Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. I do not own any of the characters of Psych and am not affiliated with the show or USA Network. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended. I do not own nor am I associated with Starbucks, or Subway.
*AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story takes place after my previous Psych Fan Fiction stories "Choose It Or Lose It", "It Can Happen", "This Stalker Thing Kind Of Sucks", and "Stir Crazy". Events affecting the Lassiter/Shawn and Lassiter/Juliet dynamics that take place these previous stories are mentioned in this one. You might want to read them first. Doing so is not a requirement to understand what is going on in this story, but it will help alleviate any confusion that might occur when the references pop up.*
SPOILERS: For Psych episodes "Shawn Has the Yips", and "Mr. Yin Presents."
Lassiter and Juliet slowly made their way up the front steps of the SBPD station. They hadn't slept at all the night before, but Juliet had insisted on coming to work anyway. They did have a ton of work to do, but despite the mountain of paperwork as well as lead-chasing they needed to complete, both Lassiter and the Chief had wanted everyone to take a day off for some necessary rest. The events of the last couple of days had worn down everyone in their usual group to the point of exhaustion, and they'd all been pushed towards their own respective breaking points. Some had even passed it several hours ago.
Chasing a serial killer of possibly genius level IQ can do that to you.
Despite Chief Vick's orders, though, Juliet wanted to come in to the station and hit the ground running. She'd stubbornly refused her so-called 'rest', and was absolutely bound and determined to pursue what few leads they had that might lead them to Mr. Yin. She'd managed to win a Chief's exemption from the break with the 'time is of the essence' argument. There were the notes the notorious murderer had left that had to be processed for fingerprints and examined for possible residual DNA samples. The clothes she'd been wearing the night before had been collected by the forensics unit when she'd changed clothes, and taken to the lab for analysis, with hope the technicians might find physical evidence such as fibers or foreign hairs that could possibly identify the killer. There was also the rope that had been used to tie up both her and Abigail Lytar. They were trying to find any unique characteristics about it that would allow them to trace its origin, but so far, no luck. It was very common, available at just about any hardware store, and could have been purchased at any one of nearly a thousand locations in the city of Santa Barbara and surrounding areas. All of this investigative work was piled on top of the official debriefings, witness statements, and reports that had to be completed. And so, Juliet O'Hara had wanted to go to work today. She knew Lassiter understood that determination, that drive to catch the criminal that had dared make things personal, so he wouldn't begrudge her the opportunity to end his crime spree and make one hell of a satisfying arrest. After the events of the last forty-eight hours, Juliet knew Carlton Lassiter didn't have the heart to tell her no.
She also knew there was no way in hell he was going to leave her side, either.
It was eight-thirty in the morning, and she couldn't believe she'd almost died just four short hours ago. She remembered that awful hollow feeling in the pit of her stomach while she'd waited for someone to save her, and the whirlwind of emotions she'd felt upon hearing the sound of that roof door opening. At first, for one terrifying second, she'd thought Yin had come back to finish her off. But then she'd heard her partner's voice, and relief flooded through her, followed immediately by a frightening swell of panic that he wouldn't get her out of that chair in time, and he'd be forced to stand by helplessly while watching her fall to her death.
Then the clock had been stopped, and there were hands around her, cutting her free and pulling her away from danger, followed by a nearly constant barrage of questions about her welfare. Carlton was the only one who had initially accepted her "Yes, I'm okay," at face value, and set about securing the scene while other officers and technical personnel swarmed about like ants going after sugar. Even Gus, kind soul and good friend that he was, hovered near her, occasionally asking her awkward questions, and wanting to know if there was anything else he could do. At a loss for words, eventually he'd resorted to asking her if she'd like him to get her coffee and a muffin from Starbucks. And possibly some donuts. Gus always fell back on the comfort of tasty snack foods.
As the sun rose over the city, and the questions kept on coming, she'd quickly learned the best response for getting people to leave her alone—"I'm fine." Any time someone would approach her with concern in their eyes, she'd head off yet another query into her well-being with the curt two-word reply. And as the sun broke above the rooftops, she'd found those were the only two words she could say without caving in to her emotions and breaking down right there in front of everyone. They were her shield, her improvised barrier against brutal reality that allowed her to still function. She'd been doing great, actually managing to hold it together even after weathering an ordeal that would have made many grown men wet their pants. She was even a little proud of herself for handling it so well. But then it happened—that damn paramedic cornered her. She knew he was only trying to do his job, but he just wouldn't leave her alone, wouldn't accept her two word shield as an adequate answer. His questions had made her relive everything again, and suddenly she was back in the chair, absolutely terrified, looking over the edge of the precipice at certain death awaiting her on the street below. Her defenses weakening, she lashed out in desperate anger, almost frantic in her attempt to get away from his annoying concern. Then thankfully he was roughly yanked from her view as Carlton Lassiter unceremoniously pulled him away.
Even though they were finally alone and away from prying eyes, her shield had remained firmly in place. "I'm fine," she'd insisted. "Carlton, I'm fine." But she should have known not to try that with him, he knew her too well. He could spot a lie from a mile away.
—"You don't have to be fine."
His words had cracked her shield and it started to crumble, but still she'd tried to hang on. Juliet had spent several years of her life proving to the man how good a detective she was, that she was more than capable and tough enough to handle the job. She didn't want her hard won accomplishments of the last four years to unravel in an instant. "I'm perfectly fine!" she'd insisted, even though she'd known she wasn't.
—"Juliet! You don't have to be fine."
So had he.
Her shield had broken then and completely fallen away, leaving her vulnerable, emotions raw and exposed for her partner to see. But instead of turning away, rejecting her, even thinking less of her, he'd drawn her into his arms, holding her close as she'd laid her head on his shoulder and cried. At that moment, despite his stoic demeanor and gruff, emotionally distant personality, he'd unexpectedly been the one to offer comfort, and surprisingly, he was the only one from whom she'd felt safe accepting it. He was the one person she'd felt she could lean on because he was the only one who knew exactly what she was going through, knew what it was like to be so perilously close to death. And for that brief moment, he wasn't her boss, her commanding officer, or even her partner—he was simply her friend.
The familiar sounds of the station broke through her thoughts as Lassiter flung open the front doors. They made their way across the bullpen to their desks, his shuffling gait a testament to his level of exhaustion. Juliet briefly felt guilty about working today, because after the events of the previous night, she knew he'd insist on accompanying her no matter how tired he was. There was no way in hell he would take 'no' for an answer. Even though she wanted to see him take his day off and get some much needed rest, she couldn't help being grateful for his presence. Juliet found herself desperately wanting to be in the company of other people, but not wanting to actually talk to anyone. It was a role for which Carlton Lassiter was tailor made. She also knew she could depend on him to keep a buffer zone of privacy around her, preventing morbidly curious prying eyes and overly sympathetic 'instant friends' from pestering her. She couldn't have asked for a better enforcer.
Juliet sat down at her desk while Lassiter trudged over to his own workspace. He set his briefcase down, draped his jacket over his chair, grabbed his coffee mug, and wandered off in the general direction of the department's overused coffee pot. She sighed and turned on her computer, hoping to have some useful information to peruse in her departmental e-mail. After a few minutes a full coffee cup was deposited on the desktop in front of her. She looked up as Lassiter stalked wordlessly back to his desk, glaring at all that dared cross his grumpy path. As Juliet watched his slow progress across the room, her thoughts turned to the current state of their partnership.
The first year they'd worked together, he was more than a bit of an ass. As a matter of fact, he was downright insufferable. Fortunately she'd decided on the correct way of handling his extremely abrasive personality, and her seemingly unflappable kindness had eventually made him start to feel guilty for yelling at her after a while. It took almost the entire year to wear him down into a slightly more personable coworker. So if it were still their first year together, upon seeing her burst into tears up on that roof, he would have delivered a scathing speech about why 'detectives don't cry' before storming off, and she would have lost any of his respect that she'd managed to earn. The second year, he would have rolled his eyes in moderate disgust, checked to make sure nobody was looking, then discretely handed her his handkerchief and simply walked away until she'd regained control. By the third year, they'd managed to start growing closer together. He would have stood by awkwardly, fumbling his way through some ridiculous pep talk, hoping that by some miracle she would cease weeping while trying in some embarrassingly clueless 'Carlton' way to offer some type of comfort. This year, their fourth together as partners, they'd grown close enough over time that he'd known exactly what to do, how to handle it in just the right way, and do it without hesitation. She'd earned his respect, even grown on him to the point where he'd come to regard her almost as his equal, and somewhere along the bumpy road they'd traveled together, they'd managed to become close friends.
Juliet sipped her coffee, not surprised in the least to find it prepared exactly the way she liked it. Then she set about trying to find something to keep her busy so she wouldn't have to think about the nightmare she'd just lived. She threw herself into her work with abandon in an attempt to keep those dark thoughts at bay. It was the only way she knew to keep her sanity.
By eleven o'clock, she'd managed to get confirmation from the lab that there were no fingerprints on the notes other than hers. No new information about the ropes, either. At noon, Lassiter insisted they get something to eat, grumbling the words 'hungry' and 'bear' under his breath. Juliet wanted to keep working, he needed food. In the end they'd compromised and brought Subway sandwiches back to their desks.
By three o'clock that afternoon, Juliet was just about ready to start pulling out clumps of hair in frustration. Nothing useful so far had been found on her clothes by forensics. Nothing on the ropes. No DNA on the letters. Nothing, nothing, nothing! It was like Mr. Yin was a ghost, everything that should prove his existence just...didn't. How the hell can someone destroy so many lives without leaving a trace? Juliet slammed her phone down on the cradle after berating some unknown lab tech in forensics for not being thorough enough, and felt tears starting to sting her eyes. No, she couldn't break down again—not here, not now. She looked up and saw her partner do a double take, staring across his desk at her with concern while speaking to someone on the telephone. He abruptly ended the call and moved to hang up the phone.
Not wanting to talk to anyone right now, Juliet quickly stood up and hurried towards the Women's restroom. She couldn't face him—she knew she would crumble again if he even looked at her, she was so fragile right now. Lassiter caught up with her retreating form quickly with a few long strides.
"I have something in my eye," she dismissed him as she heard his heavy footsteps rapidly approaching from behind. She knew it was just about the lamest excuse possible, but it was the only one her flustered brain could come up with on the spur of the moment. It seemed to have worked, because she heard him stop and she continued on her way, ducking into the Ladies' room to hide for a while. Juliet knew that was the one place he wouldn't dare follow her.
Juliet stayed in a stall for a good forty-five minutes, refusing to emerge before she was sure she'd calmed down. She waited until she knew she was alone, then crept out of the stall and checked her makeup in the mirror. Fortunately her waterproof mascara had lived up to its advertising and weathered her tears without so much as a smudge. She took a few more deep breaths, took another ten minutes and a few drinks of water to relax for good measure, then finally made her way out the door, ready to resume work.
The first thing to confront her when she opened the door was Lassiter. He'd probably been standing next to the door the entire time she'd been inside. He was also scowling.
"You've been in there an hour," he said as he frowned down at her with obvious concern.
Juliet sighed. She should have known she couldn't shake him that easily. "Carlton, I'm fine."
"Thought we went over that this morning."
"Look, can't we just...I just want to get back to work." She looked up at him, her eyes pleading with him to take the hint. "Can we please just work?"
He studied her intently with his cold blue eyes, and after a few moments, his expression softened ever so slightly. "All right, but just a little while longer. It's four o'clock, you know." He tapped his watch for emphasis.
They made their way back to their desks in silence with Lassiter following her, watching her every move with a critical eye. Juliet sat down at her desk and started to busy herself by organizing a stack of papers. Lassiter was just about to sit in his chair when he looked up at the main hallway, jumped up, and scurried toward the front doors. Juliet turned to see what was causing such a reaction and saw Shawn Spencer heading towards her desk.
"No! Not today! Get out of here, Spencer!" Lassiter stopped him a good thirty feet before his objective.
"But Lassie, I wanted to—"
"Take that childish crap and get the hell out of my station!"
Juliet looked closer and saw that Shawn was holding a small brown teddy bear. It was dressed as a police officer with green bow tied around its neck, and he also held a blueberry muffin in his hands.
Shawn looked a little hurt by Lassiter's words, but stood his ground. He took a deep breath, mustered up his courage, and decided to plead his case. "But Lassie, I just wanted to drop by and see if Jules is—"
"You leave her the hell alone," he growled menacingly as he loomed over the smaller man.
Juliet quelled his rage with a single word, and nodded, signaling it was okay for Shawn to approach. Lassiter looked back over his shoulder at her, then exhaled, and turned back towards Shawn. She watched her partner grab him firmly by the elbow and pull him out of earshot to speak to him in hushed tones for several moments before allowing him to approach her again. As Shawn stood in front of her desk, Lassiter lurked behind him, looking like he was ready to pounce at any second.
"Hey, Jules," he said with a small smile. "I just, you know, wanted to see how you were doing after—well, after." He looked down at his hands, seeming unsure of himself.
"Thanks Shawn," she said with as cheerful a smile as she could muster. "I'm okay, I'll be fine."
Shawn looked into her eyes, scrutinizing her closely, and in an instant, she knew he could see right through her defensive facade. She could tell he just knew that she was anything but 'okay.' His expression showed a mix of sadness and sympathy as he averted his eyes to look down at his hands again. Not knowing what else to do, and at a complete loss for words, he quietly handed her the bear and set the muffin on her desk. Juliet thought it was the first time in her life that she'd ever seen Shawn Spencer stunned into silence.
She accepted it as graciously as she could under the circumstances. Although it was a bit childish, Juliet knew it was simply Shawn's way of showing he cared about her. He didn't know of any other way, really. It really was a very sweet and innocent gesture...She felt her eyes begin to sting again, and for once, she was grateful to have Lassiter there to hustle Shawn away. Taking her reddening eyes as his cue to exit stage left, Shawn nodded in understanding, then turned and slowly walked away. Normally he would insist on staying and trying to cheer her up with his unique brand of juvenile humor, but she knew he was leaving without further prompting because he realized his presence was making her cry. For once, Shawn was doing the mature thing and acting to spare her feelings. She discretely hunkered down behind her monitor as she watched Lassiter take Shawn by the elbow and escort him away. He spoke to the younger man whose head hung low as they walked, occasionally glancing back over his shoulder at his partner. When they reached the stairs, Shawn turned to face the Detective, his expression both serious and pleading. He said something to Lassiter, who nodded solemnly in response, then sent Shawn on his way with a few parting words and a pat on the back.
Juliet placed her elbows on her desk and rested her forehead in her hands. Who was she kidding? She was half passed useless right now. Lassiter was right, she should never have come to work, she should have taken the day off. But she didn't want to go home, either. She wanted to stay, needed to be around people. Because if she was alone with her thoughts, then she'd have to actually face what happened. She'd have to think about her fear, and that mind-numbing, heart-clenching terror would come flooding back. Relentless in its invasion of her mind, cutting down to her core, she could never find peace because she knew he was still out there. He could take her again if she was alone, there was no way to make her apartment intruder-proof...
"It's four-thirty," Lassiter interrupted her thoughts. "How about we knock it off for the day? I'll drop you off at home, so you can—"
"No!" Her head shot up, eyes wide and desperate. She realized what she was doing and managed to collect herself. "I mean, I still have to write up my statement for the Chief. I, uh...I can't go just yet."
He looked down at her as his eyes narrowed suspiciously, then he took a step back. "Okay. But not too much longer. Understand?"
Relieved he sensed that she needed some space, Juliet nodded in agreement. "Yes. Not much longer. I get it."
Minutes turned into hours, and Juliet was still at her desk. She'd worked diligently in her efforts to forget, but she knew she was fighting a losing battle—she couldn't stay at the station forever. But even though she had to go home eventually, she still tried to prolong the inevitable. She'd manage to stretch one hour of paperwork into three, and was currently dawdling about on another suddenly 'urgent' task she'd managed to invent, retyping the same paragraph for the fifth time. It was almost nine o'clock at night, and she was one of only three officers left in the station. Suddenly her monitor shut off and went blank. She tried to turn it on again but it wouldn't work. Juliet looked up and saw Lassiter holding the loose end of the power cord he'd just unplugged.
"Carlton! I was working on that, damn it!"
"You're going home. Now," he informed her in a tone let her know it was not optional.
"Damn it, Carlton!" she snapped at him. "I'm busy! Plug that back in, and—"
"No." Lassiter stared at her and stood his ground.
Angry at his denial, Juliet lashed out. There were no other targets within range, so her partner would have to do. "God damn it! Plug in my fucking monitor!" she yelled loudly enough that her words echoed throughout the room. If she was mean enough, brutal enough in her attack, then maybe she'd insult him to the point where he'd leave in a huff. It might hurt Lassiter's feelings, but it would accomplish her goal and allow her to stay in the station and feign work. Stay and hide behind her desk, hide from the nightmare her life had become. She hated the fact that she felt it necessary to make that choice. "Go away and leave me alone, you egotistical ass. You've been hovering around me all day. Well, I don't need your God damn sympathy! So get off your high horse, go the hell home, and let me work in fucking peace and quiet for a change!"
"O'Hara," he said quietly, looking directly into her eyes. "It's time to go." Strangely enough, her words had brought about exactly the opposite effect she'd intended. Instead of bristling with anger, Carlton had reacted with kindness. He stepped forward, his expression filled with sympathetic concern, and placed a gentle hand on her shoulder.
Juliet looked up at him silently standing next to her, and immediately felt guilty for her behavior. "I'm sorry," she said as she turned her face away in shame.
"Come on, I'm taking you home." Lassiter draped her trench coat over shoulders and placed Juliet's purse in her hands as he shut off her desk lamp and steered her towards the door. He walked behind her as they made their way to his car, his not so subtle way of letting her know there would be no retreat. Suddenly feeling chilled, Juliet pulled her coat tighter around her as she waited for her partner to open the door.
The entire car ride was spent in uncomfortable silence. Juliet looked out her window, watching the moonlight play over the ocean waves in the distance as they drove towards her home. She also noticed the occasional worried glances Carlton sent her way by catching his reflection in the tinted glass. The closer they got to her home, the more stressed she became. She knew it certainly wasn't going to be pleasant, but she wasn't quite prepared for this level of anxiety. She found herself wondering if he'd fall for the old "I left something back at the station" ruse just so they could turn around and head in the opposite direction. She was extremely anxious about having to spend the night alone, but she was too embarrassed to ask Lassiter to stay. She didn't want to admit to him that she was too afraid to sleep in her own home. It angered her that some lowly criminal had robbed her of her strength, stolen her independence. Juliet stubbornly decided to tough it out on her own—if she didn't sleep at all, then so be it. She would prove to her partner that she was strong, she could do this. She could get knocked down and get right back up again. Juliet O'Hara refused to be that crying, blubbering mess on the clock tower anymore. A little makeup to hide the dark rings under her eyes for the next few days was a small price to pay to salvage her reputation and pride.
The walk to her doorstep was just as devoid of conversation as their drive. Juliet produced her keys, unlocked her door, and muttered a quiet "Thanks" as she crossed the threshold. She stood inside her foyer, running her hands over her arms, reluctant to proceed any further into her own apartment. It seemed a more intimidating space than she'd remembered, full of dark shadows and random hiding places that could conceal any number of potential threats.
"Pull yourself together, damn it," she thought to herself. "You're a cop. Start acting like one."
Juliet took a deep, steadying breath, and turned around to close her front door, ready to confront her demons alone. She almost ran face first into Lassiter's chest. She was surprised to see him standing inside her home. "Oh! I'm sorry, I didn't know you were—"
"Stay here," he said firmly as his eyes looked past her, scanning the room. He drew his Glock from his shoulder holster, produced a small tactical light from his pocket, and proceeded to thoroughly search the entire apartment, checking every locked window and clearing every room of potential threats to make sure she was safe. When he finally emerged from the last room secured, which happened to be her master bedroom, his jacket was draped over his arm, and he was carrying a pillow and neatly folded down quilt in his hands instead of his now holstered gun. Without uttering even a single word, he dropped the blanket on the coffee table, slumped onto the couch in a tired heap, and tossed his jacket onto a nearby chair. Then he kicked off his shoes, draped his gun rig over the back of the couch, stretched out on his left side with his back to her facing away from the light in the kitchen, and crammed the pillow under his head.
Relief flooded through her when she realized he was going to stay for the night. He'd done so without her even having to ask, thus sparing her the humiliation and embarrassment of confessing her weakness. Juliet had never been more grateful to be on the receiving end of such a simple act of kindness, and she felt a profound sense of gratitude swell within her chest.
"Get some sleep, O'Hara," he growled without even bothering to move. "That's an order." His bark didn't sound very intimidating when it was muffled by a comfy pillow.
Juliet decided to just thank him in the morning and obeyed his so-called order. The week's events were catching up with her with a vengeance, so she turned off the lights and dragged her tired body back to her bedroom where she would attempt to get some much needed sleep. Juliet changed into a t-shirt and an old pair of sweats and crawled underneath the thick covers of her queen size bed. She was utterly exhausted, and just wanted to sleep long enough to forget what had happened to her, desperate to take the sharp edge off of the harsh memories formed over the last two days.
Three hours later, she realized there was no way in hell that she would find peace tonight.
Juliet looked at the clock again before rolling away in disgust. It was almost one in the morning and she just couldn't sleep. As a matter of fact, she was even more wide awake than she had been in the station. She was so full of nervous energy that she felt like she'd consumed four espressos before retiring for the evening. The difference between normal caffeine-induced jitters and her current emotional state was, this time, her feelings were tinged with a distinct undercurrent of fear. Since the first moments after she'd turned out the lights and crept into bed, she'd been in a heightened state of awareness. Even though she was trying for the exact opposite effect, Juliet found that she just couldn't relax at all. From the rustling of branches outside, to every click and pop of settling interior walls, the old, formerly familiar sounds of her home were suddenly ominous and frighteningly new. Innocent noises that used to mean 'The bushes outside my window need to be trimmed' were now translated into 'Is that him? Is he trying to break in to my bedroom?' Phantom intruders assaulted her senses, providing small injections of adrenaline into her system every few minutes without mercy. Even the shadows in her darkened bedroom seemed to come to life with newfound menace, a constant reminder that the man who'd held her captive could be hiding anywhere. Juliet's quilt swallowed her shrinking form as she slowly began sinking lower beneath its folds in a ridiculously adolescent attempt to hide from the night. Her heart pounding faster by the minute, Juliet's sleep-deprived mind was rapidly spiraling towards panic.
She told herself to get a grip and control her fear. She reminded herself her duty weapon was in the drawer of her night stand mere inches away. She told herself she was a damn good cop, and perfectly capable of protecting herself.
"You had a loaded gun in your hand the last time, and you still couldn't stop him..."
Juliet stood silently in front of the couch as she stared at her partner's back. He was lying on his right side facing the cushions, his recumbent form barely visible by the dim remnants of exterior light filtering through the curtains around her living room window. She knew he was tired—hell, he was exhausted—and he looked so peaceful, she didn't want to wake him. He'd been so tired he hadn't even bothered to cover himself with his blanket when he'd crashed on her couch, he'd just left it sitting folded up on the coffee table. But she couldn't bring herself to go back into her bedroom, either. She'd tried, oh, God, how she'd tried, but Juliet just couldn't force her feet to return her to that house of horrors.
She felt like she was eight years old again, standing outside her big brother Ewan's bedroom door while a violent tropical storm raged outside their Miami home, trying to muster up the courage to knock and ask for admittance. She'd had an irrational fear of thunder and lightning as a child, and on nights when the storms were particularly bad, Juliet would sheepishly crawl into bed with her older sibling, seeking his protection. Though Juliet had never admitted it to him, she'd secretly idolized him all her life. Ewan was her hero, the big, strong brother always shielding his smaller 'little sis' from harm. And while the thunder boomed loudly enough to rattle the windows, Juliet would fall asleep in his arms, secure in the knowledge that he would keep her safe through the night.
Juliet indulged the bad habit of chewing on her lower lip as she tried to figure out what to do. She wanted to cry out of anger at herself and sheer frustration over her situation. She eventually decided waking her partner was out of the question. He desperately needed rest, and she wanted him to continue sleeping. It would also mean having to admit her weakness to him, and she was trying to avoid that at all costs. She wanted to show him she was strong, that she could handle it, prove that the pathetic sobbing thing he'd seen on the clock tower was just a single moment of frailty. But as hard as she tried, she just couldn't force herself to go back to her own bed, because she was too damn frightened to spend the night alone. Her thoughts of childlike stature proved an accurate comparison; she'd pulled her queen size comforter off of her bed and carried it with her, its voluminous folds trailing behind her as she clutched the bulk of it to her chest. Juliet was paralyzed by indecision, standing quietly in her living room, feeling ridiculously helpless and small as she shifted nervously on her feet.
An answer suddenly came to her. Juliet set the bedspread down on the floor, walked quietly to her hallway closet, retrieved a spare pillow and the thick down sleeping bag she'd used when camping from the top shelf, and silently padded in her pink socks back to the living room. She spread the sleeping bag on the floor between the coffee table and the couch, and lay down, making herself a makeshift bed next to her partner. It was the best possible solution she could come up with; she wasn't bothering Lassiter, but she wasn't alone, either. Juliet made a mental note to get up and retreat to her bedroom at sunrise before he woke up, so hopefully he'd never even know she was there. Just being in the same room with him was enough to keep her demons at bay for the night.
Juliet lay back against her pillow and tried to relax. She found her eyes still shifting about the room, taking in its features, familiarizing herself with every nook, cranny, and shadow. She started easing back against the soft down, listening to the sounds of Lassiter's deep, steady breathing, the soft rhythm a constant reassurance of his presence. She had just managed to close her eyes when a random gust of wind blew something into the exterior wall beside the window with a hollow *thump*. It startled her, and she tensed with a small gasp as adrenaline once again surged through her body, causing a chill to shoot down her spine. When she'd finally calmed, she found herself once again fighting back tears born of frustration and anxiety as she squeezed her eyes shut. Juliet was better than this! She hated herself, she felt like a total idiot being afraid of every bump in the night. She knew her mind was playing tricks on her, that her abductor wasn't really creeping around her home lurking behind every shadow, but she just couldn't help her reaction. Juliet was glad she'd chosen not to awaken Lassiter, she didn't want him to witness her cowardice.
"What in the hell are you doing?" her partner growled in an accusatory tone.
Juliet's eyes flew open to find Lassiter looking down at her. He'd shifted around so one eye was visible beside the edge of his pillow, and he stared at her from beneath a sharply arched brow. Her eyes widened slightly as she pulled a wad of her oversize quilt to her chin.
"Nothing," she answered, trying to deflect his question by sounding innocent. It felt like the time her dad had caught her stealing fingers full of icing off her brother's birthday cake when she was five.
He peered down at her in the darkness, his eye narrowing in suspicion. Then his expression softened visibly as he finally figured out what she was doing. He exhaled sharply and slowly pushed himself into a sitting position. "Move," he ordered.
The single word hit her like ice water, his curt, one word reply cutting to the core. Her worst fears confirmed, he was rejecting her, telling her she wasn't welcome there, pushing her away because she should have been tough enough to handle this on her own...at least that's what she thought until she saw his long legs extend to push the coffee table farther from the couch. Surprisingly, he wasn't ordering her to go away, he was telling her to move over and make room for him. She sat up and scooted over, eyeing him anxiously as he picked up the blanket off the coffee table, unfolded it, and spread it out on top of the sleeping bag for extra padding. Then he joined her on the floor, casually stretching out on his left side in front of the couch with his back leaning against it, pulling the queen size comforter to his waist before folding his pillow in half and stuffing it under his head. It was like some sort of weird, dysfunctional slumber party, but she'd take it. While he finished settling down, Juliet sat next to him, leaving a wide gap between them as she nervously clutched the quilt against her stomach. She still felt ridiculous having sought him out in such an embarrassingly needy manner, especially after having been caught doing so, but she was also extremely grateful for his tolerance. So she reluctantly moved a little closer, taking a place next to him on the extra blanket he'd spread out, being careful to leave a respectful distance between them as she lay down on her back beside her partner.
Juliet watched as cast shadows danced against her living room wall. She was still nervous and afraid, but it wasn't nearly as bad as before. Her mind wandered back to Yin's masked face, his creepy, black-clad, eyeless visage haunting her memories. It was the last thing she'd seen before waking up to find herself gagged and tied up on the floor in a dirty, dimly lit featureless room. She'd turned her head to take in her surroundings and found herself next to an unconscious Abigail Lytar, who was similarly gagged and bound with feet together and hands behind her back. She was next to a kidnapped and possibly injured civilian—right beside her—but despite the cop in her screaming she had to find a way to save the woman, there was absolutely nothing she could do. She'd never felt so helpless in her life. After what seemed like an eternity, their disguised captor finally entered the room and approached Juliet brandishing a syringe in his hand. She'd feigned terrified compliance until he drew near, then in a last act of defiance, she'd kicked out hard with her feet and planted the sharp heels of her shoes solidly in his gut. He'd doubled over in pain for a few seconds, then returned the favor with a swift kick to her midsection. She'd felt the sting of the needle in the large muscle of her thigh as she tried to catch her breath. The next thing she knew, she was on top of the clock tower, staring down at the street from a dizzying height.
Juliet couldn't stop thinking of that awful black mask, his featureless visage somehow more menacing than if she'd been able to clearly see his face. She felt her stomach flip and her pulse start to race as the mental image invaded her perception. He'd captured her easily, incapacitated her almost effortlessly, and managed to sneak past more than thirty of Santa Barbara's finest with her unconscious form draped across his shoulder. He could get to her any time...
Suddenly she remembered she hadn't been the one to check all the locks in her house. "Are the doors locked?" she asked, her voice barely audible.
"Yes," he drawled, his voice low and gravely from sleep.
After a few moments of quiet reflection, she asked, "Did you lock the windows?"
He paused. "Yes," he replied, a little louder this time.
"All of them? Are you sure?" Juliet couldn't help herself.
He gave a slightly annoyed sigh. "Yes. All the windows and doors are locked. I made sure of it." He fluffed his pillow slightly before adjusting his head to a more comfortable position.
The silence between them stretched into several tense moments. When she spoke again, it sounded meek and far away, almost foreign to her ears. She couldn't believe that pathetic, frightened voice belonged to her. "But he got me once before, what if he tries to—"
"I'll kill him," he declared simply.
Juliet nodded, somehow managing to stay silent despite her continued unease. Hearing his lethal promise was somewhat reassuring, though. She knew her partner truly meant it, that he would fight to keep her safe, even wage war for her if necessary. She almost felt sorry for anyone that was dumb enough to try and break into her house tonight. Almost.
"Try to sleep, O'Hara," he said, interrupting her thoughts. "You won't get much, but it's better than nothing. It's the only thing you can do."
It sounded like he knew what he was talking about, as if he was familiar with what she was going through. She'd seen his service record before, and knew he'd survived many harrowing near death encounters throughout his career. The most recent incident had been when the anguished father of a drug overdose victim held him at gunpoint in front of his son's grave. The man had Lassiter on his knees, restrained by his own handcuffs, with the barrel of the gun touching the back of his head. His finger was on the trigger when Juliet had arrived on scene and interrupted him. She'd actually seen his index finger flex as he'd started to squeeze the trigger before he'd stopped and whirled around at the sound of her voice. Carlton had been less than one second away from certain death. When it was all over, she'd asked him if he was okay. His answer was, as expected, a very grouchy "Yes", and she'd dropped the subject for fear of annoying him further. After work that night, she'd accepted Gus and Shawn's invitation to join them for dinner and drinks at a local bar and grill for some stress relief after a trying day. They'd invited him as well of course, but he'd turned them down with a blunt "No", claiming he had too much paperwork to finish before he could go home. She didn't know what paperwork he was referring to as she'd already finished everything, but it was obvious he didn't want to accompany them, so they'd left him at the station working diligently at his desk and went out to eat.
As Juliet reflected on that day, she recognized some of her own, more recent behavior in his actions. Lassiter had refused to join them, he'd stayed in the station to work when he apparently didn't have to. Was he simply avoiding Shawn's company as usual, or was there another reason? Had he felt the same way as Juliet did tonight? Could it be that he, the mighty Carlton Lassiter, had been afraid to go home just like her? She'd inquired about his well-being only briefly, asking only a couple of times before accepting his "Yes" as a final answer and moving on to other things. But after her recent experience, after being so perilously close to death, she realized in hindsight she should have asked again. Juliet should have been more persistent, should have worried about him, paid closer attention to his actions, cared more about his emotional state. But instead, she'd left him at his desk without so much as a second thought, and gone out to laugh and cavort with her buddies. Had he secretly wished she'd just turn around and come back as he'd watched her walk out the door in the company of friends? Had he dreaded that lonely car ride home? Had he laid awake, tossing and turning in his bed, too afraid to close his eyes? How many terrifyingly restless nights had he endured by himself after his divorce, wishing he wasn't alone?
Fresh tears spilled over her cheeks and trickled past her ears as she stared up at the ceiling. God, she'd left him that night, abandoned her partner after such a terrifying ordeal. How could she have done that, gone off to play when he probably needed her? She was an awful partner, if only she'd paid closer attention she would have seen the signs that something was wrong. The added weight of guilt compounded her current shame as she realized what she'd done. Not only was she too weak to handle what some criminal had done to her, she couldn't even come through for her partner in his time of need. Juliet felt broken and useless. Carlton deserved a better partner than her. He deserved one who was strong, who was caring, who wasn't a damn emotional cripple too cowardly to sleep in her own bed...
"Juliet?" he asked quietly, his voice soft and laden with both surprise and concern.
Oh, God, he must be watching her. She quickly turned away so her back was facing him. She turned away because she was mortified, ashamed, and if she saw the pitiful sympathetic look that she knew was on his face right now she would break and absolutely fall apart. Remaining aloof was the only defense she had left. She had made sure to be quiet because she didn't want him to know she was crying, but now that she was on her side, Juliet had no choice but to expose herself by sniffling. She tried to breathe evenly while managing to refrain from sobbing, but her efforts came at a cost. She drew in a strained breath and accidentally let loose a small, high-pitched squeak. She closed her eyes as her face flushed with anger and embarrassment.
"Aww...hey, c'mere." She was surprised when his arms surrounded her. She saw hands encircling her from behind, and instantly her mind flashed back to when she'd grappled with Yin as he'd forced a white cloth soaked in chloroform over her face. It startled her, and Juliet tensed instinctively with a frightened gasp. Apparently realizing his mistake, he immediately released her, holding his hands slightly away from her but not removing his arms completely.
"Hey, easy, it's okay. It's just me," he reassured her in a comforting tone. Her initial reaction gave way to reason, and she settled down as his calming voice soothed away her fears. He slowly wrapped his arms around her again, carefully so as not to upset her this time, and gently pulled her to him, erasing the distance she'd deliberately left between them. Juliet wondered why he was pulling the quilt up over them and tucking it around her shoulders, but then her back settled against his solid form, and she realized she was shivering. When he finished adjusting the covers, Carlton cradled her head on his left arm, holding her close, gathering her against the broad expanse of his chest in a warm embrace.
"I'm sorry," she apologized, her voice reduced to a soft, high-pitched warble. "I tried, I really tried, I just—"
"Shhhh, it's okay."
He hugged her tightly while she cried quietly in his arms, unexpectedly accepting her emotional display, allowing her tears to soak into his shirtsleeve beneath her left cheek. If it bothered him, he didn't complain. As a matter of fact, Carlton didn't speak at all. He just held her close, supporting her as she leaned back against him and wept. She rested her head against his arm, feeling the steady pulse beneath her cheek, finding the soft rhythm somehow reassuring. She began to relax, and settled into his embrace with her back against his chest, grateful for the warmth he provided that was slowly bleeding through her shirt to engulf her trembling form. Moments stretched into minutes, and gradually, her tears began to slow. Juliet finally stopped crying and calmed down after what seemed like an eternity. Carlton moved his right arm away from her, shifted, then she felt him lightly poking her shoulder. She opened her eyes to find him dangling his handkerchief in front of her face. She accepted it gratefully, using it to wipe her face and clean her nose. When he knew she was finished, he reached around her, grabbed her pillow, placed it on his arm and carefully positioned it underneath her head, making sure she was resting comfortably. When he was finished, he settled his arms around her again. She felt him take a deep breath before he spoke.
"I'm taking the day off tomorrow," he declared. It was clear the topic was not up for debate. "We'll go in together and talk to the Chief, and I'm going to ask her to approve a temporary leave of absence for you. Then we'll call the department's trauma counselor and schedule some appointments." He paused for a moment, choosing his words carefully. "It's okay, Juliet. It takes time to deal with this."
She chose not to speak and simply nodded instead as a sense of relief washed through her. Carlton had just seen Juliet at what was literally the worst point in her life. She was damaged to the point that she was nearly unable to function, a shivering, weeping shell of her former self. Yet surprisingly, he hadn't thought any less of her. There was no harsh criticism or casting judgment, no admonishment for showing weakness and vulnerability. He'd simply accepted it, allowed her to lean on him, even going as far as providing a possible solution, and through it all, Carlton hadn't wavered even the slightest bit. Again her thoughts turned back to the way he'd acted after the cemetery, and suddenly, she knew why he was being so supportive and nurturing, showing such an unusual amount of affection. He'd been there before. Carlton knew exactly what she was going through from personal experience, and now he was taking it upon himself to provide her with the comfort he knew she needed. He was helping her by giving what he hadn't received. For the first time since her ordeal began, she allowed herself to hope that, eventually, with his support, she would come back from this.
"Hey, don't be afraid to go to sleep. I'm right here," he assured her. "When you start having a bad dream, I'll wake you up. I promise."
She sighed and relaxed against him, easing back into his arms and tucking her head beneath his chin. She found his presence remarkably comforting at the moment. The scent of starch, aftershave and gun leather, the feel of his heartbeat beneath her back, the steady motion of his chest as he breathed...all tremendously reassuring signs that Carlton was with her. He was her friend, solid and strong by her side, and she felt remarkably safe knowing he was there. Bad memories of black gloved hands clamping down in a harsh grip were replaced by the sheltering embrace gently surrounding her. Juliet closed her eyes, suddenly overcome by exhaustion. As she finally began drifting off to sleep, she found she wasn't in her home camped out on the living room floor. She was back in Miami, finding comfort and sanctuary from the storm in the arms of her big brother Ewan. And though the storm raging within rattled her, she found she was no longer afraid, because she'd found solace in the arms of her hero.
Suddenly the storm didn't seem so frightening anymore.
Author's Chapter Notes:
Well I FINALLY decided to write a one-shot episode tag! It's by far the shortest story I've ever written. it's just a little ditty of a fic at over 8,000 words. Hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it!
Chapter End Notes:
I FINALLY decided to write an episode tag! Hope you liked it. A hearty thank you to all those who read, and my eternal thanks to those that leave a review. Thanks again!