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Story Notes:

Life sucks and I respond by taking it out on these guys. Misery and company and all that rot, right? Right.

Disclaimer: I am using fictional characters as therapists. I think a logical follow-on conclusion is that if I own them, it's only inside my broken mind.

At work—especially in the field—she is a consummate professional.

She doesn't flinch when staring down an unapologetic killer in interrogation and her hands no longer shake when she holds her gun—definitely not when she fires it, the sharp kick the only force capable of moving her steady grip in that moment. She has faced criminal masterminds and serial killers and never has she shown anything but a spine of steel and a resolve to see justice forged out of cold iron.

She has been training under the toughest sonuvabitch in the SBPD and it shows.

She is still polite until provoked, sympathetic to the survivors, and chatty with her coworkers, but when the situation calls for it, she shuts down her human side like flicking a switch and she becomes the job.

At home, though, in the dark of the night, away from the judging eyes that wait and watch, looking for any hint of weakness that can be exploited, gripped and pulled and ripped apart, she is nothing like that relentless bitch she has to be sometimes.

She's not the cheery, chipper, perfectly-secure-in-her-femininity-even-in-a-man's-world woman either.

She can be.

To all external points of view, she's achieved that long sought-after balance everyone seeks. The diverse parts of her are united into a blindingly perfect meld of traits—she is the perfect woman.

Except she's not.

Sometimes she forgets she even wears a mask, allowing herself to be seduced into believing that this job—this life—hasn't changed her. She believes her own propaganda, and maybe that's not such a bad thing anyway.

But then the night comes, dark and stealthy, slipping over her skin, shadowing her eyes, stealing the light she hides in. Like any grande dame of the stage, she looks best when the lights are brightest, her makeup and costume made reality in the glare that conceals the flaws and tricks.

She huddles in the dark, curled up in a ball, and silently weeps for the crimes she has committed. Not against the beloved laws she upholds, but against her conscience, her morals, her very soul.

She stares at her hands, seeing the blood dripping from them.

It's always there, viscous and hot—fresher after she is forced to execute that gravest of duties: the taking of another human life. Justified or not, that ruby red blood drips like thick strawberry syrup from her hands and no amount of washing or scrubbing can ever make it go away.

She looks in the mirror and sees in her own eyes the ghosts of the ones she couldn't save and the ones she couldn't get justice for. They say nothing, just staring back, accusing her with their silence because she was supposed to speak for them. Their refusal to openly condemn her is its own kind of damnation and no amount of apologizing can ever redeem her tortured soul.

They are as deaf as they are mute.

She copes because she has to.

Because her partner took her out for a drink after a particularly brutal case and shoved a neat whiskey into her hands and said that if she wanted to walk away now he would understand and he would never think less of her for it. It was too late for him, but she could yet escape this half-life, this sub-existence.

She slogged back the drink, feeling it burn its way down, wishing that the fierce fire of the alcohol could burn out the infection in her soul the way it could in a physical wound. Then she shook her head.

He was wrong. It was already too late for her.

He never tried to talk her into quitting again, but she could see the look in his eyes that said he really wished she hadn't been so damn stubborn.

She learned after that the importance of masks, though she didn't really acknowledge that she relied on them the way an amputee relies on a crutch or a cane until she surrendered to Shawn.

Part of her knew that her refusal to accept him into her life was a punishment. Self-flagellation for letting herself become the monster, the killer that she was.

Part of her knew that it was because she was a selfish coward who didn't want the stain of his innocence on her hands too. He was as she had once been, before the masks, before the lies.

She'd give anything, even her very life, to save him from her dark, twisted fate.

Oh she knew he wasn't completely innocent. She had eyes and ears and you barely needed those to know that Shawn Spencer was no saint, but his hands weren't dipped in blood. A few ashy gray smears or some chunks of caked on dirt, maybe, but nothing that would stain and spread like a plague to everything and everyone he touched.

Not like her.

So she held him at arm's length, protecting him the only way she knew how even as she wanted to drag him close and cling to his light, have those unstained hands on her to just feel what it was like once more to be that clean.

He was persistent though. Too persistent. He chased her, doggedly, unrelentingly, obsessively.

Her strength was only part of the mask anyway.

She finally gave in to him, to her addiction, her craving, her lowest, basest desires to touch that purity once more, knowing that to do so would destroy it.

She never expected what happened instead: He changed her.

For the better.

She would wake at night, sweating and shaking and biting her tongue to keep from screaming like a soul trapped in Hell, and he'd just roll over and wrap his arms around her and hold her close, the reassuring thump of his heart beating against her back as he spooned his body into hers, tangling her legs with his own as if to keep her from running away. He'd brush a kiss to her hair and another to her ear and he'd whisper, "It's okay, Jules. I've got you. I'm right here."

And somehow, that was all it took.

Her pulse would slow, eventually thudding in her chest in time with his. Her breathing would deepen and her skin would dry and she would melt, boneless and weak and perfectly content to let him worry about everything for a short while.

Sometimes she briefly panicked, struggling against him, afraid that she would spread the darkness to him, but that's not how it worked.

He took the darkness, yes, but it didn't stick to him. He just wiped it away, bit by bit, until her hands no longer dripped with glittering crimson. The stains never completely went away but they faded until, sometimes, she could almost forget they were even there.

The masks lie and she knows that now. But the more time she spends with him she finds the masks are harder to take off, almost like they are growing into her skin. They are not separate parts of her anymore, just different sides, like a diamond has different facets, all of them beautiful and an integral part of the whole.

Even the parts of her that she's not proud of serve a purpose. A diamond has edges and points and they are not the pretty parts of the stone, but they are necessary all the same.

She also knows now that by herself she is not balanced. It takes his hand on the scales to bring that about and she's coming to realize that maybe... that's okay.

Chapter End Notes:
A moment to share your thoughts would be much appreciated right now, but either way, thank you for reading.

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