It was the beautiful ones you had to watch out for.
She was tall and dark haired, with green eyes that twinkled like twin emeralds, and high cheekbones and plump lips colored with the most devastating red Shawn Spencer had ever laid eyes on. She had squeezed into a tiny black dress with an open back and plunging neckline, with legs that seemed like they would go on forever. She wore closed-toe, diamond-studded, four-inch heels that perfectly matched the color of her lips.
Somehow Shawn had managed to charm her into asking him to be her date to a charity gala at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, and he was very well aware of the many eyes on him as he moved through the crowd with her on his arm.
Well. It would be more accurate to say that he was on her arm, because she was most definitely in charge, had been from the moment she'd picked him up her limo and she'd already had another, better tux waiting and pressed for him - and had refused to let him in the car until he'd made the switch.
She wasn't only a total knockout, though - she was also a local celebrity, a socialite, born into enormous wealth but not the heir to the bulk of her late parents' fortune. That honor went to her older sister, who had, just a week ago, gotten into a terrible accident on her yacht. Part of her had been recovered on the deck after the explosion. The Coast Guard were still looking for the other part in the ocean. They weren't optimistic.
So now Aria Thorton, the twenty-seven-year-old millionaire goddess, was Shawn's date to a high-end charity event, and they were the center of attention.
Shawn should have been in heaven.
There were three things that dampened the occasion, though - for one, she thought he was a billionaire from two counties over named Chaz Hemsworth (no relation to Chris or Liam, but his rugged good looks and fabulous hair had made many people think he was).
Then there was the fact that she was the SPBD's number one suspect in her sister's supposed-accident-but-Shawn-had-revealed-that-it-was-murder-yet-again case. Hence, why she thought he was Chaz - he was undercover with the help of the police department, much to the chagrin of Lassie and Jules, because he was the best person for the job. (Well, he had barged into the case and presented himself as Chaz Hemsworth, and she had been interested, and now he was the best chance they had since he was already on the inside and it was a time-sensitive case - just like he'd planned it).
Oh, and the third thing was definitely the worst of them all: His actual girlfriend, the aforementioned Jules, was here too, acting as Lassiter's date and ready to provide backup. And she was pissed.
Shawn forced himself to focus on the case, though. Technically, he'd already solved it, put all the final puzzle pieces together, just half an hour before the gala. But by that time, she was already at the luxury hotel the SBPD had reluctantly put him in as part of his cover ("Any snacks or room service ordered will be paid for by you, Mr. Spencer, not this department," Chief Vick had warned with that iconic raised eyebrow of hers. And no, she wasn't going to sink funds into a ticket for Mr. Guster - Shawn had thrown himself into this investigation alone, so Gus would just have to sit this one out. Needless to say, Gus had not been pleased.).
Now, there were just a few more loose ends to tie, a few more t's to cross and i's to dot and little squiggly fancy things to add to capital S's - namely, he needed to do the reveal. And since Lassie and Jules would be at the gala anyway, it would be the perfect time to do the reveal (and he'd get to live it up as a male socialite for a few more hours).
He waited until he'd tested all the hors dourves (Why the hell had no one told him caviar was fish eggs and not really fancy boba, and that it did not taste good in even the fanciest of cocktails?), but as soon as the moment was perfect, he called everyone's attention to him by accidentally-on-purpose smashing his cocktail glass with a knife a la Princess Diaries, jumped onto the nearest table, and presented his case.
As he revealed the truth of the tragic death of Selena Thornton, and how her sister had taken freaking Skill Share lessons on yacht safety procedures so that she could backwards engineer them to arrange an accident for her sister and swoop up her portion of the inheritance, he noticed something odd - Aria didn't try to get up, she didn't argue or yell something like, "That's ridiculous!" or "You have no proof!" or even "I would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren't for you muddling, hunky psychic!" Instead, she opened her shimmering handbag, calmly applied some sort of thick balm to her lips. Then she pulled out her lipstick and reapplied it. Maybe if Shawn hadn't been so focused on his wrap-up, he would have noticed that the lipstick was the same shade, but that it came from a different tube than when she'd reapplied earlier. Later, in his hospital bed, he would kick himself for missing that tiny, crucial detail.
He finished by announcing, "And remember, folks - this murder reveal was brought to you by Skill Share."
And then he was getting off the table, and Jules was preparing the cuffs while Lassie held Aria, and the rest of the rich guests were sitting in stunned silence or otherwise whispering among themselves, already spreading the gossip for the next Tabloid, he was sure. Then, out of nowhere, the formerly docile homicidal heiress lashed out, slamming the pointed heel of her left shoe - it looked like the heel had been shoved into a pencil sharpener - into the top of Lassie's foot, buried the elbow of her perfectly tanned right arm into Juliet's stomach, and broke away from the detectives.
Shawn thought she would turn tail and run, try to escape, but to his shock (and confusion), she lunged straight for him, zooming forward in those ridiculous heels with a speed and grace Shawn couldn't even achieve with sneakers. He braced himself for an attack, got ready to defend himself, even as Lassie and Jules recovered and dove for the sabotaging socialite.
They were too late.
What happened next was the literal opposite of what Shawn had anticipated. She crushed her body into his, grabbed his face the way they do in every rom com ever, and pressed her lips against his in a kind of tender but still somehow aggressive kiss.
For a moment, he stood in shock, trying to process what the hell was happening. Was she glad he'd caught her? Did she look forward to being stripped of her wealth and going to prison for life?
Then he realized that as pleasant as her soft lips were against his, he had not authorized this transaction, and even though she was a rich, drop-dead gorgeous socialite, she was also a sister-killer, and his girlfriend whom he loved very much was watching, and he pulled back. She held on, forcing her lips on his even as he tried to squirm away from her touch. Her expertly manicured fingernails dug into his skin, and left scratches on the side of his neck when Lassie and Jules dragged her off of him.
Shawn stumbled back, neck stinging where she'd scratched him, lips tingling where she'd kissed him. He could taste her lipstick - it didn't taste like cherries like he'd thought. It didn't taste good at all. He wiped his mouth with his sleeve and spun on Aria Thorton, who was now being wrestled into cuffs and passed off to waiting police officers. "Hey, I know I'm irresistible," he said, trying to fight off his growing discomfort at the kiss - any other time, he'd probably be thrilled to have a beautiful woman throw herself at him and surprise him with an attack-kiss, "but I've got a girlfriend. And she's way more hot and bad-ass than a homi-sister like you."
Jules turned to him and there was a little smile on her face that told him maybe he wasn't as deep in the doghouse as he'd thought. "Homi-sister?"
"Yeah," said Shawn, rubbing absently at his chest. He needed to change out of this tux. It was too hot, and it was too tight. "Sister-murderer. Like homicide, but for sisters."
"Sororicide," Lassiter corrected.
"I'm sorry, Lassie, when did you take on the role of Scooby Doo? I can only keep up with one fictional dog at a time, man." Beads of sweat popped up on his forehead. A muscle twitched in his upper arm.
"It's the actual term for killing one's sister," Lassie sneered derisively.
Shawn opened his mouth to retort, but he coughed instead. And suddenly he couldn't stop coughing, and his chest was being squeezed, and the muscle in his arm jumped again, this time painfully, and he promptly deposited a disgusting mixture of fourteen varieties of hors dourves on Lassiter's shoes. A strong hand grabbed his upper arm and kept him semi-upright even as Lassiter groaned, "These are $400 loafers, and they're rentals!"
"Shawn!" Juliet's face had gone white, Shawn noticed through tears and haze as she surged forward and gently lifted his chin with her delicate hand.
He struggled to answer her, but his chest was so tight, and his left calf muscle contracted then, and all that came out was a strangled cry of pain.
"Call an ambulance - now!" Lassiter's voice was far away, though Shawn could have sworn that the head detective was standing right by his side, keeping him from face-planting in his own caviar and cocktail sludge.
Vaguely, over the sound of screams and murmurs and cries of alarm, he heard Juliet's voice, scarier than he'd ever heard it before - he'd never been so convinced she was about to murder someone before - growl, "What did you do to him?"
He never got the chance to hear if Aria Thornton gave up her dark little secret. His eyes rolled up into his head, and, muscles twitching and lungs scrambling for air, he passed out.
He woke up to pain.
It was a slow process, getting his eyelids to cooperate, but he could feel a soft hand in his, and he would know it anywhere, and someone was crying.
When his vision had cleared enough for him to make out more than just blobs of color, he saw Juliet sitting slumped in a hard plastic chair by his bedside. Sure enough, it was her hand in his. But she was fast asleep, her neck crooked back at an awkward angle and small, adorable snores wafting out of her slightly parted lips. So it wasn't her who was crying.
His gaze dragged languidly to the right, and everything made sense. Gus was in the chair next to her, quietly sobbing into his hands. Poor bastard.
Shawn spoke, his voice raw and trembling and the effort seemed to squeeze every bit of air out of his already starved lungs. "G-Gus?"
Gus's head snapped up, he leaped out of his chair, and in a loud voice reminiscent to an all-black hallelujah choir, he exclaimed, "Shawn!"
Juliet startled awake, her hand instinctively squeezing his, and he saw the worry in her stormy blue eyes as soon as they landed on him. She smoothed his sweaty hair from his forehead. "Thank God you're awake. How are you feeling?"
Shawn didn't answer immediately, but let his eyes wander around the room, confirming what he already knew. He was in a hospital - a private room - and there was a heart monitor beeping above him and an IV lead ran from his hand to a pole, where two different bags were feeding his veins with who knew what. He took a moment to remember what had happened and shuddered internally when he thought of the kiss of death.
It took everything he had in him to speak again, but he had to know where he stood, "S-so, more than b-barely poisoned this time?"
Juliet laughed, a short, manic sound of mingled relief and exasperation. "Yeah, a lot more than barely," she agreed.
Shawn didn't get to enjoy his moment of validation, because his left pectoral muscle spasmed, knocking the air out of his lungs and sending bolts of agony through his chest. It was like the muscle was twisting itself into the most complex pretzel known to man. An agonized guuuh burst from his mouth and he grasped at his chest, as if trying to tear the pain away.
Gus was panicking now, tears still streaming down his face, and Jules looked stricken. Shawn was certain he was actively dying now and tried to call for help. The door to his room burst open and distantly, beneath the mound of pain that had erupted in his muscle, he heard his father's voice.
"Jules - it looks like it's his chest. Massage it. Remember, small, gentle circles. Gus, pull it together, you're just making him panic." And then he could feel Jules gently massaging the screaming muscle, and Gus hiccupped into relative silence, and his father was there, seated in a chair on the other side of the bed. He grabbed Shawn's hand - the one with the IV - and for a wild moment, Shawn was convinced his father was going to rip it out like he had the last time his son had been poisoned.
But instead, he held on firmly to Shawn's hand and said, "Squeeze as hard as you need to, pal. Ride it out. It'll be over soon."
The heart monitor was screeching now, and a nurse ran in just as the spasm was beginning to ebb, leaving the entire muscle feeling weak and squishy like play-doh. She injected something into one of Shawn's IV bags and checked his temperature and fed him ice chips and told him to try to rest and be patient, that it wouldn't be long until the spasms would stop. She might have told him her name at some point, but he didn't hear.
Whatever she'd given him made him sleepy, and he felt his twitching, tense muscles relax the tiniest of fractions, and the last thing he saw before falling asleep was his father's face leaning over him. He must have been hallucinating, because he could have sworn that his father's eyes were red and puffy and that there were tear-tracks down his face.
The next time Shawn woke up, he was still sore, and his muscles still gave the occasional, defiant twitch, but he wasn't in blood-curdling agony anymore, so it was a definite improvement. This time when he woke, no one was crying, and his dad had washed his face, but his eyes were still rimmed with red.
"What happened to me?" Shawn asked, his voice weaker than he could ever remember. "What the hell was in that lipstick?"
His dad chuckled humorlessly, not because anything was funny but because it wasn't crying. "You figured out it was the lipstick, then?"
"I'm psychic, dad, remember?" Shawn had put the pieces together the first time he'd woken up, but he'd been too out of it to realize he'd made the connection.
Henry didn't dignify that with a response.
"I can't believe you went to a millionaire's gala and almost died, Shawn!" Gus chided irritably. "If I had been there -"
"You would have hyperventilated and passed out on your plate of hor dourves," Henry finished dryly, and Shawn couldn't help but grin.
Juliet was the one who brought the conversation back around to his question. "She refused to talk, so we took her purse and had her fingernail polish, lip balm, and lipstick tested for toxins," she informed him. "We thought that she might have done it when she scratched you, but it was the lipstick that was poisoned. The lip balm was actually a protective buffer between her lips and the lipstick so that the poison wouldn't reach her skin." With a heavy sigh, Juliet revealed, "It was VX poison."
"What's that?" Shawn asked. "It sounds like something from a spy thriller."
"It's a nerve agent," Gus supplied. "It can be made into gas, but it's base form is about the consistency of gasoline. It's super fast-acting, especially when inhaled or ingested, even in small amounts like with you, and it causes muscle spasms, respiratory issues, nausea, headaches, fever, and a whole lot of other nasty symptoms."
"But there's a cure?"
"Atropine and pralidoxime," Gus answered promptly, and Shawn resisted the very strong urge to tell his best friend to, for the love of every 80s movie they'd ever loved, get a hobby. "Both were administered the second the results came back. It was a close call, but thankfully they were administered on time - though it was touch and go for a bit. The nurse gave you another dose of a muscle relaxer the first time you woke up. The other drip is saline."
"I guess the real question is how the psychotic rich girl next door got ahold of poison like that in the first place," Shawn muttered, head swimming and eyes burning and body feeling like it had been run over by a monster truck.
Juliet answered promptly: "Lassiter was finally able to crack her. Turns out she's also got some contacts in the black market. She had that tube of lipstick custom-made and infused with VX two years ago in case any of her many boyfriends cheated on her. Surprisingly, she hadn't used it until you came along, but when you exposed the truth, it was her way of getting revenge. She knew there was no way she was going to be able to escape, so she decided to take you down with her."
"Damn," said Shawn, faintly. He was drifting off again, but he was so happy to be alive, to see his friends - even his dad, imagine that!
"Go back to sleep, Shawn," Henry ordered. "It's going to take a while for you to heal, and you'll need all the rest you can get."
Not knowing what had come over him, blaming the poison and trauma for the words that spilled unbidden from his lips, he found himself asking, "And you guys will be here? Next time I wake up?"
Gus grinned and leaned over to give Shawn a one-sided fist bump, and Juliet kissed him delicately on the forehead. His dad ruffled his hair in a manner that could almost be construed as affectionate if he wasn't careful.
"You bet your ass we will."
Overall, Shawn reflected as he allowed sleep to claim him, being fully poisoned fully sucked, but it was kind of nice getting a glimpse of just how much his friends and family cared.
They could find other opportunities to show their love in the future though. Shawn had had enough of poison, barely, fully, or otherwise, for a lifetime.