregularity and it dates back only a month and a half (Juliet isn’t supposed to have found it: a paragraph long notation, an order to seek counseling, the sentence Found not responsible for the death of S. Spencer underlined in shaky red pen).
[Haaaah, that parenthetical is perhaps my favouritest in this entire fic. I was proud of how I paced the delivery of that final line, how it came out and what it meant.]
The first time Juliet works late and the bullpen is empty except for her, and the sky outside is dark – when she gets sleepy, yawns and closes her eyes – that time, the space behind her eyes fills with such blinding intense light. Light like that you’d expect to burn, but it doesn’t. You’d expect it to scorch you to screaming, but that first time and every time after, all Juliet feels is warm. [And here is my light motif. I liked the idea of incorporating light, heat, cold and darkness as synaesthetic markers for Shawn’s presence, and also for how he physically impacts Juliet. She feels him bodily, and that makes him a threat for all that he lacks corporeality – it adds that element of menace. If Shawn were a harmless ghost, then the inevitable sad ending wouldn’t be inevitable.]
In any profession governed by the possibility of death, superstition reigns supreme. They don’t make a big deal out of it because they are all supposedly rational adult human beings, but some cops won’t leave the station without their lucky holster, and some detectives only use the same obscure brand of pen to fill in all of their reports. (Juliet’s quirk is that she recites lines of police code and baseball statistics in pairs whenever she makes coffee; she doesn’t know why she does this, it’s an absent-minded mental exercise. Sometimes, too, when she’s cleaning her gun, she’ll sing under her breath the theme song to Lone Ranger. It’s gotten so that she doesn’t even notice she does it, anymore.) [I don’t know where I came up with Juliet’s quirks, but they make sense to me. She does play police code trivia games with Lassie, and she is scarily obsessed with baseball. Lone Ranger, that one, I don’t know.]
Despite this, Juliet hesitates to think ghost when she feels insubstantial fingers tug on her curls, nonexistent sharp chin resting on her shoulder, soundless voice in her ear amused and low, saying, Don’t you see? Look at the scene sketches again. Look at the interview transcripts. Don’t you notice it? This is who the killer is. So logical, and Juliet wants to think the answer has come from her – that she has gained, from one day to the next, the ability to look through a Cold Case and solve it – but she knows she hasn’t.
She’s never actually answered the presence. She’s never actually acknowledged its existence.
She takes to calling it ‘Casper’, after the cartoon; but only in her head. Because she’s not crazy, and she’s not going to go crazy, and the first step on that road is to start talking to people who aren’t there.
(Even if she thinks he might be there. Maybe.
Even if she wants him to be there.)
[This is part of the groundwork I tried to lay down. As viewers of the show, we know that this fic is an AU, and that it is perfectly plausible in this fictive universe for Shawn to be a ghost haunting the SBPD; but for Juliet, she has become afraid of her own mind. Is she going crazy? She can’t tell, and that’s a scary thing, particularly for a cop. I wanted to toy with this theme to set up some initial tension with Juliet’s character development – but, like the series’ Juliet, she believes quickly and easily and perhaps foolishly in the presence of the supernatural. One of my pet peeves of early Juliet was that she should have been more credulous – one of the things I’ve been liking more and more about her character arc is that she is learning that kind of critical judgment.]
Juliet’s never felt comfortable calling Det. Lassiter ‘Carlton’, despite the fact that they work alongside one another five days a week. Maybe in a different life [Hah! This was just me being precious and clever to myself], but in this one there is something too sad about him. Too closed off and distant, and she could take it if he ever got angry or annoyed, but even that much passion is beyond him.
She’s seen cops like him before, the career kind, who are like wind-up toys with broken springs. Shuffling. [The grammar is off here, and it bugs me. I sacrificed grammar a LOT for stylistics when I wrote this story, and got pretty much the exact tone I wanted to achieve, but I feel it was sloppy work. I should have gone further through the writing and fixed up these mistakes and discovered a different way to deliver on that atmosphere. Live and learn, I guess.]
Det. Lassiter is her constant puzzle. She wants to figure him out. She wants to dissect him and have his each emotion laid bare for her to analyze. He’s not a real person to her, because he’s not even a real person to himself, and she occasionally thinks she should feel guilty over her rampant objectification of his emotional state – but she isn’t.
Casper is amused by her attention, bemused; saddened. (Juliet doesn’t want to think about the fact that she is now attributing emotions to a phantasm. Juliet doesn’t want to think about how lonely this new job is, with a partner who won’t look her in the face. Juliet doesn’t want to think about anything except for the latest case she’s on, because she’s single-minded like that, because it’s less confusing like that.) [Grammar fail again. And here is where I’m trying to fix my characterization-fail of Jules by saying that she knows what she’s doing is wrong, etc. This is a strategy known as prolepsis in formal essay writing, otherwise known as anticipating an argument and refuting it before it can be made; it is otherotherwise known as covering your ass. Still, I like Casper-Shawn here.]
Three months into her new job, and Juliet meets Burton Guster. He’s a blind date, and very cute. [Yeah, he is. Hahaha, I just love this scenario. I honestly believe they would be BFFS if Shawn weren’t in the way; Shawn takes up all the BFF space in Gus’ brain.] They meet at the restaurant and Juliet gets there first, so she sees Burton – “Gus,” he says, smiling a reserved smile, “Call me Gus, everyone does.” – walk in through the front doors with his stiff shoulders and his set jaw. He moves tensely, as if his body hurts him: as if his body is wound and he doesn’t know how much longer he can bear the pain of living inside of it. [Admittedly, I was really wrecked thinking about Gus like this. I could totally envision it, and felt like a bastard. Gus without Shawn isn’t Gus; he’s Burton.]
Juliet likes him, she really does. He’s sweet and unexpectedly funny, a consummate gentleman, but there is something so deeply sad about him. There is something so deeply pained. Juliet has never been one of those girls who needs to fix her boyfriends. [I hold to this belief; this first chapter was a lot of establishing Juliet’s characterization. This was a detail Chuck loved too, when she was reading through: I remember her going “YES” when she read it. I think most women with healthy self images should endeavour to have partners with like-minded healthy self images.] She prefers they come to her healthy and happy. She doesn’t have the energy or time to put fractured people back together, except as the intellectual exercise she does with Det. Lassiter; she can’t be the person who makes Gus whole again. She already has a full-time job. [Damn right she does. And Shawn is already adding to it whether he knows it or not.]
Either Gus can read her mind or he’s not ready, either, to be in a relationship, because by the end of the night they smile at one another awkwardly.
Gus says, “Uh, so, should I call you?”
Juliet says, “If you want, but…” her voice trails off to nothing.
Gus smiles. His teeth are very white, and for all that it’s a nervous motion, it’s the first expression she’s seen on his face that isn’t tinged somehow by inexpressible sorrow. “I do like you, Juliet,” he says, “But, I think we make better friends than anything else.” [It actually kind of hurts me to think about Gus suffering for months after Shawn died, so withdrawn and pulled into himself, unwilling to reach out again because he’s still so raw from the blankness Shawn’s absence left in him – and so he tries to fill that void with dates, ie a blind dating service, but even then he can’t get anywhere – the one girl who really appeals to him, Jules, he turns into a new BFF, which is its own kind of pain considering how he’s still grieving Shawn here.]
She smiles back and nods. “You should call me,” she says. “I don’t have all that many friends here yet.”
The sadness in Gus’s eyes sharpens and gleams as he says, “Neither do I, anymore.” [Gah. Yeah. I felt guiltier for what I did to Gus than for what I did to any other character. I think it’s because I identify so fully with being the best friend left behind, the sibling floundering in the aftermath of a death. As a total aside, I love the image of sadness sharpening and gleaming, the implication of sadness as a knife, an offensive tool, an offense against the self. Gus is cutting himself on the edge of his grief, and the majority of his scenes in this fic are depictions of him quietly, privately bleeding.]
Casper never leaves the station, but he’s always waiting at the front doors for Juliet when she walks in each morning. Playful, his insubstantial arms hugging her around her shoulders; his cool breath whuffling across her cheek, like her brother’s dogs used to do; his sly voice mumbling in her ear, Would you look at that guy’s hairstyle? Can we say ‘mid-life crisis’, ladies and gentlemen? [The requisite hair joke. Oh, Shawn.] Juliet smiles, because it’s amusing; because there’s something so friendly and puppy-like about him. She sometimes wishes he were actually real and not the by-product of her lonely imagination. [Yeah, see, Juliet’s quiet sense of ‘of course I’m making all of this up there is no possible way it is true’ – she topples pretty easily off of this ledge, but it’s difficult to resist Shawn.]
Though, for someone (something?) not real, he is eerily good at guessing who their latest bad guy is. He whispers his answers in Juliet’s ear. He tells her how he figured it out, and it’s always the little details, the little extrapolations. He’s more of a teacher to Juliet than Det. Lassiter has been. Det. Lassiter who only grows more gray with each day, as if the life is leeching out of him. Who offers brusque and unfeeling congratulations whenever Juliet manages to land a new lead to a seemingly dead case; who, for all that he has a pulse and steady breath, is no more alive than the corpses lying in the morgue’s refrigeration units. [So much grammar fail. Ugh. I confess, I have a strange fondness for the shortened form of detective, ‘Det.’ I like using it whenever and wherever possible.]
Juliet can’t help but feel concerned for him, more and more, as with each passing day he shrinks, becomes lesser.
Something has to be done, she thinks.
Casper agrees, must agree, because he tugs her down to the records room and pushes her towards a pile of boxes. His impatience pushes against her like a palpable thing, speeding her through the files until she pulls a slim folder out, the name on its tab familiar to her: S. Spencer. [I felt this was weak; I rushed this transition.]
She falls asleep at her desk that night and her dreams are full of light and two hands and an amused, low voice asking her, Do you see? Do you see?
But Juliet is blinded by the light [Heh, I always sing that lyric in my head, ‘blinded by the liiiiight’ at this moment.], and she shakes her head and mouths No. She forms the words but doesn’t say them: Tell me.
You’re a detective, the voice says. Go and detect.
Then the lightest touch on her lips. The softest possible touch, as if from lips less substantial than air, and Juliet moves into that kiss but can’t chase it back to where it’s come from, because she’s woken up.
There are paperclips stuck to her cheek. She’s drooled a little. [I hold this visual in a special place in my heart. Maggie Lawson is incapable of looking bad, but I love contorting Juliet into amusing positions and portrayals. And you know, drool is always, always funny.] She groans and checks the time and flips open her cell to phone Gus for late night pizza and movies.
Shawn Spencer is a handful of years older than Juliet. He has a criminal record (the arresting officer is a Henry Spencer, and Juliet has to wonder if they’re related) from a misspent youth; he has a photograph on file with a crazy smirk and crazier hair. Juliet can’t tell the colour of his eyes. His skin is a rich tan, and his nose almost beak-ish yet not quite. [I am not too nice when describing Shawn’s physical appearance. I am sorry James Roday! You are tres hot! But you do have an almost-beakish nose.] There’s not much more on the file besides that, except for the roughly hand-written note: Claims to be a psychic, his tip closed the MacCallum case.
The date of his death is less than six months ago. The cause: blunt force trauma to the base of the skull. Ancillary injuries: broken rib, punctured lung, fractured cheekbone, broken wrist. [Okay, yes, I over use the colon and the semi-colon. Aforementioned stylistics getting in the way of actual real functional grammar. I read too much pretentious fiction as a young adult, and it seeped its way into how I thought Serious Stories should be told. That being said, I am ridiculously fond of my colons and semi-colons and cling to them pathetically when my betas slice them out of the fabric of a fic, merciless as a surgeon’s scalpel with the delete key. Thank god for betas that can withstand my emo whine.]
It hurt, Casper whispers over her shoulder. I can’t remember it even now. But I remember how much it hurt. For all that he’s a ghost (yes, Juliet has given up and accepted her insanity, she has taken to calling Casper what he is: a freakishly friendly ghost) [This transition happened too fast – I gave up that tension of Juliet believing/disbelieving, trusting her own mind and distrusting it, way too fast, and lost a lot of really great opportunities. But at the same time I wasn’t looking to write an epic, and with shorter stories a certain degree of handwaving goes on in regards to how plot point a moves to plot point b. Looking back, if I were to tell this same story over again, I would make Jules more of a competent character and less of a tool for Shawn to manipulate – but then, as I’ve said before, this is season one Juliet where she was ridiculously gullible to Shawn’s psychtastic ways, so I don’t feel that I’m TOO off the mark. Wow, I sound horrible about Juliet – I don’t mean to, she’s one of my favourites and I adore her, but she has had her incidences of almost painful naivete, especially as she came to the show already a detective. Despite being the junior partner, she should still have more in common with Lassiter than with McNabb. I was really glad when that developed, actually, and I love the Hurricane Mira episode because of its emphasis on Juliet’s proven record as worthy of her detective shield.] this is the first time he’s ever sounded haunted. He says, And I thought maybe dying would take the pain away, but it just put a different kind of pain inside me. It just made me hurt in a different type of way.
Juliet shivers. She whispers, “Shawn?” and if her tone is disbelieving, it doesn’t stop Casper from laughing, doesn’t stop his delight as he says, Shawn Spencer, ghostly psychic detective, at your service.
[This first chapter actually turned out way more awesome than I expected it to. It just sort of came out of me, very organically and easily. I would run into massive boulders of writer’s block later on and force myself to write through them, but for the first few chapters, it was easy like Sunday morning (uh, for the non-church-going).
The thing about posting without waiting for months between revisions is that when months DO pass by, you inevitably want to pull down what you’ve put up and re-edit it until it gleams with perfection. The thing about being lazy, you don’t tend to bother. It’s so much more effort to take the fic down, edit it, and then repost it. I know, I know. It’s like, a cardinal sin not to revise and revise and revise until the manuscript bleeds corrective ink. In my defense, for all of those dozens upon dozens of stories that I have yet to post, each has been revised at least half a dozen times. Too bad they’re still not good enough. It’s either all at once, or never at all, with me, it seems. Such epic moments of facepalmery.]